bluebellgray: flowers to the people

bluebellgray: flowers to the people

bluebellgray has gone from the kitchen table to big time homewares brand in a very short space of time. Abby Trow caught up with Fi Douglas, artist, designer, company founder and lover of flowers to find out how she’s coping with success and why her designs have struck such a chord

Fi Douglas of bluebellgray

Fi Douglas trained as an artist and textile designer at the illustrious Glasgow School of Art. She paints floral and abstract designs and describes her style as modern. bluebellgray.com

bluebellgray is something of a phenomenon if speed of success is a measure. Because this 13-strong Glasgow-based textiles and homewares company started its journey just eight years ago as a one-woman show; on  Fi Douglas’s kitchen table to be precise, as she painted some floral designs.

‘I had the idea of transferring my watercolours to fabric which I could have it made up into cushions to sell,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to make cushions where the fabric looked like a painting.’ And it’s been that way ever since because all bluebellgray’s collections start life as a Fi Douglas watercolour painting. 

 

‘I’m not one for small tight designs, I like my flowers to be large and painterly.'

 

New - Kippen wallpaper in Smoke features large florals
Linen fabrics are available by the metre. bluebellgray.com
bluebellgray has expanded into bedlinen
Digitally printed Lola rug
Abstract Morar linen fabric, ideal for curtains or chair upholstery
Japanese cherry blossom inspired Fi's Fumiko wallpaper
New - Monachyle wallpaper. Fi thinks feature walls can still be a great idea...whatever the style gurus say
Wallpapers galore - perfect for a feature wall
Anyway, low and behold local people loved her large painterly florals and the cushions - initially produced as limited editions - would sell out quickly. ‘At the start I couldn’t believe anyone would want to give me money for my work....’ says Fi.

It’s not hyperbole to say bluebellgray has become an international brand, selling in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in the UK through John Lewis, other retailers, its own website and showroom, opened last year in Glasgow. ‘Yes, it’s all very exciting,’ says Fi, who thinks she owes a lot of the company’s success to being taken on by Brits’ favourite department store in 2011.

But just being in John Lewis isn’t, of course, a guarantee of retail stardom. You need skill, authenticity and an understanding of what your customers want. Skill and authenticity are very much at the heart of bluebellgray. Fi loves to paint flowers and is very skilled at painting them - she studies them closely so she can capture their essence and likeness in her own unique style.

‘Well I do think we make things that people like to look at - that said our customers are mostly women. But everyone loves flowers because they’re very beautiful and uplifting,’ says Fi. ‘Flowers have always been present in art and have that universal appeal.’


If you think statement walls have had their day, well Fi begs to differ. She’s a fan and points out that a stunning wallpaper can work like a piece of art - and it’ll be much cheaper than an oil painting!

 
bluebellgray products encompass a wide range of homewares, from furniture to cushions via bedding, curtains, tassels and chinaware
Ziggie lampshade
Catrin linen cushion
Delphinium wallpaper
A lot a floral designs in the 19th and 20th century were quite small and tight with a strict repeat - think about those ‘30s flowery wallpapers - so among the reasons why Fi’s designs have struck such a chord with us is their scale and a carefree freestyle looseness to them that means they avoid that potentially boring tight repeat. And of course developments in digital printing have allowed Fi’s paintings to move from paper to fabric without losing the brush strokes or the sense of the watercolours ebbing and flowing into each other with the ensuing slightly blurry edges.

bluebellgray’s colour palette is also very pretty and gentle and easy to incorporate into modern or more  traditional homes. ‘I like pastel shades and I do love pink - I don’t know why it gets such as bad press - and I like colours to have that slight.. how can I put it... edge of dirtiness to them to knock them back a bit. I do have occasional pops of neon but really primary colours are not really my thing,’ says Fi.

Fi says environmental considerations are important to her and the company. She grew up in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands and has that inherent love of nature that comes from growing up in it. So it’s perhaps not surprising to find that her favourite fabric is linen, it being one of the most sustainable fibres. ‘I love the way linen takes dye, the way it drapes and it wears so well. It’s eco-friendly and breathable and is generally fantastic.

‘And what’s important to me is to make products that last. When you buy one of our wool rugs, for example, with a bit of care it should last you a lifetime.’ Manufacturing locally is important, so cushions and fabrics are made in the UK, while rugs are digitally-printed in the Netherlands.  

 
Growing collections
 
The bluebellgray collection is growing all the time. From cushions and fabrics it now offers rugs, wallpapers, lampshades, curtain tiebacks ceramics, trays and giclee prints and when looked at as a brand, it’s one that is, well, joyful and full of personality. It’s colourful, full of flowers, it’s pretty and feminine but without being too girly-girl. ‘Because I paint and those paintings are the start of our collections, I think people sense there’s heart and soul and integrity to what we do. I am a bit of a hippy I suppose and I do paint from my heart,’ says Fi.
 
And while she has of course learned a lot about business and marketing and no doubt knows her way around a balance sheet, you feel this is a company that is in no way rapacious. ‘I just want people to have things that give them a bit of joy in their lives,’ says Fi.
 
 
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