'We call it a punked up version of history,’ says Maxine Hall, pointing to the dramatic wallpaper that adorns the red-carpeted stairway of her home in Derby. The design, Grand Reader, is from one of many collections she has created for Blackpop, her home furnishings company.
Viewed from a distance, Maxine’s design has an abstract feel. But, draw close, and intriguing elements from the past emerge from the velvety black depths. There is an image of the carved Imp from the interior of Lincoln Cathedral, a carved Japanese netsuke deity, a bird’s skull and the flash of a butterfly’s wing.
This painterly effect draws on the digital skills Maxine has been developing since studying Photography at the University of Westminster in the late 1980s. Having worked as a fine artist and also lectured at Derby University, Maxine ‘took the mid-life plunge’ in 2012 and left to set up her own business.
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‘I’d always mixed graphics and photography to create my images,’ she says. ‘And it struck me that wallpaper and textiles would be the perfect surfaces for my designs.’ Maxine traces her fascination with pattern making and problem solving to her childhood. ‘One of my earliest memories is of crawling and being transfixed by the swirls on the carpet.’
By the time she was 13, she had collaged the walls of her room with newspaper, adding layers of postcards and concert tickets. She believes this preoccupation with layering is her way of ‘making sense of the world’. And it’s very much in evidence throughout her home, which is also where the Blackpop studio is based, high up under the eaves.
Maxine bought the house 17 years ago with her partner, Paula Moss. They were both charmed by the fact that it had hardly been touched since 1911, the year it was built. ‘The Arts and Crafts bones of the architecture – the upside down heart motifs, the stained glass windows – really appealed to our joint imagination,’ says Paula, who is an artist, as well as Blackpop’s Studio Director.
Like the radicals of the Arts and Crafts movement, Maxine and Paula share an aversion to mass production and are in favour of a return to handcrafted design. ‘We’re socialists, who want to provide good design for all, even though that presents the familiar pricing conundrum,’ she smiles.
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Over the years, the couple have put their epoch-mixing seal on the interior. ‘From potters to printers, there’s a great tradition of making things here that stretches back to the Industrial Revolution,’ says Paula, explaining how they like to commission fellow creatives wherever possible: a number of hand-blown pendant lamps are by Curiousa & Curiousa, a specialist glass company based in nearby Wirksworth; there are paintings by local artist Lewis Noble; and, of course, throughout the house there are wallpapers and fabrics designed by Maxine for Blackpop. ‘It’s important that our home reflects our personalities,’ she says. ‘It’s a place where we can experiment with ideas – I can’t imagine living in a place without pattern or colour.’
And colour is everywhere in this home: gothic hues are juxtaposed with richly patterned wallpapers. In the hall, stained glass throws jewel-bright patterns over time-worn tiles and across abstract art. The effect is nothing if not dramatic: Edgar Allan Poe meets Jackson Pollock. ‘We’ve made changes when funds allowed,’ says Maxine, explaining how carpets were lifted, floorboards renovated and the front door was rescued from a neighbour’s skip. Their stylish, cupboard-free kitchen was created on a tiny budget, she says, revealing that the solid-looking worktops are just inexpensive floor tiles. Provisions are stored in the original pantry.
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Furniture has been accumulated over time and includes family pieces and lucky junk shop finds; Ikea bargains sit happily with mid-century gems. An Edwardian wardrobe was a present from Paula’s father, who is an antiques dealer; a vintage 1970s chair was revamped with a sumptuous Blackpop velvet. In the dining room, the wonderful curvy Hans Brattrud chairs were an eBay steal. ‘Paula started bidding at midnight and wouldn’t stop until she’d won,’ Maxine remembers.
In the sitting room, the couple put up a pretty toile de Jouy wallpaper which creates a striking contrast to the zingy orange art deco sofas from Paula’s previous home. The house is now largely decorated and the couple are looking forward to Maxine’s latest collaboration with the antiquities-crammed Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.
Soane delighted in plundering the classical past for his designs and this certainly resonates with Maxine, who will be incorporating the architect’s original drawings into her new collection. ‘There are no new ideas,’ she concludes. ‘It’s all about mixing up the familiar to make it appear unfamiliar.’
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