The interiors brand Mini Moderns was launched in 2006 by London-based designers, Keith Stephenson and Mark Hampshire. The brand specialises in applied pattern across a range of products, from wallpapers and fabrics through to rugs and ceramics. After the initial collection was snapped up by Heal’s, the brand has gone from strength to strength, selling online and via selected stockists around the world. The duo – whose design influences range from vintage textiles and toys through to travel and literature – have also collaborated with the Cortauld Gallery, Southbank Centre and the London Transport Museum Shop. Here, they tell The Colour File’s Martha Roberts what colour means to them…
Can you describe your first colour memory?
Keith: When I was very little I always got a new pair of Clarks sandals for my holidays – it was a summer ritual – and even though I was very young I was allowed to choose the ones I wanted. I always plumped for Royal Blue as opposed to the usual brown ones.
Mark: My first colour memory isn’t linked to a specific colour, but to the colour displays that my primary school teacher, Mrs Pace, used to put together in the corner of our classroom. Each week an eclectic array of items united by a colour theme, would be assembled. I particularly remember yellow (especially in spring when the daffs were out), black and white, and every shade of green. I would be mesmerized by the range of items that would come together to create the display. I think she must have been a particularly creative teacher as no other class had anything as beautiful.
Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years?
Keith: I think my choice of shoes as a child has always stayed with me, as blue is still my favourite colour. As an art student I was encouraged to always substitute black with other colours – one of which was Prussian blue. This seems to add a lot more depth and richness and is a great foil for other colours. We also have visited the Gio Ponti designed Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento a number of times. The entire hotel is decorated with differently designed ceramic tiles – all in shades of blue and white. Coupled with the blue sea and sky, we call it our ‘blue therapy’.
Mark: I have loved green for as long as I can remember. I like it for all its connotations of naturalness and freshness. The specific shade of green I favour has changed from one decade to another. As a child in the 70s I loved avocado bathroom suites and I’ll still stick up for them today. Come the 80s I went posh with jade green, then lime in the 90s, and olive in the 00s. Emerald and forest greens are my current passion.
What is your favourite colourful object/objects and why?
We have a collection of Carltonware money boxes, which are displayed in our living room. They represent a brilliant 1960s combination of pattern and colour. They are quite collectible now and a few years ago we were invited to share our collection with Elle Decoration readers in a future collectibles feature.
Do you have a colour you could happily do without?
As you may notice from our collections, we avoid red as much as possible. We hardly ever think it looks good. We spent a long time mixing our Awning Red, which features in our Day-tripper collection, particularly in our Whitby print. Whilst we love the final colour (we would say we did the best red) at the end of the day, it is still red! Conversely, we absolutely love orange and so we tend to substitute it in situations where others might use red.
What does colour mean to you in your day-to-day life?
Work! Of course, we adore colour and it stimulates us to create new things, but the honest truth is that colour can be as much a headache as an inspiration. When you’re designing across a number of substrates, from wallpaper to fabrics to enamelware, to ceramics, one of the hardest things is to keep colour consistency across products, as each substrate requires a different production technique. Our signature palette is quite limited – we work with 12 key colours in varying combinations – but even that limited palette can require quite a bit of policing when it comes to sampling products with new production partners.
Do you think there are rules about colour? Or are rules made to be broken?
Our designs often draw on subject matter that could be considered quite unusual for wallpaper, so we tend not to scare people too much with our colour combinations. We love classic combinations like grey with mustard and orange with stone. For our new wallpaper, Star-ling, we’ve worked with metallic shades and there are some combinations that work particularly well, like copper with pale verdigris and silver on midnight. Generally, we’re all for keeping things harmonious and then throwing in an awkward colour to make things sing. Our new Art Room wallpaper comes in a colourway that combines Emerald, Indigo and Asparagus green. When we first received the strike-off we weren’t sure about the combination, and then it grew on us. It’s now our favourite colourway in the collection.
Do you have a colour story or anecdote?
When we designed our Paisley Crescent wallpaper, we wanted to introduce a new colour to our limited colour palette – a tone that would sum up the mood of the Buddha Of Suburbia collection. We created Tangerine Dream as an update on 1970s British interiors. We imagined that customers would find that colourway of the wallpaper fun, but a bit much, and plump instead for a safer blue or grey variant. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Tangerine Dream consistently proves to be the best seller in that design, proving the British public are far more adventurous than you might think!
If you could give people advice about using colour, what would it be?
Colour is such a personal choice that we’ve learnt there’s no point trying to convince a client to go with something they don’t like, just because your design eye tells you it’s right. People have varying comfort levels when it comes to experimenting with colour, so you have to work within your own boundaries. We love it when people are adventurous with colour. That said, it’s worth being a bit savvy too. It can be tempting to go all out on a big new colour trend, but remember you only decorate every 4 or 5 years, so consider how you’re going to live with it.
Keep the big trend colour items to accessories that can be changed when you get sick of that must-have blush pink. When considering decorating with colour, think about location appropriateness too. You may love red, but try not to use it in, say a bathroom, where it’s going to feel anything but relaxing or fresh.
Think not only about what a colour looks like but how it makes you feel – and even what smell it evokes. We recently gave this a lot of consideration when creating our home fragrance collection, as the colour wheel has strong links to the fragrance wheel. Ultimately, we believe colour isn’t just something you see, but something you experience.