Weird, wonderful, and darkly romantic… these are just a few words that have been used to describe the work of London-based artist and designer Bell Hutley. Referencing personal influences like Alexander McQueen, Tim Burton, and the Brothers Grimm, her work embraces the whimsical and the grotesque, with motifs that are creative, and, well… sometimes a bit creepy (in a wonderful way, of course).
We spoke with the young creative about her brand, including her artful (and eco-conscious) linens, tumblers, placemats, and more. See what she had to say, and be sure to shop her products right here on Chairish.
Your homewares feature inspirations from nature, but often unusual things like beetles, moths, and eyes. Why do these subjects inspire you?
I’ve always loved the darker side of things and find there is so much beauty in the more grotesque and twisted subjects. Since I was a little girl I’ve been obsessed with books and I love the story about the Brothers Grimm. They would scare me so much, but I couldn’t resist reading them over and over again… there’s something so enticing about things that make you feel uneasy. This is a theme that I regularly play with when creating my designs; I want to create a playful sense of unease and unexpected surprises.
Tell us about some of the people who inspire you as well… you’ve mentioned Alexander McQueen and Tim Burton, for instance.
I take inspiration from so many different people, places and things; fashion, art, films, books, set designers, interior designers, musicians, even just walking outside my flat in West London (I could go on). But in the illustration world, Aubrey Beardsley and Kay Nielsen are my men! I refer back to both of them almost every time I’m creating a new piece, and my studio is littered with their books. I am also truly inspired by Tim Walker — his pictures and sets always transport me into another universe. Other big names that I take around with me everywhere are Lewis Carroll, Stevie Nicks, Susie Cave, Walter Crane, William Morris, all the pre-Raphaelites… the list could go on and on.
You create your products with a sustainable focus… tell us a bit about that.
All my designs are made in Europe, with around 80% being made in the UK. I strive to keep my factories near our warehouse when possible. I also focus on making products that have longevity — it has always been an important factor when picking materials to work with, i.e enamelware over glassware as enamel is more robust and durable. The world is changing fast and I want to make sure my brand is fully transparent to my customers — there are so many new sustainable alternatives, so as a brand we are continuously educating ourselves.
You design quite a few types of products, including placemats, table linens, napkins, trays, coasters, and tumblers. What’s your favorite thing to design?
Hmm, that’s a great question!. I think my favorite thing to design is when I’m creating something completely new, that’s always so exciting because it’s so unknown. I always treat my products as blank canvases. I love designing table linens because the scale is so much fun to work with — illustrations can be blown up and look extra bold and exciting due to the sheer size. My favorite product is the enamel tumblers… there’s no better feeling than seeing a sample come out of the kiln, where my designs look so iridescent and radiant.
Do you create custom work as well, and if so, what kinds of requests do you get?
I absolutely love doing bespoke projects. It’s so fun getting a brief and working on creating a one-off special piece. It can be a very personal and special process to go through. The client normally has a lot of sentimental attachment to the piece, which gives the work so much richness and depth. I feel pretty honoured when people reach out to me for bespoke work. For example, I painted a mural of a willow tree above the spot where a baby (called Willow) was born. It meant a lot to me to be asked to make something so personal.
Tell us about your personal spaces and how you design at home. How would you describe your aesthetic? Do you collect any vintage or antique pieces?
I am admittedly a bit of a hoarder. My personal space is always being filled with little finds from antique markets and from the Portobello Road. I use my space at home as a bit of an experiment, and I paint murals on every piece of wall I can find. During lockdown, I wanted to create a place that was inspiring in every corner. Having no studio meant that my home had to become a makeshift studio. I like being surrounded by nature, so I fill my flat with plants and flowers (dried and fresh). I also created a little forest floor world with hand painted mushrooms, moss, and dried flowers. It’s a pretty mad wonderland but I love it so much — there are lots of places I can escape to.
What’s a dream piece you’d love to have for your own home?
Love this question. Over lockdown, I became obsessed with miniatures — I follow some brilliant instagram accounts that recreate scenes from books like Great Expectations. So I’d love to have a miniature version of one of my favorite books, poems, or places.
What trends in the design industry are you loving right now? And are there any styles or trends you’d like to see disappear?
I tend to try to steer clear from trends; I’ve always thought it was important to follow my instincts and whatever is currently stimulating and I pay very little attention to what everyone else is doing. At the moment, in the UK, there is a big tablescaping trend… people are getting really creative and I’m loving it. I wouldn’t want to see this disappear!
How have digital avenues influenced the way you sell your work?
I set up my brand purely digitally. Online and marketing on social media… they’ve been incredibly helpful and for a small brand with a small marketing budget, you can be very clever and savvy. I’d say it’s been a vital part of my growth. I’ve met so many creative people through Instagram from all over the world. I have a really strong sense of community, and it’s lovely watching people grow, their style evolve, and carriers blossom.
Where do you see your business going in the future? What kinds of pieces would you like to design next?
The sky’s the limit with what I can create, I don’t want to restrict myself to one field. So fashion, interiors, and art are all places I want to focus on. How I tend to work is I follow whatever I’m obsessed with at the time. It’s important to me because it means my heart will be fully invested in the piece. I’m currently looking into doing wall hangings and wallpaper — the scale is just so much fun and it’s a real showstopper. I’m also working with a seamstress on some fashion pieces, but that’s in the very early stages and I have a lot to learn.
All images courtesy of Bell Hutley