I first met Mairi on a photoshoot in her beautiful Edinburgh home. She is a wallpaper and fabric designer with a growing reputation. We had a real giggle and have stayed in touch over the years thanks to our shared love of all things design and interiors related. I have loved watching the Mairi Helena brand expand and her amazing creativity develop. I wanted to catch up and hear about her most recent projects, so asked if I could interview her, and share her fascinating story, here, with you.
Her career path has been unusual, to say the least. Both her parents were textile designers and she was brought up near Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, where they taught at the Heriot Watt university campus and practiced as designers. Mairi rebelled by training as a vet, but then saw the light, when her photographic hobby of depicting Scottish landscape turned into an experimental art form, which she realised translated beautifully into stunning wallpapers and fabrics. She has now fully returned to the fold!
AG: I know you trained as a vet Mairi and worked part time combining it with your design work for many years. Are you more or less full time on your design business now, your little daughter, Iona, permitting?
MH: Yes, instead of the veterinary work, I now juggle Iona! It’s a lovely juggle though, she is nearly 2 and it’s great to be able to work from home and be more flexible as a result. Little things like being able to take her to Cramond beach to dig in the sand when the sun is out or go to a dance class with her during the week. I feel very fortunate to be able to juggle both my business and Iona at the same time.
AG: How do you find combining creativity with motherhood?
MH: I’m really enjoying it and I’m finding that our adventures together are inspiring my new designs. They will forever remind me of our summer days with each other!
AG: I love all your designs but particularly a couple of recent creations, ‘Hidden Garden’ and ‘Highland Tundra’, can you tell me more about your inspiration and how you go about your designs?
MH: Thank you Alison, that’s very kind of you. ‘Hidden Garden’ takes inspiration from both the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh as well as a trip to a hidden gem of a garden ‘Prestonhall’ which I discovered during late summer last year. Iona and I loved visiting the beautiful flower meadows and spotting the butterflies amongst the poppies. Prestonall is a fabulous walled estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh and it was like stepping into a secret garden. There are lovely, abundant fruit trees and beautiful greenhouses.
It was the wispy, breezy wild flowerbed adjacent to the greenhouse that caught my eye and triggered the design, along with the fabulous colours of the rainbow meadow garden at the Botanic Gardens, which had been planted during lockdown in March 2020 to act as a ray of hope when visitors would visit later into the Summer.
‘Highland Tundra‘ takes inspiration from the wild, wilderness of the Highlands of Scotland. Tree silhouettes on the horizon in winter, outstretched beaches, places where you can sit and see for miles and miles, where you can become lost in thought. I design from my photographs of the Scottish landscapes. Each design I create from multiple layers which feature different aspects of my imagery, combining the textures and colours of the land.
AG: I know your work is very popular in Scotland – do you know how far and wide elsewhere it is enjoyed?
MH: I love the connection of my work to Scotland and also enjoy working with customers up and down the country. I have a couple of stockists further afield in America and Canada but my customer base is predominantly UK at the moment.
AG: Can I hear about a favourite recent project?
MH: We’re recently just back from a few days on the West Coast carrying out a bedroom renovation, featuring my Summer Isle velvet.
I was given the chance to plan and mood board and put the decoration into action. I based it around the colours within my Summer Isle fabric, using this to create a statement headboard and choosing softer colours for the walls, cushions and bed linen.
It was lovely to be able to work it through from start to finish – and great to have a few nights on the West Coast by the sea too – I think I’m happiest by the sea. I must be an islander at heart!
I am lost in admiration for Mairi. Her intense powers of observation are incredible, her keen eye records the colours and quality of light in the surroundings she immerses herself in so perfectly. Her fierce determination which enabled her to radically career hop is a result of a deeply embedded creativity she has been blessed with – I honestly don’t think she can help herself – while the rest of us struggle to carve out the time for our personal passions and interests while working and bringing up a family, for Mairi, the continuation of her growth as an a designer, goes hand in hand with enjoying the world through her daughter’s eyes and delighting in her company. Continuing to create, now she is a mother, is completely natural to her.
Find out more about her wonderful wallpapers and fabrics on her website here.