Homegirl London pays homage to Surfacephilia. This is a business owned by designer Helen Stevens who makes elaborate surface pattern designs and illustrations for wallpaper, cushions and china. Her lavish and striking designs are absolutely beautiful.
Her business started in September 2011 with her debut collection ‘Navajo’ which is inspired by an etherial Native American theme incorporating birds, feathers, earth stones and embroidery to create stunning bohemian luxe designs for interiors. I caught up with Helen to find out more …
Q: Tell me about your design background.
A: I studied Textiles and Surface Design at Cleveland College or Art and Design and graduated in 2002 with a first. I specialised in screen printing, it was a bit before digital printing had hit its stride, we hadn’t really been taught a lot of CAD (computer aided design) either. It was very much a hands on approach, from hand drawn and painted observational drawing, development in sketchbooks and onto fabrics, to using the dye lab and screen printing facilities. I loved spending all my time in the print rooms and produced some of my most experimental work over that period.
Q: Why set up your business?
A: I moved to London after graduation and got a job designing prints for Red Or Dead for the accessories and fashion lines, I even tried my dab hand at designing shoes. After a while in London I moved back to the North East and began lecturing on the degree I graduated from where I stayed for five years. I loved both jobs for very different reasons, getting to design for such an established brand taught be a lot about commercial design. Lecturing allowed me to talk about design all day long, and was very fulfilling. After so long my need to design for myself became too much so I eventually decided to spend all my savings and finally commit to my dream of setting up my own design studio.
Q: Why call the company Surfacephilia?
A: When I started designing for my first collection, I sat and listed everything I wanted my work to represent. I’ve always been interested in textures and finishes of surfaces, not just within pattern, textiles and art, but in films and photography too. I like layering and combining techniques to create tactile imagery. I thought using the word ‘surface’ in the name was important and easily expressed what the brand is about. ‘Philia’ means an attraction towards something, so I combined the two and created a bit of a mouthful of a brand name – but people compliment it and seem to get it, so I guess it works!
Q: Where are you based and why?
A: I’m based in a studio in the North East. It’s where I’m from and I’m able to support the business working on it full time from here. I spend a lot of time going to and from London for business and so far my location hasn’t been a hindrance. One of the things I like about being self-employed is my work being portable and being able to move around on my own schedule. I would happily move with the studio but for now my set up is pretty ideal.
Q: How many people work at your company?
A: Just me!
Q: Describe your design style.
A: The hard part … I’d like to think of it as ethereal, lavish, striking but delicate, experimental and sophisticated.
Q: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
A: I think the things I’m attracted to stem from memories of growing up as a kid and travelling a lot. Because of my Dads job I got to see a lot of exotic locations from a young age. My mum was very style savvy and our home was always decorated beautifully with luxurious heavily printed fabrics and natural finishes. I would really study the interiors and locations in films as well even from a young age. I get inspiration from anywhere as long as it sits tonally or texturally with my memories – I guess, the list would be endless.
Q: Tell me about your collections.
A: I have my debut collection Navajo out at the moment and I’m currently working on my second collection which is launching in January next year. The Navajo Collection explores a decorative world of a native American lifestyle and features patterns created by paintings and illustrations of feathers, birds, native jewellery and embroidery. My next collection will be quite dark and ‘gothy’ with a hint of opulence, I’m excited to pull the new collection together!
Surfacephilia Niyaha Wallpaper
Q: Tell me about your bespoke service.
A: As well as manufacturing my own products, I run the business as a design studio; I am open and excited to work on collaborations or commissions for other companies. In the past I have worked with Material Lab on a Johnsons Tiles promotion, I have designed a print for a well-known high street interiors brand which is coming out next spring / summer and I’m currently working with Graham & Brown and Barbara Chandler (Design Editor for the Evening Standard) on a very exciting project called New Wave, which is representing and celebrating the best of British pattern. I’m finding that people are starting to recognise my work and are coming to me with opportunities of working with them, of course it’s natural to want to manufacture and retail my own products but I find it more exciting seeing my designs going elsewhere and being used in product areas I wouldn’t normally reach.
Surfacephilia Jaeger Wallpaper and Cushion
Q: Which designer / artist do you admire and why?
A: I absolutely adore the work of Reed Danziger who is an American artist www.reeddanziger.com. I can’t get enough of her work, for me it has perfect imbalances and mix of colour, pattern, texture, tone, composition, scale and weight of line. Although each piece looks quite chaotic initially, there is sophisticated accuracy in every detail. She uses many layers of mixed application including hand drawing, painting and screen printing. I would say her work crosses the boundaries between pattern, graphics and art which I find exciting and is something I have always tried to achieve in my own work. I wish my ideas, hands and eyes would all coordinate that well to create work as beautiful. One day I will own a piece to hang in my studio and give me a daily kick up the bum!
Surfacephilia Nova Wallpaper
Q: What’s the best thing about owning your own business?
A: I get to have total creative freedom and indulge in my ideas as much as I want and can afford to. I’ve also met some really inspiring people along the way who I would never have had the chance of crossing paths with normally. Being self-employed however is definitely not the easy route, if I’d have known the amount of effort it would have taken to get to even this point, I might have dallied about for a few more years. Naivety is a wonderful thing!
Surfacephilia Flo Wallpaper
Q: What one piece of advice would you pass on to someone wanting to set up their own business?
A: If you’re serious about running the business successfully, don’t underestimate the amount of money, time and effort it will take to get things off the ground properly. It’s great having hope for the development and success of the business but you need to be realistic when doing your maths. Manufacturing costs, show fees, website build and PR materials are just a few of the things you need to consider, I suppose it’s called a business plan! A boring and scary thought for us creative folk, but it will make you aware of what it takes to get things moving and what return you should expect to make. When you do start to achieve your dreams and goals however, it is the best feeling in the world and only you have created that. You can’t beat that feeling.
Surfacephilia Gold Flo Wallpaper
Q: What’s coming up for the rest of 2013?
A: I have new colourway launches on some of my top selling Navajo wallpapers in September and I’m currently trying to get my manufacturing right, ready for launching fabrics. Towards autumn the Graham & Brown New Wave collection will be launching, which I’m very excited about. I’ll also be launching my new collection in January 2014 at the Home London Show in Earls Court.
In terms of prices, they start at from £9 to £20 for china, through to £52 for cushions and then up to £125 for wallpapers. All products are made to order and produced to the highest of qualities in the UK. You can buy online at www.surfacephilia.co.uk. Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Surfacephilia, special thanks to Helen Stevens.