Chatting with Elizabeth Ockford
I was introduced to the lovely Elizabeth Ockford in late 2017 and we immediately hatched a plan to meet up and find out a little bit more about how we each worked. It took some time, however earlier this year, on a lovely spring morning, we met up in a sweet Tudor coffee shop in charming Edenbridge. Here we bonded over excellent coffee and our love for wallpaper. I was fascinated to learn that Elizabeth had worked with the well-known Fabric and Wallpaper House Osborne & Little for 13 years!
In recent years Elizabeth, already an established artist and sculptor, joined up and is now Director of The Paper Partnership, an established UK wallpaper manufacturing company whose products are very popular abroad.
I have to confess that prior to meeting Elizabeth, I’d not heard of The Paper Partnership at all. I was very keen to know how this company had kept under the radar for so long. In Metier’s ongoing commitment to highlighting UK brands, I was definitely keen to know more and bring The Paper Partnership to the attention of the rest of Metier Members. Therefore I quickly asked Elizabeth if she would be keen to be a Guest Speaker at our September Brunch Event – luckily for us, she managed to find the time for that……as well as a quick catch-up afterwards….
….. read on below to gain an insight into the enthusiasm and talent that this lovely artist brings to the Interior Design and wallpaper industry.
How you define your own design style ?
My own design style has always been a mixture of both old and new. I am a magpie with shiny bright colourful things – so colour and metallics always catch my eye. I find new fresh designs very attractive and will often choose a more modern style when buying or decorating. However, I am nostalgic and have many objects and bits of furniture that I have gathered over the years that have good memories for me. Plus, I can’t resist bargain finds in junk and antique shops. The end result is a comfortable mixture of old and new, I hope. This filters through into my fabric and wallpaper designs, which can be used in a variety of Interior styles.
How did you become involved with The Paper Partnership (TPP) and how long ago?
I quite literally bumped into TPP. I had my own studio for a number of years, and one day was taking some unwanted furniture to a warehouse charity furniture business. This was on a local industrial estate that I was fairly familiar with. When I saw a new sign on one building stating ‘Luxury Wallpapers’, I just had to find out who or what had moved in there. That was back in 2014. I introduced myself to the business owner, and was soon creating designs for him on a freelance basis. In 2015 he invited me to join the business full time, as Creative Director.
As an artist and wallpaper designer, how do you think wallpaper is currently perceived and how this has changed over the years?
Wallpaper has gone in and out of fashion since I first started working in the late 1980s. Back then you had matching curtains, upholstery and wallpaper, and the result was a little claustrophobic. It has survived the following very minimal years.
However, I think wallpaper now has found a good place as a key part of an Interior’s decoration. Wallpaper is something that offers colour , pattern and character to a room, without overpowering it. It is often used sparingly- perhaps on one wall, up a staircase or in a private room such as WC or bathroom.
The public are also starting to become more aware of the heritage of some wallpaper design and print techniques. This can be found through ranges such as Farrow and Ball, William Morris or Little Greene – and I like that. I think we should be proud of England’s design heritage.
What do you think the history books will say about wallpaper of the 21st century?
ooooh…. good question. I think they will talk about it as being the start of the digital revolution. That modern print techniques enabled a wider variety of pattern and colours to be enjoyed.
Who or what are your biggest inspirations or influences?
I love Kit Kemp as a designer- she is so fabulously clever with her mixtures of colour and pattern. And my favourite painter is called Milton Avery. There are some Scandinavian brands that I really admire- Marimekko being an obvious one but also Larrsen.
But generally it is film and fashion that influence me in terms of colour, mood or pattern. And then again, if I go to a good art exhibition I always come away with some inspiration for colour – say Hockney, Kahlo or Picasso. And there is an Interiors/furniture company whose style I LOVE, even though it’s devoid of pattern – Ginger and Jagger. Their colour palette is to die for. (see their Tides rug).
What piece of advice would you offer for someone starting out in the industry?
Have passion, be prepared to work hard, and stick it out. Make as many friends as you can, as it’s a small industry. You will note that the same faces keep reappearing over the years. And find the thing that you are genuinely GOOD at, to do. If you do what you enjoy and are good at, then the knocks are easily overcome and you are sustained by your love of your metier.
How has the community of Interior designers influenced you as a designer?
I’ve already mentioned Kit Kemp, who I admire but have never met. Nina Campbell is a brilliant designer and I had the privilege of working with her for over 10 years. Victoria Waymouth I worked with for 5 years. Both Interior Designers gave me such a wealth of knowledge. I still draw on this knowledge to this day, in terms of colour and form. Generally, any well designed interior is an inspiration to me, even those that I don’t initially like. There’s always some little thing that is captivating and stays in my imagination.
What challenges did you face at the start of your career, compared to what you face today?
When I left Art School the first challenge was to actually get a job, using my Textile Design Training. So many of my fellow students fell at that first hurdle. I learnt more in my first two years working than I did while studying though, and it was hard work.
It took a good few years to learn all that I needed to about the technical and practical side of designing. And I’m relieved that that bit comes easily to me now. Although I do have to work at keeping abreast of developments, and keeping myself trained up to date especially on CAD.
It was a shock to have to learn how to successfully compromise as a Designer! After the purity of ideas at Art School, you have to learn to balance commercial and financial constraints as well as how to fulfill your brief. ….and that is challenging to start with. Nowadays, its almost the opposite. I have to push myself to stay fresh with ideas and approaches and not to compromise too quickly out of habit.
Did you enjoy your guest speaker appearance at Metier Rendezvous recently?
I thoroughly enjoyed my stint as guest speaker. I was very interested to hear the feedback on my designs. Sharing my enthusiasm with all of you, left me feeling re-energised.
Who is your main customer type and what do you sell the most of?
As we sell around the world , our customer base is very diverse. In the UK however I’d say our customers are usually in the 30-60 age range, fairly well off and with a not adventurous design style. But our clients are still the kind of people who want something smart and a bit different to other peoples houses that they see.
Have you had any “teething issues” and how have you overcome them?
Here at TPP our main teething issues were practical ones. We sell abroad in large quantities to distributors. I’ve had to work hard with the management and team to get them to apply a different psychology to the UK market where we are selling much more directly to smaller showrooms or individual designers or home owners.
What are the key benefits for Interior Designers to be working with yourself and The Paper Partnership?
Well, we are relatively new to the UK market. Therefore, Interior Designers will be specifying a product that not so many other people will have. Our products are produced to the same high quality and in the same factories as all the well known up-market UK brands, but our retail price is a little more competitive. And we offer excellent customer service – with same day shipment on samples and orders ( before 1pm).
What is next for you? ….and The Paper Partnership?
For the new year we will have a new Elizabeth Ockford range of wallpapers, and also a book of collected textures and plains that will be very useful in a Designers library. Next Spring we are launching a selection of digital-only wall coverings – these will be more exclusive, being printed only in very small quantities. And by the end of 2019, I hope to have my own range of EO branded home accessories available. (starting small with stationery and kitchen wares)
So from our point of view, we can only marvel at Elizabeth’s energy and drive – we will definitely be keeping a look out for her exciting new products next year!
Thanks so much for reading,
Metier Rendezvous is a peer support network for Interior Designers! We provide day-to-day pro-active and friendly support for all our members.
Collaboratively, we share business ideas, tips and collaborate on projects together.
Are you interested in becoming part of our friendly community of Interior Designers?