Over the past decade Clarissa Hulse has become one of the most distinctive textile designers in the industry, with her products sold in more than 100 stores in 11 countries. She launched her first upholstery range in October 2008.
Best known for her luxury homewares, from wallpaper to cushions, throws and lighting, Clarissa has made the use of colour and natural imagery in conjunction with beautiful fabrics the hallmarks of her work.
"I'm not a minimalist person, as you can probably tell," says Clarissa at her home in Islington, north London. One of the leading lights of the young British design scene, she is regarded by her contemporaries as being uncompromising in her quest for the perfect combination of colour, print and fabric. Her fabulously quirky and colourful home is a testament to that ethic. "Can you believe it? I've lived here, on and off, for over 30 years," she says. "It was my parents' house, and therefore my family home. My husband, Alex, and I bought it from them four years ago and we're now about to move. It's going to be such a huge wrench."
Clarissa began her career as a freelance fashion designer. She kicked things off in Brighton, were she had been at art college, and then set up her own studio in London two years later. Success came early: her first collection of hand-printed scarves was produced in 1994 and was snapped up immediately by the New York stores Barneys and Takashimaya. Sales to key stores in London, Paris and Hong Kong soon followed.
From the beginning, her designs were botanical in flavour; beautiful hand-printed creations depicting delicate morning glory, wingnut and dock leaf on luxurious silk, velvet and cashmere fabrics.
"I've always been passionate about plants," she says. "My mother taught me about all the species in our garden from childhood, and family holidays were usually things like two-week jaunts spent traipsing across the Austrian Alps looking at mountain flowers. At 14 years old, I probably wanted to be anywhere else, but it obviously had a lasting impact on me."
Clarissa's signature of colour, natural imagery and beautiful fabrics has turned out to be a winning combination. "I started off doing fashion stuff - silky wraps, scarves and sleepwear, but in reality there's not a great market for boudoir stuff. As soon as I launched a home collection in 2003, however, it really took off and I knew I'd found my niche." The upmarket British department stores Heal's, Liberty, The Conran Shop and many others clearly thought so, too, and the orders started to flood in.
Pieces from that first collection can still be found in Clarissa's home, along with selected highlights from more recent ranges, including some lovely new pieces from her upholstery range. The place is a riot of colour, texture and exuberance. There are piles of vibrant silk cushions heaped on to sofas; beds are covered with hot, exotically coloured throws; feature walls sport her nature-inspired wallpaper and everywhere there are vessels, vases and jugs spilling over with the flowers that are her inspiration.
There are also are plenty of examples of her luxurious printed and woven upholstery fabric collection, something she's been keen to develop over recent years. Some examples of the range can be seen in her living room, where two vintage Danish chairs have been covered in a vibrant Eucalyptus design. "There's a range of one-off pieces of furniture available, too, mostly vintage, Scandinavian stuff, all upholstered in the new fabrics and all available through the website," she says. "It's been a lot of hard work getting to this stage, but now I've done it, it feels great. It's a very exciting time for me."
Little in the house has been changed structurally, apart from the creation of a contemporary kitchen/dining room in the basement, which was the first thing Clarissa and Alex tackled when they bought the place. "The shape and style of the house lent itself perfectly well to the proportions of the original rooms except for the kitchen, which was small, cluttered and old fashioned and definitely needed a rethink," she says.
Now it's the most neutral room in the house: a skinny L-shape with simple white units to keep the look sleek and minimal, and a pared back, family-friendly dining space. To balance the kitchen's sparseness and clean lines, an antique chaise was introduced. It stands against a feature wall, papered with Clarissa Hulse Wingnut wallpaper in lilac.
The ground floor is home to the living room, originally two smaller rooms that were knocked through some years ago to create more space in which to show off Clarissa's colourful designs. Taking a stand against bare white walls, she has painted the space a soulful dark grey, against which the pinks, oranges and limes of the soft furnishings really pop out. Twinkly chandeliers, old gilt mirrors and a raft of coloured glass vases add to the satisfying maximalist vibe, while plushly upholstered sofas and much-loved antique hand-me-downs ensure that comfort is a priority, too. "There are too many of my own products in here to count. But only a mere 20 or so cushions, which is not very many, considering," she laughs.
In the bedroom, the exuberant theme is continued. Lovers of Zen-like calm might not appreciate it, but in Clarissa's expert hands this vibrant melange of colour and texture is wonderfully uplifting. Alcoves on either side of the bed have been fitted with skinny, floor-to-ceiling wardrobes that Clarissa has painstakingly decorated in gold leaf. "I love it now, but it took forever to do. After one and a half doors I was so bored."
Elsewhere in the room there is more botanical wallpaper and an antique glass cabinet, the shelves of which spill over with mohair shawls, and silk and velvet bedding.
Clarissa's daughter Angelica, two, misses few opportunities to get in on the act, jumping on beds, creating cushion mountains and pulling pretty accessories out of drawers to show them off. Clearly impressed by her mother's handiwork, she is most proud of her own bedroom. An entire wall has been transformed, using remnants of Clarissa Hulse wallpapers and fabrics, into a stunning frieze. "It wasn't expensive and it's something we can change and update as she gets older," says Clarissa. The addition of hot pink silk curtains and colourful decorative butterflies flitting across the walls make this the ultimate little girl's bedroom.
Baby Leo's nursery is an exercise in calm: a small but perfectly formed room, shoehorned into a halfway landing between the basement and ground floors. "It's a very beautiful, peaceful little room with French doors that open out to the garden, which is a gorgeous little jungle of a space," she says. Painted entirely in white and with original stained oak floorboards covered by a goatskin rug, it is deliberately neutral. "My anti-minimalist, colour-mad textile designer side will doubtless soon get the better of me, but at the moment it's a very calm, minimal room, because I think babies are often over stimulated by their surroundings. Even the mobile above Leo's cot comes off at night, so there's very little to distract him from sleep."
Furnishings have been kept to a minimum, too: the cot is a Stokke design in natural, super-pale timber, while the rocking armchair is a 1950s design by Charles and Ray Eames for the iconic American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller. "They say that these RAR rockers were originally nursing chairs that were given as gifts to Herman Miller employees who had just given birth," she says. "The real vintage versions are collectables now, worth quite a bit."
As ever, Clarissa has got her finger firmly on the interiors pulse. Her website has a useful Colour Palettes section that helps the less instinctively colour curious among us to choose the most suitable mixes of pattern and colour. Not surprisingly she confidently predicts the rise and rise of colour in our homes.
"Not in an overwhelming, shouty way though. Neutrals are still the most popular colour combinations for most of us, but we are seeing a lot more people taking the plunge: painting a wall a nice bright shade, using wallpaper for feature walls, buying some fabulous, vibrant cushions - the trend for colour is definitely there and it's very welcome."
For more information visit www.clarissahulse.com or call +44 207 375 1456