Your wall is our canvas - meet Annette Taylor-Anderson
We first met Annette Taylor-Anderson, founder and creative director of ATADesigns, during our PR consultant Suzi Baker’s interview with interior designer Elisa Fanella. The two had collaborated on an eye-catching wallpaper and mural design collection entitled ‘The Italian Infusion Collection’, for which they were nominated as finalists in the 2017 Northern Design Awards Designer Maker category.
SB Annette, you are an award winning artist specialising in surface design for interior walls and furnishings, working across residential and contract interiors since 2007. You first began actively trading as ATADesigns since taking the plunge to set up business in 2006, and you’ve established a UK and international presence for your unique brand. What attracted you to a career born from your long held passion for designing custom fabric art pieces for walls?
ATA I had no idea that I would be designing wall-coverings, murals, and fabrics as a career. I was an artist first, and I used to sell my work at small art shows. I was always drawing and painting, and I still do this today when I get time. I attended an art foundation course just for fun at the Mary Ward Centre, London. I was interested in painting on different textures and surfaces, and I created a lot of paintings on fabrics. At the end of my art foundation course, the moderator said: “Have you thought about textile design?” I said: "no." She recommended that I apply for the Textile Design + Surface Decoration course at the University of East London. I was accepted onto the course part-time, fell in love with wallpaper and textile design, graduated the same time as the full-time students, and the rest is history.
I thank the moderator for my career move. She recognised my talent and encouraged me to do something about it.
SB What would you say have been the major challenges along the way?
ATA There have certainly been a lot of challenges along the way. I remember when starting the company, trying to find the right printer to print good quality wallpapers, it was difficult. My first printer was overseas, but that didn’t quite work out as there were issues with the printing and colours. So I spent time researching UK printers, and I eventually found two printers whom I still work with today. They are Switchscene, who I use to print wide-width commercial wallpaper and Artisan who print my 10-metre roll wallpaper. I have good relationships with both printers and we go back a long way. I trust their printing, they are exceptional. Printing in the UK not only reduces my carbon footprint, but it’s also easy to visit the printers when there is a problem. A good design supported by good printing brings good results.
Another major challenge was working at the Marriott Hotel County Hall, London project, it was one of my first big projects introduced to me by RPW Design. With our Bowler Hats wallpaper installed on five floors in the corridors of the hotel, there was certainly no room for errors here.
I worked with RPW Design on the colour of our existing wallpaper design “The Bowler” to match the project colour scheme. Once approved by the client, I arranged for the wallpaper to be printed, in sections per floor. I liaised between the printers and wallpaper installer to make sure that everything ran smoothly. Printing large volumes of wallpaper for a project this size can be pretty expensive if things go wrong, so you can imagine how nervous I was, double-checking everything for a smooth outcome.
My major challenge today is how to survive as a business during COVID19 and upcoming Brexit? It is not easy, but I am grateful that ATADesigns is still here. Both wallpaper printers (Switchscene and Artisan) are available to print when I need them. My fabric printers Sleek Editions are also available.
This year I was due to exhibit at trade shows to launch new designs but, unfortunately due to COVID, all trade shows are put on hold until hopefully sometime next year. In the meantime, I am looking at alternative ways to generate more business. I am restructuring the business slightly to work more online and do more marketing through digital media as this seems to be the way forward.
SB Does running a business interfere with your creativity, or do you accept the two have to be inextricably linked?
ATA Running a business is tough, and it does interfere with my creativity at times. But I guess you cannot only work on the parts you love which in my case it is designing. Imagine that you have a beautifully designed car you want to drive. For it to work, it needs an engine and other components to make it work. I think of my business like that, I need the parts to make it work, and that means doing the things I don’t like. You can’t do one without the other.
SB You've been interviewed by Debbie McKeegan, CEO Texintel for your first podcast guest appearance about designing for contract interiors, where you describe your fascinating career journey. Listening to the interview it struck me that actively nurturing personal connections both off and online has been key to finding the right suppliers and potential clients. How essential have trade shows been in helping you make the right contacts?
ATA It was my first podcast interview with Debbie McKeegan, she made me feel comfortable, I’m glad I came across well.
I love doing trade shows. I have exhibited at many trade shows since starting the business. Even though some shows didn’t quite work for me, I see them as learning curves. Now I exhibit at the Independent Hotel Show, London, and the Dementia, Care & Nursing Home Expo, Birmingham and London.
Exhibiting at targeted trade shows is essential. It puts ATADesigns on the map, and I get to show off my wallpaper, mural and fabric designs. It’s an opportunity to launch new collections and market my designs in a big way. I see trade shows as my giant mood board. People like to connect with the product in real life, and when they physically see and touch the wallpapers and fabrics, it’s usually a WOW, I like that.
I love to meet old and new contacts and suppliers, they get a chance to meet me, the designer in person, and I get to find out a little bit more about them. Making that first connection is crucial. Networking with the exhibitors is always fun too, some I am still in contact with today.
Trade shows will be a little different at the moment, due to COVID19 and I miss that. But, I embrace whatever the changes will be in the future. Hopefully, things will get back to normal soon.
SB You won your first award in 2011 from Design et al in The International Design & Architecture Awards, for a collaboration with interior designer Adrienne Chin, winning best wallpaper. Did winning this award kick start interest in your work from new avenues?
ATA Yes, winning my first award in 2011 did kick start interest in my work, and it has given me credibility. Since then, I am very proud to say that I have won a couple more awards; Winner of The Solutions Awards 2019 (Solutions for Adding Value) hosted by Earth Island Publishing. Fespa Awards 2020 Bronze Winner for Printeriors. You could say I am a multi-award winner now. It's awesome.
SB Art is playing a major role in hotel design, how do interior designers choose an artist such as yourself to collaborate with or commission?
ATA An interior designer usually finds me at a tradeshow, a networking event, by recommendation, on a social media platform or via the website. I met interior designer Matt Rawlinson of Raw Design on Instagram, and he has already commissioned me for a couple of hospitality projects i.e. I enjoyed working on The Jones Family Kitchen, a nice bar/restaurant in Victoria. Our "Kews Leafy Florals" wallpaper and fabrics were commissioned for this project. Winning The Solutions Awards 2019 for this project was fantastic.
I also worked with Matt on The Northgate, Bury St Edmunds. I was commissioned to design a bespoke mural for the restaurant and fabrics for fixed seating.
Elisa Interiors found me through recommendation, and we have worked on a fair number of projects. One of my favourites was a residential project for a teenage bedroom. I worked on a birds mural for this project, taken from my existing mural design range and made bespoke to fit the wall space. The shape of the wall was a challenge, but we did it, and it looks stunning.
SB Do you have to consider fixtures and fittings such as sockets and switches that may potentially interrupt the design of your custom wall coverings, or does the final decision lie with the interior designer when deciding how best to complement your designs with interior finish details?
ATA I sometimes do consider fixtures and fittings when designing the wallpapers and murals for a project, especially when placed in an obscure place. If there is a specific colour in the fittings, then I like to bring that colour into the design. The decision generally lies with the interior designer when choosing.
If there is a door, a window, an alcove or a dado rail in the wall space, I have to consider all sizes when designing.
SB How influenced are you by fashion trends?
ATA I love fashion, but I don’t follow trends. I design to suit myself, and that makes me unique.
SB There is often a desire to mix traditional materials with modern techniques. Have clients requested screen printing or hand painting combined with digital printing, and do you plan to mix technologies in the future? What are the practical implications for certain projects, particularly in corporate or retail?
ATA So far, I have not come across a client specifically requesting screen printed or hand-painted designs combined with digital printing. My design collections are quite versatile, and there are elements of this already in the design. I am open to anything, as long it is digitally printed in the end. There are a lot of pretty exciting innovative wallpapers with a variety of surfaces out there. I’m always interested in exploring, especially eco-friendly wallpapers. At the end of the day, whatever I print on has to be a commercial standard, high quality with the correct fire regulations.
SB What’s been your most unusual commission?
ATA I wouldn’t say that this is unusual, but recently, I designed nine murals for nine walls for a care home in a short space of time. All nine murals had to be different, but followed a theme. It was certainly challenging, but good.
For another project, I designed the inside of a pub as a mural. I had to measure everything, from the bar height, size of wine bottles, glasses, beer pumps, the lot. This project stretched my abilities, and it was a good result. The client was extremely happy.
SB You advise following your dreams and learning from mistakes is a positive thing - I totally agree! What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt along the way that you’re willing to share?
ATA I have two lessons:
As designers, we all want to see our designs in prestigious places, and sometimes you may come across a client who wants your design in their establishment. You have discussed your ideas with them, and have come up with some great ideas that your client loves. You have presented your costs, which are reasonable, and they don’t want to pay, they want your work for next to nothing. I have learnt to walk away from projects like this. At the beginning of my design career, I may have taken on the job for exposure. But over the years, I have learnt to say no and have felt good about it and myself.
Designers are precious about their work. When designing for a client, sometimes a design may get rejected for any reason. For example, a misunderstanding of a design brief, or the client changed their minds because the scheme has changed, or the client may not have been clear on what they want? Whatever the reason, and this can sometimes happen, I have learnt to tell myself that it’s okay, I can use the design for something else. Talk to the client and dig deeper to work things out. I am usually pretty good at getting inside a client's head to find out what they want, but there are occasions where I have to dig deeper.
Be true to yourself and your business.
SB What’s on the horizon for ATADesigns in 2021?
ATA I have a couple of projects in the pipeline at the beginning of the year.
I am in the middle of designing a brand new website coming soon. I’m hoping to launch early January 2021. I am excited about this as there will be new wall-coverings, murals and fabric collections, including designs for care homes. Lots of videos featuring projects I have done, and much more.
I have some trade shows lined-up but, at the moment it’s a waiting game due to COVID19.
Although I work in the hospitality, commercial, retail and residential areas, I am looking forward to developing designs for care homes. I have already worked on four care home projects. All will be revealed, on the brand new website.
I remain positive and optimistic about the new year 2021.
Discover more about Annette’s work at ATADesigns.