Winner of the Best British Designer Award 2013/14, Bethan Gray has a highly original style. I have always adored her fusion of traditional craft skills and modern design.
Bethan is also known for her appreciation of Islamic culture and craftsmanship, and recently collaborated with Iranian artist, Mohamed Reza Shamsian to create a collection of handmade furniture based on Omani architecture using brass marquetry (one of my favourite techniques) and stained wood.
I was, of course, very excited to interview this exceptional designer! Enjoy!
How did you get into the world of design?
I was very much encouraged by my family to follow my creative instincts. My grandfather was a Research Forester, and would carve objects out of solid wood for me as a child . My mother was an art teacher, and in fact her grandmother had been a cabinet maker – which was a rare profession for a mother at the time. After studying Three Dimensional Design at University I was discovered by Tom Dixon in 1998, when he awarded me a New Designers Prize. I set my own studio up in 2008.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Cultural referencing is at heart of my design philosophy. Through my travels and research I’m inspired to create original contemporary pieces that resonate with global, as well as local, audiences, and that have an elegant and timeless appeal. Currently I’m particularly drawn to the graphic nature of Islamic art and craft.
What is your favourite material to work with?
I am passionate about working with natural materials, from solid wood to semi-precious stone, from leather to hand-dyed wood veneer. I love the timeless and elegant appeal of combining these natural materials.
What led you to create a collection inspired by architecture?
With my latest Shamsian Collection, it just so happened that some of the cultural references I worked from were based on the details and patina observed on forts across Arabia, and in Oman particularly.
Sometimes, I’ll also take inspiration from a smaller detail too – such as the brogue pattern for my Brogue Collection.
What is your favourite piece of the Shamsian collection and why?
That’s hard to say, all the pieces feature such remarkable craftsmanship . I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with Shamsian himself. As statement pieces, the cabinetry stands out – with the Nizwa we’ve been able to combine several different very skilled techniques, such as marquetry, solid brass inlay and hand-staining in one piece.
How do you create that gorgeous ombre effect on the Shamsian pieces?
It’s a highly skilled process, where the master craftsman has to apply several layers of stain on top of the Italian hand-dyed veneer.
Why do you incorporate blush into your designs?
I love using blush in a feminine contemporary way. It works so well in combination with jade and white – other colours in my palette. It can be exquisite paired with solid brass, or mother of pearl too – as in the Shamsian Collection.
What sort of interior style is your home?
I like to create inclusive, inviting and comfortable environments. My own features symmetry, texture and a muted colour palette.
Is there an interior scheme or building that inspires you? Why?
I am really inspired by the V&A as so much of my design involves a thorough research element – but perhaps that is not what you were asking! I’ve drawn particular inspiration from the black and white medieval churches in Italy – and in particular the cathedral in Siena, which combines monochrome with incredible detailing in blush marble.