Very busy indeed: a celebration of pattern

Timorous Beasties and other design experts on the impact of pattern and how to use it

Timorous Beasties
(Image credit: Timorous Beasties)

Glasgow’s princes of print Timorous Beasties are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the brand, which has brought the world vibrantly patterned wallpaper and textiles that have been compared to William Morris on acid, or Damien Hirst on Ovaltine.

The duo behind Timorous Beasties, Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons (pictured below), first met at the Glasgow School of Art and quickly discovered that they shared a love of printed pattern. “We realised quite early on that we wanted to produce our own fabrics,” says Simmons, “but to do anything your way, you have to do it yourself. Physically, it takes two people to print a fabric – one to push and one to pull the squeegee.”

In 1994, they made headlines with their best-known design, the Glasgow Toile, which looks like a traditional French toile de Jouy until closer inspection reveals scenes of Glaswegian debauchery. Their less edgy designs have been commissioned by the likes of Nike, and also feature in the St Pancras Eurostar business class lounge, on The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s theatre curtain, and at the refurbished Hyatt Andaz hotel in Liverpool Street, London.

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The punks of print have retained their dour wit throughout their career. A question posed by back in 2014 - “what’s the most important thing to know about Timorous Beasties?” - received the deadpan answer: “That we’re not a veterinary practice.”

When we asked about their career highlights from the last three decades, Simmons said “not winning Designer of the Year 2005”. McAuley was in more reflective mood, however, replying: “Everything. I’m proud of it all. We have built a business that has great staff, a substantial website, a lovely studio, two showrooms – and we get to utilise the skills that we trained for.”

Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, Timorous Beasties

How to use pattern: experts give their advice

Clever clashing

Lucy Barlow, design director of Barlow & Barlow, says: “Growing up in the 1980s, pattern was huge – people used one print on six things in a room! In the 1990s and noughties, it all went beige and minimalist. Now I’m using pattern again, but it’s not Eighties-style – it’s ‘clever clashing’.

“Pattern’s in our DNA. As an English designer, I grew up in an old-fashioned house in the countryside and I love that layering of history, furniture and fabrics from all over the world. I’m not keen on minimalism, I like stuff!

“There’s always a grounding element from colours in a painting, or a rug, or wallpaper – and the scheme starts to build organically around that. The trick is to throw in some seemingly random colours to add an unexpected feel. Strong clashing colours I adore are green and pink, and purple and red – they look fantastic.

“If you’re experimenting with pattern, my tips are to be brave, and don’t try to finish a room in a week. People try to rush things and buy from one place, matching things to the last cushion. The house ends up looking like a showroom.

“If you exercise a bit of patience and collect things over time (and if you’re not working to a deadline like me) then as long as you love it, I’d call it a success.”

The upcycler

Lynn Watt of Ribbonreal makes beautiful and unique cushions from vintage Japanese kimono silk. “I felt it was my mission to preserve the art of the kimono even if it meant re-purposing the silk into something else to be loved and appreciated,” she says. “Up-cycling the silk into articles of desire has become a near addiction for me – I have never come across the same design twice.”

Unique vintage kimono cushions start from £40;

Budapest select

Paris’s annual design show, Maison&Objet, this year featured work by 11 Hungarian designers – aka “Budapest Select”. Anna Regős was one of them. Her geometric patterned fabric, inspired by the work of Hungarian-born op-art painter Victor Vasarely, really caught our eye. Regős is also inspired by the environmental need to create long-lasting materials, made in her native Hungary. “I don’t keep up with trends, I just express my life and style,” she says. Her Lattice textile collection is pictured above.