Meet the maker: Mhairi Allan of Paper Houses Design

Mhairi’s digital textile designs bring a fresh, practical, mid-century appeal to homewares and accessories…

I think my love of pattern started when I was six or seven, reading about Elmer the Elephant and loving the differently patterned elephants having a party at the end. I come from a large and very creative family. Mum was always taking me to exhibitions, while my dad and three of my seven brothers and sisters work freelance or have their own businesses. That gave me the confidence to set up on my own. 

After graduating from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, I branched out from screen-printing into digital design and print. I focus on good design, created in a conscious way. This means creating patterns that last, products that have purpose and being ethical in what I do. I’ve previously designed trend-led work for other companies, but sustainability is important to me.  

I wanted to create something more fitting of my style and my love of mid-century modern design. I love the work of designers like Lucienne Day and Enid Marx. 

I started Paper Houses Design just over two years ago, a few months after our son, Finlay, was born. Finlay helped concentrate my mind wonderfully!
I’d be pushing his pram, wandering around, taking photos of patterns and making sketches. 

Most of my inspiration comes from man-made structures in our everyday landscapes. The Signals collection was inspired by phone cables connecting the cottages in my village to the world. My new collection, Form, comes from the shapes, textures and lines in some of Aberdeen’s brutalist buildings. Something thought of as harsh and ugly can become beautiful when the forms swap textures or alter colours.

When I start designing a collection I look through my inspirational notes and images then narrow it down to a selection that sit well together. I make sketches and then develop these in to motifs by manipulating them, often rescaling, mirroring or simplifying the form or texture. Then I recreate them in a crisp black and white design on the computer. Once I’m happy with the pattern ideas, I create colour palettes, matched to Pantone colours or colour swatches from my digital printers. There’s a lot of refining of my ideas and communication at this stage. My fabric gets printed in the UK, the files get sent off and a couple of weeks later my designs come back on fabric, it’s great! 

I then convert the fabric into a range of practical products. I make toiletries and make up bags, lampshades, lampshade making kits, cushions, tote bags and silk squares. Locally, they can be bought from our website or from Fold, at the Barn in Banchory, though I’m stocked in other retailers throughout Scotland and I’m currently trying to add to the list. This year I’m taking part in more design markets and I’ll be part of the Craft Scotland Summer Show in August. Anyone signed up for my newsletter will receive the details. 

Ultimately, I feel that skill sharing and community is a big part of Paper Houses Design so I’ve started to offer workshops throughout Scotland. Eventually I want to open a textiles open studio in Aberdeenshire, offering a space for people to learn about textiles and use textile equipment. We have some great facilities in the North-east but this is something that is definitely missing. 

Instagram: Paper_Houses

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