The issue will be in UK newsstands this weekend but you can get a sneak peek of the story by Rachel Leedham and the lovely photos shot by Rachael Smith below:
There are trays of seedlings sprouting in a corner of Donna Wilson’s bathroom: pea and tomato plants, and a third she cannot identify because she accidentally threw the packet away. ‘I am very excited about having a garden,’ she says. ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing, which is slightly embarrassing, considering that I grew up on a farm.’
It is Wilson’s childhood, living in a remote part of Aberdeenshire, that she believes informed her passion for colour and texture, both of which feature abundantly, joyously, in her work as a textiles designer. ‘I spent a huge amount of time outdoors, looking at nature,’ she recalls. ‘I was taught by my granny to draw and paint, and she was always into colour. She had these beautiful boxes of chalky pastels – they looked like sweets.’
Having graduated with a textiles degree from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Wilson studied mixed media and constructed textiles at the Royal College of Art in London. There she began to create knitted animals – curious creatures with strange proportions that ‘weren’t too pretty and cute, or too ugly and scary’. At her final show the entire menagerie sold.
In the early 2000s, when interior design was emerging from a period of stark minimalism, Wilson’s vibrant, folksy cushions and blankets – instantlyrecognisable, shamelessly copied – heralded a new zeitgeist for pieces that were playful, homely and not beige. Sheridan Coakley, the founder of the contemporary design company SCP, had once vowed to his staff that he would never sell cushions, but Wilson’s designs won him over. She has also created pieces of furniture for him, including knitted pouffes, as well as Welsh blankets and a range of rugs. This year will see her first foray into fashion, with a childrenswear collection for John Lewis launching in August and her own range of women’s sweaters planned for autumn.
With all of this going on, it is perhaps unsurprising that it took a while for Wilson and her partner, Jon Almond, a furniture designer, to get on the property ladder. When they did begin scouring east London, in 2012, it took two years of ‘overwhelmingly packed’ viewings and gazumpings for them to find this detached Victorian house in a conservation area in Leytonstone. The property once belonged to a flower producer who grew his blooms in fields backing on to it. Under the Dig for Victory campaign of the Second World War the land was divided into allotments, which are still there today. ‘We couldn’t believe our luck,’ Wilson says.
The second piece of luck was that the three-bedroom house had been renovated by a developer with some semblance of taste: no shopping mall-style spotlights or penchant for chrome – the floor was even parquet. ‘I love the floor,’ Wilson enthuses. ‘And we have a proper hall! Who in London has a proper hall?’
As well as a ‘proper hall’, the ground floor has a sitting room, a study and a kitchen-dining room with a double-height ceiling. Upstairs are two bedrooms and a bathroom, with a third bedroom at the top, tucked beneath the eaves.
The project was essentially redecorating, and the space Wilson was most excited about when she and Almond moved in last October was their six-month-old son Eli’s bedroom. ‘I wanted to give him his own knitted world,’ she explains of the knitted trees that hang from picture rails around the room. Gaudy plastic is notable in its absence, although she confesses to having stashed one of Eli’s favourite toys, a plastic DJ booth, in the study before the photographer arrived.
Wilson’s designs are dotted around the house, as are pieces by Almond. ‘Jon loves a rummage and he’s always picking up things from the street or a skip,’ she says, pointing out the coat stand in the hallway which incorporates antique wooden doorknobs salvaged from a building site.
There are also pieces by Wilson’s designer-maker friends: beautiful handblown glass pendant lights by Michael Ruh, whimsical prints by Rob Ryan and a lace-like lampshade by Tord Boontje. Almost everything in the house is British-made, something Wilson is passionate about, particularly when it comes to her own work. ‘I outsource manufacturing around the country. My creatures are made by a knitter in Orkney, the cushions and blankets are produced by a lady in Galashiels, and the ceramics are made in Stoke-on-Trent,’ she says. ‘Many of these skills are dying out, so if I can do my bit to keep them alive, that’s wonderful – but I know I’m a small drop in the ocean.’ Albeit a quirky, multicoloured, ever-so-playful drop.
By Rachel Leedham
Photographs by Rachael Smith
A very very big thank you to David Nicholls, Rachel Leedham, and Rachael Smith! xx