JENNY Needham talks to surface pattern designer Helen Stevens about the inspiration and creative process for her new Casbah Collection for Surfacephilia, which was launched this month at London Design Week

HELEN STEVENS, 37, is head designer for Surfacephilia, creating luxurious bohemian patterns for the design industry. Originally from Nunthorpe, for the past four years she has lived in Saltburn and rents a studio there. Surfacephilia manufactures its own collections of digitally printed wallpaper, luxury fabrics, cushions and china, selling online and through other studios and shops internationally. Helen's wallpapers have graced the walls of many hotels, retail shops, TV show sets, magazine editorials and residential homes around the world.

Have you always loved art and design?

EVER since I was in primary school, it’s all I’ve ever been interested in. I was lucky enough to be encouraged to believe in my skills and ideas from a very early age. It was always my focus throughout school, college and university; other subjects fell by the wayside as they never felt as important or exciting to me. I always believed if I worked hard enough, I could have a career in a creative subject. My whole life has been led by art and design really. I’d be completely lost without it.

How did you start out?

I studied Textiles and Surface Design at CCAD – now The Northern School of Art. My expertise is in print design, which is flat pattern design for interiors and fashion. After graduating, I moved to London, becoming assistant designer for Red Or Dead for a few years, moving back to North after being offered a job on the degree course I graduated from. After seven years of lecturing, the frustration of not having time to develop my own work became too much and I decided to take a leap of faith and set up Surfacephilia full time. Because my artwork is ‘flat’, the obvious choice was to apply my designs to wallpaper and have it produced for me. Since then, my range has expanded to include original artwork, giclee prints, velvet cushions and tiered lampshades. I hand the 3D products over to my amazing seamstress – she loves to tackle issues I don’t even want to start thinking about.

What inspires your designs?

I never follow trends in interiors as I find them quite bland. Coming from a textiles background, I usually look to fashion for inspiration as visually I find it really exciting. I love combinations of textures, colour, print, embroidery and layers. One designer I really admire is Barbara Hulanicki who founded the Sixties fashion brand Biba, not so much for her fashion garments, but for the way she brought fashion across into her interiors. Her home and stores were decorated in bohemian fabrics, brocades, animal prints, shawls, feathers, art deco detail – very eclectic, but glam at the same time. I try to make whatever I’m designing for interiors as exciting or experimental as the designs you find in fashion.

Describe your design process?

My most recent project began as something experimental. Normally I would pick a theme and create artwork based it to turn into designs. This time, I wanted to change the way I work. I spent a year just enjoying getting back into painting, developing a huge body of abstract and experimental artwork, which had no destination beyond serving the purpose of being self-indulgent and playing with ideas in different mediums. I reintroduced my usual mark-making and pattern later and experimented with combining all three together, scanning everything into my Mac and creating layers and compositions in Photoshop.

What makes Surfacephilia different?

My recent wallpaper designs are non-repeat, which means that there is no pattern match down the edges. It’s quite a rare product on the market. It was a huge task getting the artwork right so the design wouldn’t cut short at the edges. I worked on huge files, creating large pieces of artwork to fit a full ten-metre roll. Because there is no pattern repeat, you can hang, cut and paste each drop without lining it up, which means you get no waste from your roll. Your finished wall will be completely different to someone else’s depending on the height and width of your wall.

What sort of interiors do your designs suit?

Because my designs are so heavy in colour and texture, I would say probably the maximalist kind of home owner would buy into my products, people with eclectic homes. A lot of my sales come from interior designers working on hotel or bar projects, where drama or depth needs adding.

Describe the new collection?

My latest range includes non-repeat wallpaper that decorates your walls like huge wall murals, tassel velvet cushions that sit like pieces of ornate jewellery on your sofa, tiered silk lampshades whose fringing hangs low for a bit of extra luxury and original hand-painted art and prints, all of which will be for sale through my website and selected retailers. My wallpapers are already available online and the cushions and the light shades were being launched online this month, ahead of my show at the London Design Festival. If you’re local to Teesside, you can see my hand-painted wall murals around Brockley Hall Boutique Hotel in Saltburn, and in the register office at Middlesbrough Town Hall, both incredible buildings to have been able to turn my hand to.

What’s next?

To run alongside my more commercial collections, I would love to return to my roots hand dyeing and hand printing fabrics for my products. I’ve already started sampling onto devoré velvets and silks in exciting layered patterns. I think I’d love to create a very experimental, ornate and embellished, one-off bespoke range of products that will go on sale on my site, and once they’re gone, they’re gone! I much prefer working that way, getting my ideas out and playing in the print rooms, never quite knowing what I’m going to end up with. Maybe next year’s mission – we’ll see!