Clarissa Hulse designs beautiful and luxurious homeware from her studio in North London, with an emphasis on botanical imagery and bold colour. Clarissa’s designs are based on her nature photography, which is just as likely to originate from a tropical rainforest as it is to feature leaves from Highbury Fields- a stones’s throw from her studio.
Where did you grow up?
My father was a diplomat, so my family moved around a lot when I was little. We spent time in Bangkok, Athens, Berne, and Vienna to name a few. Each time we moved, my mother would make our new house feel homely with beautiful textiles and handicrafts from local markets. She was also a bit plant mad and would fill the house with plants which I think has really influenced my work.
How did you start your career?
I graduated in textiles from Brighton Art College in the 90s and moved to London to work as a freelance textile designer. That’s where I started up my hand printed scarf business. It took off really quickly, and I got orders from Liberty in London & New York department stores such as Barney’s & Nieman Marcus. Gradually the collection grew into a range of clothing, kimonos, and loungewear. Whilst I loved designing scarves I became frustrated by the fleeting nature of fashion and wanted to develop my own style. I decided to focus on home accessories in 2002 as I think there is more room for people to buy what they love for their homes rather than be a slave to trends.
How does a design you create become a product?
My design process often begins with scouring the countryside searching out interesting plants and flowers, which I then photograph. These are worked into designs along with mood boards and colour palettes. I work with my team to perfect the designs digitally first (though the overall aim is that things to stay true to how nature intended as much as possible). Silk screens are then made up with the designs, and colours are painstakingly chosen. We then print up lots of samples and then our favourites will then be worked up into fabric or wallpaper or whatever we are designing at the time.
How would you describe your interior style?
My style is definitely maximalist! I love old pieces of furniture that are full of character – I have collected many over the years and enjoy the eclectic look they create in my home. I also enjoy reupholstering pieces using my own fabric.
What’s the item in your house that makes you the happiest?
Definitely my cat Bertie. But if you are talking objects, I have a collection of ceramic bowls from various artists that spark huge amounts of joy. I also have lots of beautiful hand blown glass vases.
If you didn’t live in London, where would you like to live?
I have a fantasy that living in San Francisco would be pretty cool. Or maybe Amsterdam which we visited recently as a family and all fell in love with.
Colour is the trademark of your work – do you have any tips on how to use it?
It’s a good idea to have a palette in mind before you start, maybe a tear sheet from a magazine, or painting you already own to pick out some key colours form that. Painting walls is a good place to start as it can transform a room (and be changed easily if you feel you have gone wrong). I tend to keep my long-term investment pieces such a sofas, or kitchen cupboards neutral as you can you can do so much with the soft furnishing and accessories.
Studio disaster stories?
A few years ago, a customer brought her 2 year-old daughter with her to a studio sale. As the woman was busy shopping, the daughter somehow locked herself in to the toilet! No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t explain to the little girl how to unlock the door. As it is a very tiny loo we couldn’t bash the door down. So we ended up calling the fire brigade! Five hunky fire fighters appeared and one of them ended up climbing up through the ceiling and making a hole to get in the toilet. He scooped up the girl and opened the toilet door with the toddler in his arms. He was greeted by applause from all our customers! So not a disaster in the end!
What was your worst job before starting your business?
I was a terrible waitress! I would forget everything and was quite clumsy, so I quickly realised it wasn’t my thing. I ended up selling handmade jewelery while I was a student to make ends meet.I think this really helped nuture my entrepreneurial side.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I absolutely love it when our designs become reality. It feels like Christmas as we unwrap the first samples of a new product, and is one of the most exciting parts of being a designer.
Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you?
Every day is different! I get my two children up and ready in the morning, pack them off to school and head straight into the office. Then it can be anything from shooting a new collection, discussing updates to the website, printing and sampling or organising events in the studio – or I can be out meeting suppliers or retailers. My job is so diverse, which is why I enjoy it so much.
After 20+ years, how do you continue to stay inspired?
Most of my inspiration comes from being out in nature, and seeing beautiful plants in situ. I have made a few trips to far flung places; my favourite being a recent trip to the Cloud forests in Cost Rica. It had me bursting with inspiration. I also loved South Africa and am still using images that I took for reference even thought it was 5 years ago. That is the great thing about nature, it is absolutely timeless and transcends trends.
What advice would you give to other textile designers wanting to start their own business?
I would say work hard to find your thing.. what ever that is, be it modern geometric, or ethereal pastel colours or naïve animals. And then OWN IT! I think social media is great for getting a brand across and harnessed well it can drum up a lot of business. But to make money you really need to be working with big companies and they will only want to work you if you are the best at the thing that you do. Also work hard and keep designing all the time even if it’s not selling to keep improving and being inspired.