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Behind the scenes of our photo shoot: Meet Thorsten van Elten

11 October 2017

We’ve had lots of questions about the house that provided the beautiful backdrop for our new homeware and accessories collection. It’s the home of my friend Thorsten van Elten, so I crept behind the scenes to quiz him on his impeccable sense of style so we can all steal a little piece for ourselves…

Hello Thorsten! Can you tell everyone a little bit about your design background and how we came to meet?

I set up my own business in 2002, producing and distributing products by young UK based designers. Donna came to see me after her graduation from the Royal College of Art with, if I remember well, a rug made out of glove fingers. That must have been in either 2002 or 2003, I guess. We somehow stayed in touch, and when I opened my London shop in Warren Street in 2005 I started selling Donna’s dolls and all her other wonderful creatures. After that, we were studio neighbours in Bethnal Green for several years after I told her a unit was available in the building so we saw each other fairly regularly –  sometimes even in the shared toilets on the third floor having a chat and a moan how freezing the building was. Coincidentally my partner studied and graduated with you at the RCA, so our paths would have eventually crossed anyway.

How would you describe your style?

I used to call it eclectic before that word became such a cliché, so I guess you could call it “playful modern”.

Our AW17 shoot in the home of Thorsten van Elten

You have an online shop selling all kinds of beautiful design objects. How do you curate your product selection?

I’ve always had the rule that if I wouldn’t have it in my own house I won’t sell it. It may not be the most commercially-savvy attitude, but I have to love what I sell in order to sell it – otherwise I should have become a car dealer or estate agent and earn more money.

What are your favourite design classics that YOU own?

That’s like asking which one is your favourite child… I’m very proud of my original A0-sized 1972 Munich Olympic games posters designed by Otl Aicher (as seen hanging above the orange sofa).

Which upcoming designers should we watch out for?

Since I no longer produce products I’m not as in the loop as I used to be, so I guess it’s more like which designers’ products would I love to have in my house. I love Daniel Emma from Australia but then they are good friends of mine so I may be a little biased, and clearly Jonna Saarinen who designed the wonderful Wir machen Urlaub Tea Towels for me, based on her childhood holidays in Germany. I’m also a big fan of Ian McIntyre who does beautifully simple ceramics, as well as Jono Smart.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’ve recently moved from London to the East Sussex countryside and now have a large garden which provides me with endless inspiration and joy. I can’t go to a nursery without buying at least one new plant, to the point that one lady who worked at the nursery asked me if I had a plant addiction. And since I now mainly sell German/German-inspired products, I try to go to Germany as often as I can to visit flea markets and explore new places and new regions.

Our AW17 shoot in the home of Thorsten van Elten

More about the house – where is it, what’s it like? Describe what it was like when you found it!

The house is a late 1970s bungalow in the East Sussex countryside, somewhere between Battle and Bexhill, about a 10-minute drive to the sea. It’s been added to in the 90s by the previous owner who was an architect, so it’s done in keeping with the style of the house. It’s split-level, and pretty much open plan with white painted breezeblock walls and a large terrace and garden. It had been rented out for about 10 years so the garden was totally overgrown and the house covered in ivy. The inside also looked a little sad and unloved with all the wrong furniture. Strangely enough, we know the lady who built the house with her ex-husband (she’s a neighbour’s sister) who’s been for lunch and loves the way the house and garden look now.

Do you have a favourite room?

I’ve always dreamt about having a ‘conversation pit’, a lowered seating area, so when I walked into my current house and saw it had one it was love at first sight. It’s particularly cosy in the winter when the wood burner is on. I’m a very lucky man.

We’ve had a lot of questions about your sofa! Can you tell us where it’s from?

It’s a Cuba Sofa by Cappellini which I bought more than 20 years ago when I ran a Cappellini & Christopher Farr shop in Westbourne Grove, West London. I lived in a third-floor flat with a narrow staircase, and the only way I could get a big sofa up there was if I bought it in sections. I had it re-upholstered when I moved into the current house in a burnt orange velvet by Raf Simons for Kvadrat. It wasn’t cheap, but I spend a lot of time on the sofa and it now looks totally new, so it’s money well spent.

Our AW17 shoot in the home of Thorsten van Elten

Our AW17 shoot in the home of Thorsten van Elten

And also your big prints – where did you get them, and where can we buy them?!

The really big (green) one behind the sofa is an original 1972 Munich Olympics poster by Otl Aicher. He designed the entire Olympics, from graphics to staff uniforms to the mascot – everything. I also have a few posters which he designed as an identity for the Bavarian town of Isny. Everything is based on simple black and white pictographs. I the big sun print behind the orange sofa at VitraHaus last year. It’s from the Alexander Girard exhibition. And then there are quite a few East German film and educational posters from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I have a large selection of those available for sale on my website.

How do you find such unique pieces?

You’re forever scarred once you’ve had a shop. You find things everywhere, turn over plates to check the maker’s mark, look for stickers or engravings on products, make notes in other shops when you see something interesting. You never really stop but that’s not a bad thing. I also love flea markets and vintage fairs.

What’s your favourite design object in your home, and what’s the story behind it?

Oh, I think that changes on a fairly regular basis. At at the moment I’m in love with my new Anna Vase by Daniel Emma which was a birthday present they brought with them when they visited last month. My other favourite item is a mirror by Belgian designer Lucile Soufflet which I tried to produce for her about 10 years ago but it was just too complicated to make it commercially viable. But I had to have one so bought one from her and loved it ever since.

A huge thank you to Thorsten (pictured below, second from left) for lending us his home, and to my fantastic photo-shoot team, photographer Gareth Hacker and assistant Amelia Pemberton.

You can find out even more about Thorsten – and shop his selection of beautiful design objects – on his website and shop our new AW17 collection online now.

Our AW17 shoot in the home of Thorsten van Elten

Exclusive Collection for the Fogo Island Inn

18 November 2015

You may remember, a few years ago Donna was asked to be part of the design team led by Ilse Crawford working on the interiors of the Fogo Island Inn on Fogo, a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

The island had around 2,000 inhabitants, and the population was dwindling. An amazing woman called Zita Cobb was born there, and after a successful career in Canada, she had decided to set up a foundation to create employment and to try to give local young people a reason to stay. She decided to create the Inn and everything from the building work to the materials, right down to the sheets on the beds had to be sourced and made on the island with the skills they had.

The Fogo Island Inn now a multi-award winning property built on the principles of sustainability and respect for nature and culture, as well as a social enterprise. All surpluses from the operation are reinvested by Shorefast Foundation for the benefit of the local community. What a great place, don’t you think? And it is just breathtaking. Take a look!

Donna is very proud to have been a part of this amazing project. Donna collaborated with the Winds and Waves Artisans Guild to create quilted cushion covers where the shingle outlines are the stitching patterns for the 100% lambswool covered cushions. Pictured below are the Bertha Chair and Pouffe in a guest room.

More recently, the Fogo Island Shop commissioned Donna to create a collection of three whimsical scarves and a luxurious limited-edition blanket. The scarves and blanket feature the now iconic shingle motif designed by Donna in 2011.

The shingle motif was inspired by the wooden cladding of the Brett House in the town of Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island. The unique cladding is characterized by the imperfect and slightly wonky angles of hand-carved, repeated geometric shapes.

The scarves are available at the Fogo Island Shop, and on our website. The limited edition blanket is only available at the Fogo Island Shop.

The Fogo Island Shop is an initiative of Shorefast Foundation, a registered charity dedicated to improving the social, cultural and economic conditions on Fogo Island, Newfoundland. All surpluses from the Shop are reinvested by the Foundation for the benefit of the local community.

For more information about the exclusive collection at the Fogo Island Inn, please visit the Fogo Island Shop website or their Facebook page.

Donna Wilson + SCP at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

1 April 2015

Happy Birthday SCP!  To celebrate their 30th anniversary, SCP will be hold an exhibition in Milan over the Salone Internazionale del Mobile / Milan Design Week. 

Entitled ‘The Arrangement of Furniture in a Room,’ the exhibition will include a range of SCP prototypes, originals, re-issues, new products, and some of the most coveted pieces from their archive. The exhibition will also be the first opportunity to preview products in the new SCP Classics collection.

Included in the exhibition are several pieces by Donna Wilson: 
The Bertha armchair, the Blocks and Peaks baskets, the Ernest pouffe, Nos Da textiles, the Fort tray, and the Braid Kilim and Aravali quilts and throws. 

Ernest pouffe by Donna Wilson 2009Ernest pouffe by Donna Wilson, 2009

Nos Da textiles by Donna Wilson 2009Nos Da textiles by Donna Wilson, 2009

Bertha armchair by Donna Wilson 2012Bertha armchair by Donna Wilson, 2012

Blocks and Peaks baskets by Donna Wilson 2013Blocks and Peaks baskets by Donna Wilson, 2013

If you’ll be in Milan for design week, below are details to visit the show!

Location:
Via Carlo Tenca 7, Milano
Click here to view in GoogleMaps.

Dates & Times
14 – 19 April 2015
10.00am – 8.00pm Daily
10.00am – 5.00pm Sunday 19 April

Press Preview:
14 April, 9.00am – 12.00pm

Opening Drinks:
14 April, 7.00pm – 9.00pm

How to get there
Metro – Repubblica, Centrale F or Lima
Tram – 1, 5, 9, 33

The exhibition will also include designs by:
Alex Hellum, Andrea Stemmer, Andrew Stafford, Bec Brittain, Farrow Design, Faudet-Harrison, Ineke Hans, Fort Standard, James Irvine, Jasper Morrison, Konstantin Grcic, Lee Kirkbride, Lucy Kurrein, Mark McGinnis, Matthew Hilton, Michael Marriott, PearsonLloyd, Peter Marigold, Rachel Whiteread, Reiko Kaneko, Richard Wentworth, Sarah Kay, and Terence Woodgate.

Click here to read more about the exhibition. 

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And if you won’t make it to Milan, this exhibition will be moving to the Design Museum in London, opening 24th May!

The Arrangement of Furniture in a Museum
Design Museum
Shad Thames
London
SE1 2YD

Dates
24 May – 6 June
10am – 5:45pm Daily

Click here and here for more information.

Milan Furniture fair 2014- looking through my textile eyes

10 April 2014

Donna Wilson at the Milan Furniture Fair 2014

4 April 2014
Hello everyone,
I’d like to share with you two collaborations I worked on this year for the Milan Furniture Fair, which starts next week! It is a very exciting time for all in the design industry and I’m very proud to have been able to work again with two UK based manufacturers that I admire very much for their beautiful work as well as for commitment to UK production: SCP and Ercol.
First, the pieces I worked on with SCP are the Martha Bench and Arthur Occasional Table:
Martha and Arthur are good companions. Both with 4 turned legs, the stool is upholstered in our welsh blanket fabric (from the Field Daycollection) which gives the two a cosy homespun feel. The design is loosely based on a traditional milking stool, and uses the traditional peg method of construction.
Martha and Arthur will be available for viewing at the below location – don’t forget to stop by at 4 for an afternoon tipple!
With Ercol I have made a very special version of their Original Studio Couch
 —
The Ercol Studio Couch has been covered in a bespoke knitted fabric which was inspired by a Finnish wall hanging I found. To make the couch even more special its arms have been wrapped with thousands of strands of wool creating an eye catching gradient effect and tactile feel.
It’s so nice to do these one-off pieces for a UK based company that still sells so many of them, and of course an honour to work with a company that has such a long heritage in UK furniture design – Ercol was founded in 1920!
The Donna Wilson + Ercol Studio Couch will be available for viewing here:

Food of the Fair

29 April 2012
We managed to eat our way round Milan furniture fair! here are a few snaps for you…..

 This was at Eindhoven Design Academy show- the biggest sandwiches ever!

 A white crock with green peas in it’s mount

 Another Dutch place- an amazing trailer making pancakes.

 Food served on cardboard plates.

 bowl of seafood sealed in with pizza dough.

 fresh strawberries and a visit to the market…