Laura-Jane Atkinson on her love of 'naff' materials, experimentation and Manchester

Laura-Jane Atkinson is a Manchester-based designer-maker specialising in handmade interior accessories that "challenge and re-appropriate the known application and behaviour" of often under-celebrated materials.

All images courtesy of the artist.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Her design process is rooted in design by making, allowing the personality of materials to drive the nature of sampling. Her studio produces commissioned and batch manufactured statement products, that blend traditional craftsmanship with material innovation... Something she likes to call "Jewellery for the home".

We spent 10 minutes chatting to Laura-Jane about her work, her love of materials and why she chose to stay in Manchester after graduation.

How did you come to make handmade interior accessories?

The aim of my products is for them to make people more aware of the material things they own – discover their narrative, celebrate it and share it. We’re all victims of buying objects we have short-lived meaningless relationships with and our interiors often host these relationships.

My interiors accessories are mildly functional pieces (that you don’t become blind to through over-function) that I hope can hold their own in a crowded room with resilience – jewellery for the home.

You say you work with often under-celebrated materials, tell us more!

I’m obsessed with materials that people think are a bit naff, obsolete, useless or unattractive. Materials we don’t really want to show off in our homes anymore or ever. I see a challenge to change opinions and the potential to surprise people. That’s what really excites me.

What has been your most challenging project to date?

A few years ago I did a project with a design collective I’m a part of called Rive Studio. We took a shining to Japanese Knotweed and the potential it could have if it were seen as a resource for the future, rather than being treated as an invasive, alien, evil genius (we got lots of snorts at this one).

We worked with lots of specialists from different fields to make sure we knew what we were and weren’t allowed to do but when it came down to actually trying to design and develop something with it, our maker heads conflicting with our newly built biological hats.

We may have bitten more than we could chew – playing with the law and Mother Nature (although the risk did make it kind of exciting).

Your accessories are always so unusual and colourful. What inspires them?

I always start a product range by material play to discover the most surprising making methods I can build on. Elements of play definitely make it through the development stages and into the final product! In terms of colour, I always work very instinctively. I initially trained in Embroidery so I think my textile brain takes over on this one.

Is there anyone's work you admire?

I really admire Silo Studio – they are able to be vastly experimental with their making processes whilst always having a commercial mindset, and a clear vision for their studio. They still seem to have the joy that designers can lose when things become too commercial.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently developing a product range out of MDF – it’s cheap, dull and mass-manufactured. We usually hide it with veneers or paint, and often only use it to make prototypes that are never shown. I want to make it decorative, enticing and exciting! Something that can be shown off, something we value.

Is there anything that's currently bugging you? How are you going to address it?

Hmmm, I’m pretty content at the moment (I write this, however, just before I put the out-of-office on and go on holiday so maybe I’m rose-tinted). But one thing that continues to bug me is not being able to drive – carrying equipment and materials to and from my studio can be a pain on a peak time tram. I need to learn to drive. It’s on my list.

Who or what has helped you the most during your career so far?

In the run-up to One Year In (a show at New Designers that I’ve just got back from), all designers were offered mentoring from Patricia at The Design Trust.

It was the most useful, honest and productive advice I’ve ever received. It helped me realise the aspects of my business that I often avoid and develop a plan for this. They have developed a planner for designer-makers called ‘Dream Plan Do’ that I would hugely recommend for anybody out there who struggles with the business side of running a design studio, just like me!

You're based in Manchester. What's it like, in your opinion?

Manchester has a BIG heart with an overwhelming sense that everybody’s got your back. It’s full of determination with a small dose of rebellion against London, with independent businesses, cultural events and exciting developments continually proving that exciting things happen up North too.

I’ve lived here for eight years including my three student years (I’m originally from Brighton) and the city has grown enormously.

Tell is something unusual about yourself

I’m a sucker for' 90s trance anthems. I still suck my thumb. I eat everything with Ketchup. My go-to choice of drink (when I’m not at risk of being frowned upon) is still Malibu.

What do you do to relax?

I walk. Walking relaxes me (and it doesn’t have to be in the countryside either).


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