Spring fresh with Sarah Lidwell-Durnin of Natural History

Meet Natural History: The Origin of Style founder Sarah Lidwell-Durnin whose elegant home and babyware ranges are taking the design world by storm. In our exclusive interview, the mum of two tells us why she’s influenced by Victorian taxidermy, offers advice on how to set up your own design business and tells us what it’s like being her own boss - rather cool as we find out...

Your designs are influenced by Victorian taxidermy and the antique encyclopediae of natural history – what is it about those themes that you love?

When I was growing up in Dublin, my mother took me to the Natural History Museum on Merrion Square every rainy afternoon after school for years. I ran around the fantastically elderly and shabby exhibits stroking worn fur and pressing my nose to mysterious glass cases. So today, scruffy taxidermy and things in jars hold endless wonderful associations for me. My education also means that old books are irresistible for me, of course!

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? What was your first big break into the design world and setting up your business?

No, I didn’t. The idea of owning my own business had always had a strong appeal and my mother instilled a passion for houses into me. When I was small, we were forever exploring derelict country houses and my father and I would fantasize about how to restore them, but I was working on a PhD on 15th-century poetry and politics (I have a masters degree in Latin and another in medieval languages). When I had my first baby it suddenly became very important to me as a mother to be my own boss.  I took a leave of absence from my studies to research the possibility of Natural History and never looked back.

What is your favourite personal design?

Probably the Ateuchus notebook with the green beetle. It has because such a strong image for the whole business. People want to see it on everything!

Which fellow designers do you admire?

More a curator than a designer, I love Sibella Court in Australia. I adore her eclecticism and imagination, while staying true to her own established taste. Her mother was also a strong influence in her tastes and career. I admire women who successfully combine design and taste with business intelligence.

Who’s your favourite artist?

Of the moment - Annie Morris. I love her work, her plaster paintings, collages and clothes pegs. And of course, her beautiful home.

What trends should we be coveting this next season?

I think the next season is going to be rich in metallics, burnt orange and olive. People want things with longevity, and particularly things made here in England. With that in mind, I am loving the Terence Conran/Ercol collaboration.

Image above: taken from article on  The Telegraph website

What advice would you give anyone wanting to be a designer and set up their own business?

If you want to set up your own business, the most important things are to have a clear and well thought-out brand in mind to which you will stay true. Buy stock terribly carefully – if it doesn’t perfectly fit into and contribute to your brand, don’t buy it, no matter how much you love it!  Get the best support you can afford, especially when it comes to your accountant. You will definitely make a couple of expensive mistakes as you learn what works and what doesn’t and it’s almost certainly going to cost at least twice as much as you thought, but the rewards and freedoms are wonderful.

Which three products can’t you live without?

These change all the time, but at the moment I would say the Sacristy candle from True Grace, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation and Cowshed Moody Cow shower gel.

How would you describe your home’s style?

My home’s style has changed dramatically in the last two years as my taste underwent a transformation. I moved from dark and velvety, to bright and clean. White floors, navy upholstery, Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green paintwork and a huge framed print of a Tiznit girl from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in her wedding costume.

How do you spend your weekends?

My weekends are spent going for long walks along the Thames with my husband and two baby daughters, 2 years and 2 months. Pub lunches at some of the fantastically laid-back places hidden away in Oxford like The Punters on Osney Island and the Isis Tavern near Iffley. Lots of children running around and hearty food! We are living this style of life to the fullest right now because we don’t plan to stay in England for very much longer – distant shores are definitely calling to us!

Any exciting projects coming up or new designs we can look forward to?

We have two or three very exciting collaborations coming up with designers and organizations that I am passionate about. We’re also hard at work on the final designs for this autumn as well as the mood boards for next Spring – all I’ll say is that if you like bees, keep your eye out for our next range!

CHIC SHOPPING ALERT! Natural History: The Origin of Style is at ACHICA from 27 May until 30 May 2011.

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Emily Peck, Editor

View all posts by Emily Peck, Editor