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Walking through England’s Lane in London’s chic Belsize Park, passersby may be struck by the unusual furniture displayed in the shop of window of Living in Space: footstools covered in old jeans and chairs upholstered in ties seem perfectly suited to the Boho-cool locals, including Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Sadie Frost and Gwenyth Paltrow. Eluxe made some inquires and managed to hunt down Elizabeth Knowles, the furniture designer responsible for these eccentric pieces, for an exclusive interview.
How did you get started in furniture design?
My mother taught me how to sew from a very early age but I mostly made clothing. I then had a career as a Graphic Designer for 16 years and always had a talent for art and design. I suppose the two things sort of came together about 3 years ago when I was looking for a bedside table for my son’s room and found a ratty table that had been left out on the street. I wanted to make the table into something different and personal for him so I raided his comic book collection and covered the table. It was so successful that I soon had lots of people asking about it. The other pieces have occurred in much the same way, see the potential in a wonderful piece of old furniture, imagine a covering using objects or fabrics at hand and putting them together.
Where did you initially source your fabrics from?
The comic books come from a friend who has collected since he was a child and has given stacks of them to our children. The fabrics were just bags of clothing my children had outgrown that I used to take regularly to the Oxfam shop to be resold. The light bulb went off one day when I was about to take a huge bag of denim jeans down the road while trying to think of something to cover a quirky stool that I had just found. The same for ties. At the time lots of men were shedding ties in the City and I asked my husband for a clear out of his old ones (some beauties!).
A number of customers have come to me with treasured items, toys, clothes, that they or their children can not part with even though they have long outgrown them, and I remake them into a piece of furniture that they can keep forever.
If you look creatively at something, there is an abundant source of material around.
Would you call yourself an eco designer? Why or why not?
Absolutely! The tag line on my cards is: “recycle, recreate, rejuvenate”. This is what I set out to do. There are many different ways to create a piece of art or a piece of furniture you just have to be a little clever and look around you. The idea of recycling or reusing is very topical, dare I say trendy?, and growing in importance with each passing year. It’s almost a responsibility to stretch your creative mind to make use of the objects we have at hand rather than always relying on manufacturing something brand new.
What, in your opinion, defines beauty in furnishings?
To me, furniture needs to work, first and foremost. Its no good having a table the you can’t get your legs under, or a sofa that forces you to sit rigid. However, what really makes one piece stand out from another is its uniqueness, its individuality. Something that stops you in your tracks and makes you look again…and whisper to yourself, “wow, I love that!” Which doesn’t mean it has to be complex, even the simplest objects can be arresting.
Should furniture follow trends, or should people choose a style and stick with it?
My denim pieces are inspired by just that! Everywhere you look people are wearing jeans. They are worn to work, to play even out to the opera! Why not a denim sofa too? I would be letting all of my fellow designers down if I said people should stick to one style. Why not change with the trends if the mood and the purse allows?
How are the English different from those on the continent in terms of their taste in interiors, do you think?
The British are often asked to define their style and the one word that keeps coming up is comfort. It’s about creating a place to relax and enjoy good conversation. The things I see in Italy, France, Germany seem quite the contrary of this. More of those “sit up straight” sofas and gleaming stainless steel. Perhaps it’s a product of the weather in England, we want to feel cosy when we come in out of the rain rather than having the option of throwing the doors open to days of sunshine.
Will you stick with furniture design, or do you see yourself doing something different in five years time?
For the time being I am really enjoying myself. I have a head full of ideas that need to be made before I can imagine doing something completely different, although, inspiration comes from odd sources. When a 13 year old visitor can see one of my stools and say “wow, that’s cool!” I must be on to something.
To see more about Elizabeth’s furniture, please click here.