As part of the action packed schedule for our 10 day Wool House showcase, Tuesday the 19th saw Bridgette Kelly of the British Wool Marketing Board and Giles Kime from Homes & Gardens hold a “Meet the Designers” event with Wool House designers Kit Kemp, Josephine Ryan, Ashley Hicks, Mary Fox-Linton and Wool House curator, Arabella McNie. There were limited seats at the event, which quickly filled up, so we’re thrilled to be able to bring you some insights from this introspective and enlightening Q&A session. See the full transcript from the session below.
“Welcome to Wool House. Wool House was an idea that was born out of a moment of madness where you think: “How are you going to persuade people to choose wool?”
Bridgette Kelly delivering her introductory speech.
“”I work for the Campaign for Wool and my job is to roll out ideas that are going to make people embrace this special fibre. I am indebted in this project to a very huge group of people. I am indebted to the textile industry and its designers who have been marvellous at embracing what has been quite a difficult brief at times. ”
“For interiors, we wanted to showcase wool as a lifestyle fibre, making it look as beautiful as it possibly could be, and as practical as any fibre in the world. ”
“The textile industry is very diverse, as you have seen when wandering around this space. It is fashion. It is interiors. It is bedding and beds. It is crafting. It is wonderful suits and all sorts of other things. In this house we have managed to show people how fantastic it can look and be. Mostly, the beauty of that is about how somebody takes that space and makes it look. I was very lucky in finding Arabella McNie as my curator/stylist. She has been a marvel to work with. Arabella has had a horrible timeline in which to produce it and I have to say she didn’t have a very big budget either, so I have to say she has produced a really special event for all of us to enjoy. ”
“Tonight we welcome our designers and I also have the great privilege of introducing Giles Kime from Homes&Gardens.”
Giles Kime kicks off the Q&A.
“Thank you everybody for coming this evening. I think the fact that this room is filled to the gunnels is a reflection not just of the amazing project that Bridgette and Arabella have put together. We are also amazingly fortunate to have four of Britain’s leading designers with us tonight, who are going to talk us through the schemes that you’ve just been looking at.”
“I first saw Wool House exactly a week ago. As I was walking over Waterloo Bridge on my way home, I was thinking about wool and trying to imagine a world in which we all relied on synthetic textiles for clothes, furniture and interior textiles. I tried to imagine that someone invented a material that shared some of the qualities of synthetic materials, but also the qualities that make it incomparably better, sustainable, renewable, durable, fire retardant dirt resistant and sound absorbing. A material that felt and looked beautiful, and that held colour beautifully. I imagined the speed with which that material would be patented and inevitably copied, and I imagined the excitement that would take hold when it was discovered that the material could be harvested from the back of a sheep. It isn’t until you imagine a world without wool, that you realise what a truly amazing material it is; so clearly superior to anything that could have ever been created by man, however hard we might try. It has been thousands of years since man has first tried to tame sheep for agricultural purposes. I think to a certain extent we have since taken it for granted and that is what has been so exciting about the Campaign for Wool.”
“I don’t know how much you know about the Campaign for Wool but it was launched in 2010 by the Prince of Wales to really raise the profile of Wool. It has done an amazing job. I think for anyone in the interiors industry it has been the absolute pinnacle of the whole initiative to raise the profile of wool and demonstrate the benefits, as you will have seen.”
“The focus has been on fashion as well. There have been all sorts of amazing events and exhibitions – and tonight with us we have Kit Kemp who is the founder and owner of some of the UK’s most exciting hotels including the Covent Garden, the Soho, the Haymarket hotel, and more. Josephine Ryan, interior designer, author and antique dealer. Furniture and interior designer Ashley Hicks who as a child can remember spending time in the office of Mary Fox Linton at the other end of the row. Mary is arguably Britain’s most prolific and influential interior designer, has created her own brand with stylish modernism and is particularly well known for her work around the corner at no 1. Aldwych. A couple of weeks ago we were really delighted to award her the lifetime achievement award in the Homes&Gardens designer awards.
The Q&A is underway!
“Before we look at each of the individuals rooms I just want to ask each of the designers whether during the process of putting together these amazing schemes, were any discoveries they made that they weren’t aware of before they started. Kit what did you discover about wool?”
“I initially designed these fabrics to go on linens and I was rather worried that the colours would change and that it just wouldn’t have the same feel and colour. In fact, they looked better! What’s more, it means I can use them on upholstery and they are going to last years longer than cottons and linens.”
“Bridgette is there a technical reason for this? Kit says that she thinks that wool is better suited as an interior textile [than traditional fabrics] – is there a reason for that?”
“Yes. I think that – possibly - over the years people have attributed wool to days gone by. Meanwhile, like every industry, the textile industry has moved on to much better ways of spinning and methods used for finishing the fabric are much more advanced now. People simply haven’t realised that they’ve moved on.”
“Ashley, what about you? What discoveries did you make?”
“What I discovered about wool during this show – one thing that surprised me very much when I was putting the room together – was that a security guard in uniform kept lingering in the doorway and staring in amazement. After a while he said “incredible all of this made of wool” and he rubbed his foot on the floor and said “even carpet?!” I thought it was extraordinary that anybody would be surprised that carpet would be made of wool. The other thing I discovered, much like Kit, was that wool really can be the most fantastic material. I had some great fun making some blinds with one of my designs as a screen print onto this very glossy wool. It was quite different to other fabrics that I would’ve printed on.”
“Josephine, what about you?”
Josephine Ryan shares her insights.
“My background is as an antique dealer which dominated my design. Rather than embracing the new technology of wool, I fully embraced the fabric by creating something very authentic and rustic, not modern at all. I celebrated wool in its natural from and used the sheep as an icon. We had great fun looking for Aran jumpers which we very carefully unpicked by hand – we did not cut them! For me, it just shows what a durable fabric wool is.
“What was your experience of wool, Mary?”
“Well I’ve always been very fond of wool, certainly I’ve been selling wool fabrics at Chelsea harbour, encouraging people to do better things with the yarn. The wool today is just fabulous and so practical too, its hangs beautifully it looks wonderful on upholstery and I love it too because you get a lot of texture.”
“Lets look at the first of the schemes.”
“Josephine, tell us about the thought processes that went into this room.”
“Well I think it was in November when I got a text from Arabella, which was more of a command really. It was very nice to do something that was totally creative without thinking about a client or a hotel or a salon or where they were selling something commercially. My brief was very loose and Arabella very cleverly chose people with very different sensibilities for very, very different rooms, which represent all of our individual styles.”
“My idea was a shepherd’s cabin. Arabella constantly turned up with bags of delicious fabrics and the whole thing came together very organically and very naturally.”
“What was your favourite item in each room?”
“I love the carders – the things on the wall. The minute I’m given a project, my imagination runs wild and I start seeing things that I hadn’t necessarily seen before. I saw a bunch of these at an antique sale on the floor. I started collecting them – I just thought they were absolutely representative of the subject: sculptural and interesting. I like the use of old objects in a modern situation.”
You can see the carders mounted on the wall.
“My room is a little bit different from everybody else’s because I came in when somebody dropped out. The thing I love in particular about the room are the curtains which match the walling. The quality of that fabric is absolutely fabulous for wool, you take that fabric and it looks like a satin. Take that border - you believe that the border is a satin, but it isn’t satin, it’s 100% wool. That to me is one of the most fascinating things. You put the two things together and you can see the different qualities and what can be achieved with wool.”
“And then of course the thing I love is the stool, which isn’t a stool, it is made of wool and I thought it would make the most wonderful coffee table base.”
“When that box arrived we thought where is the rest of it? But of course, it concertines out!”
“What about Ashley Hicks?”
Ashley recalls receiving his Wool House brief.
“Arabella immediately said “it’s a study”. She had a lot of grey flannel, slightly-suit-looking materials and a suggestive look in her eye, and it was fairly clear I was meant to be doing something towards a business-suit-looking study, which I liked immediately. Somerset House says to me – noble architecture, William Chambers, but it also says to anyone who grew up as a child of the 70’s, Somerset House is civil servants and the registry office. I immediately thought of some marvellous English civil servant in his grey suit, exposing some of his secret flamboyance with his suit lining and a pocket handkerchief or his braces or his socks – these little flashes of pinks and bright colours coming out from the grey. Then I pictured this wild chain mail design carpet, some of my fathers bold geomterics printed onto white wool and then an even more flamboyant choice of art: these two Grayson Perry prints which look very presentable, until you start reading the illuminations. This reflects the wicked sense of humour of the English gent.”
“Before we move on, do you have a favourite item in that room?”
“A watercolour that my 16-year-old daughter painted for me for Christmas.”
Ashley Hicks’ favourite item from his Wool House room.
“Can I tell you what I like in that room? I love your display cabinet which shows lots of different things but also a reflection of Somerset house.”
The display cabinet from Ashley Hicks’ study.
“Moving on to Kit’s Room:”
“I’ve done more bedrooms than most people have had hot meals, but it was so exciting to do this room. It is 22 feet high and really you don’t need to do much in a room that is of a scale like that, so it has been a treat to do this. The high, shaped headboard seemed to make a bit more fun in the room. The headboard is by Pippa Caley who is from Yorkshire and completely understands wool. We have one of my designs for Christopher Farr on the curtains called “Willow Weave”, which is named after one of my daughters, and also “Inside Out” which is the Ben Whistler sofa. I like the way it looks like a bed. We have picked out a pink string which looks like blanket stitch on the bed with nails. It’s so interesting that although everything is made of wool, we’ve managed to get so many different textures to make sure it doesn’t become boring.”
“Can I ask you a really boring question? As someone who has designed more bedrooms than people have had hot dinners, are you open to the idea of using wool in your hotels?”
“Well this is a Byspring bed which is made of wool and looks amazingly comfortable. We haven’t used them in the hotels but we have one at home and I do recommend them.”
“On to Arabella’s Foyer:”
Wool House curator Arabella McNie shares some of her insights.
“I wanted the hall to have a sense of eccentricity and to surprise people about what wool looks like. Notice the complete lack of tartan everywhere! I really wanted to show people that wool isn’t just tartan, it can be something interesting to use and it has so many possibilities. I started with a sketch for a carpet design. It has been amazing the number of people who have walked in and said “but its soft”! Then they saw the chair and then the hats. It’s just been a wonder to see people’s reactions to it. It has to be said that it has stood up pretty well considering the hundreds and thousands of visitors we’ve had this last week. That is a testament to the quality and durability of wool.”
“Tell us more about the fluffy chair.”
“The most photographed chair in London”
“I made the wonderful Amy Somerville search and search again and promise that it was sheep wool. It is! It is a long haired Mongolian sheep. It must be the most photographed chair in London in the past seven days.”
“Lets talk about the exciting possibilities that pattern on the floor presents-”
Cristian Zuzunaga’s exclusive contribution to Wool House
“The one thing that Bridgette has rammed down my throat from the beginning was that we had to include carpet in Wool House and it couldn’t be boring beige carpet. We needed something that really represented the choice of colour available in carpets and I had the idea of having a pixelated pantone of colour. There was a lot of scratching of heads and finally I took this idea to the fabulous Spanish designer Cristian Zuzunaga.”
“Wool is the new linen, it’s the new cotton and the new silk.”
We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the Meet The Designers session, if you weren’t lucky enough to attend the event. If you’d like to find out more about any of the talented individuals involved in the above event, check out the designers section on our main site, or visit any of the links below:
Arabella McNie: http://arabellamcnie.com/
Ashley Hicks: http://www.ashleyhicks.com/
Cristian Zuzunaga: http://www.cristianzuzunaga.com/
Josephine Ryan: http://www.josephineryanantiques.co.uk/
Kit Kemp: http://www.firmdalehotels.com/firmdale-sections/newsroom-home-page/about-firmdale-hotels
Mary Fox Linton: http://www.foxlinton.co.uk/profile/mary-fox-linton