Cornwall inspires a material girl
Becky Sheaves talks with Cornish designer Paula Nicholls about the influence her home county has on her work.
Cornish designer Paula Nicholls has launched her new "Country Girl" range of fabrics and homewares for her company Betty Boyns. The designs are inspired by the country gardens of Paula's relatives in the west of Cornwall.
With geese, chickens, gooseberries and seedheads, these pretty prints evoke rural evenings by the sea in the valleys near Land's End.
"I was born in Penzance and studied art at Falmouth College, then went away to live in Bristol for many years," explains Paula, who is married to writer Colin Bacon and has an 18-year-old son Breon. "But I always wanted to do something creative back home in Cornwall."
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Today, Paula and her family live in Newlyn, within sight of the sea. She is hugely influenced by the colours and sights around her home. "I look out of the bedroom window and the autumn sea is the exact same colour as a teal shade I've designed and made into bedroom curtains," she says.
"One of my newest colours is a dark grey that I call Cornish Earth. It is based on the colour of the soil around my mother's old family home near St Just in the far west of Cornwall."
Indeed, Paula's design and furnishings business is called Betty Boyns, which was her mother's maiden name. The company logo is a picture of her mother sitting in a stylish sports car in Cornwall, taken in the 1950s. "Boyns is a name with so much Cornish history to it, as the family has lived here for generations. Somehow Paula Nicholls just didn't have the same ring to it," she laughs.
But Paula's father, Brian Nicholls, is also a significant influence in her work, as she explains. Her father, uncle and grandfather all worked for the renowned Crysede Textiles (later Cresta Silks) in St Ives in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties. "Dad worked as a block printer. Cresta Silks fabrics were sold to Liberty and they even made a special limited edition coronation scarf. Dad hand-printed gold leaf on the scarves and the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret were each given one."
Paula's grandfather had been a dyer for the same firm, working for the company's manager, Tom Heron, who was father of the world-famous artist Patrick Heron.
"Dad is 80 this year. He loved his work and the connection with the great artists who designed for the company such as Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash and Heron himself," says Paula.
When Paula was away from Cornwall, she worked in events management and journalism but always wanted to do something arty herself. She came back to Cornwall 13 years ago, and started a card company, Art Cards Cornwall, featuring paintings by local artists. She then branched first into prints and then, after spotting a gap in the market for vintage-style wrapping paper and fabric, set up Betty Boyns in 2010.
"My designs are all about recreating those nostalgic feelings of homeliness and comfort that I remember so well from my childhood in Cornwall. It's not vintage, as I want to be more contemporary than that. But the look is evocative of a time when eiderdowns were always plump, wallpaper was always chintzy and the table always laid with the best Cornish Blue china. I was born nostalgic."
Her designs are now available as fabric and oilcloth, sold by the metre, and also as charming ready-made homewares such as cushion covers, tea cosies, aprons, tablecloths, napkins and tea towels. Prices are deliberately affordable, with cushion covers for £15 and tea cosies £13. "I'm keen for the designs to be accessible and not exclusive," she says. Another design of Paula's called Kitchenalia has been made into items such as cake tins and tea caddies, with prices from £13 for a biscuit barrel.
"It's been hugely inspirational to be here in Cornwall, yet the business means I do get out and about to meet buyers and appear at shows," Paula explains. "For example, I'm off to London next week to exhibit there, which will be really exciting.
"I didn't want to come home and pull up the drawbridge. So I'm thrilled that Betty Boyns designs are now selling in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with a plan to sell in Scandinavia, too.
"Betty Boyns has, for me, been very much about returning home to Cornwall. But it's also about taking the inspiration of Cornwall out into the world."
For more details visit www.bettyboyns.co.uk or call 01736 331406