Q&A with Stuart Rodgers

Earlier this year Reed Harris launched  two exciting new collections of tiles, Stitch & Circle Line, designed for them by Stuart Rodgers of Stuart Rodgers Wallpaper. 

Stitch was inspired by familiar fabric patterns and is made up of a limited palette of 12 colours and is comprised of geometric and curved shapes that can be combined to make a multitude of different patterns.   Circle Line has three surface relief patterns that repeat into each other and can be set with plain tile to again create a whole range of individual and unique patterns.

Stuart has worked closely with Reed Harris for around 20 years and we were very excited to hear he was designing a collection of tiles for them.  We interviewed Stuart via e-mail to learn a little more around his background, his inspirations and his plans for future collections.

Stuart, thank you for agreeing to this interview.  Firstly, why don’t you tell us a bit more about your background and how you came to design wallpapers, and now tiles?

Thank you for asking me. I’ve always been a scribbler since a young age and naturally gravitated towards the visual arts rather than science in school. After completing a foundation course on the south coast, I went on to study a BA at Middlesex Polytechnic (showing my age) in three-dimensional design. The multidisciplinary course covered furniture, glass, metalwork, jewellery and ceramics, the latter being where I found my feet.

Graduating in the early nineties wasn’t the best timing with the economy being as it was. After a few years of practical employment choices including a stint driving a taxi, I joined Reed Harris at the end of the nineties.

The showroom floor was where I started in the interiors industry and it was a comfortable fit. By the time I left to do my own thing ten years later, I had spent eight of them selecting the products to present to designers and public alike.

Much like my graduation, deciding to go self-employed in the spring of 2008 wasn’t the best timing. Apart from the customary rocky start, being my own boss has given me the time to put my own ideas into action. First with wallpaper, terrazzo and more recently with tile.

Have you always had an interest in pattern and texture, or is there a moment when you can remember that first sparked your interest?

For sure, both catch my eye wherever I go. I am a bit nerdy when it comes to finding the repeat and it has got me into trouble a few times. I’m often being told off for not paying attention. I grew up in a New Town in the seventies that at the time had a splendid long multi-level layout to the town centre. I remember the textures in the concrete building facades and the pebbles pushed into the paving areas to designate where not to walk. They have always stuck in my mind along with the concrete slabs made into bridges over the pools in the public park that seemed to hang in mid-air not quite touching each other.

Where do you get your inspirations from for your designs?

I am very fortunate to be able to travel to trade shows to advise on product choices. So that I hopefully don’t make any crashing blunders, I invest a fair amount of time in forecasting colours and trends. Trends are rarely a popular idea with many professional designers, and I understand why in most cases. They shouldn’t be regarded as a future prescription, a set of rules that limit the creative process. They are at most a guide on what will be surrounding us in a couple of years. By that I mean colours in advertising, shop windows, magazine layouts, interiors blogs, the list goes on. They are what we will be seeing as the new ‘new’ so really, they are there as an assist to understanding the new familiar. Throughout my research there are standout textures, material pairings and graphic styles that all contribute to forming my ideas for my design work. 

Who or what is your ultimate style inspiration?

I love modernism. There is something solid and beautiful to the motifs, forms and general detailing. From Art Deco right up to Brutalism the 20th century gave us some masterclasses in proportion, appropriate material choice and form. Now I have to confess that until a few years ago I had never heard of the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. I was lucky enough to visit the Tomba Brion cemetery designed by the same and was immediately a fan.

How do you marry the creative with the practical when it comes to design?

I draw a lot on my screen. Sometimes I have in mind how to make what I am drawing and sometimes I’m just doodling on the train. I think because of my years dealing with the supply chain from manufacturer to client, I have gained an understanding of the process from end to end and the expectations in between. I think products need to be beautifully made, have a focus in their design and most importantly look great when fitted. My work has a particular style, it is definitely not quiet and is certainly isn’t going to be for everyone. I completely understand that but where it is used, it needs to work in the space and do its job within the overall scheme. Bolder is better in my book.

Tell us a bit more about your collections with Reed Harris?  How did the project come about?

We know that the Chelsea Design Quarter is a design destination and as part of the community it is our job to maintain the quality and choice of products available. I work closely with Karen at the Kings Road shop and we have been looking for interesting relief tiles for some time. I had sketched out some ideas for Circle Line as we couldn’t find precisely what we wanted. Happily, Karen found a small tile producer who brought the ideas into life.

Stitch came about in a weekend. I had seen some basic porcelain tiles that had been presented very well at a recent exhibition. A colleague at Reed Harris had also seen them and expressed an enthusiasm for them. I was quite taken aback by this enthusiasm for something that I regarded as nice but just very well presented. I thought that with the access to materials that Reed Harris has, they could do so much better. Four days and 21 patterns later the Stitch proposal was complete.

Do you have a favourite design in your own collection? Or would that be like asking to choose a child?

It probably is, but out of the wallpapers I like the scale and flexibility of Geo Geo and Circle Line wins the tile trophy. It has turned out to be so lovely with its handmade imperfections and has provoked some real ‘marmite’ reactions.

Tell us a bit about your typical day?  Is there such a thing?

There isn’t really, my weeks can be irregular. I’m usually coming up to work with Karen over the middle of the week. Planning product introductions and getting on with the day to day. My favourite times of the year are when I’m off to Italy or France for research.

Working from home is the new normal until further notice and there is a lot that can be planned. Research is not so easy when you can’t see things in ‘real’. Colour can never really be trusted on screen and to some extent scale can be a grey area.

What are your plans for 2020? 

There are more ideas coming for new products so keep an eye on the website or Pinterest page. There is another porcelain product in development which may make an appearance in September.

Hopefully our current conditions with this horrible virus will soon be history and we can return to something approaching normal. I am looking forward to travelling again and looking for the future. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions Stuart.  We love the new tile collection! 

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