DESIGNER DIARIES | 10 Questions with Ottoline

What is your earliest memory of design? When did you first know that you wanted to become a fabric/wallpaper designer?

Growing up I remember my mother and my grandmother were always looking for curtain fabric, Liberty prints, etc. My mum had actually wallpapered mine and my sister’s shared bedroom using two different wallpaper prints so we each had ‘our’ side. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but looking back now it seems quite a bold design move! She would also make dresses for us out of Liberty fabric, so really wallpaper and fabric were already in the air. That said, I didn’t really have a moment of deciding that I wanted to be a designer. I would go as far as to say people started referring to me as a designer when I had already created a few wallpaper designs but before I started thinking of myself as a designer. I have always loved making things from scratch, but that applied to lots of different crafts projects. For example, when I moved in with my husband (boyfriend at the time) in our first flat together, I remember buying a plank of wood, wooden legs, foam, fabric and a staple gun and turning it into an ottoman. I was really proud of it!

Image above: Sofa in Improvisation No 1 Red and Long Cushion in Tulips of Belgravia Burgundy

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a fabric designer? Did this start from prior experience as an Interior Designer?

I guess I truly reconnected with design, and especially with wallpaper, when we moved into our first home that wasn’t rented and I realised I could decorate the walls however I liked, however bold and colourful I wanted it to be. I started researching different prints quite obsessively, to the point that I knew literally every wallpaper design out there. Ideas started floating around in my head for a specific design that I couldn’t find anywhere, so it wasn’t long before I brought it to life and got it printed. From there everything snowballed and still does.

Images above (left to right): Wallpapers in Double Check YellowDouble Swirl and Chintamani Charlotte.

Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What would you say are the main influences on your work?

I find inspiration in everything! Art by others such as Matisse, Kandinsky, Ballets Russes, etc. But also antique textiles, nature, and many other things. What I always aim to do though is to draw inspiration from the past but bring it my own, contemporary twist.

Where is the most surprising place that you’ve found inspiration for your designs?

School classroom artwork displays are often quite inspiring. Kids don’t follow any rules, so everything is messy, colourful and fun.

Images above: Improvisation No 1 in GreenRedPink and Yellow

What’s your creative process? Take us through the development of a design from idea conception to the final product.

My creative process is relatively unstructured. An idea will usually circle in my mind for a while, until I grab it and decide to commit to it. As I am a perfectionist about my designs, I have lots of unfinished concepts and sketches and will only release something if I feel completely happy with it, no matter how long that takes. The most structured thing about my process is the way I explore specific concepts. For example, Improvisation Number 1 was a response to the Bauhaus centenary in 2019, which I had researched extensively, and then I drew inspiration from Kandinsky’s work for that design. Same can be said of Chintamani, a classic design which I reinterpreted after having researched the Ottoman era. So I do love to pick a topic, research everything about it, see what was made during that time, what colours were used, what materials, etc, before responding to it in my own way.

Images above (left to right): Wallpapers in Chintamani Trellis Rusty Orange,
 Blue ,Kilim Stripes Wallpaper and Little Lattice Blue.

What types of materials and production processes do you prefer to use and why?

We print everything on non-woven wallpaper and on linen. Linen I am particularly passionate about because it is made of flax, which has a very low water requirement when it is growing and which can be used in its entirety when making fabric. I know it is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but it is the most sustainable fabric one can use and I really care about minimising the impact my business has on the planet. In terms of process, everything we do is digital. It has so many wonderful benefits which I use to the max in my design and production processes! First of all the use of colour which is the absolute core of my designs. I use a lot of it and play and test a lot with colour effects which could never be achieved with more traditional production methods. Then the flexibility; I love creating and I am - intentionally - quite prolific with the number of designs I release each year. I can do this because digital printing allows us to print-to-order, thereby minimising waste as we don’t have to hold stock.

Image above: Wallpaper in Bloomsbury Stripes Denim Blue and Cushion in Persian Palm Soft Teal.

What is something that most people don’t understand or appreciate about textile design that you wish they did?

There is somewhat of a stigma about the digital creative process and it potentially being inferior to a more traditional hand-drawn creative process. I draw everything digitally by hand; my hand leads the lines and shapes as much as it would on paper. I hope that things like David Hockney’s iPad paintings exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts will show that just as much thought, artistic intention, skill, trial and error go into digital artworks.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to experiment with adding more colour and pattern to their interiors with fabric/wallpaper but is scared of making the wrong choice?

I don’t think there is a wrong choice, more is more! The more you combine patterns and colours the easier it becomes. If you are a novice however, start out with small things like cushions, a blind, or a side chair. With wallpaper, perhaps start with a downstairs loo, a dressing room, or some shelves. If this goes well it will give you the confidence to keep going.

Image above: Wallpaper in Composition no 4.

Is there a particular design in your collection that’s your favourite and if so, why?

My latest design is always my favourite! That said I look back quite fondly on Ballets Russes, as it was my first cohesive collection and I am still inspired by artists who contributed to the Ballets Russes costume and set design, such as Sonia Delaunay, Natalia Goncharova, and Leon Bakst.

How has the fabric and textile industry evolved since you became a part of it and what do you see and hope for the future of it?

Because of a growing desire for sustainability and also probably because of Covid, expectations from clients have shifted quite a bit - I find - in a good way. It feels as though customers are more mindful of how they make decisions on what they purchase. The demand for higher quality and more durable products has definitely risen. There is a shift towards more accountability for how things are done behind the scenes. Customers want to know more about our process in their desire to understand what they are buying. I believe this can only be a very positive thing for our planet.