Esther Patterson – My Clerkenwell Life

As the designer behind lighting brand Curiousa & Curiousa, Esther Patterson is known for celebrating colour with a decorative range of hand-blown glass pendants and chandeliers. She discusses changing careers, the influence of Venice and Clerkenwell Design Week.

How did you begin working with glass?
I was a graphic designer but it wasn’t my passion. I was a ceramicist on and off, and I’d always wanted to go back to university. So when the kids were old enough I took the opportunity in my late thirties to study decorative arts. We had a day with a glass-blower on the course, and it all started from there really. It was a bit of a eureka moment.

Have you done glass-blowing?
I trained as a fabric designer and a ceramicist, so I don’t actually blow any of the glass; I design for glass.

What was the starting point for your work?
I had to make this table lamp from bone china in three parts, so I asked the glass- blower to blow the same shapes that I’d done. I then started pulling them apart and messing around with it. It’s about stacking and moving different shapes together and experimenting. It felt quite natural to design for glass. Getting it to then work safely and making it look effortless is the most difficult bit of being a lighting designer.

How did the Triptych design come about?
About five years ago, the Hayward Gallery asked me to design a light piece especially for their shop. So I really went for it and I based those designs on Moroccan cityscapes. That was amazing because I’d never done something so big and expensive before, so that was really good for me and the business.

What inspires your latest collection?
This year’s collection was inspired by a trip to Venice. We went to the Murano island and I went to see Fabio Fornasier blow – he does incredible chandeliers, they’ve almost got swan necks. He silvers the inside of his glass so we’re experimenting at the moment silvering stems. We also went to a little vintage lighting shop, I got inspired and that’s part of my new collection called Chintz – because we’re bringing back the chintz.

Colour is also important, isn’t it?
Definitely, it’s not natural for me to do clear glass. I don’t understand why people do clear glass lights – if you can, have colour!

You’re based in Derbyshire but opened an Amwell Street showroom a year ago… 
I knew somebody who was already in there who was leaving, so I leased the shop. I really liked the street and the mix of people. I knew the area because I’d exhibited at Clerkenwell Design Week and visited the show several times. 

What do you like about Clerkenwell Design Week? 
It’s quite quirky, I like the fact they use buildings in the area, I think that’s a really nice way to show your work. I like using old buildings as a backdrop.

What are your plans for Icon House of Culture at Fabric?
I’ve got a new chandelier that I’m launching called Cordero, so I’m hoping to do lots of droplets of this new LED light. I will have a display of a lot of my other lights as well, the Chintz and possibly the Lotus Dine. We’re also asking the Derby Museum if they can lend us some pieces so we can demonstrate the history of glass – that will be at the showroom.

Who visits the showroom?
It’s interior designers mainly but anyone can come to the shop, they’re very welcome. They can either pop in, or if they need a proper consultation they can request for me to meet for an appointment.

What are your favourite designs?
I really like the acid drops, I’ve got them in my house. The acid drops really glow and they make me feel quite happy.

How was it working for Jamie Oliver’s restaurants and TV shows?
He was one of my first customers, which was fantastic. We’ve actually done lights for his personal home as well, which is really nice. I’ve got some lights in the cafés at Harvey Nichols and the Royal Albert Hall. We do a quality hand-blown glass product, so as long as we fight off the competition I think we’ll be all right.

Where do you hang out in EC1?
That’s one of the perks of coming down to London. I love Exmouth market for lunchtime, because Moro do that street food on a little stand. One of my favourite little pubs is the Old China Hand, where all the alcohol served is from Britain. We often go to Ground Control café on Amwell Street. They’ve got the tiniest little balcony, and it’s a quiet street so you can read the paper and it’s quite relaxing.

Showroom: 39 Amwell Street, EC1R 1UR (open Wednesday to Saturday)