Spotlight on Design: An Interview with Mini Moderns

As part of our ‘Spotlight on Design’ series we are celebrating the role of pattern in interiors, starting with a brand that is synonymous with 21st Century Design and perfectly complements many of our core values at Craig & Rose.

Mini Moderns was launched by designers Keith Stephenson and Mark Hampshire in 2006 and their recognisable hand-writing style is loved by many.  With an eclectic range of reference points, their designs are available to buy across many products for the home from fabrics to wallpaper and lamp shades.

We caught up with Keith and Mark at Decorex and asked them a few questions about their design ethos and the exciting things to come.

At Craig & Rose we are all about empowering creativity and encouraging our customers to create homes that reflect their own personal style.  The designs that you have created over the years are often inspired by your own personal experiences.  Tell us about how important this is to you and why you think it resonates so well with people.

We create Mini Moderns wallpaper collections with the design ethos: ‘Pattern with a story’. This means all our designs have a strong personal narrative, based on our personal experiences and passions, and strongly rooted in our love of 20th-century design. We take inspiration from film, books, music, our collections of vintage ephemera and our interest in social history. This is how we have always worked, and it is important for us, as we always want our designs to mean something both to us and the people that choose to live with our products every day of their lives. What we find really exciting is that our customers enhance our designs with their own stories and the patterns seem to evoke their own memories and interests.

Which design is the most powerful for you personally in terms of its’ ability to transport you back or remind you of fond memories?

Our classic Whitby print brings back strong memories of growing up in Yorkshire and spending our holidays on the North Yorkshire coast with visits to this iconic coastal town. For us, even as kids, the exciting thing about being at the seaside was the bustle of a working fishing port and the lure of the sea, so that’s what we tried to evoke in the design.

Another very important print for us is Moordale. It launched our Saturday Night/Sunday Morning collection and is based on the area where we both grew up, Mark in West Yorkshire in close proximity to the Yorkshire Dales, and Keith in the North York Moors. The full title of the print is Moordale (the distance between us) and the town featured amid the rolling Yorkshire hills is called Helmsley. It is equidistant from where we both grew up. The print also features the distinctive silhouettes of Roseberry Topping on the North York Moors and the Cow and Calf at Ilkley – places that hold special memories for both of us.

 

 

 

Image right: Moordale - Harvest Orange

Some of our designs are based on more recent memories, like our Alice design, which was inspired by a day in San Francisco hunting around vintage stores and finding lots of floral bark cloth fabrics. This perfectly suited the mood of the Folk Rock collection, which we were working on at the time. The collection was based on our love of 1960s West Coast music and Flower Power. Another design that taps directly into our past is our C-60 wallpaper, which features all the tape cassettes that we still have from our teens. It brings back memories for us of making mixtapes and party mixes for friends. So our stories can be quite complex or very simple in their influences and memories.

Your iconic style is often badged up ‘retro’ but we know that there is a real mixed bag of influences from 1950’s styles right through to post-modernism.  Which era has been the most influential do you think and why?

Perhaps the most influential period of design for us is the 1950s because most of our design icons came to prominence in this period. When we first met we bonded over our love of 1950s furniture designers, architects and pattern makers like Lucienne Day, Marian Mahler, David Parsons and the pattern designs of Terence Conran.

But, as you say, we are quite eclectic in our influences. In our most recent Culture! collection, for instance, we feature 18th-century vases in our Vessel wallpaper, whilst our Bauhaus wallpaper pays homage to the early 20th-century architecture of Walter Gropius.

What keeps our collections coherent is the way we draw. The Mini Moderns handwriting ensures that we have a strongly recognizable look to our designs – regardless of the starting point or influence.

Mid-Century Design has been enjoying a bit of a revival of late as people once again appreciate the timeless shapes and qualities not to mention considered functionality.  Do you think this interest will continue as a timeless classic style?

We believe so. The post-war contemporary style was so revolutionary that its influence is never far from contemporary design, whilst the originals from the period have become classics in their own right. Think of the Eames DSX side chair – it has featured in interiors of every decade since it launched in the 1950s. Movements like Memphis in the 1980s were very strongly influenced by the 1950s and the curvaceous profile of many contemporary pieces can be traced back directly to the work of one of our particular design heroes - Gio Ponti.

Another reason why Mid-Century design continues to prevail is that it was a time of huge manufacturing innovation, with processes like bent ply changing the possibilities of creating affordable modern furniture. The post-war designers wanted to make good design accessible to a broader range of the population, and so designs were created to work in smaller spaces, often incorporating clever multifunctionality too. This makes pieces from the period especially appropriate for compact contemporary living.

Net and Ball wallpaper - in collaboration with the Southbank Centre

Tell us about some of your latest designs!

Our most recent collection was the Culture! Collection. Since we started Mini Moderns, 16 years ago, we have always worked closely with galleries, cultural and heritage organisations, so for this collection, we wanted to revisit some of these relationships and celebrate these organisations. We have quite a lot of 1951 Festival of Britain memorabilia. It was a design and industry exhibition held on the Southbank, so it was an honour for us to create the Net and Ball wallpaper in collaboration with the Southbank Centre. The design is based on the original 1951 carpet of the Royal Festival Hall and it’s a design classic in its own right. With this in mind, to celebrate the 70
th anniversary of the Festival of Britain we introduced two new colourways of our Festival wallpaper, which we launched 10 years ago, including a platinum highlight to mark the platinum anniversary. The design features the buildings and pavilions of the original 1951 Festival of Britain.

When it comes to colour, what is your thoughts on how people should think about the balance of pattern and colour in a room?

Our key thought about using colour and pattern in the home is to build your interior around your passions, your collections and cherished possessions. We once designed a whole room scheme around the three colours of a Midwinter gravy boat! There’s a tried and tested interior design trick to base a scheme around a strong focal piece such as a rug, a sofa or curtain fabric. We’re not here to contradict this useful rule of thumb, but we might encourage people to widen the net of inspiration beyond the soft furnishings. An illustrated book cover, a ceramic collection, or a fifties film poster could all serve as the foundation for your colour palette.

We’re big fans of going against conventional wisdom when it comes to pattern and colour. When decorating featureless small rooms, for instance, we were early to embrace the idea of going dark and moody with the colour scheme. An unconventional approach is often called for in spaces that have little light and few features. On our unremarkable landing, we have used an abstract dazzle camouflage wallpaper called P.L.U.T.O. on the walls AND ceiling to blur the edges and make the space appear less boxy.

The Book

Congratulations on the book launch which takes the reader through your ideas on how to bring a signature mid-century look into your own home.  What was the experience of writing this book like?

When we were approached by the publishers, we felt very excited and lucky to get the opportunity to write a book about our passion for Mid-century design. Right from the start, we knew that we wanted the book, Mid-century Modern Living, to include our own story of how we fell in love with this period of design, along with anecdotes of how we discovered designers when we were younger and what influence they have had on our aesthetic. We always knew we wanted it to have a scrapbook feel, so we created moods with the interiors we styled to show easily achievable looks for the reader to be inspired by. On the whole, we wanted the book to ignite the same passion we have for Mid-century design and be approachable and fun. We even have a music playlist for each of the moods provided by DJ Martin Green and menus for each created by Louise Gorrod.

The book was very hard work, especially as we had to fit the research, writing and styling in with the day-to-day running of Mini Moderns. But we love the research process, so we would often disappear down a rabbit hole for hours learning more about the designers and their work, as well as speaking to manufacturers who have reissued some of the design classics we feature. When the book was published we still had lots more we wanted to feature so we have continued our research and writing with our Mid-century Monday feature on Instagram stories.

What’s next for Mini Moderns?

We are just about to go into production with our new TRAVELOGUE Collection - Part One. This is the first part of a collection based on over two decades of travel, with the first three prints based on trips to the US.

NEW - Hey! Manhatten

NEW - Breeze

NEWNESS

‘Catskills’ is inspired by a trip to upstate New York, to stay in a cabin in the Catskill Mountains, just outside Woodstock. It even features the cabin we stayed in, which was a treat for us as it was owned by one of our music heroes - Kate Pierson from The B-52s, who is also a Mid-century design fan.  A traditional cabin from the outside, the interior was filled with 1950s and 60s furniture and home accessories. Various species of trees native to the area are represented in the print, including Red Pine, Eastern Hemlock, Yellow Birch and Quaking Aspen.

The second print, ‘Hey! Manhattan’ is our paean to one of our favourite cities. Although it’s all about Brooklyn these days, our hearts still belong to Manhattan, particularly the Lower East Side, where we have stayed since the 1990s. The design is abstract in style, but on closer inspection, you will discover two bridges, a couple of famous skyscrapers, our favourite music venue on the Bowery and an endless stream of traffic making its way up and down Avenue A. The layered torn paper aesthetic lends energy and immediacy to the design, capturing the vitality of the city.

Finally, ‘Breeze’ reflects our interest in Mid-century architecture, which we have indulged on our US trips to Silverlake and Key West. A detail which we love about the buildings here from the fifties and the sixties is their use of decorative concrete blocks – or ‘breeze’ blocks as these are known in the US. That humble building material is the source of inspiration for this design. We have elevated the design by printing using the surface print technique, which lays down a rich thick layer of colour, on a luxurious mica base.

Thank you!

We hope you've enjoyed this interview as much as we did - big thanks to Mark and Keith for being so generous with their answers.

If you want to find out more about Mini Moderns and explore some of the other many designs in their collection, visit their website here.