Stephen Bayley

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Stephen Paul Bayley Hon FRIBA (born 13 October 1951) is a British author, critic, columnist, consultant, broadcaster, debater and curator.

In the 1970s, he was a lecturer in the history of art at the University of Kent, but first became prominent as an authority on style and design when, in 1979, he began a collaboration with Habitat founder Sir Terence Conran to promote a more intelligent awareness of design. This led to the creation of The Boilerhouse Project,[1][2] at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the V&A, which became London's most successful gallery of the 1980s. The Boilerhouse evolved into a unique Design Museum which was opened by Margaret Thatcher in 1989. Bayley was the founding director of The Boilerhouse Project - Britain's first permanent exhibition of design, host to more than 20 exhibitions in five years including Ford Motor Company, Sony, Issey Miyake, Coca-Cola, and Taste. He then became chief executive[2] of the Design Museum in London, which grew out of the Boilerhouse Project.

In 2007, Bayley became The Observer's architecture and design correspondent.[3] He writes for a huge range of national and international consumer, trade and professional publications including: The Spectator, The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Sud Deutsches Zeitung, GQ, Car, Financial Times, Vanity Fair, and Octane. He has been a contributing editor of GQ since the magazine was launched. He has been a columnist in The Times and The Independent, as well as the Art Critic of The Listener and the Architecture Critic of The Observer. He is currently Design Critic of The Spectator.[4]

He has also appeared on television series such as Have I Got News for You and Grumpy Old Men.

His 1980 BBC2 documentary Little Boxes was the first treatment of design on television. It was produced by Patrick Uden and included unique interviews with Dieter Rams, Ettore Sottsass, Raymond Loewy, and Tom Wolfe. Since the 1980s, he has been referred to as the "design guru" - a title he accepts with what he's explained as self-deprecating irony.

Childhood and education[edit]

Bayley was born in Cardiff, Wales and spent his childhood years in Liverpool, England, attending Quarry Bank High School for Boys. He was inspired by Liverpool's architecture and its built environment.

When Bayley was 15, he wrote a letter to John Lennon, who had also attended Quarry Bank as a teenager. Bayley's description of his English teacher analysing Beatles lyrics in class helped to inspire "I Am the Walrus".

He was later educated at Manchester University and the University of Liverpool School of Architecture, where his mentor was the historian and conservationist Quentin Hughes, whose obituary he wrote in The Guardian, 16 May 2004.

Other roles[edit]

In 1989, he was made a Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's top artistic honour, by the French Minister of Culture and in 1995 he was Periodical Publishers Association Columnist of the Year. He is an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA, a Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales, Chairman of The Royal Fine Arts Commission Trust, and a Fellow of Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.

He was appointed as the creative director of the exhibition at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. After a series of disputes, he resigned in 1998, citing ministerial interference. On his resignation, he said of the dome that "it could turn out to be crap", and accused government minister Peter Mandelson of "running the project like a dictator".

The American author and journalist Tom Wolfe said of him, "I don’t know anybody with more interesting observations about style, taste and contemporary design".[5]

Courting controversy[edit]

Bayley has sometimes stirred up controversy by strong-worded arguments.

In an article in The Times in 2018, he wrote that "without 'colonial' interventions there would be no Elgin marbles to discuss. The Acropolis would be dust."[6]

In his Observer column of 22 March 2009, he claimed polemically that: "Botticelli's model for The Birth of Venus was a common Florentine hooker called Simonetta Vespucci, painted nude to titillate his client".[7] He was arguing against the motion that: "Britain has become indifferent to beauty" proposed by Roger Scruton and David Starkey, who held an image of The Birth of Venus next to an image of the British supermodel Kate Moss, in order to demonstrate how "cruddy" British culture is.

Personal life[edit]

He lives in his South West London house with his wife, Flo, and their two children, Bruno and Coco. By 2008, he had lived there for 25 years and says that the house still isn't finished: "doing up a home is like food and sex: it should never be rushed" and that the sole purpose of the garden is as "a place to sit with a book and a glass of wine".[8]

Selected publications[edit]

  • In Good Shape: Style in Industrial Products 1900 to 1960. Design Council, London, 1979. ISBN 0850720958
  • The Albert Memorial (1981)
  • Harley Earl and The Dream Machine (1983)
  • The Conran Directory of Design (1985)
  • Sex Drink and Fast Cars (1986)
  • Commerce and Culture (1989)
  • Taste (1991)
  • Labour Camp (1998)
  • General Knowledge (2000)
  • Sex: A cultural history (2000)
  • A Dictionary of Idiocy (2003)
  • Life’s a Pitch (2007)
  • Design: Intelligence made visible (2007)
  • Cars (2008)
  • Work: The Building of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (2008)
  • Woman as Design (2009)
  • Liverpool: Shaping the city (2010)
  • La Dolce Vita (2011)
  • Ugly: The Aesthetics Of Everything (2012).
  • Death Drive - there are no accidents (2016).
  • Life’s a Pitch (3rd edition, 2017).
  • Taste - the secret meaning of things (2nd edition, 2017).
  • Signs of Life - why brands matter (2017).
  • How To Steal Fire (2019).


External links[edit]