A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY…
A debut wallpaper collection by Lancashire designer Claire Williams has launched her work onto the international stage
When she first set up her own design studio earlier this year, Claire Williams was keen to draw on her Lancashire roots.
Helmshore became her home and workplace and Claire is now embarking on an exciting journey that will next year take her to trade shows in London, Paris and New York.
As an independent wallpaper designer under her brand name Aire, she creates stunning wall coverings using the very highest quality inks and papers. Her trademark is her loose hand-drawn watercolour florals which are digitally printed onto pearlescent, metallic and foil papers resulting in abstract, statement pieces of wall art.
Whilst having the option of staying to study A-levels, Claire went to art college and went on to study at university in Buckinghamshire. After graduating she got a job with a design studio in Manchester, which produced fabrics for huge fashion chains.
“It was quite cut-throat and I learnt a lot in terms of business. However it was quite limiting creatively as we were following trends so that dictated what we did.”
When her late father first became ill, Claire decided it was time to return to her roots and got a job teaching textiles at Blackburn College going on to become the degree course leader in print and textiles.
Having always been a keen networker, Claire became known to local design companies and last year decided to leave her job to set up her own business.
With a large archive of floral prints that she had completed over the years, she began researching how she could get her brand out into the competitive world of interior design.
“The main thing that had stopped me from setting up my own design studio previously was the expense – before the digital age, setting up in wallpaper design and manufacture in the traditional way involved a huge financial commitment.”
“But in the last four or five years there has been a massive step forward in digital techniques to produce fabric and wallpapers.”
In a collaboration with Surface Print Company in Clayton-le-Moors, Claire is able to produce a watercolour design by hand, scan it then digitally re-work it to produce the design at SPC in different colourways.
“I am so passionate about this – I want to work with Lancashire people while I am growing the brand.”
“I could get my designs printed in China but I respect the ‘made in Britain’ brand and the heritage of the skills this area has. Aire is definitely gaining momentum in the US but I am realising how difficult it is to get a volume order,” adds Claire, who was recently named as Country Homes and Interiors Business Newcomer Award winner. Judged by Melanie Adams from the UK’s largest online wallpaper retailer, Wallpaper Direct, the award was a career highlight for Claire.
Aire doesn’t follow trends, Claire’s style is very much her own and is instantly recognisable: “Every one of my designs is done with longevity in mind. People treat my wallpaper very much as an investment that they love. It never follows fashion. It makes a statement, it is opulent but not ostentatious. I like to think my designs are emotive – a modern take on nostalgia.”
Social media too plays a huge part in the Aire brand, which Claire hopes to evolve and expand into the international hotel and hospitality arena. She has recently had interest from an interiors retailer in California and she hopes that the trade shows next year will attract more overseas interest.
Closer to home Claire recently held a hugely successful exhibition of her work at Holmes Mill in Clitheroe, which led to leading interiors design boutique Theofano showcasing her debut collection ‘Papillon’ which invokes a romantic idyll of bygone days, whilst still being fresh and contemporary. The names of the designs include Holcombe, Mellor and Beardwood, reflecting Claire’s Lancashire roots.
“The exhibition went really well. Holmes Mill is a fantastic space and the industrial interior and brick walls showcased my work at its best,” says Claire, who in the future, would like to see Aire develop into a wider interiors brand to include fabrics and lighting.
“I like to see a room as a whole, brought together by accessories and how we can enhance our living space. What I do is really a labour of love and a nod to local skills and heritage.”