Meet The Morris & Co. Designer
We caught up with nature-enthusiast, food lover and (not least of all) our fantastic Morris & Co. designer, Jess. Learn about how little-Jess nurtured newts and sketched landscapes, and where the creative spark begun for little-older-Jess, including her long-held love for Morris & Co.
Hey Jess! In this get-to-know-you, we’ll kick things off a little differently. It’s 8am on a bright summer’s Saturday. What’s in the diary for you?
Well, it must always start with a nice strong cuppa and a moment of calm! I’ll have my fingers crossed for a local farmers’ market with delicious produce and a last-minute call from a friend to join them at a craft fair- where, no doubt, I’ll have my eagle eye on snapping up an artisan pottery steal! This would be my perfect morning.
Give us a little insight into your journey to the design world and where it all began for you.
Since I was a little girl, I have been drawing and making. I think my grandparents were my earliest patrons, which led to my nickname “Jessie Pencil”. I remember making landscapes and animals from plants and flowers I found in my granny’s garden and being encouraged every step of the way- even if Granny had to sacrifice a beautiful rose or two!
Growing up in the country, helping my dad out on the moors, has always represented the backdrop to my inspiration. Where I lived in the highlands of Scotland, I formed what I called “The Nature Gang” in my Wendy House out of a group of friends who would come and observe newts and pond skaters with me- we even drew up a nature calendar for our membership’s inner circle! My journal was full of studies and sketches of the pond life. From this early fascination for the living world, I started a little side-hustle sketching lifelike pet portraits. I think this exposure to nature’s organic forms and processes guided me towards a mindset which later prepared me for Morris & Co.
After studying Textiles Design in the Scottish Borders, I made the bold decision to move for work to a textile mill in India. The journey from a small borders village (where you have to drive 7 miles for milk!) to the hustle and bustle of the busiest city in India – Mumbai – all came as an exhilarating shock. I spent three amazing years learning and designing textiles for numerous firms. I dove into the colourful artisan worlds of the bazaars and fabric markets in my spare time. One thing I think about when I recall India is COLOUR, even the way the trucks are decorated is full of joy and playfulness. I simply adored it. And the food…wow the food- especially the street snacks!
Morris & Co. has been around for some time. 161 years to be precise. As Morris & Co. designer, you’re surrounded by an archive of iconic heritage. What draws you in the most?
Being able to sit in the archive and be surrounded by these amazing pieces of original artwork is incredible. Such history and meaning lies beneath every block, pattern and colour and to be a part of drawing these stories out is an honour. I think about Morris watching the thrushes stealing strawberries from his garden, the willows lining the Thames, the flow of the River Wandle and how exciting it is to study these forms and create a pattern that works for an interior setting.
One of William Morris’s many, many messages to the world was about the importance of retaining old, slow and thoughtful craft traditions. In our world in 2022, where do you see the role of craft and the craftsperson- an upward tick or a slow ebb?
The world’s attention is naturally turning back to the craftsmanship of design- and rightly so in my view. In our current economic climate, we really need to think about those treasured pieces lasting a lifetime. In design, we are going back to natural process like organic dying and using more sustainable or recycled fibres. This ethic is something Morris himself championed in his environmental activism.
You’re now standing at the helm of one of Britain’s oldest interiors brands. Can you give us any insights into where’s next in this extraordinary adventure?
Keep your eyes peeled for a very exciting collaboration coming Feb 23- filled with authentic stories, it’s not one to miss! With craftsmanship and sustainability at the forefront of our minds, we still have so much in our Morris & Co. Portfolio to reintroduce and newness to inspire. We are still discovering the most amazing narratives behind our archive pieces, finding new stories to tell.
You’re one of only a handful of women to become senior designer of Morris & Co. in its long history. However, like many interior design brands, we’re seeing opportunities for women to reach the top jobs in interior design open up all the time. How can you see that the landscape has changed for women accessing creative jobs in interiors?
We have a photo of the old design studio which shows a space with a mix of women and men- the beginning of women in textiles and at the drawing board! It’s crazy to think that this once was an uncommon sight.
It took a long time to depart from a male-dominated workspace, it’s obvious and rewarding to see now how much things have changed. Here at Morris & Co. and Sanderson Design Group, we have a strong female presence in higher management and I am surrounded by inspirational women who build each other up and I am proud to be a part of that team.
Lastly, if we can’t find you at the drawing board, where are you likely to be?
I love the outdoors- if you couldn’t tell! Whether it’s climbing a mountain, playing golf with my partner or wild swimming with friends, I am always seeking out the next adrenaline-fuelled adventure. Recently I did the fastest zipline in the world in Wales and it was incredible!
I also LOVE food. Food markets, I am right there. Usually being extremely indecisive and eating a bit of everything...
You will also find me rummaging through stalls at the antique fair finding unique treasures. I own very few pieces of brand new furniture, they’re mostly antique & vintage loves, because I am drawn to the idea of every piece having a story to tell.
posted on 27 Oct 2022 in Interiors