Scottish born designer and illustrator Karen Mabon brings her striking homeware designs to life with bold characters, creatures and curiosities. Known for her illustrative and bold style, she talks to us about her greatest inspirations and her own interior tastes...
What first inspired you to become a designer and what keeps you interested today?
I have always loved drawing for as long as I can remember. My Dad (Tom Mabon) is an artist so it was something I always surrounded by art growing up. I was constantly making things. In all honesty, I didn’t really know what being a designer was until I went to art school and then I realised that everything in the world is designed, not just clothes and chairs but cars and dustpans and washing machines. What I love about being a designer rather than an artist is the happiness that it brings other people. I love seeing my designs in other people’s homes - the idea that something I make can bring colour and joy into someone else’s life is just the best feeling.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned establishing your own brand?
Probably that it takes time, and there is no such thing as overnight success. Even now, each product and design takes months of refining and research. I want to make beautiful pieces which are timeless, which is a long process. I also think it’s really important not to compare yourself to other people - I try not to look to closely at other designers’ work, or what they are doing - the best thing is just to focus on your individual journey.
Of all your designs and products do you have a most favourite and why?
That is a very difficult question! I think it would have to be the Fashion Cats cushion. I came up with this design because, quite simply, I just love cats and clothes. It makes me laugh every time I look at it because it’s so ridiculously silly but bizarrely also quite chic.
If you could see your cushions on anyone’s sofa in the world, past or present, who would it be and why?
Diane Von Furstenburg. She is such an inspiration to me and her New York apartment is like heaven - pink walls, leopard print carpet, and a giant lip shaped sofa which is crying out for some Karen Mabon cushions if you ask me.
Can you tell us about your home style and what your favourite room in your home is and why?
My home style is probably a lot more unadventurous than people would expect, and a far cry from Diane Von Furstenburg’s NYC colourbomb! All the rooms in my house are painted in neutral shades - I prefer to add colour with home textiles, cushions and framed paintings or prints. I am completely in love with Fornasetti and love anything imaginative or narrative; I have a few of my silk scarves framed in huge walnut frames which I have found to be a very easy and effective way of injecting a bit of colour into a space without having to wallpaper it. Maybe I’m scared of the commitment?! I am absolutely obsessed with decorative plates and coloured glass, which is unfortunate as I’m unbelievably clumsy. Every time I go to New York, I visit the John Derian shop in the East Village, buy myself a plate and attempt to bring it home in one piece.
My favourite room in my house is my living room. It’s very small, but cosy, with a fireplace and custom-built shelves which house my favourite art and design books, and some antiques I’ve collected, like my Victorian wooden cat ‘Dummy Board’ which was originally used to make houses look occupied! It was a present from my mum which makes it even more special. My fiancé thinks we have too many of my own cushions on the sofa but I obviously disagree. The curtains are made of a Josef Frank fabric which I finally invested in after having coveted it since I was a student. I am very lucky that some of my close friends, such as the very talented illustrator Emily Sutton, have kindly gifted me artwork over the years as it has helped me build a collection that feels very sentimental. Everything in my living room feels personal and tells a story, which is why it is my favourite room.
Your designs are bursting with imagination, what advice would you give to someone looking to incorporate more imaginative style into their home for the first time?
I think just start small. The great thing about a cushion or a throw is that it makes quite a big impact, but isn’t dominating like wallpaper or a rug. For example, you could take one of my cushions and choose one of the more muted colours from the print to pair with it in different textures. Also, I feel like the best way to create an imaginative style is to choose things you love, rather than copying things you have seen online in other people’s homes.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My teddy bear, Georgina. She is a grey hippopotamus and we have been together since I was five.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Luck doesn’t visit the lazy.
Can you take us through the process of initial design concept to finished product- how long can it take?
All my designs are drawn by hand, which is quite a lengthy process and can take up to 4 weeks from concept to completion. Next, there are rounds of sampling to make sure the colours and scales are exactly right, before we create final samples and decide if we want to add the product to the range. Sometimes things just don’t work out which is disappointing but part of the process. I never design anything I wouldn’t have in my own home - most of the time the design process is a result of me trying to find something that doesn’t exist. Hence the giant pile of cushions on my sofa.
What does 2021 have in store for you and your brand?
We are really excited to expand our homeware range further - this Easter, we have a very exciting limited edition homeware collaboration launching with a famous fictional rabbit. We are also going to be expanding our pyjama range, and adding more homewares to our collection too. If we have to stay in, we might as well make our interiors fabulous.