British designer Ella Doran kicked off her career in the 1990s with colourful placemats and coasters featuring photographic images and patterns, ‘Sunlight Through Leaves’ being one of her most distinctive designs.
Since then she’s expanded her portfolio of modern home accessories to include cushions, tableware, trays, umbrellas, wallpapers and blinds. Her latest project is a range of rugs for Woven Ground.
What made you want to be a designer? I was surrounded and exposed to craft through my mum who was a Montessori teacher and I was always encouraged to make my cards and presents for family and friends using the materials around me such as paper, clay or wood.
As a child I would cover my walls with cuttings from magazines, postcards from galleries, photographs I had taken and drawings that I, or my friends, had made. I am still dressing my walls at my studio in this way – with new inspiration and ideas for new collections.
What do you love about designing? The whole process – from conception to planning, the prototyping and then finally the making. I enjoy exploring the possibilities of placing my designs on different materials and in different contexts.
Last year, I introduced a new range of digitally-printed linen cushions that are handmade and printed here in the UK (above) , and I am still in love with the amazing quality of the print and the finish. As digital technologies have improved ten-fold over the last decade, I am proud that we are able to support UK manufacturers and printing in this way, it also means I don’t need to sit on lots of stock, I can make to demand instead.
This year I’ve been developing my first range of rugs with Woven Ground (below), which has led me to focus on the texture, depth and material of the rugs.
Tell us more? It’s been so fun and interesting. Paul Vowels, the director of Woven Ground has an ocean of knowledge, so I always leave the meetings with creative ideas whirling around in my mind. The ‘Geo carved’ rug is the first rug (above) and takes a starting point from my photographical work, which captures the surface textures of architectural wall panels. My photographic images (see below) have been translated into a three-dimensional relief. The rugs are handtufted and handcarved from fine New Zealand Wool so they are really special, beautiful rugs.
My interest in natural structures and geometric shapes also led us to develop a Natural Rug Collection (below). This range uses timeless techniques, using ecological materials and rich contemporary dye colours, which have origins in traditional basket weaving. Because the rugs are made from strips that are handsewn to create the rugs, we can make any rug size required. I love the bespoke aspect as it means the rug is made for purpose and hopefully is therefore enjoyed and respected for longer too.
What’s your studio like? G o r g e o u s ! It was probably built in the 1800’s as stables or workshops when Hackney had more grassland than buildings. I love it because we’re tucked away amongst gardens in a street in De Beauvior Town. We could be in the countryside as it’s so quiet. It was an old printworks and we had such fun reclaiming what they had left behind before renovating…original letterpress trays, lots of old printing paper, inks and furniture, all things that the old owners considered waste but that we considered precious! We have a flat roof and skylights so the light is wonderful. My floor area and inspiration wall is constantly changing as we play with new samples and concepts, and when we are preparing for an exhibition, we stage it here first, so there is never a dull week….
How would you describe your style? Modern, eclectic, colourful, bold …It’s not easy for me to dissect my own style because it’s too close to me. But someone said to me that it has a colourful Scandinavian cheerfulness coupled with an edgy British look and I like that description!
What’s your bestselling signature Ella Doran design? This last year it has been the Portables (below, created in collaboration with my illustrator friend Kavel Rafferty) and Stacks and Stripes in the table top and stationery products and Geo in blinds and wallpaper.
What is your home like? Full up with boys – and stuff – happy, colourful, with white walls everywhere, to cope with the riot of textiles and collectables – from my husband’s record collection to my books and plate collections. I have used some of my wallpapers as accents on doors, and the ceilings are high, as it was an old school hall once, so the light is wonderful!
What are you currently lusting after? More storage solutions to pack away some of my family clutter 😉 and this gorgeous Robin Day reclining chair produced by twentytwentyone in green (please!) as that is my favorite colour!
Which other designers do you admire? Fornasetti. He inspired me to play with applying my designs to different objects, from the G-wiz (below) that I decorated with my iconic Sunlight Through Leaves design – to being one of the first to introduce hotographic designs onto tabletop products in the late 1990’s.
Marimekko has also been an inspiration for me. Their fashion shoots of the early 1960’s still inspire me. They were a pioneering brand from the outset and it’s been reassuring and inspirational to watch them evolving through the decades.
And I have been a longtime admirer of Thomas Heatherwick and his studio’s creations, long before he became a household name with the new 38 bus and the Olympic cauldron. It was his window design at Harvey Nichols, that first brought him to my attention and his walking bridge for the Paddington basin is so beautiful and organic in its concept and function, a curling bridge (not the standard type one might expect).
Also, I’ve been reading, ‘INSTANT the Story of Polaroid’, which documents Edwin Land, the inventor and creator of the Polaroid camera. That book is a wonderful document of the last 50+ years of a billion dollar business, which has been through the ups and downs of success through the decades with an inventor at the helm.
As well as designing, I’m pretty good at…well, I love baking cakes. My current favourite is a carrot cake using Rose’s Bakery recipe from ‘BREAKFAST – LUNCH – TEA’ – simply divine – oh, and for the wheat free lovers the lemon polenta is to die for!
What blogs do you read? I often find myself lost in instagram heaven, where I have been followed by someone, who I then follow back and sometimes I end up on an amazing blog from the other side of the world, but my current top four would be:
Design milk – great for across the board creative projects, products, art and design.
Todd Selby’s great photography with his artist’s eye for detail and original people and their craft, home and place of work…..
Maybe Mcqueen an inspirational blog with beautiful photographs to illustrate Vashti Whitfield’s words – she is a coach and widow to the late Andy Whitfield.
In another life you’d be…? Before Art College I considered following the medical side of my family. I tried work experience with a physiotherapist and a medical artist. Neither felt quite right. But I’m still interested in the connection between art and healing and I plan to build on my recent project of designing inspiring imagery for the curtains, bedside cabinets and portable tabletops for the paediatric wards of the new Royal London Hospital, a project that was sponsored by the NHS charitable organisation Vital Arts.