Furniture, fashion and textile design, brand consultancy to graphics, there were few creative mediums not tapped into by Mark Hampshire and Keith Stephenson. But then they launched Mini Moderns, and became purveyors of the world’s most charming wallpaper.
What led you into the world of wallpaper? We’d set up our branding and design consultancy Absolute Zero Degrees in 2001 but didn’t want to be pigeonholed. We entered a competition to design a wallpaper for an independent designer shop and were selected. The prize was to have the wallpaper manufactured and sold through the retailer. The wallpaper, Swallows, immediately caught the attention of the press and consumers – so it seemed a good idea to build on this by launching our own range of wallpapers under the Mini Moderns label. This was picked up by Heal’s and a selected stockist list of international retailers.
Describe your studio/workspace. There’s a double-height studio space downstairs, while the next two floors are predominantly living areas (we both live as well as work here). The house works very hard, too… It is constantly being reconfigured and wallpapered every time a new collection is launched – both for shoots and as proof of principle – if we can’t live with the collection, who can?
What’s on your desk right now? Desks are a constant ‘work in progress’.
Before you begin a new design, you must… Really believe in it. As a small business, time is often tight in new product design and development – so at Mini Moderns we have to be sure we love what we are producing and that the designs are original and not lead by trends.
Who or what inspires your work? Susan Williams-Ellis‘s designs for Portmeirion pottery, Ken Garland’s designs for Galt Toys and the textile designs of David Whitehead Ltd. Other textile designers of the period which are an inspiration are Marian Mahler, Lucienne Day, David Parsons, and the Festival Pattern Group. Illustrators who inspire our collections are Victor Reinganum who mainly created book jackets – our favourites include the Muriel Spark collection for Macmillan in the early Sixties – Paul Rand, Charley Harper and David Weidman. We often draw inspiration from our collective childhood memories. The wallpaper Do You Live in a Town is named after a line in the opening titles of Mary, Mungo and Midge – an animation from the Sixties that truly reflected the urban environment that most kids live in. It sums up the Mini Moderns cross-generational approach, too – it could fit in teenage bedrooms and architects’ studios in equal measure.
But we’re not simply retro fanatics. Mini Moderns designs are very much 21st century – designed for the way families live now with a predominantly UK manufacturing base to reduce our carbon footprint. We also like to mix influences and incorporate personal travel experiences into the designs. Pet Sounds – from the 2010 Folk Rock collection – was inspired by a trip to the American west coast, resulting in a woodland cacophony of music making creatures.
You’ve just launched Festival, above, a range inspired by the Festival of Britain, why? The Festival of Britain in 1951 was an exciting glimpse into the future, celebrating the new wave of British design, with design for all available via the introduction of Hire Purchase schemes. New design was everywhere. It’s the optimism we love, and over the years we have amassed a number of items celebrating it. The C.O.I.D. book Design In The Festival is a particularly inspiring find. Having been huge fans of the Festival of Britain, it was an honour to be commissioned in 2008 by Southbank Centre to reproduce as wallpaper, one of the Festival’s signature patterns, Net and Ball, which had been designed in 1951 by the architects of the Royal Festival Hall, Peter Moro and Leslie Martin, as a carpet pattern for the Hall. Our obsession culminates in our new wallpaper in commemoration of the Festival’s 60th anniversary, featuring our favourite pavillions and sights.
You know a design is a success when… It sells! But that’s not the whole story. Sometimes designs which we feel incredibly proud of aren’t the immediate successes we assume they will be. Some designs from 2004 from our Family Album collection, which we loved but were slow sellers, are now hitting the right note with customers – and sell well. Great feedback from our core fan base is also encouraging.
What’s your favourite piece of design? Mark: The original Mini – as well as being a groundbreaking piece of design when it launched it also seemed to sum up the times it was created in perfectly. Keith: The Eames rocker. It looks modern and cool (still) and unlike some modern pieces of furniture is incredibly comfortable. It is also compact in design so will fit into the smallest living space. And being able to rock is always a great thing!
What music do you listen to while you design? Anything and everything – we are as eclectic in our music tastes as our design influences – we also listen to BBC Radio 6 Music and were proud to find that the new BBC offices of Radio 6 Music are decorated with our C60 wallpaper – a repeat pattern of customised tape cassettes in chalkboard and gold, whilst our Pet Sounds design is in Radio 2.
In another life, you would be… Pop stars.
Describe the perfect weekend. Not working… When we do get time off we like to get away from it all going to visit friends who have all relocated to North Norfolk. We go to the Modern Design auction in Diss, and spend the rest of the weekend with them around Holt, and Holkham beach, having big dinners and late nights. We also produce some of our products in Norfolk so we also catch up with our manufacturers who have become friends. That’s the beauty of producing in the UK – you can always meet your suppliers and build relationships with them. We are also huge fans of the Kent coast and enjoy visiting Broadstairs, Dungeness, Rye and Camber, especially out of season – we love a bleak, desolate beach.
What invention would change your life? A button on the Mac that actually says ‘design’ – some clients already think it exists!
Which blogs do you read? A number of blogs have supported us from day one – which include Design Sponge, and Print & Pattern. We also have a great relationship with Retro To Go, Nest Goodies, Bright.Bazaar and Baby Style File.
Three websites we bookmark are… We love House Industries for their retro typography and their mid-century modern iconic products. We buy back issues of design catalogues on eBay as well as using it as a source of inspiration – it acts as a library of vintage fabric designs from all around the world. Occasionally, some are too good not to bid on! Regretsy is outrageously funny take on craft sites – ‘Where DIY meets WTF’ – need we say more?