Amelia Coward, Bombus OwnerHomegirl London pays homage to Bombus.  The company renowned for their vintage map hearts began back in 2003 when Amelia Coward was applying decoupage vintage cowboy and Indian comic strips to a 1950s coffee table for a shop window prop.  A few hours later it had sold and she knew she was on to something interesting.  She continued this technique and applied it to chairs and homeware products which were also popular and the bespoke requests started rolling in.  The real light bulb moment came when she stumbled across a box of vintage maps and started applying these to create framed pictures, greeting cards and jewellery.  It’s now 9 years later and she has a team of 7 working at their dedicated studio space in Kent.  I caught up with Amelia to ask a few questions …

Q: Where did the name Bombus come from?

A: It’s from the Latin for bumblebee and represents ‘busy as a bee’ which is an apt description for the business.

Q: How did you get into decoupage?

A: Decoupage was something my mother introduced me to at a very early age.  She’d give me a pair of scissors and a pile of old magazines and I’d sit there happily cutting out small images and organising them into piles.  She then taught me how to glue the pictures on to large pebbles and varnish them for doorstops.   I studied textiles and weave at Central St Martins; followed by postgraduate study at The Royal College of Art.  After several years of working in the commercial textiles and furniture industry, I was keen to get back to doing something handmade.

Q: Tell me more about how the map idea was born and why you think it has been so successful.

A:  In 2007 my partner and I moved to Kent from London.  I made him Valentine’s card using a vintage map of the area we were moving to and he was so touched that I realised I was on to something.  I love vintage papers and materials; I find their colours, textures and patterns really inspiring and have been amassing vintage ephemera for as long as I can remember.  Everyone loves maps.  Of course, they hold such information about history and geography but on a much more personal note, they can evoke great memories of special times we had when we were there.  This is exactly what our map art taps into.

Primrose Hill, white, BombusQ: Where do you source your vintage maps from?

A: Anywhere I can!  I go to boot fairs, some of our local charity shops keep them to one side for me and give me first refusal, second-hand book shops and eBay … Quite often, as soon as people find out what I do with maps, they are keen to donate or sell their old maps to me.  Paper maps just aren’t used as much now; especially because so many people use sat nav.  People seem genuinely pleased to see their old maps put to good purpose and upcycled into art rather than just throwing them into their recycling bin.

Q:  Aside from maps, what else do you use?

A: We use a variety of materials actually.  Discarded, used stamps are a favourite as they have such a wealth of history, colour, pattern and texture too.  We mostly get these from eBay, boot fairs and charity shops.  I’ve recently been developing a bonded fabric technique and blowing my own trumpet here, but I’m super-pleased with the results.  We’re using it for greetings cards and still-to-be-launched Christmas decorations.  I’ve also been working with some gorgeous vintage wallpaper and using them to cover sketchbooks, guest-books and framed art.  For example, our limited edition Wedding Guest book.  I have a huge collection of vintage books that I’ve rescued from charity and second-hand book shops – the ones that are falling apart generally.  I can upcycle the images into something worthwhile rather than the books just being thrown away.  In particular, vintage dictionaries, flower arranging books, botanical illustration, illustrated children’s books – anything that catches my eye really.  They all have such wonderful colours and textures.   We do use some more contemporary papers as well – for our new personalised laser-cut range, we are using modern paper but it still has a vintage look and feel to it, due to its colour and / or texture.  I invested in a laser cutting machine a few years ago; previously we used to cut everything by hand.  It’s been a fabulous addition to the studio and we still have heaps to explore in terms of its capabilities and possibilities.

Q: Tell me more about your bespoke services.

A: The majority of our products are bespoke, which means we make each and every one individually by hand to order to your specified details.  With the map products, you can choose the exact location to be featured.  We have more than 15,000 vintage maps in our map room at any one time.  For most locations, you can be as detailed as a street name (within the UK), as broad as a whole county or anywhere in between.  We hold maps and atlases of every country in the world and it’s very rare we can’t find a location in our collection.  If we don’t already have it, we’ll do our utmost to source it for you.  A lot of our products can be personalised to include names and messages.

Q: Are you working on anything new?  What coming up for the remainder of the year?

A: I’m constantly working on new things as it’s critical to any business to keep innovative and fresh.  There are always so many ideas in my head but because the studio is busy on a daily basis, it’s actually difficult to find the time to put them in to practice.  Some are evolutions of old favourites: for example, our Off the Peg collection.  The idea for these came from the huge popularity of the Bespoke Map Heart.  Certain locations were being requested time and time again and we learnt oodles about your favourite travel destinations across the world.  So, we decided to draw some maps of these destinations in our very own vintage-inspired style.  We researched heaps of maps or every different style and age and did lots of sketching and painting and we are really pleased with this collection of ‘Off-the-Peg’ destination map hearts.  Each one is a high-quality print from an original illustration by our in-house team using a combination of digital and traditional methods.

I’m quite keen to get back to my textile roots and am currently exploring different methods and the costs involved in printing our own map illustration onto textiles.  In January (2012) we exhibited at our first ever trade fair – Top Drawer, London.  We were invited to the show as an exhibitor within ‘Spotted by Charlotte Abrahams’ which is designed to create an entry point for a new generation of exhibitors.  We had an overwhelmingly successful show and got the taste for them!  We were at Pulse, London in June and are delighted to have been invited back to Top Drawer Autumn, which runs from 16-18 September 2012, within ‘Spotted plus’.   From the two shows earlier this year, we now sell to more than 50 independent retailers across the country and a couple overseas.  We’re already looking into which other trade fairs we’d like to exhibit at next year.

Below is a selection of the Bombus products, go to Bombus if you’d like to purchase or commission a bespoke piece.  Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Bombus, special thanks to Amelia Coward and Becky Smith.

9 vintage map hearts Bombus

9 vintage map hearts, £185

9 vintage map birds Bombus

9 vintage map birds, £240

42 vintage map dots, £169, Bombus

42 vintage map dots, £169

Personalised laser cut wedding heart Bombus

Personalised laser cut wedding heart, £210

Wedding guest book Bombus

Wedding guest book, £48

Mum pink ditsy floral fabric card Bombus

Mum pink ditsy floral fabric card, £12.50