Interview: Surface Pattern Designer Rachel Powell

Woodstock wallpaper in Pepper by Rachel Powell

Inspired by mid-century design with an  influence from 1970’s Lunby dolls houses and the simplicity of Scandinavian graphics, surface pattern designer Rachel Powell makes some absolutely lovely wallpapers. She graduated in 2011 from the London College of Communication with a degree in Surface Design and now she specializes in print for interiors. You may have seen her work at Tent London last year where she launched her range of etched veneer lamp shades.

This year she was featured at New Designers in the One Year On section where she launched her new range of wallpaper which features two different designs in three colourways. I was intrigued by her work and wanted to find out more and luckily Rachel was only too happy to indulge in a little interview that ties in nicely with wallpaper Wednesday.

Etched Veneer Lighting by Rachel Powell

When did you first discover your love of design and when did you realise that you wanted to make a career of it?

My love of design started quite late when I was at school. I wanted to be a photographer so went to my local art college open day when I was 15. Me being me, I walked into the wrong building where the Graphic Design was and I remember being in total awe of what was in front of me, and also a little scared that I wasn’t good enough to get in. Art wasn’t a great subject for me at school, but luckily design technology was, so I got my reference from my tutor and applied and never looked back.

I realized I wanted to make a career of it during that first two years at college. I wasn’t an artist at all and there were some things that I felt extremely daunted by and I remember my tutor saying to me “you don’t have to be an artist to be a good designer”. Those words really stuck, seriously – I’m useless with a paintbrush! He really supported me and helped me find a language that fitted with my own way of seeing; it gave me a foundation for what turned into many years of study, and eventually a career. He was the best tutor I ever had.

Prudence wallpaper in Pepper by Rachel Powell

Where did you study and what course did you take?

It was a very long journey for me, I studied A LOT! Having completed a BA Hons in Packaging and Branding at the University of Creative Arts, when I was 22, I returned to university as a mature student at the age of 30 to study Surface Design at London College of Communication.

What was the main focus of the course and what was the most valuable lesson that you learnt during your studies?

The main focus was screen-printing and application of surface pattern. The most valuable lesson I learnt was how important it is to not only love what you do but also have confidence in what you are doing; it shines through in your work. I was lucky in that I wasn’t looking to be ‘taught’ how to design, I already had a fairly strong style I was just seeking a vehicle for it. I found it here.

Woodstock wallpaper in mustard by Rachel Powell

What have you been doing since you graduated?

Working hard to try and establish myself as a designer, I pretty much shut myself away for the whole first part of this year to focus on launching my new homewares range. I’m very lucky to have had very supportive people around me to allow me to do that.

You exhibited at New Designers a few weeks ago in the One Year On section. What have been the benefits of taking part in New Designers?

New Designers is a great opportunity to get yourself seen and gauge how your work is being received, it certainly gave me the confidence to think that I could go it alone and so resulting in returning to exhibit at One Year On. It marked the start for me, and it was great to be selected to do it.

Woodstock wallpaper in Cloud by Rachel Powell

What are the main influences on your approach to design? Where do you look for inspiration?

My main influences on my approach design come from my free spirited way of living; I approach design how I approach life! I don’t enforce restrictions or rules, I explore all options, take my time and go with what I feel is right not what I think other people will think is right. I follow my heart a lot, and think this is important in design and life.

The home I share with my partner is without question the foundation of my inspiration; it represents everything that I love. It has all of the personality of a typical rickety country cottage – the walls are curved stone, the floors slope, NOTHING is flat. Yet encased in it is this lovely retro style; our kitchen has 1970’s units and the bathroom has a bright turquoise suite that were all here when we moved in seven years ago. Over the years I have basically designed for this house, resulting in a style that blends the bold personality of retro repeats with the quietness of living in the country. I think this is what makes the feel of my work so friendly.

Prudence Wallpaper in Cloud by Rachel Powell

You launched a range of lampshades at Tent London in 2011. Can you tell us about the collection?

My lighting range was the first collection that I launched after finishing university. I wanted to create a product with a mid-century vibe where both material and pattern act as one. My patterns are laser etched deep into the surface of the veneer allowing the light to shine through and what I love about them is that although they do have that mid-century vibe I wanted, they are completely versatile. They sit just as beautifully in a modern interior as they do in a country cottage; I like products to have more than one side to their personality.

Rachel Powell Lighting Range

You have recently launched a range of wallpaper and tea towels. What can we expect to see from you next?

Who knows!? I don’t tend to plan vigorously with my products, when I design a print or pattern with a particular surface/product in mind I find in a little restricting so try to remain as open minded as possible. I like to keep my options open and experiment with materials and finishes, so hopefully I will continue to do that.

Tea Towels by Rachel Powell

What are your long-term goals for Rachel Powell?

I’d love to work on some commissions or collaborations and have the opportunity to work with other designers and be set some new challenges.

Where my own collection is concerned, I look forward to launching new prints and products but love the fact that it’s an open book. It’s taken me a long time to realize that it is not always about doing what people expect you to do; there are no rules in design, expect the unexpected.
I would like to thank Rachel for taking the time to join us here for Wallpaper Wednesday. It was great to get an insight into her work and her background. I’d love to know what you guys think about Rachel’s designs. Anyone out there a bigger fan than me?

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