In conversation with: Fiona Howard

Wallpaper designer Fiona Howard, explains why she loves the perfect imperfections of lino cut

When did you start designing wallpaper and why? I have been creating patterns all my life. During my career in design these patterns have been applied to many surfaces from fabrics to bedlinen, wallpapers to china, stationery and rugs. Designing for wallpaper is perhaps the most refined surface as the pattern doesn’t get lost in the forgiving folds of fabric, but needs to flow seamlessly across the walls taking the eye on a gentle journey. Designing for wallpaper is a beautiful process with a very satisfying result. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing my wallpapers in people’s homes. I created my wallpaper collection in 2018 and had the chance to focus entirely on it during lockdown. Today the collection has 19 different wallpaper designs and nine borders, all in many colours.

Wallpaper designer Fiona Howard

Can you describe the process? I start each design with a sketch, or rather sketches. I draw and redraw the pattern until it flows beautifully. Some designs tell a story, such as Harbour or Orchard, others are an interesting pattern, for example Sway or Paisley Fern. I need to imagine where the wallpaper might end up, which room or style I am designing for.

Next I trace the design onto lino pieces. Each colour will have a different piece of lino carved and printed for it. Carving the lino is a careful and meticulous process using precise tools. I carve away the parts of the design which are not going to be printed, working in a negative process. This can take a week or more. Then these are printed layer on layer to create the finished pattern. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the finished print appear before my eyes as I pull back the paper on the final colour.

What is the appeal of lino cut? The fact that the design is created entirely by hand means that the finished wallpaper has all the hallmarks of the designer embedded in it. The perfect imperfections of where the lino tool might have carved an interesting texture or cut away a tiny bit more than it was meant to, confirms that the pattern was created lovingly and thoughtfully by a person, not a computer. The design feels peaceful and also has a human energy. It is art in repeat.

You have designed for a number of leading brands, what prompted you to launch your own collection? The satisfaction of putting my own name to my designs. Over the past 35 years I have designed for many of the big names in the furnishing fabrics and wallpaper industry worldwide, however these are usually under the name of the company and very rarely has my name been associated with the designs I’ve created. Launching my own collection is a chance to celebrate my designs under my own name.

What inspires your designs? My designs are loosely inspired by the British coast and countryside. I find pleasing shapes in all natural forms, from shells to seed pods, flowers to fishing boats. My colours are also closely connected to nature. My studio has large windows looking out over the garden we have planted with fruit trees, vegetables, bulbs, shrubs. We have also left a large part of the garden wild, which hums with insects and birdsong. The garden’s colours and shapes change throughout the year giving me never-ending inspiration. We are also two minutes’ walk from Climping beach which inspired the Rockpools design.

Fiona Howard Rockpools wallpaper

What’s your favourite possession? This is a very difficult question to answer. My son, Eddie is a painter and has created some beautiful portraits and landscapes which adorn our walls. We also have so many lovely and unusual pieces which we have collected over years of scavenging through flea markets in California. However the one thing which I love and lives on my desk is a small brass owl which my son, Olly gave me when we were living in LA. It reminded me of him when I was away from England and gazes quizzically at me while I’m working.

You can see more of Fiona’s work here and find this season’s fabric & wallpaper collections here

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