Stephen Bayley

Stephen Bayley is an honorary fellow of the RIBA, a trustee of the Royal Fine Arts Commission Trust and the co-founder of London’s design museum.

There’s something hot about a hat

When an American describes a woman as wearing a ‘Park Avenue Helmet’ you know exactly what is meant. This is a hairdo so precise and sculpted that it trembles, category-wise, between coiffure and armour. Both natural and artificial, it also accurately signals social status. The link between hats, hair and caste was first made by

A museum-quality car-boot sale: V&A’s Cars reviewed

We were looking at a 1956 Fiat Multipla, a charming ergonomic marvel that predicted today’s popular MPVs. Rather grandly, I said to my guide: ‘I think you’ll find the source of the Multipla in an unrealised 1930s design of Mario Revelli di Beaumont.’ He looked a bit blank. This exhibition is a rare attempt to

The slasher with the knife

A stiff, invigorating breeze of revisionism is blowing through stuffy art history. Is it really true that all the valuable traffic was on a mainline between Paris and New York, with modest sidings in London, Barcelona and Zurich? Was the adventure of modern art an exclusively masculine journey across the North Atlantic? Suddenly, it has

An idea made concrete

Was the Bauhaus the most inspired art school of all time or the malignant source of an uglifying industrial culture which has defiled our cities? Two books look at its influence abroad after 1933 when the Nazis put the jackboot in. The Bauhaus was nothing if not modern — even if ‘modern’ is now a

Maps of the mind

MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill (1884–1947) is less well known than his notorious brother, Eric. But was he less of a designer, less of an artist? The son of a Brighton clergyman, his career was built on a sequence of remarkable connections. The architect Halsey Ricardo, a descendant of the economist, was his tutor. While working for

An ambivalent icon

Immigrants to the United States in the late 19th century discovered in Upper New York Bay, after a long, uncomfortable trans-Atlantic journey, a real portal and a symbolic one. There was Ellis Island: designer, William A. Boring. Then there was the Statue of Liberty on neighbouring Bedloe’s Island: designer, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. The first was a

Houses of ill repute

Architects and politicians have a lot in common. Each seeks to influence the way we live, and on account of that both, generally, are reviled. But architecture is more important than politics. Unless you are an anchorite or a polar bear, it’s unavoidable. And it lasts longer. The best architecture affects our mood. Exaltation, if

A barbarous view of modernism

When I was younger, one of my favourite books was James Stevens Curl’s The Victorian Celebration of Death. His latest is much less cheerful. Like one of those innocents who re-enact the Civil War in embarrassing costume on Bank Holidays, Curl has been time-travelling backwards into a pre-modern world. He returns from the past with

The billionaire’s toy box

Today’s VHNWI wants a PRSHLS. That’s Very High Net-Worth Individual and Partially Reuseable Super Heavy Lift System. Or, in the demotic, the rich want space rockets. ‘It’s not rocket science’, people say when describing the technique of making, say, an omelette — even if making an omelette requires a certain deftness of hand and nice

Ferrari – heavy, expensive, wasteful, dangerous and addictive

Has a more beautiful machine in all of mankind’s fretful material endeavours ever been made than a ’60 Ferrari 250 Granturismo? Go to the Design Museum and decide. I have driven many Ferraris and the experience is always unique. They are alive, demanding, feral, sometimes even violent or truculent. Addictive, too. Once, in Haverfordwest, I

Cold comfort | 7 December 2017

Mrs Thatcher once explained that she adored cleaning the fridge because, in a complicated life, it was one of the few tasks she could begin and end to total satisfaction. In this way are refrigerators evidence of our struggles, our hopes and our fears. Moreover, if you accept that the selection and preparation of food

High wire act

‘Mid-century modern’ is the useful term popularised by Cara Greenberg’s 1984 book of that title. The United States, the civilisation that turned PR and branding into art forms, wanted homegrown creative heroes. In design there were Charles Eames and George Nelson with their homey hopsack suits and wash’n’wear shirts, their sensible Wasp homilies: a counterattack

Vital signs

Exhibit A. It is 1958 and you are barrelling down a dual carriageway; the 70 mph limit is still eight years away. The road signs are nearly illegible. You miss your turning, over-correct, hit a tree and die. The following year, graphic designer Margaret Calvert is driving her Porsche 356c along the newly built M1.

Building block | 8 June 2017

Liverpool is the New York of Europe. The business district looks like old Wall Street: a miniature Lower Manhattan on the Mersey. It’s a city of scale, drama, melodrama, tragedy and comedy. Not to mention rich and poor. And often all these effects are simultaneous. No other British city has a similarly contrary architectural character:

The bridge of size

Before Brooklyn exceeded it in cool, Manhattanites spoke dismissively of BNTs. These were the Bridge ‘n’ Tunnel folk, the out-of-towners who needed civil engineering to help them reach social nirvana. The ambitious critic Norman Podhoretz, a master of self-invention, was one such. His notorious Making It (1967) begins: ‘One of the longest journeys in the

Dome truths

It was 50 years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. The result was a popular masterpiece. Thirty years later, a less accomplished, tone-deaf group of individuals collaborated on the Millennium Dome, and the result was an expensive, sniggerable calamity. For a while, I was one of them. Of course, it was not

The mysteries of colour

When Australia imposed generic packaging in its war on cigarettes, there was consumer research into the most deterrent colour. Pantone 448 was chosen, a sort of sludgy green-brown. When it was described as ‘olive’, Oz’s federation of olive growers formally complained. Certainly, colours move us. Interior designers know that yellow makes people angry, while in

Paradise lost | 9 March 2017

The American dream was a consumerist idyll: all of life was to be packaged, stylised, affordable and improvable. Three bedrooms, two-point-five children, two cars and one mortgage. The sense was first caught by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835–40), where he talks about a people more excited by success than fearful of failure.

Ideal homes

Artists, poets and philosophers have not paid much attention to Milton Keynes …although comedians have. This urban experiment has been mocked by lazy satirists who find ambition derisory and concrete cows hilarious. Milton Keynes is 50 this year and it has an honourable place in the history of that ancient chimera, the Ideal City. It