Mini Moderns is bold, mid century style for easy living, enough retro to be exciting and familiar and enough modern to be fresh and innovative. Mini Moderns was created by Mark Hampshire and Keith Stephenson who are joyous people. I have been in the company of Mark and Keith on a number of occasions now and whether we have had a glass of bubbly in our hands or not we have had the most fun, childish, mature and gossipy conversations. We got on like the proverbial house aflame! That sounds a bit gushing but what I’m trying to say is that they are passionate, real and approachable.
I struggle to imagine a world where Mini Moderns don’t exist, they are not just a part of my design conscious but also my design subconscious because I can’t even remember when I first saw their designs. They are engrained, etched and, happily, indelible.
As a retailer, I am lucky to be surrounded by great things all the time and enjoy being a stockist of Mini Moderns tempting range. The Whitby print has reached cult if not classic status which is wonderful as Whitby has personal connections for both Mark and Keith who spent time there as children and I’m sure just as much time as adults! My background in textiles was always inspired by the work of Lucienne Day who remains an idol for me; Mini Moderns rekindle some of her essence. The abstract line, the blurred shape and the layers of colour bring out the midcentury style seen so often in the work of Marian Mahler, Jacqueline Groag and David Brown.
Mini Moderns are expanding their product range constantly, the paints and wallpapers are my favourite things to have in my shop, ceramics, bed linen, bags, cushions and I believe much more in the pipeline.
I was lucky enough to speak with Mark and Keith to ask them some more specific questions,
Where did the name ‘Mini Moderns’ come from?
Mark and I had set up a small independent branding agency when we were asked to create a range of wallpaper for a South London design store, which turned out to be incredibly successful.On the back of this success we wanted to expand the collection and build on this success. However, this was not to be. So we decided to create wallpapers of our own that was much more family orientated. When we launched the new range we used our branding agency name – with the collection name being “Playtime’ which was named after my favourite biscuits as a child and also one of our favourite Jaques Tati films. We described it as ‘cross generational’ – something that was equally happy at home in a nursery, playroom or teen room as well as a grown up living spaces.As sales and press appearances increased, It became slightly confusing on our web site that we could be designing packaging for cosmetics or TV companies identities – and then suddenly you could also buy wallpaper – so we quickly decided to separate the businesses.Our home style had been described by our friends as ‘soft modernism’ which could have ended up being the name of the company, but we took this as inspiration as the basis for our idea of creating products that added ‘a little bit of modernism’ to your home and so ‘Mini Moderns’ was born.
What inspires you?
We often say this – but we are inspired by lots of things – often we come across things that you would never particularly think ‘that’s a good basis for a wallpaper collection’. We have very similar collective memories from being children as we are from the same area. We also both loved watching television when we were younger so we also use that as reference. Because we are the same age, we developed our personal tastes at about the same time – which means we are very similar in aesthetic. Social history and literature also really excite us too. We always talk about getting the ‘mood’ right of something than our designs being a pastiche of something retro. We are very much contemporary even though we are influenced by the past, using mid century design as a springboard for 21C living. we always say ‘we don’t live in a museum – and we don’t think you should either’.
Where do you produce your work?
We work in a studio which is part of our live/work space. It is very separate from our living space which is a two storey maisonette above the double height studio space. It’s great to be so close as sometimes we do end up having to do late hours and don’t have to then worry about having to think about trying to get home in the early hours. However we don’t have any work items upstairs like home computers. It is hard to switch off, as we are always thinking about what next.
How is your work produced?
We produce in small UK based factories where we know all the people who are involved in creating Mini Moderns products. We try to nurture a good relationship with them – and when we have new suppliers I think they find it unusual at first that we are so friendly but they soon become part of the creative process – helping us out with production headaches and how to best achieve what we want to do. We seldom have anyone say ‘that just won’t work’ to us. It is a very collaborative process. We design all our wallpapers through familiarity with the production techniques.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment it is very very exciting. We have just completed a number of commissions for some great people. This includes a range of products for London Transport Museum, for 2014 ‘Year of the Bus’, as well as a collection designed in collaboration with Turner Contemporary in Margate and a new project for the soon to open National theatre shop. We can’t wait to see everything come in – as the last few months have really been a period of constantly juggling production between each project.
We are also part of the 20 year celebrations of Camberwell Arts festival, which is where we live and work. We were asked to create a range of mugs for them – which have turned out really well and their first production run sold out in about 72 hours.
We are also in planning for our annual Mini Moderns REMIX project which this year takes place at Southbank Centre shop – not to give too much away – but we are reworking designs we have already worked on with them, so whereas last year our first REMIX project involved working with other artists and designers re-imagining our products, we are kind of remixing ourselves – creating limited edition items, which were not produced first time around with prints designed especially for the shop.
Other things in the pipeline is the ongoing design of our Hinterland collection. We already have another 3 prints in progress for wallpaper, which includes an exciting collaboration with artist Matt Sewell, but we are also working on how to expand the theme so it is fresh and unexpected from us.
What advice would you give to a new designer just starting their career?
Don’t give up! It can be very frightening when you are setting up – as you may not have the support of anyone or anything other than your own self belief. Not everyone is cut out to run their own businesses so don’t take too much advice from too many people. Really trust your gut instinct and don’t procrastinate – just get on and do it – the worst thing that can happen is that you fail. But even if this is the case – you’ll know what not to do next time.Try not to spend too much money when you are starting. We always say try to keep your overheads as low as possible. We bought our house knowing that when we moved in we would have a big white open space which of course was amazing, considering we moved here from a tiny one bedroom flat, with beautiful pieces of furniture and where we would spend our evenings listening to our extensive vinyl collection, but we knew it would have to accommodate the business as it grew. We are constantly advised to get some cheap warehouse space – but for the moment – what can be cheaper than free? I think our friends miss the big space more than we do.Also exposure is really important – you could be doing the most amazing stuff – but if no one hears about it – then there is no point. Make sure you learn about how to write press releases – take good pictures and be clear about what you want to say about yourself.And finally, and really importantly, be original – don’t copy – why put your soul and any cash you have in emulating an existing business, or doing your version or ‘take’ on someone else’s work – you will always be playing catch up, and never know quite where you are.We were very much copied when we first started – but those people have fallen by the wayside as they may have been able to emulate what we were doing at the time, but they had no idea of our ambition as a brand or how expansive we are in our thinking. They couldn’t move forward the way we have, as we are very clear about what Mini Moderns is and they didn’t grasp or understand that we didn’t reproduce our past work all the time, simply because we were successful.