How did you get into designing artisan wallpaper?
I began experimenting painting around a year ago. I’m not a huge TV watcher, so when the nights started drawing in, I was looking for something cosy to keep me occupied in the evening. I hadn’t painted since I’d left college at 18 where I’d studied fine art, so I felt very out of it – I remember a hesitant few seconds before I touched brush to paper for the first time in 15 years. I decided not to put too much pressure on to create something perfect, instead interpreting colour and pattern in my own way and seeing if I could still translate onto paper. The wallpaper idea came after painting the ammonites. My home is full of greys, whites and stone textures, so I instantly began imagining the fossils on the walls in my hallway and an idea sprung to life. Suddenly I could envision the pieces I’d created in repeat, and I couldn’t sleep until I’d exhausted every avenue for print… and West by Design was born.
What did you do before you started your business?
My first ever job, at 14, was with an interior designer. It ignited a slow-burning passion for interior design and styling that stayed with me, despite my career taking a different route into packaging technology and design in the food industry, through to marketing at a print and marketing company. Looking back, it’s only now I realise that each role gave me the chance to learn and develop skills in readiness for West by Design that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’d always dreamed of my own business: Mum and I would often joke about me travelling to see clients on a big old-fashioned bike, with a basket on the front, full of wallpaper and whippets. I’ve got the wallpaper – I’m just working on the whippet.
Where do you find inspiration?
I paint from nature – living in North Yorkshire, I’m surrounded by beautiful sights, objects, and animals every day. The rustic beauty of the area rivals anywhere in the world. Anything natural inspires me, from the repetitive pattern of fossils to the incredible detail and colouring of feathers. I always find feathers so fascinating, that these stunning iridescent colours are born, and not designed. I recently found out that kingfishers are not actually blue! They have no blue pigment in their feathers, it’s the way light refracts from the structural make-up of the feather that gives them their iconic colouration.
Can you tell us about the actual process of designing the wallpaper?
Each design in the collection starts with a hand painting, and I generally don’t do more than one or two versions of the same thing. I think there’s something special as an artist to run with one of the first versions you create – I feel too many attempts takes the excitement out of a piece. A finished piece is then digitally cut and made into a repeat pattern, and it’s from here that I work with my fantastic printer, selecting stock and finish, and determining the best print method. The sampling process follows and is very exciting – I can envision the finished look as I paint, but it’s always so different to see it in sample print because there are so many nuances and small details in the overall finished look. Background colours can take a bit of finalising, since there are so many options that give life to the paintings in different ways, so choosing can be very difficult. I tend to move away from what might be considered commercial and go for what feels right and complements the motifs best. Receiving my first ever order was an incredible moment – the only problem was finding storage for large quantities of stock!
What is your favourite motif?
I’m always drawn to Stonegrave, in the smaller print. Grey is one of my favourite interior colours and I love the shaping. It was the first paper I received samples of, so it’s like my baby!
Can you tell us about any bespoke designs you’ve created?
Bespoke designs are always really exciting – it’s a great opportunity to get stuck into something creative and really go for it, tailoring the design to suit a client specifically. My bespoke designs vary so much, but one of my favourites was a large cog motif for Mr Grey Menswear in Durham. The new shop was a design collaboration with West by Design, following a steampunk route, with lots of copper, dark woods, and textures. The background is colour-matched to the painted walls, and the design features some huge metallic cogs with an industrial nod. The paper is printed in panels, and I hung it at the start of summer this year. It’s very impactful as a statement wall.
What is your long-term vision for the company?
I absolutely see the business progressing beyond West Heritage, the first collection. I already have additions to this collection in mind, and I’m busy working on the second instalment which is a children’s range. It’s really fun paring back the painting process and focussing on simpler shapes and even bolder colours. I’m also very keen on showcasing the business within the commercial sector, as I think there’s great scope for some of the current papers to sit in bars and restaurants, whilst continuing to enjoy working with private customers. It’s lovely to see my papers in situ.
Can you describe your designs in three words?
Artisan rustic luxury!
What’s your favourite place in Yorkshire?
I’ve lived by the sea all my life, but I’m actually a trees and greenery girl – plonk me in a woodland, with a carpet of soft pine needles around me, the sun dappling through the leaves and a feeling of stillness, and I’m content.