Award-winning designer Ella Doran first set up her homewares business in the late 90s, quickly winning fans and plaudits for her pioneering application of photography-based images and patterns onto functional, household products. Ella’s boundless curiosity and great eye for colour, nature and form ensure that her homewares are always innovative and inspiring.
Ella’s photography, mark-making and textile design skills have since been commissioned by everyone from The Royal Society of Arts, Glasgow School of Art and Tate to The John Radcliffe Hospital, The Royal London Hospital, John Lewis, Paloma Picasso, Portmeirion and most recently an exciting exhibition and collaboration with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Alternative Flooring.
She tells us more about this inspired project in our Q&A….
WERE YOU ALWAYS CREATIVE?
Between the age of 10 and 18 I was fortunate to grow up in a community in Bristol where I lived amongst architects, potters, painters and poets. This and my Steiner education have contributed to my creative drive and nature. And inspired me to run my own business soon after leaving college back in the mid 90s.
DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE.
Bold, colourful, and graphic, with a sophisticated twist!
Waterlake Ella Doran for Alternative Flooring
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGNS?
I find inspiration in the everyday. I love to travel, but it could simply be a local walk through the city that inspires a new collection. I see the world around me in shapes and patterns. Every new collection tends to start with a brainstorm of photographs, maybe some painting & drawing, and definitely library research into the subject. My personal patterns then start to emerge intuitively, and a colour palette will form, often translated directly from my inspiration or photographic imagery.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR DESIGN PROCESS?
My camera is my principal creative tool, which I always use in the process. I think a big part of my designing is understanding the whole process, which helps complete a design for me.
HOW DID YOU MEET THE FOLK AT ALTERNATIVE FLOORING?
I first met Lorna (Creative and Marketing Director at Alternative Flooring) back in 2012, when I launched my unique Geo carved rug through Woven Ground. She and I got on immediately and I thought back then our paths would cross again. Fast forward several years, and we met up at Decorex and planted the idea of a collaboration with some of my designs for floor runners.
Weaving Waterlake wool runner on Axminster looms
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT WORKING TOGETHER?
Interpreting Waterlake into a carpet runner has felt very natural. I was able to adapt the design to fit the format perfectly, and despite concerns as to whether we would be able to achieve the right blue in the dying process of the YSP wool, it has all been achieved.
Paul Wyatt (the film maker) and I visited the factory during the weaving of the Waterlake runner, which was quite simply thrilling! I felt like Charlie from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ in the amazing warehouse space, full of noise and activity and the smell of wool, with cones upon cones of gorgeous coloured wool (as opposed to sweets!).
The Axminster looms make such a fantastic sound. It’s incredible to think they have been weaving like this for over 250 years! It’s also wonderful to see ‘state of the art’ computerized weaving alongside looms that still need humans to operate them, and long may that last.
An axminster narrow width loom.
WHOSE IDEA WAS THE EXHIBITION SHEEP TO SEAT AND FLEECE TO FLOOR AT YSP?
It was my idea. Back in 2016/17, I was on a residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park commissioned to create a collection of designs to celebrate 40 years of ‘Art Without Walls’. This was when I created the ‘Waterlake‘ design, inspired by the movement of the lake with its birdlife. During my stay, whilst photographing the Park’s trees, and the sheep grazing around the Henry Moores, I came up with the idea of working with the wool from the sheep and demonstrating a circular story of working with natural biodegradable materials from the land. I wanted it to involve following me through every step of the process that wool has to go through to become a woven textile or floor carpet and now furniture too. And, nearly two years later, we have achieved that. Thanks to a lot of support, generosity, patience and determination!
Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo ©Paul Wyatt
WHAT IS THE STORY ABOUT AND WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PARTS?
Wool is a material that is capable of demonstrating the circular economy in action. I hope to shed light on the amazing range of processes that wool goes through in order to become a finished product and show how nothing goes to waste.
The exhibition celebrates the Park’s resources, its beauty, and the joy of creativity and collaboration. I do not have a favourite part, but I am excited that the show will finally open next week, and all my hard work, and that of my supporters, will be revealed!
Ella Doran at British Wool, Bradford. Photo ©Paul Wyatt
WHO HAVE YOU MET ALONG THE WAY?
I have met so many fantastically passionate people, who love what they do and have been enthusiastic from the start in support of the collaboration.
Farmer Platt and his family have had sheep grazing on this land for generations and I initially had to negotiate with him to purchase his wool, subject to agreement from British Wool. Haworth’s Scouring is where the wool went to be cleaned and scoured. Camira then transformed my print design into a jacquard woven textile thanks to Senior Designer Hayley Barrett.
Atlantic Yarns dyed and spun the wool for Alternative Flooring. I adapted my Waterlake design for a floor runner, and Alternative Flooring have woven 25 linear meters using the wool.
Julian Mayor designed the chair and stools for the project and Coakley Cox made them. Originally, I wanted Justin from Solidwool to create one of Julian’s moulded chairs out of his unique material. Whilst we tried and failed, this led instead to an amazing new piece – a brass table inset with a Solidwool top. I’ve called it: ‘Where there’s muck there’s brass’.
Kniterate invented a fantastic new machine which offers an affordable and compact version of an industrial machine to be housed in your workshop and I translated my paintings into knitted artworks, which were made using the excess wool. Laxton’s helped this process as the remaining wool needed to be waxed in order to work smoothly on the Kniterate machine at Somerset House.
Finally, the 3rd generation company Surface Print, fine wallpaper manufacturers, have collaborated with me and their 1838 brand, and sponsored the launch of two new designs in wallpaper form, which will feature in the exhibition. Campaign for Wool and British Wool yourselves and Alternative Flooring have all sponsored the project, without which I could not have created all that I have, including the collaborative film with Paul Wyatt.
YSP Ella Doran – Waterlake jacquard wool fabric by Camira on a custom-made Pentagon chair by Julian Mayor Pentagon
WHAT IS THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY?
It looks beyond the take-make-dispose extractive industrial linear model and starts to see the whole system as one big system, where we avoid waste and design for longevity or with the materials to be recovered when the product is no longer in use.
Simply put the circular economy is based on 3 main principles:
To design out waste and pollution
To keep materials and products in use
And to work with regenerative systems, rather than extractive ones.
What I have enjoyed about this project is being able to trace every process, as much as I can. It is clear that traceability is key for the future of making. We as designers need to know where our materials come from to enable a healthy and transparent, collaborative and supportive manufacturing world to emerge.
Waterlake Ella Doran for Alternative Flooring
HOW WOULD YOU USE THIS BEAUTIFUL NEW RUNNER IN YOUR HOME?
I have quite an open plan home, and a long hallway, so there is no doubt I will have one of these in my hallway.
Ella Doran: Sheep to Seat, Fleece to Floor
15 June–15 September 2019
Discover more about the exhibition and YSP.
Waterlake limited-edition of ten runners ARE available from Yorkshire Sculpture Park here and unlimited editions will be available per linear metre from September.
We love Ella’s designs, visit her website for more!
Find more flooring and interior design inspiration on our Alternative blog.