Small Spaces in the City, an interview with Clare Farrow

“Small Spaces in the City,” the latest exhibition by independent curator and writer Clare Farrow (founder of Clare Farrow Studio) at Roca London Gallery, is not just a display; it’s a profound commentary on modern urban living.

Farrow, with her rich background in art history, music, and literature, has crafted an exhibition that is a clarion call to rethink how we inhabit the shrinking spaces of our cities.

The exhibition is a culmination of Farrow’s extensive experience and her keen observation of the challenges in urban living spaces. Her journey, an eclectic blend of interviews with design legends and an academic background enriched by her time at The University of St Andrews under Martin Kemp, has informed her unique approach to this project.

“Small Spaces in the City” is a testament to Farrow’s vision, showcasing innovative approaches to living in compact spaces. It features a plethora of designs that transform small areas into functional, aesthetic, and even luxurious living spaces. The exhibition includes a range of multifunctional and transforming furniture, a key element in optimizing small living spaces. Farrow has carefully selected pieces that demonstrate how thoughtful design can not only save space but also add a sense of dynamism and flexibility to living areas.

One of the most engaging aspects of the exhibition is its exploration of international perspectives on small-space living. Farrow has brought together minimalist, space-efficient designs from Tokyo with the light-maximizing, colour-rich approaches of Berlin apartments. This global perspective highlights the diversity of design thinking and underscores common challenges faced by urban dwellers worldwide.

Sustainability is a central theme of “Small Spaces.” The exhibition showcases how small living spaces can lead to more environmentally-friendly lifestyles. Many of the featured designs utilize natural or recycled materials, emphasising a philosophy of minimal waste. This focus resonates with a growing environmental consciousness among city residents.

The interactive nature of “Small Spaces” allows visitors to engage directly with the designs, envisioning how these ideas could be implemented in their own living spaces. This hands-on approach makes the exhibition a source of inspiration and practical solutions.

Farrow’s curatorial skill is evident in how the exhibition weaves together different aspects of small-space living. From the psychological impact of living in confined spaces to innovative design solutions, “Small Spaces” is an informative and engaging narrative.

The exhibition also delves into the emotional aspects of compact living. Farrow believes that design can play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of life in small spaces. She notes, “Design in small spaces must go beyond functionality; it should touch the emotions, creating spaces that are not only efficient but also comforting and inspiring.”

A highlight of “Small Spaces” is its focus on the creative potential unleashed by spatial limitations. Farrow observes, “Constraints can often be the birthplace of creativity. In small spaces, every inch counts, and this necessitates a level of inventiveness and resourcefulness that can lead to truly innovative solutions.”

Farrow’s expertise in bringing together diverse perspectives is also evident in the exhibition. She has included works from renowned architects and emerging designers, creating a dialogue between established and fresh approaches to small-space design.

“Small Spaces” is not just about the physical aspects of living in confined spaces; it also addresses the social implications. The exhibition explores how small-space living can affect community dynamics and personal interactions. Farrow notes, “In small spaces, the boundary between private and public spheres is often blurred, necessitating designs that can accommodate both.”

The exhibition has been well received, with visitors praising its relevance and the thought-provoking nature of the displays. Farrow’s ability to present complex concepts in an accessible manner has been particularly appreciated. The exhibition has sparked conversations about the future of urban living, with many visitors leaving with new ideas about how to make the most of their living spaces.

In addition to the exhibition, Farrow has organized a series of talks and workshops. These events have provided a platform for discussions about the challenges and opportunities of living in small spaces, bringing together architects, designers, urban planners, and the general public.

Farrow’s vision for “Small Spaces” extends beyond the confines of the exhibition. She sees it as a starting point for a broader conversation about the future of urban living. “I hope that this exhibition will inspire people to think differently about their living spaces, to see the potential in small spaces, and to embrace the possibilities that come with living in a compact urban environment,” she says.

As “Small Spaces in the City” continues its run at Roca London Gallery, it stands as a testament to Farrow’s ability to create an engaging and thought-provoking exhibition that resonates deeply with the challenges of contemporary urban life. The exhibition is more than just a collection of design ideas; it’s a reflection of our times, a response to the growing need for smart, sustainable living solutions in the face of urban space constraints.

Clare Farrow’s curation brings to the fore the concept of ‘living inside the box’ – a challenge that many city dwellers face daily. The exhibition is laid out as a journey through different aspects of small-space living, starting with the basics of space-saving furniture and extending to more complex themes like emotional wellbeing in confined spaces.

A standout feature of the exhibition is its section on international perspectives. Farrow has meticulously gathered examples from cities like Tokyo, known for its micro-apartments, to Stockholm, New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Melbourne, Seville and Berlin, where creative use of light and colour transform small interiors. This section not only showcases different cultural approaches to space management but also highlights the universal challenge of urban living.

Another intriguing aspect of “Small Spaces” is its focus on the emotional and psychological impacts of living in small spaces. The exhibition includes a film by Candida Richardson of Royal Ballet star William Bracewell exploring movement and emotion in confined spaces, offering insights into how spatial constraints impact wellbeing. This interdisciplinary approach, combining architecture with dance and psychology, is a testament to Farrow’s innovative curatorial style.

The exhibition’s design itself reflects the theme of small-space optimization. Farrow and her team – scenographer Jean-Christophe Petillault (JCPCDR), designers Tom Robinson and Paola Bagna, and cabinet-maker Thibault Pitois)  have utilised the gallery space to its fullest, creating an immersive experience that allows visitors to feel and interact with the concepts on display. The clever use of lighting, mirrors, and modular structures within the gallery not only illustrates the potential of small-space design but also enhances the overall visitor experience.

Farrow’s curation goes beyond mere aesthetics; it delves into the practicalities of living in small spaces. The exhibition includes innovative solutions for storage, multifunctional furniture, and space-saving techniques. These practical solutions are presented not just as designs but as a lifestyle choice, encouraging visitors to rethink their relationship with space.

“Small Spaces in the City” also addresses the theme of community in urban living. Farrow explores how design can facilitate social interactions and build community in dense urban environments. The exhibition includes examples of shared spaces and communal living arrangements that challenge the traditional notion of private living quarters.

One of the most talked-about features of the exhibition is its section on sustainable living. Farrow has included designs that use eco-friendly materials and promote a minimalist lifestyle, emphasizing the environmental benefits of small-space living. This section aligns with the growing global consciousness about sustainability and the need for environmentally responsible design practices.

Throughout the exhibition, Farrow has included quotes and insights from architects, designers, and residents, adding depth and personal perspectives to the display. These quotes serve as ‘pull-out’ moments for visitors, offering pauses for reflection and engagement with the concepts presented.

As the exhibition continues to draw in crowds, its impact goes beyond the confines of the gallery. “Small Spaces in the City” has become a talking point in design circles and among the general public, sparking discussions about the future of urban living. Farrow’s exhibition is not just a showcase of ideas; it’s a catalyst for change, inspiring people to think creatively about the spaces they inhabit.

Exhibition photos: Brotherton Lock / Roca London Gallery / Clare Farrow Studio. Dance film still Candida Richardson.