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John Makepeace at Somerset HouseWe like to think we’ve got an eye for the finer things in life, and, having inspected some of the world’s most stylish interiors in our pursuit of dreamy design dens and hip hideaways for the ever-expanding Smith hotel collection, we know a Good Thing when we see it.

And last night in London, at Somerset House, we saw a Very Good Thing.

Along the Strand we strode, for the private view of a show celebrating the 50-year career of a craftsman dubbed the Father of Modern Furniture: John Makepeace (OBE, if you don’t mind).

Trine chair by John MakepeaceIn the Terrace Rooms, overlooking the Thames, the mellow plunkings of a classical harpist and the merry clinking of champagne flutes signalled the launch of his only solo exhibition, which brings together for the first time some 25 pieces from public and private collections around the world.

And what pieces they are: emotionally expressive, highly creative and exquisitely crafted responses to both brief and material. Referencing the Arts & Crafts manifesto and mid-century Scandinavian design principles, and with an unyielding focus on both original source and proposed site, each chair, Obelisk cabinet by John Makepeacetable and chest is the embodiment of a discourse between designer and design, between a craftsman and his tools. Mitres are perfect; joins seamless. But there’s still room for humour and energy in the turn of a leg, or the zebra-striped finish of a cabinet.

We were lucky enough to meet our maker, who said he was most proud of ‘surviving as a rebel who enjoys challenging conventional wisdom’: and you can read our full interview with John Makepeace next week.

Afterwards (having admired every stick of furniture, and every canapé-laden cocktail stick, courtesy of caterers Zafferano), we diverted to the Covent Garden Hotel for drinks, where Mr Smith and I played a Fun Game: ‘which piece would you have stolen if you could?’ We chose (respectively), a pair of contoured chairs (including ‘Trine’, pictured above left) in 5,000-year-old bog oak and yew, and the ‘Obelisk’ cabinet, also in yew. And then I added on the ‘Play Time’ cabinet, in sycamore with acrylic flashes, because I needed that as well.

John Makepeace: Enriching the Language of Furniture‘ is at Somerset House until 15 April 2011, 10am–6pm daily. Admission free.

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