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Interview with Acclaimed Sussex Wallpaper Designer Fiona Howard

summer meadow

Fiona Howard’s wallpapers are loved worldwide. In this interview, she shares insights about her latest collection, the role Sussex plays in her designs, and her journey as a designer eschewing computers for a hands-on approach.

Fiona Howard’s New Collection: A Colorful Celebration of Nature

Sussex-based designer Fiona Howard’s new collection of wallpapers and borders is a vibrant mix of designs—pastoral scenes in an orchard, vibrant coastal rockpools, radishes from the allotment, a fun border called “Squiggle,” and dynamic florals depicted by honeysuckle and sunflowers. Absolutely sat down with her to find out more.

The Inspiration Behind the New Designs

fiona howard

What can you tell us about your new collection of wallpapers and borders?

The new ‘Orchard’ wallpaper is inspired by my love of growing fruit trees and vegetables. It is an idyllic landscape taking you on a journey through an orchard brimming with fruit where hens wander between the trees and sunflowers and looking beyond, past the greenhouse to seagulls wheeling above the hills.

orchard colourway apple

Do you have a favorite design?

That’s rather like asking me if I have a favorite child! I love all my designs for different reasons; each of them has a place where it would be happy and flourish. I love designing and would never put a design in my collection that I wasn’t 100% in love with. There are designs in the collection that are perhaps firm favorites with customers, such as Harbour and Birdsong, and everyone loves the new Orchard.

Bringing Nature Into the Home

Why should we all look to bring nature into the home through plants or designs like yours?

I think we are all becoming more aware of the power of nature, its healing properties, and what we need to do to preserve the incredible world around us. Perhaps lockdown helped us look more closely at flora and fauna and realize what natural healers they are, from walking and immersing ourselves in the sights and sounds of birds and plants to incorporating more plants in our diets. My wallpapers are all inspired by the natural world around us and reflect some of this calm and joy in our living spaces.

orchard colourway quince

The Inspiration of Sussex

Has Sussex inspired a lot of the new collection?

Sussex is where I grew up and have lived most of my life. My studio is buried deep in our garden, surrounded by plants, fruit trees, my vegetable patch, and the trees and fields beyond. Everything is brimming with life, birds, butterflies, and foxes, and we even have a weasel visit occasionally. There is so much inspiration here, and sometimes I wonder where to start!

What do you love about being based in Sussex?

We live two minutes walk from Climping Beach, and at low tide, there’s a lovely sandy foreshore and chalk rock pools teeming with life. My “Rockpools” wallpaper began life here. Behind the beach are fields and woods full of birdsong, we have goldfinches, many kinds of tits, egrits, sparrowhawks, woodpeckers, and owls. I love being immersed in nature and drifting off to sleep at night, listening to the sound of the waves on the beach and the hoot of the Tawny owls.

Fiona Howard’s Creative Process

The Design Journey

How do you like to create new work?

I start by creating an inspiration board, collecting anything that feels fresh and new to me, such as colors, drawings from my sketchbook, and perhaps swatches or postcards that inspire me in some way. I keep an eye on the trends but don’t follow them religiously, as I am driven by what I love, and I want my wallpapers to remain relevant long after a particular trend has passed.

Next, I sketch out the design into a repeating pattern. I draw and redraw it until it flows happily. A wallpaper sits flat on the wall, and it doesn’t appear and disappear into folds the way a fabric does, so it needs to be thoughtfully crafted.

All the designs in my wallpaper collection are created by hand carving and printing linocuts. For each color of the design, I carefully carve a piece of lino, which is printed layer upon layer to construct the finished design. The whole process can take up to a month to complete, depending on the complexity of the pattern. The finished design is an artwork created by hand with textures, slight misprints, and perfect imperfections that celebrate the hand of the designer.

rockpools colourway blue

The Evolution of Fiona Howard’s Design Process

Has that evolved in any way over three decades?

I have always designed by hand, although I have used many media over the years, from watercolors to monoprint. I did, for a very brief moment, try designing on a computer, but found it soulless. I like the feeling of pencil on paper, and nothing gets me more excited than playing with colors and getting my hands dirty. Lino printing is such a satisfying way of working, it’s very meditative, and I love the way it gives my collection a cohesive appearance.

Fiona Howard’s Design Journey

How did your story in design begin?

I feel as though I have always had a pencil in my hand. As a child, I had a tiny snakeskin suitcase filled with colored pencils, felt pens, and paper which I took with me wherever I went. My granny and I would sit in the garden as she patiently explained to me how to paint. She was very talented, both as an artist and a cellist in the Halle Orchestra. Fast forward to art college at the age of 18, I spent two fantastic years at West Sussex College of Design and then three years studying at Middlesex University for a BA Hons in Printed Textile Design. The following 37 years have been a wonderful adventure designing for clients worldwide, building on my knowledge of color and design, and culminating in my own wallpaper collection, where the story has only just begun!

What do you feel you have become known for?

Well-crafted, perhaps slightly unusual, contemporary designs with my particular lino-print handwriting and delicious colors.

Exciting Sussex-based Projects

Are there any exciting Sussex-based projects to come for you?

The Black Horse pub in Climping has just reopened after a complete makeover. Each of the seven en-suite bedrooms has been beautifully redecorated, each one with a different wallpaper from my collection and each room is named after the wallpaper it is decorated with.

My wallpapers are printed in the UK on FSC papers using water-based, environmentally friendly inks. I am also very conscious of being able to give back in some small way to the countryside, which inspires my work. Each year, I work with James Baird, our local farmer, helping to plant trees and connect hedgerows to provide more biodiversity and corridors for birds, insects, and small mammals.

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