Irish designer Orla Kiely is famed for her graphic botanical prints and distinctive colour palettes, predominantly in the realm of womenswear and fashion accessories. The news is that she’s branched out big time, as well as a comprehensive wallpaper collection with Harlequin, she’s joined forces with Bliss Home and launched a complete homeware collection, called Orla Kiely House. The full range includes furniture, lighting, rugs, fabrics and ceramics. We caught up with Orla to talk about the new range and her work...
Sofa £1, 750, Accent chair £1, 100, Coffee table £800, Giant stem rug from £550, Multi Rhododendron floor lamp £400, Cushions £39 each, Open shelving unit £2,000
How did you find the process of developing your designs for home ware? The wallpapers were easier because the work is already there, it was just a matter of recolouring, editing and choosing. The furniture was a different, longer process.
We like the Hibiscus Stem wallpaper. Yes, it’s got all our signature colours, like the orange and olive, but instead of blue we put pink in to give it a slightly more girlie feel.
Was it a bit of a eureka moment when you first designed the Stem print? It was just a very quick sketch, I remember it really well. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it happened really quickly and I didn’t realise its potential, it was actually our Japanese customers who immediately loved it and went crazy for it and told us ‘you should really use that’.
Tell us about your colours, they’re so distinctive. It’s instinctive, you go for the colours you love. I always loved greens and olivey greens and orange is such a cool colour. Architecturally you see orange maybe more than in fashion and a lot of my inspiration comes from interiors and home and vintage finds. I always love yellow, but it’s about different tones working together and I often use brown, sometimes you need that to ground it.
For instance, I love pink but it’s how you do pink, brown and pink are fab together, it’s when it gets too pastel and you add blue, then I don’t like it. I guess overall my colours are vintage and retro, but with a modern twist.
Kitchen table £1, 250, Stem dining chairs £150 each, Kitchen larder cabinet £2, 750
Who inspired you to become a designer? I didn’t grow up in a creative house, but I was creative as a child and my parents were very encouraging, My maternal Grandmother was creative in a domestic sense, my mother was a scientist and my father an accountant, but they both encouraged me to follow what I wanted to do.
At college I found it really hard to find prints that I liked, there was nothing in the 1980s, even doing the research was always difficult. I lived in Ireland, so it was difficult finding access to resources like the V&A. I remember coming to London as a graduate and then Paris where I discovered the flea markets and found all the things I really loved.
Did you admire any other designers? When I look back, it was more furniture and textiles designers than fashion designers – like Lucienne Day, even though I didn’t know quite know who they were, they really inspired me because I loved textiles and that’s at the core of my work.
What’s your studio like? We often work on the floor, we have meetings kneeling on cushions on the floor, then the dog comes in and walks all over everything and sits on the artwork that we’re just discussing. We have music on, I like Radio 4 but in the studio it’s usually Radio 6 Music.
Do you collect anything? Nothing specific. I’ve lots of vintagey bits and pieces, with pattern on. I just bought a very nice tile, it’s like a hot plate with a really funky print on it from Long Beach, California. Were out there doing a film in Palm Springs for our Spring/Summer fashion collection.
Daybed by Orla Kiely House £2, 750, cushions £39 each
When I’m not designing I love… going to markets, wherever I am. I also love watching Downton Abbey and Mad Men.
Oooh, who’s your favourite female character in Mad Men? I like them all, but you have to love Peggy.
As well as designing, I’m quite good at… Banangrams. Have you played it? I play it with my children, or on my own. It’s a cool alternative to scrabble, it’s very relaxing. You race to make your own crossword and it’s quite fun.
What’s the most exciting part of your job? I love it when a print is just starting to take shape, when you’re starting a new season and it’s too early to tell. You get to the ‘oh my goodness, it’s starting to look good’ stage and then you know you’re halfway there.
So now you can have a whole Orla house? Yes, but I like the idea of mixing it up with other things, like vintage pieces. The idea is that you can have as much or as little as you like.