At the 2012 Łódź Design Festival

Over the past two years, there’s been an explosion of design weeks popping up on this side of the pond, in smaller, more far-flung American metropolises like Portland, St. Louis, and Baltimore. But Europe’s had a hold on this whole second-city-hosts-a-worldwide-design-event for years now. Take Lodz, the third-largest city in Poland, whose design festival is already six years strong. The Lodz Design Festival plays host to homegrown talents like Tomek Rygalik, as well as designers from abroad — both of which were a draw to our newest correspondent and dear friend Thorsten Van Elten, the London-based producer and retailer who reported on the event for us last week. But the real attraction, says Van Elten, was the city of Lodz itself.  “At the beginning of this year I went to Transylvania, and I decided that I really need to travel to more places I’ve never been to. Poland was high on the list so when I saw a link on Facebook about the Łódź Design Festival, I checked for flights and hotel and managed to find two nights for just over £100. There really was no excuse not to go!”

Van Elten attended the festival in his official capacity — he scouted products for his online shop Theo, and will be stocking at least one of his finds in the near future. But he reported for Sight Unseen in our favorite way: as the design-obsessed tourist who takes note of all the new launches and exhibitions but manages to whip out his camera to document the everyday sights that make a trip more textural — architectural details, Communist remnants, unintentionally fantastic displays of graphic design, and laundry lines. “When I was at the airport changing my Pounds to Zloty — call me old fashioned but a trip abroad is not the same without getting hold of some different notes and coins — the friendly Polish man at the Bureau de Change asked me where in Poland I was going,” says Van Elten. “When I said Lodz, he said to me ‘Oh, my wife went once, she said there wasn’t much to see.’ Au contraire!”

“I was very happy to see some of the K67 modular kiosks (above) by Slovenian architect Saša J. Mächtig still in use all over Lodz. I was told all about them when I went to Slovenia a few years ago and loved them then.”

“I also love a good neon light and this is a pretty fine example as far as I’m concerned.”

“The main festival took place in a disused textile factory, of which there are plenty all over Lodz in various states of disrepair. It was bright and cheerful with the majority of the floors being taken up by curated areas. This is the work of Italian/Polish design studio emo who want to enter the Polish market by adding a traditional Polish pattern to a nice kitchen sink.”

“Cute interchangeable wooden magnetic robots by Malgorzata Zolkiewska.”

“A beautiful project called ‘Deconstruction of a product’ was set by Oskar Zieta to the students of the School Of Form SWPS in Poznan.”

“Lovely vintage style  porcelain bowl by Arkadiusz Jaworski for Mops Design.”

Great series of mugs by Mamsam, who asked a wide range of Polish creative talent to come up with a logo that looked like it came Poland’s Communist past. I’ll be stocking these on Theo.”

“Simple and colorful book covers by Hipopotam Studio for 40000 Malarzy Publishing House who publish books on art, architecture and design.”

“A big hit with the kids were these ceramic domino tiles by the main festival sponsor Paradyz Ceramika. They also had Scrabble, Chess, and Sudoku!”

“Re-editions of classic the Polish Mesh Garden Chair by Henryk Sztaba, which was first made in 1970 and is now back in production. When asked why he used wire mesh as a material he apparently said  ‘it was the only material available at the time.’ Fair enough!!”

“The ‘comfortable’ chair by Nikodem Szpunar which was made by combining and assembling elements of different types of furniture. I’m sure I’ve seen that concept before…”

“Some splendid crumbling Communist symbolism.”

“There were wall murals all over Lodz, some from the 1960s and some more recent ones. This is apparently Lodz’s most recognizable one, the PEWEX butterfly painted in 1987 by Jerzy Bystry and Pawel Porzycki. If they’re don’t do something about it, it won’t be there for much longer.”

“The start of my new business, trend forecasting: these are my colors for Autumn/Winter 2015.”

“So, if I could sum up my trip to Lodz with one last image, it would have to be this: the occasional ray of sunshine in the midst of a lot of grey dullness. But I loved it!”

Thorsten Van Elten is a UK-based producer and distributor, and the proprietor of Theo. Theo’s pop-up shop at London’s Somerset House Christmas Arcade begins this Monday, November 12.