Oasis off the King's Road

July 11, 1997

Kate Worsley samples the cool office elegance of Chelsea Art College's head in our series on academics' rooms

Bridget Jackson and her room could not be more different. The wiry, silk-suited head of Chelsea College of Art and Design positively fizzes with energy and solicitude. But her room, just a few steps from the commercial cacophony of the King's Road, is a cool, monochrome oasis. Since she took it over in 1991 she has stripped her large corner office down to the bare essentials: desk, conference table, chairs and, of course, lots and lots of art, most of it by past or current students.

The overall effect is of space, order and equanimity. A floor-to-ceiling sliding screen at the far end divides off her (very neat) desk and computer table. Wide, white venetian blinds run round two sides, screening the huge banks of windows that overlook the studios. All the furniture is black-finished wood, the carpet grey. Two huge bunches of extraordinary flowers are bought daily. "It's a lovely room," says Ms Jackson enthusiastically.

She is enjoying herself hugely posing for the photographer. Silver bangles sliding, she places her hands with deliberation, and grins widely between shots. "It's a well-used room. Meetings and so on. There used to be a circular table. It was very democratic I" Not very practical, though. This matters a lot to her. She replaced the circular table with rectangular Alva Aalto ones, three of which are pushed together, and 12 black webbed chairs from Artek. "My PA's got one too," she says. "They're not all that expensive. The tables in particular are a good bargain. They are incredibly functional. All you need is a cloth." It's true. Our acrobatic photographer's dusty footprints wipe straight off.

The star turns are two, angular, low-slung chairs. One is "an original Gerrit Rietveld chair, bought by the college in 1963 for Pounds 50. "I've no idea how much it would be worth now," she confesses. It is a black-stained, beech and plywood prototype for one of the De Stijl movement icons, the famous Red Blue chair, designed by the Dutch architect and experimental furniture maker and made by his assistant Gerard van de Groenekan around 1918. In 1923 small strategic areas such the ends of the arms were painted De Stijl style in primary colours - red, blue and yellow.

The other chair is a copy made by a college technician. We turn them over to look at the identifying label underneath. "Look, it's the same material and jointing." Then she stands back. "No, that is the original and this is the copy."

Next, a whistlestop tour of the room's various objets d'art. The largest painting, dominating the back wall, she got the college to buy from Richard Mathews, who graduated last year. She chooses new pieces about once every two years.

Various other paintings and screenprints fade into the background in the glare of an extraordinary sculpture balanced on a low cupboard by the window, a first-year work by student Richard Clayman, who graduates this year. About three feet long, it is made from a split length of thick black rubber tubing, filled with foam rubber and sewn together with steel pins that glint like teeth along the crack. You have to edge past its jagged foaming mouth just to reach her desk. She falls about laughing thinking why she picked up on this piece. "I just liked it as a thing!" she says, throwing up her arms.

Then she moves off again, out into the cluttered and paint-spattered corridors of the college, disappearing round the temporary partitions erected for the graduation show, to find the student work she has her eye on this year. It is a small, wooden box on a plinth. Flick a switch on its front and the lid opens, revealing a curved wooden arm that reaches down, turns the switch back off and retreats as the lid comes down again. It is neat, humorous, edgy. She just cannot resist it.

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