Wool House Exhibition Opens in London

Kit Kemp Room, Wool HouseWool House, the UK’s biggest ever exhibition celebrating wool, has just opened in the West Wing of London’s historic Somerset House. Vogue Living London editor Fiona McCarthy had a chat with its curator, Arabella McNie, and interior designer Kit Kemp.

Following the great titters of excitement surrounding this year’s Woolmark Prize at London Fashion Week just a few weeks ago (where our very own Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann sat on a judging panel boasting Diane von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham and Donatella Versace) comes Wool House, an elegant and inspiring exhibition at Somerset House, curated by British stylist and interior accessories designer Arabella McNie and featuring room sets created by the likes of interior design luminaries Ashley Hicks, Mary Fox Linton, Josephine Ryan and Firmdale Hotel design director Kit Kemp. It is a project in collaboration with the Campaign for Wool, supported by Prince Charles, but with connections to a global network of sheep farmers, designers and retailers as far afield as Australia and New Zealand to South America and Norway.

Arabella McNie with her dog Charlie


For McNie, it was a chance to showcase wool in unexpected and tantalising ways: “I wanted to move away from the way people perceive it only as tartan and chunky knit sweaters,” she says, citing such pieces as the “crochetdermy” brown bear by Shauna Richardson, which greets visitors at the entrance, the felted wool ‘Dahlia’ coffee table base by Kai Linke, and the ‘Clouds’ wall feature by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Kvadrat. In the mix are custom-made details like a clouds-and-rain-drops mobile by quirky young designer Donna Wilson, runners by Roger Oates and Brintons and wall pieces by Dutch designer Claudy Jongstra, woven from wool from the sheep she raises and dyed with colour from plants she grows in her garden. What took McNie most by surprise was everyone’s willingness to really push the boat out – particularly Melissa Watts‘ tapestry of a sheep’s head (tapestry being something the designer had never attempted before; she is usually best known for her works in specially pin-tucked “pixel felt” on cushions and wall hangings), which arrived only hours before the exhibition launched, with Watts still stitching away at it as the doors opened.

kk1For Kemp, famous for her passion for using fabrics such as embroidered felted wool, this was a dream exhibition; but she also learned a lot through transforming fabrics she might have originally designed in linen (such as the ‘Willow’ and ‘Inside Out’ patterns she recently created in collaboration with Christopher Farr) into woollen fabrics she has used on walls, curtains, furniture and cushions. “It has really made me reconsider the fabrics I will use in the future for projects such as our new hotel, Ham Yard, due to open early next year,” says Kemp. “Where I might have used linen, now I will really consider using wool: it’s not as ‘tickly’ as I had at first imagined, in fact it’s extremely soft and the colours are superb, and using it with my ‘Willow’ pattern on the curtains was really interesting, too. It’s been really great to learn that I can use it for upholstery alongside my much-loved boiled wools.” With the help of Pippa Caley, headboards and cushions come to life with 3D textures, the wall art by Anna Raymond is stitched onto wool canvas, and even the stuffing of the bed is 100% wool.

kk2“Everyone really pulled out all the stops for this exhibition,” says McNie. “Wool in interiors rarely gets a good shout out, it’s usually about how it’s used in fashion, so it was fantastic to have this opportunity, in such an amazing venue, to show that where someone might usually use a fine fabric like silk or linen, they can use wool.”

woolchair-checks copy

Wool House is a free exhibition in the West Wing of Somerset House, London, open until 24 March. 

Text: Fiona McCarthy
Photography: Simon Brown (supplied by Firmdale Hotels)
iPhone images by Fiona McCarthy

2 Responses to “Wool House Exhibition Opens in London”
  1. Lenny says:

    What a bedroom! Love the vaulted ceilings and the decor…altogether a fantastic look.

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  1. […] Vogue Living blog gave us a peek into the new Wool House exhibition in London’s Somerset House. This wool rich […]

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