An interview with surface designer Rachel Powell

I met Rachel Powell at TENT London this year and was instantly captivated by her etched veneer lighting designs - she very kindly agreed to talk to me about how she came up with that design and what inspires her more generally... What’s the most important thing to know about you?

I love what I do, it sounds slightly clichéd but it has always been super important to me to get up in the morning and be excited about the day, I’m a glass half full kind of person.

Rachel Powell etched veneer lighting

Describe a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Rachel Powell.

A really good day starts with a ride out on my horse, rain or shine - it’s valuable thinking space for me. Then coming home and putting my scruffy printing clothes on before starting a day in the studio printing. Being up to my neck in ink and mess, with the radio on, is when I am at my happiest.

A really bad day is when I feel uninspired and struggle to get my ideas down on paper, when nothing flows, nothing looks right and I am tearing my hair out. Luckily it doesn’t happen often. I refuse to put a design on screen or into production unless I am literally bouncing off the walls about it; anything less just will not do and that quality alone drives me bonkers sometimes!

What inspires your ideas?

My home - living in a slightly dilapidated cottage that has a brilliant 1970s avocado bathroom suite (which I refuse to part with), Formica kitchen units and a retro dormant water heater on the kitchen wall. It fuels my inspiration from two perspectives; the retro features and its cosmetic imperfection. I always design with this house in mind, whether it is taking inspiration from its features or designing to complement them. I always think it's fate that we stumbled upon it six years ago because I also have my studio in the out house which I converted last winter.

Rachel Powell wallpaper design

Describe the process you go though to turn your ideas into products.

I guess it depends on the product, with my etched veneer lighting, for example, it was a happy accident at university – the laser cutter had accidently etched too deep and I just happened to hold it up to the light so I could see it better and caught the sun shining through it.

Prior to that, I had no clear idea of what I was going to do with the etched veneer at all – which is why I always think experimentation is so important, you never know what’s going to happen! I like that unpredictability, perhaps not ideal but it works for me. I live for the ‘eureka’ moment - it’s organised chaos!

What advice would you give to an aspiring surface designer?

Be yourself, be original. Don’t try to be like somebody else, create your own visual identity and put your own personal stamp on design. Experiment, play and step outside your comfort zone. Do your research and get to know the industry. Use your time constructively and be prepared to put in long hours and hard work.

Rachel Powell surface design

Which three items could you not live without?

My iphone (who could, right!?), my toaster and my recently acquired 1970s Holmgaard lamp base – it was love at first sight.

What are you most proud of?

My personal and academic achievements as a designer - my art teacher wouldn’t give me a reference for art school when I was 16 so every time I create something beautiful or I land a big account I feel very proud, and admittedly slightly smug!

What’s next for you?

I’m still finding my feet and there’s so much I want to do, but I’m in the middle of negotiations for a potentially huge project involving my veneer range – top secret at the moment but I’m hoping to be able to spill the beans before Christmas! I also want to develop that concept more in the future.

I’m currently working on a wallpaper range to launch next year, which I am massively excited about. Having worked for so long with the veneer I am print hungry, so my wallpaper range will feed that hunger and complement the lighting range beautifully.

I’m going to start incorporating my love for vintage lamp bases into my collection which I think could be stunning, as long as I can stop saying to myself “I’ll keep that one!” (although the Holmegaard is certainly not going anywhere).

Now that I’ve written all that down I actually realize how much I’ve got on my list! I wouldn't have it any other way though.

Rachel Powell etched veneer lighting

And, finally, what’s your favourite colour?!

Mustard yellow. Is that a really unprofessional way of describing a colour!? Anyway, I love it.