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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Fi Douglas of Bluebellgray

The following feature about the up-and-coming Scottish textile designer, Fi Douglas of Bluebellgray, appeared in Homes & Interiors Scotland magazine this time last year (bluebell time...)

Sometimes you meet people and you hit it off with them instantly. Fi has a lovely warm personality and her work exudes optimism and warmth. We hit it off instantly...

I've just been in to her wee studio to pick up a couple of old nursing chairs rescued from my mum's house.

They've now been recovered in Bluebellgray's beautiful Butterfly fabric [below] and look just great. My late mum brought one of them up to my house when I'd just had my son as they are designed for nursing mother - no arms! More than just chairs. There's a whole history there (something Tracey Emin brings out so poignantly in her textile work)

Anyway, it prompted me to dig out the story about Fi...

HER favourite colours may all be on the blue spectrum and her burgeoning design company is named after her favourite Scottish flower, the bluebell, but there is nothing remotely blue about Fi Douglas of Bluebellgray. Or her sunny little flat in a Bohemian corner of Glasgow’s west end.
Even Fi’s smile is sunny. On the day I visit, the only shadows being cast in the fresh-as-a-meadow split-level apartment in which she lives and works are two darting streaks of black feline furriness named Peggy and Betty.

Fi’s flat is a calling card for Bluebellgray, which launched its first collection of home textile products in July 2009, and which has since attracted interest from some of the major players in the design world, such as Liberty’s of London and Lane Crawford, the luxury goods store known as Hong Kong’s Harrods.

As you walk through the front door and into her airy living room, you are met by a vision of pin sharp freshness. Fi’s own flower designs take centre stage but don’t overpower the room. There’s a Bo Concept sofa and armchair covered in her floral fabric, as well as countless Bluebellgray cushions and a large original wall-hanging. There’s even fresh flowers from her favourite friendly neighbourhood florist, Roots and Fruits on nearby Great Western Road, sitting artfully arranged in the middle of the room on a low white coffee table. “I know them all really well in there,” she smiles. “It’s a constant source of floral inspiration to me to have a florist like them around the corner.”

On the wall opposite two large windows which face onto the street is a large white bookcase handmade by her friend, up and coming Glasgow-based furniture maker, Joachim King. All the books are colour-coded (‘I’ve always done that’). There’s also a large blue abstract painting by Fi on one of the walls.

To complete the mellow mood, white muslin curtains edged with original hand-woven, tie-dyed ikat fabric from Uzbekistan and tied back with vivid pink tassels from Marrakesh ruffle lightly in the summer breeze.

As you would expect from a young woman who makes good design her business, Fi has an unerring eye for what quirky pieces can sit cheek by jowl without jarring, be it a pink lampshade atop a turquoise chest of drawers or and old battered bureau beside a hot pink wooded slatted chair.

“My own style is eclectic mix,” she states. “I’m not a matchy matchy person. I like things sitting together as opposed to matching and I like to know there’s a sense of personal history to whatever is around my home.

“The Bergere sofa and chair in the living room came from mum and dad’s house. I covered it in plain fabric and thought about painting the wood, but it looked right. The fact it had a place in my childhood means something to me.”

When Fi moved into the flat early last year, her fiancĂ© Phil Milne had been living there for a year. “Before then, it was all leather sofas, flat screen TV and books… a typical bachelor pad really,” she laughs. “He’s been very relaxed about me taking over completely! The bedroom in particular is quite girly.”

Fi’s designs, which are digitally printed from her hand painted watercolours, include wall hangings, prints, cushions, chairs, throws, lampshades and even crockery. They capture in gloriously zingy colour, the essence of high summer – even in the depths of a Scottish winter. She describes them as being ‘like a painting on a cushion or a chair. They are all signed, limited editions.’

Fi’s studio, which is in the basement of her flat, next door to the kitchen, is a hub of creative endeavour, bookended by a sleek all-singing, all dancing Apple Mac and a broad, busy desk, the surface of which is crammed with brushes, watercolours and pastels as well as piles of drawings and paintings.

Glasgow School of Art textiles graduate, Fi, 29, who grew up in the Highland town of Fort William, has had a whirlwind year. She launched Bluebellgray in the summer of 2009 after quitting her job as head designer of a Glasgow-based textile company. Having decided to make a go of running her own design business, she embarked on a NESTA Starter for 6 training course, aimed at supporting up-and-coming creative entrepreneurs across Scotland.

“It’s all based around marketing and business planning,” she explains. “The end point is doing a pitch for £10,000 worth of funding. I had always seen setting up my own business as what I wanted to do. It was just finding the right way to go about it. Phil works in finance and he has been a great support.”

Through the NESTA connection, before she had even drawn breath as an entrepreneur, Fi was directed towards One Year On, a satellite event run as part of London-based New Designers exhibition and one of the UK’s key stages in the annual design calendar.

This exhibition introduces around 40 designer-makers within one year of graduating or within one year of being in business, and it proved to be the ideal launch pad for Bluebellgray.
“It got my work noticed,” Fi explains. “People suddenly took me seriously. I was featured in magazines such as Elle Deco Country House & Interiors and, after seeing me in Elle Deco, Liberty got in touch. They now stock one of my chairs and a cushion and they are about to take a new range of lampshades.”

Because of the initial London-based interest in her work, Fi’s designs have only been available to a Scottish audience until now via her website, but slowly, her work is starting to make appearances in Scottish outlets, such as the newly-opened Edinburgh-based Craft House Concept store.

Working on her own, Fi is conscious that getting out and about is a vital part of keeping her creative juices flowing – and keeping her sane.

“I have a couple of ‘working-at-home’ buddies I meet up with regularly,” she admits. “One of them is an artist called Wendy Hunter and we meet for breakfast to discuss current projects we are working on and give each other help and advice.

“Another friend, who I met through the NESTA course is Amanda Faulkner-Whalen. She’s doing some amazing design work through her company Fab 3d. It can be isolating working on own – you have doubts and they support you and vice versa - so it’s good to have buddies like them to meet for a coffee and talk over things.

The next year is shaping up to be as busy as last year for Fi, as not only is she taking her business to the next level, she is getting married. “I spend a lot of time looking at design blogs,” she laughs. “Now I’ve added wedding blogs to the favourites list.”
One thing is certain, flowers and sunshine will play a major part in the proceedings – as in every other area of this talented young designer’s life and work.


One of my favourite pastimes is trawling Glasgow’s Antiques Warehouse and McTear’s Auctioneers. I've found many gems over the years.

That gorgeous smell you get in a summer garden when it rains after a hot day is particularly evocative for me.

If I’m looking for somewhere to relax, it has to be my parent's house in the Highlands. My brain switches off as soon as I step over the front door

I’m always fired up with ideas whenever I visit the south coast of Turkey. It’s full of beautiful traditional textiles, gorgeous rustic restaurants, buzzing crickets, flowers and the sea is always a brilliant blue colour.

The movie Amelie warms the cockles of my heart every time I watch it….

My favourite piece of furniture is my Bluebellgray covered floral sofa. Pure and selfish design indulgence, but I love it.

Tim Walker is technically a photographer as opposed to an artist/designer, but he is, in my eyes, a complete genius, I love everything he has ever done. 

Glasgow’s best-known secret is on my doorstep – Otago Lane. It’s full of gorgeous little second hand book shops, record shops and the brilliant Tchai Ovna teahouse, which is sadly under threat from developers.

My top stop-off point for morning coffee stop is The Left Bank on Gibson Street in Glasgow. They also do great breakfasts

 Chinaski's at Charing Cross in Glasgow is my kind of place for after-dinner drinks. It has just the right vibe of laid back arty-cool without tipping over into pretentious bar territory.

To bring out my inner child, I head to Camasadarach beach in Arisaig, complete with a picnic on a mid summer evening.

My biggest indulgence is Waitrose, I admit it, I'm addicted!

Finding the perfect blue and white stripy t-shirt has become an obsession. My boyfriend just rolls his eyes now when I come back with yet another one.

My ultimate adrenalin rush is swimming in an ice cold Scottish river in summer.


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