StyleNest take five minutes out to chat to Scottish designer, Donna Wilson.
Is there no end to Donna Wilson’s talents? With home furnishings (most notably those gorgeous animal cushions), tablewear, accessories, stationery and quirky gifts all under the Scots designer’s belt, the answer seems no. This month, Donna adds published author to her ever growing CV, with the launch of her new book, Creative Creatures.
Teaching kids (the big and the small) how to make some of her best-loved characters and creatures out of everyday items you’d find in the home, Donna’s new book is an ultimate rainy day essential.
We caught up with the lovely Donna, who not only is a successful designer and businesswoman, but also a new mum to a baby boy, to hear all about her hectic schedule, steal some crafty storage tips and find out what’s next for her brand.
We love your whimsical animal cushions here at StyleNest. Tell us, where did the idea come from?
All over the place, the landscape, music, dreams, magazines, ceramics, Scandinavian design, people. Sometimes I just see a tiny snippet of something which triggers an idea, which is then developed into a product. I recently went to a small remote island off the coast of Newfoundland and came back feeling really inspired by its landscape, boats and houses. But I can usually find inspiration anyway, in a tiny piece of cloth, a picture in a book or a found object from my travels.
You use only the finest quality fabrics like lambswool knitted in Scotland in your products. How important is quality and sourcing materials to the brand?
I am passionate about creating products that people can connect with and I’m also committed to making things that will last. For example, my creatures and upholstery are made in the UK from 100% natural fibres like lambswool, which is both highly durable and environmentally friendly. It’s not always easy but I like to feel that I’m doing my bit in keep the declining UK manufacturing industry alive. By making all of my products in the UK, I know my manufacturers personally and work with people up and down the country. For instance, there is Bob and Elizabeth who do all of the knitting in the borders of Scotland. They’re a husband and wife team in their 60s who recently got remarried in Vegas, it’s been wonderful getting to know the characters behind the work.
You’ve just released your new book, Creative Creatures. Tell us about that.
I’m very excited about the new book, it’s a kid’s activity book, with lots of fun projects to make with (or without) children. Some are easy and some require more skill, but they are all meant to encourage creativity and feed the imagination. It features some of my own creatures who show you how to make things and tell you stories throughout the book. I had a lot of fun shooting the scenes for the book, we set up little room sets with tiny cardboard props for the creatures to use, and all the pages were shot in this real cartoon like style. It would be great if people could share their creations with us, and maybe we could produce a gallery.
What books are currently on your coffee or bedside table?
I have to admit I’m not much of a reader, so all my coffee table books are bought for inspiration or because I’ve been to a show. But I do have a few favourite books at the moment: People by Gecko Press, the kid’s book When I Was Born by Isabel Minhos Martins published by Tate, and David Hockney’s A Bigger Picture. That was such a great show, the colours were so intense.
You studied at the renowned Royal College of Art. Tell us what is it about London that nurtures creative talent so well?
I had a great time at the RCA and really felt like we were in a creative bubble for the two years I was there. It was a very creative and challenging environment to be in and I feel very lucky to have been there. You learn so much from the fantastic tutors, visiting tutors as well as your contemporaries, and make lasting friendships. I think it was such a luxury to have two years to really focus on my work and develop my own style.
You’re from Scotland but now live and work in London. Where do you call home?
That’s a difficult one, as I always think of myself as Scottish despite living in London for over 12 years now. I always thought I’d move back home at some point as I had a very idyllic childhood and was brought up on a farm and I love being in the country with nature. But now that I have a baby I feel more settled in London and what it has to offer. My business is here and there’s always so much to see and do, I don’t feel ready to leave just yet.
You’ve just become a mum, congratulations! Will you be taking a break from work?
Yes I haven’t really had a break from work since I started and I’m now in my 10th year. So now being on maternity leave has been a big life change for me. I’m still thinking about work a lot but I’m enjoying every minute of being with my baby boy. I think it will take me in a new direction as I’m already thinking of new products. It will be great to make the projects in Creative Creatures with my son when he gets a bit older
Will you be making lots of things for your little one?
Yes, hopefully. It’s somehow difficult to find time to do anything, but as I get more used to motherhood I’ve been able to make things. Today I made a little sweater from some scrap felt.
What children’s wear brands do you admire?
I love knitted clothes, as they look sort of old fashioned and if they are made with wool they are lovely and natural and breathable. I’ve got a few things from the Cambridge Baby Company like a great pair of knitted dungarees. I also love the Spanish brand, Bobo Choses because it’s not gender specific.
Does your home style reflect your work? We image gorgeous Donna Wilson throws and cushions everywhere.
Yes it does, I really believe in surrounding yourself in things you find inspiring. So I have a lot of pattern, colour and odd objects everywhere. We have a shelf with lots of wooden figures and ceramic ornaments and things that I have picked up on my travels. Also, we just got one on my fairisle rugs that I designed for SCP, it’s really textual, thick and luxurious. Sometimes I take designs home to live with them for a while and see if I want to change anything before it goes into production.
As well as homewares you also make gorgeous accessories. How would you describe your personal style?
I’d say my style is graphic , colourful, and has a sense of humour. I love odd colour combinations, and pattern. Ultimately, I hope my products bring a smile to people faces.
What’s your top tip to entertain the kids on a rainy day?
Monster making! I’d try to get kids to use their imaginations and make their very own unique monster, you can find a lot of excellent materials for monsters at home – odd socks, gloves with holes in them, buttons or an old jumper can be turned into a great wooly monster.
Any top storage tips for mums who are faced with kid’s toys everywhere?
Boxes – I got a lovely storage box from my friend’s site Esthex – it has mushrooms on it. It’s a really quick way to keep your room looking tidy – lots of boxes to throw everything in.
What’s your motto?
Work hard and have fun.
What’s next for Donna Wilson?
We’re planning lots of new products for 2013 including new gloves and scarves, and also some ceramics which are made in Stoke-on-Trent. This year is our tenth anniversary so we’re planning to make some of the original creatures that I made just after I’d left the RCA so that should be fun.
Creative Creatures is available now in hardback from Pan Macmillan priced at £12.99