An interview with Stephanie Holt and Winter and KurthAn interview with Stephanie Holt and Winter and KurthAn interview with Stephanie Holt and Winter and KurthAn interview with Stephanie Holt and Winter and Kurth

An interview with Stephanie Holt and Winter and Kurth

We interview the winners of New Designers 2017 One Year On: jeweller Stephanie Holt and product designers Winter and Kurth.

Design-Nation asked these amazing designer-makers about their practices, to introduce them to our Design-Nation community.

Design-Nation asked: Could you describe your workplace briefly?

Stephanie Holt: I split my time between the wonderful School of Jewellery in Birmingham where I am Artist in Residence and my home in Warwick. My partner and I have been converting a garden shed into a lovely studio for me, complete with insulated, plaster boarded walls and carpeted floor! (This winter will be a much better experience.)

David Winter and Natasha Kurth: Day to day we work from our studio at ‘Paradise Works’ in Salford, Manchester. It’s a versatile space where we can combine desk based activities with making and prototyping.

DN: Where do you get your inspiration from?

SH: I get my inspiration from the world around me. I know it’s a cliché! But I really do get inspiration from all the things I see and read about and experience. I think I have always have been an bit of an obsessive observer, always taking snaps of things I find intriguing or amusing or startling, keeping mementoes of things (aka hoarding!) If I hear about something I find interesting I then spend ages looking up information and verifying sources.  I really enjoy researching for new projects and will read incessantly about something that has caught my attention. I am particularly attracted to form, line, structure, and colour. I love brutalist architecture, minerals and crystals, contrasts in shapes and ideas. I love the natural world very much, but I am equally fascinated with our manmade world. I think I react to lots of things and if I have an emotional response to something whatever that response may be, it makes me want to know or learn more. I think that’s the best way I can describe it.

W and K: In the broadest sense our inspiration comes from society, both past and present. We are particularly influenced by archives, ancient craft techniques, contemporary making processes and the value we place on materials and objects.

DN: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

SH: It’s really hard to choose one person who has been the most influential or inspiring because I feel that I have been very lucky to meet many inspiring people. People who have been incredibly generous with their knowledge and their time and who have helped me in many different ways. I always try to make the most of any opportunity and also I think you can learn a lot from everyone you meet if you are paying attention!  

W and K: It would have to be craftsman and friend Rafal Wisniewski, who has kindly given up his time and workshop to share his contemporary making techniques with us. He has given us the space and time to develop our own marquetry process and is always happy to talk through and test out our latest ideas. We couldn’t have got this far without him.

DN: How do you go about designing new work?

SH: New projects start with an intense period of research and exploration; reading, collecting imagery, drawing and sketching all over the place plus I internalise a lot. Then I seem to naturally progress to making 3d models. They could be out of card, mesh, plaster or metal etc. I will start to hone in on the design and then once it has been extracted (which is how it feels sometimes: searching for and extracting the design that I know is in there) I make a prototype to try out and road test. Then I make the real thing. It’s an all-consuming process but I love it. 

W and K: Usually by interweaving contextual research with physical material exploration. There needs to be a concept behind the work, and often the concept becomes clearer through hands on engagement with materials and processes. We often work from hand to machine and back again to create work which fuses both traditional and contemporary craft practice.

DN: Do you have a favourite material to work with?

SH: I don’t think I really have a favourite material to work. I love working with precious metal and I definitely favour sheet metal. I also love working with minerals and gemstones and I have been studying lapidary so that I can carve my own shapes. I like to mix media and have found working with resin really interesting. It is really versatile and the colours are amazing.

W and K: Not really. What excites us is working with new materials, working in the unknown - learning new processes and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved using limited materials.

DN: What has been the most interesting thing to happen since setting up your business?

SH: I have learnt a lot since starting my business and can’t believe how much you have to do as a sole trader. I am literally every department of my business! The most exciting thing for me is that I’m actually doing it! I’m in a creative role, which I have always wanted to do, and it feels absolutely right. I love the fact that I am designing and making these wonderful things as my work.

W and K: We were so thrilled when John Lewis approached us to design a side table with them as part of their new collection inspired by the V&A. It was our dream job! We learnt such a lot through the process and we’re really pleased with the outcome.

DN: What are your plans for the next twelve months after New Designers?

SH: Later this year I will be exhibiting my work at The Goldsmiths’ Fair in week one. I will be on stand 9. Do come and see me if you are visiting. I am also going to be showing my work at Dazzle London this winter, which will be at the Oxo Gallery in London. So I have two great events to round off the year. I have more plans afoot for 2018 and I will also be Artist in Residence at the School of Jewellery in Birmingham for a second year.

W and K: We have two pieces on show at DesignJunction during London Design Festival and are already talking about some exciting collaborations with contacts we made at New Designers. We’re really looking forward to working with The Design Trust and Design-Nation over the coming year to focus on our ambitions for the business and to help widen our network.

DN: Will you carry on with the body of work you showed at One Year On or explore new directions?

SH: At New Designers I just launched the U.F.O Accessories collection. These will be earrings, bracelets etc. that will compliment and echo the aesthetic of the U.F.O. (Unique Finger Ornaments) Collection. I am also continuing to explore new shapes and forms for those pieces. I am not finished with these yet, there is definitely more to create! 

W and K: The pieces we showed at One Year On will continue to exist as a collection for both purchase and as the basis for bespoke commissions; however we are always on the lookout for new inspiration and will continue to explore new directions with our work.

Interview by Laura Jacometti


Stephanie will be at The Goldsmiths’ Fair, week one 26th September-1st October

Winter and Kurth will show work at Design Junction, 21st-24th September.

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An interview with Allistair CovellAn interview with Allistair CovellAn interview with Allistair CovellAn interview with Allistair Covell

An interview with Allistair Covell

Allistair Covell is an award winning contemporary surface designer with a background in fine art, fashion and printed textiles. Allistair’s creative practice is an exploration of colour and pattern with a focus on creating hand-knotted rugs and textile artworks for the interior industry. Allistair joined Design-Nation recently and will be part of the Design-Nation group stand at Decorex 2017.

Design-Nation: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

AC: I feel very fortunate to be surrounded  by people who are both inspirational and encouraging, from those who have had a positive influence on me in the past from tutors at college through to artists and designers whom I currently share a studio with.

Whilst at university I had the fantastic opportunity to work with Zandra Rhodes, who is not only a design icon but also a childhood hero of mine so it was incredibly surreal and exciting to have met her. Although Zandra was never really a mentor, I learnt so much from working closely with her and to this day I still follow her advice on the methodology of working, design techniques and thought processes. 

DN: What inspires you?

AC: Music is my biggest inspiration and as a synaesthete my work is heavily inspired by my sensory responses to sound and colour. My current practice is centred on the exploration of how music can be interpreted and illustrated on to a surface. The paintings I create on canvas and paper are visually recording the rhythms, movements and characteristics found within music; described through the use of expressive brush strokes, vibrant colours and ambiguous shapes. I then start the process of selecting which painting, whether drawn by hand or on the iPad, will be developed into hand-knotted rugs and carpets, finely crafted in Afghanistan and Nepal by master weavers.

DN: If you weren't an artist what would you be?

AC: I think had fate not stepped in when it did and I was presented with the opportunity to design the surface pattern on a rug, I might have returned to university and, using the skills I learnt studying fashion and textile design, retrained to become a costume or set designer. Looking back towards the end of my fashion degree the garments and illustrations I was creating where definitely becoming more theatrical than commercial.

DN: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?

AC: I still feel like I am starting out so at present I do all my own PR work, which includes taking photographs and writing. I am slowly getting to grips with social media! I haven’t as yet actively sought outside assistance on marketing but having recently become a member of Design-Nation, alongside having a studio with Digswell Arts for a number of years, I am slowly building my creative community and extending my networks. I feel my practice is growing in confidence and I am in a better position to introduce my work to a larger audience.   

DN: What are the main challenges in your practice?

AC: Working across two different design disciplines can be quite a challenge, especially from a technical point of view. Sometimes not everything painted can be easily translated into a rug. Certain brush strokes might prove on occasion to be too complex to convert smoothly into a hand-woven knot, but the Afghan and Nepalese weavers accept the challenge head on and the results are amazing. One new rug resembles the original artwork so closely that you would think that the design wasn’t hand-knotted but actually drawn on the surface by hand using a thick paintbrush.

Another challenge is the length of time it takes to physically make a rug, which can take up to three months owing to the traditional methods and techniques used. Even though this can come as a surprise to people, I see this as a positive challenge and an example of slow design. This is best shown in my rug Rhythm where its surface patterns are based on an iPad drawing, created in minutes but crafted over a period of months. From my own experience the feeling of waiting in anticipation for a rug to arrive is part of the experience and builds excitement - reminding us that the finer things in life take time to create.

DN: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

AC: Thinking ahead about the next ten years is a bit of a daunting concept as I feel like I have only just begun on this path as a rug designer, having come from a background in fine art and textiles. Hopefully I will continue to grow as an artist and designer, questioning and pushing what I can achieve and also what can be achieved within the carpet design industry. I would feel honoured if in years to come my work is synonymous with words like colour, quality and timelessness, and if my aesthetic becomes distinctive enough to be recognisable at first glance.

DN: If you could collaborate with someone new, who would you like that to be? 

AC: I have always loved the theatre and attending pop concerts, greatly admiring the hard work that is involved in their production, from the set designs through to the costumes and choreography. If there was ever the possibility or opportunity of collaborating with a musician, a lighting or a set designer on a project that would be an exciting challenge. 

Recently I have begun to experiment with creating mini three-dimensional paintings using plasticine. These have transformed how I look at form and shape and apart from inspiring a new rug collection; the possibilities of where I could take these are potentially endless as I could collaborate with architects or even furniture designers to create sculptural installations or products. 

I am in the very early stages of a possible collaboration with a ceramic artist and we are working on a joint project that potentially involves developing the plasticine sculptures to become ceramic objects. It will be interesting to see how this develops, what we learn from each other as we come from different artistic disciplines and how each other’s practice could influence our own work in the future.

Interview by Laura Jacometti. Images courtesy the artist.

Allistair’s work will be on show at Design-Nation, stand F17, at Decorex 2017, Syon Park, West London, 17-20 September


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