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Norwich design business is blooming

PUBLISHED: 15:51 29 March 2012

Textile designer Carol Lake at work in her studio. Picture: Denise Bradley

Textile designer Carol Lake at work in her studio. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Emerging interior designer Carol Lake is the name on everybody's lips at the moment, but in fact she has been designing for over 30 years. Emma Harrowing talks to the designer in her Norwich home about her first collection on the high street and a flowering future in chocolate.

It was befitting that when visiting interior designer Carol Lake at her home – an apartment above The Bell Jar on Upper St Giles – it was the first day of spring. For if it hadn’t, the vivid floral prints that adorn her home would have certainly propelled my seasonal time clock forward to the days of bright sunshine and warmth.

Sitting on a brightly coloured dahlia print upholstered sofa, flowers in all shapes and forms filled the room on cushions, paintings and even a floral printed scarf which draped neatly over a chair.

On one side of the lounge an easel and design desk is littered with half-finished floral sketches and paintings, and a jar of freshly cut magnolias splays elegantly in a glass vase.

“Look how beautiful these magnolias fall in the vase,” says Carol. “The shape is so inspirational that I couldn’t help but paint them.”

Spring is an exciting time for Carol. For an artist whose signature print is florals, the changing of the seasons must bring endless inspiration. Carol says: “The really exciting times of the year are April, May and June when a whole myriad of flowers are in full bloom, but also October when autumnal colours start to emerge.

“Come winter all I want to do is go on holiday!

“Being an interior designer who paints botanicals it’s obvious that spring is a time when I feel at my most inspirational. However, I also get inspiration from other places besides gardens. Shop windows and even the colours in a movie can inspire me to think of a design.”

Carol’s first collection of textiles and home accessories has recently been launched in high street retailer Debenhams. The collection of rose, daisy and hydrangea print mugs, candles, crockery, cushions and bedding is part of the Editions range – a collection introduced by the department store to help emerging designers get a foothold on the market.

Ironically Carol has been an interior designer for more than 30 years, but her designs and her copyright was sold to international designers such as Lulu Guiness, Conran, Nina Campbell and Ted Baker. Her collection at Debenhams is the first collection under her own name.

“Working with designers was a lot of fun,” says Carol. “When I graduated from Brighton Polytechnic in 1982 having studied art and interior design, I was part of a collective of self-employed interior designers who set up a business called Artisan. We would take it in turns to travel to places such as New York to take our designs on paper to showrooms. Designers liked my designs and would buy the design and copyright so that they could have the design as part of their collection. After 14 years I grew fed up with being anonymous, especially when I saw emerging interior design students and graduates making a name for themselves by selling their designs under their own name.”

Working for designers such as Lulu Guiness and Nina Campbell – who Carol says were inspirational and on the same wave length as her – has given Carol the insight into a competitive market. She still designs for textile house Edinburgh Weavers and for Ideal Home Range (IHR) in Germany, but making a name for herself in the world of interior design is her main aim these days.

Carol moved to Norwich from London in 2009. Having moved around a lot and having had “no real home” in her childhood as her father was in the RAF, London had become her home after college.

“I always believe that you will know when it is time to change your life in some way,” says Carol. “After living in London for over 25 years, I fell in love with Norwich and in particular Upper St Giles after I came to the city for a few parties. I then met my partner, an ex sales and marketing manager for Aviva, and the time was right to sell my flat in London and move to Norwich.

“Norwich is surrounded my countryside and the big skies provide endless inspiration, but it also has a London feel to it.”

Soon after moving to Norwich Carol joined the Verandah Collective, an umbrella organisation of Norwich fashion and textile designers based on Upper St Giles. The designers include Sally Ronaldson and Marilyn Thomas, fashion designers who have shown at Norwich Fashion Week.

“It was while I was at Verandah that I first met Alison Hill, a buyer for Debenhams, who came into the shop and looked at my designs,” says Carol. “I then met her again when I was doing a show in London called ‘Handmade in Britain’. At the time Debenhams were looking for three emerging interior designers with a British theme as they were looking for designs to celebrate the London Olympics. My very British floral designs were just what they were looking for – the rest is history!”

Carol has just finished designing her second collection for Debenhams, an autumn and winter range which will be in store in August.

“It’s great to finally have my name on my designs,” says Carol. “Debenhams gave me a rough brief but basically this is my own collection and so I have more creative freedom in what I design.”

Having her own collection stocked in a national department store is just the start of Carol’s dream to becoming a recognised designer in her own right. Recently she and her partner have bought an old chocolate shop next door to her flat on Upper St Giles. Their aim is to turn the shop into a showroom and studio for Carol to work in and sell her designs.

“Designing an affordable collection for Debenhams is great, but my new shop will sell high-end, bespoke designs,” says Carol.

“The showroom will showcase some of my designs as wallpaper and curtains as well as my paintings. I’m even thinking of selling one-off pieces of furniture upholstered with one of my designs and even a big floral dress which I want to display on a mannequin in the window.”

And so it is time to leave the magical botanical fabric garden of Carol’s apartment and head out to the busy streets outside. As we step out onto Upper St Giles to head past the old chocolate shop next door which will soon become her home, Carol spots some lilac hyacinths in the window of The Bell Jar and a smile flashes across her face.

“Look at the shape of those hyacinths,” Carol exclaims. “I just have to paint those this afternoon!”

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