There's a pattern emerging: How Marie Perkins helped define the phenomenon of big, bold prints for the masses

By Rhiannon Harries
Sunday 21 February 2010 01:00

From textiles to table mats, greetings cards to curtains, over the past few years pattern has exploded into our homes and lives, leaving few objects untouched by graphic retro prints or whimsical illustrations of flora and fauna.

Even the most uninspiring of functional items, such as the humble tea towel, have been transformed into things of beauty, more suitable for hanging on the wall than drying dishes. In the same way that many of us have swapped chic white walls for idiosyncratic wallpapers and bolder colours, a new-found love of sweet or humorous design around the house has injected a little more fun into interiors.

Which is fantastic news for Marie Perkins, the woman behind Print & Pattern, a new book celebrating contemporary surface design. Perkins is herself a surface designer, producing patterns that find their way on to everything from wrapping paper to ceramics.

The book is based on Perkins' blog of the same name, which she created in 2006 (under her blogger pseudonym Bowie Style) while working in textile design. Initially an offshoot of the mood boards she used to gather inspiration, the blog brings together the best examples of print and pattern across all media and has become a favourite among professional designers and enthusiasts alike, averaging 7,000 hits a day.

"It's amazing how it has taken off," she says. "For me, as a designer, it's just brilliant because my attitude has always been, 'Why would I want something plain when I could have something with a great pattern on it?'"

She herself is inspired by bold, retro Scandinavian prints from companies such as Marimekko, as well as more delicate Japanese designs. But her all-time favourite surface designer is Ireland's Orla Kiely, who she credits with kick-starting the current pattern trend: "I love the prints themselves, as they are beautiful but very simple, but what's really amazing is how she has made her products all about the print. When you buy an Orla Kiely bag or mug, it's not so much that you want the actual piece as that you love her patterns. Making something that is quite ordinary desirable because of the print alone – that's the goal really."

Perkins' own designs for greetings cards feature the kind of cute and quirky graphics for which we seem to have a collective soft spot right now – inanimate objects in primary colours are given smiley faces and flat, cartoonish birds come floral-patterned. It's a naive aesthetic that appeals to the child in us. Perkins herself has been amazed by the popularity of motifs such as Russian dolls and owls. Already favourites for several seasons, she predicts they will continue to adorn all manner of items this summer and beyond.

But be warned before you indulge your inner tween: while all these perky designs might be brightening up our environments, Perkins admits that they have the potential to leave everybody's wallets a little lighter, too. "You wouldn't think, 'Wow I've got to have this' about a plain tea towel, would you? But when you start incorporating design into everything, suddenly you do think, 'Ooh, I could do with a nice new tea towel.'"

'Print & Pattern' by Bowie Style (£19.95, Laurence King Publishing) is out on 1 March

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