Interview: Surface Pattern Designer Helen Stevens of Surfacephilia

Surface pattern design for wallpaper, cushions & Ceramics by Surfacephilia

Being an interiors geek, one of the aspects that really fascinates me is Surface Pattern Design and when I come across a really great designer I love having the opportunity to not only feature their work but also to interview them to find out a bit more about what influences their designs and what inspires them. So I was extremely happy when I was first contacted by Helen Stevens of Surfacephilia as I had not come across her work before. As soon as I lay eyes on her website I fell in love with her beautifully intricate and slightly bohemian designs. I couldn’t wait to find out more about Helen and I’m sure you guys can’t either so I hope you enjoy the interview with her below. As always, let me know what you think about her work in the comments, you know I love hearing from you!

Helen Stevens Surface Pattern Designer at Surfacephilia

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

At the moment I work from a home studio based in the North East of England. I travel around a lot and spend a lot of time doing business in London. It’s good to get away and so far my location hasn’t hindered where I have got to in a year and a half. I’ve always been creative and loved drawing as far back as I can remember. Even at primary school age, I felt like I had found my thing and knew that drawing would probably be a massive part of my life. My determination and love of drawing and design grew as I got older through school, college, uni, working various creative jobs, and now after making a few big decisions and sacrifices, I’m starting to see things take form and am managing it as a professional career.

Savoy wallpaper by Surfacephilia

You graduated in 2002 with a first in BA Hons Textiles and Surface Design? What did you do after graduation?

I received sponsorship from Red Or Dead for one of my final uni projects so I kept in touch with the Head of Design there for a while after and did some freelance trend research. I pushed for a work placement, which I got and after a month or so it turned into full time employment. I designed the prints for footwear and accessories and some of the fashion line. I even tried my hand at footwear design. After having a good stint in London I had to move back to the North East for family reasons and was offered a job lecturing on my old degree course. Lecturing was great, it meant I could talk in-depth about design and discuss innovative ideas all day long. I left after six years to concentrate on my own work as the frustration of not having time to create for myself became too much in the end.

Aubrey wallpaper by Surfacephilia closeup

You launched Surfacephilia at the London Design Festival in 2011. How were your designs received?

My first show couldn’t have gone any better. I’d previously joked about which retailers I wanted to be approached by and what I wanted to get out of the show. The first day alone was a huge success and I could have packed up and gone home a happy bunny after a few hours! I gained a lot of international press and had great feedback and interest from the right kind of people. I only launched with five wallpaper designs, and perhaps did everything a bit backwards, trying to run before I could walk and I’ve been like a dog chasing my own tail since, but there is no right or wrong way to launch and run your own business.

Cushion Stack by Surfacephilia

Can you explain the name Surfacephilia?

When I became serious about launching the brand, I sat down and listed all of the things I wanted my work to be about and represent. I like to make unexpected detail appear after a while of looking at a design and have always been interested in layering and combining a lot of elements and techniques in one piece. I experiment with weight of line, scales, layers, textures, colours and patterns, to create a texture or surface pattern. The word ‘philia’ can be attached to many words but generally means to have an attraction or tendency towards something. So I placed the two together and created a bit of a mouthful of a brand name, but people seem to like it and get what it means.

Nova wallpaper by Surfacephilia

You have a very distinctive style of design. Can you tell us about your approach?

I suppose I design for myself. I try to approach themes and work in a style that I would like to see in my own home. My influences come from many places but mainly what I absorbed whilst growing up as most people do. My Mum was super glam and wore amazing designer sets in elegantly printed fabrics. My Dad was into his metal and psychedelic music and appreciated customised hippy clothing! He was also in the Merchant Navy and I was lucky enough to travel with him and see a lot of the world by a young age, seeing lots of exotic locations and meeting interesting people. I watched a lot of films but loved the sets, locations and fashions in James Bond (I know!??!) My work is a balance between whimsical earth subjects and a touch of opulent James Bond-esq glamour! Don’t worry, I’m still trying to figure it out myself!…

Gold Flo wallpaper by Surfacephilia

So your designs are inspired by fashion?

I love how within fashion you have a lot of freedom for experimentation and the material you can use, the layering of fabric, the organic scaling and movement of prints and embroidery. You find a lot of delicate and also daring detail in fashion. And so I’m experimenting in ways to bring all of those ideas across into interiors.

Surfacephilia Cushions

Having worked as a lecturer in surface pattern design, what advice would you give students just starting out on a similar path?

Don’t waste any of the time you spend in education, it’s probably one of the only times in your life when you will be at your most experimental with your work. Design naturally becomes very commercial once you move into industry, so make the most of all of the facilities, being able to pick your tutor’s brains and develop your style. Make a mess, enjoy it, don’t be precious, make mistakes, learn from them, and indulge your ideas as deeply as you can because that’s when the little glints of innovation start to shine through.

Niyaha wallpaper by Surfacephilia

Can you tell us about the Navajo Collection?

It is my first collection and is based around a bit of a mystical Native American theme. The theme is very me, and fortunately, or unfortunately is one that is trending within fashion at the moment. I didn’t have to look much further for inspiration than my own hoardings of earth stone jewellery, macramé craftwork, feathers, dream catchers, garment beadwork, and photographs of birds.

Wallpaper & Cushions by Surfacephilia

What are your top tips for incorporating bold & colourful patterns into your home?

I like quite subtle colour palettes with clever uses of highlight colour and pattern. If you want to go bold and heavy on print and colour do it in selected areas such as the sofa and a wall or two or else it might become a bit of a headache, and some days you might just want to be in a calming environment. Too much pattern can be over kill and take away from the print itself.

Orenda wallpaper by Surfacephilia

Any exciting plans for the future?

I feel that finally things are really starting to take off for Surfacephilia. I have just had a very exciting commission come in from a big interiors brand and my work is going to be featured soon on a famous UK TV series. I’m about to launch in Japan and also about to start licensing my designs with a big name interior design studio in Sydney, as well as a few other collaborations and projects in the UK. I’m starting work on the launch of my fabric range and also my next collectio,n Dark Romance, which will hopefully launch next year. I’m really pushing for commission and licensing work with my designs, I find working with and for other companies and brands really exciting, its definitely the direction I want to go.

Flo wallpaper by Surfacephilia

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