We’re delighted to interview the wonderfully creative artist Caroline Gardner, founder/creative director of Caroline Gardner. Her brand hosts a wide range of unique stationery products, all designed in their London-based studio, printed and produced to the highest of standards.
We love stocking Caroline's greetings cards & stationery designs, so we thought we would meet her to find out where she gets her inspiration from, who her favourite designers are and what a typical day is like at her studio.
Tell us how ‘Caroline Gardner’ came about?
I started designing cards “totally by accident” at the age of 30, after giving a lift to a stranger who had a flat tyre. She just happened to be working for the Design Council, sourcing British designers to represent the UK abroad, mainly in Japan. We hit it off incredibly well and spent most of the summer together in the park with our kids.
I studied interior architecture at the Chelsea College of Arts, whilst working part-time as a fine artist at the time, but agreed to design some cards for her new friend, who turned out to be the gallery owner Yvonna Demczynska!
Yvonna had been let down at the last minute by a designer, so she had asked me to produce 36 cards with metal on the front for the Conran stores in Tokyo. It was a very wide brief and I had no idea what was expected. So I rushed up to Nu-Line [a builder’s merchant] in Notting Hill, got some electrical wire and played around with it. My designs went to Tokyo the following week, and the day the shop opened, they sold out, and I got an order for hundreds more!
Within three months, I had 30 of my friends, friends of friends and au pairs making these cards out of torn up bits of paper and electrical wire. My designs were very simple, a single piece of wire in the shape of a pram, a heart, a daisy, a house or a baby’s shoe. Twenty years ago, however, this was a different approach to card designing. Card designs were all complicated, lots of painting, lots of things going on. There were also very few handmade cards and none with incorporated metal.
I soon discovered that the cards had a UK market too. I would drive around at 11pm when the children were in bed and there was no traffic and put a sample of a my card designs through the letterboxes of galleries and shops I simple liked the look of. I would say, the conversion rate was about 80% - most people would want to buy them, so then I did a show at Top Drawer – an exhibition where people with gift shops go to find interesting products. Great news for me, I was inundated with orders.
How big is the team? What roles do they have?
There are around 25 of us in the Company now and they range from design, sales, admin and accounts – and they’re all brilliant!!
What’s a typical day like at Caroline Gardner?
I am not sure that there is a typical day really, we are a small company and one minute we’re all preparing for a trade show and the next designing new ranges to send off to the printers or factories.
Why is Caroline Gardner different, what is the signature design?
I think the key enduring quality that has made our company successful is a commitment to originality. But apart from that I think it’s a commitment to quality, good customer service and bringing out a regular supply of new product, but, not TOO new!
What is your favourite product/design you’ve created?
Like any designer, what we brought out last is the favourite! But if there is one thing, its probably a card of two baby’s feet which we’re based on our daughter’s footprint taken when she was new born by the Chelsea Westminster NHS hospital as part of new security process they were trialing. Flora is now 19 and it still sells like hot cakes!
Where do you take inspiration from?
You know, I genuinely get inspiration from anything and everything! It can be the colour combinations on the side of a dirty Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka on a family holiday, to the leaden skies of a bitter Richmond Park whilst walking our dog! Often it’s the small things which can spark the imagination…
Who is your favourite designer?
I have lots! But the artist I admire most of all is Monet.
What is the one piece of stationery that you can’t live without?
Of all the things I really cant live without (right up there with a coffee first thing in the morning!) is a notebook. I have one at my fingertips at all time – whether its for writing down phone numbers, listing out ideas, or just sketching something which has come to mind…
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Life is full of challenges isn’t it. Balancing life’s pressures and commitments, whist keeping it all real and enjoying things is probably the biggest one for any adult.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
Every time we launch a new product is the highlight for me!
What do you love most of all about your job?
My husband Angus often says I ‘colour in’ for a living, and what’s not to like about that!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Be original, take inspiration from the world around you rather than competitors and be consistent. If you can innovate in a consistent way, your ideas will succeed and will show the test of time. Above all, keep to your principles and be determined.
Can you describe the company/ brand in one sentence?
Caroline has a passion for the simple pleasure derived from using the finest beautifully designed products, the passion behind this translates into an ever evolving modern classic set apart by a distinctive colour palette and a quirky sense of placement.
What does the future hold for Caroline Gardner?
We have some really exciting things coming along over the next few months, particularly in the accessories area which we hope people will love, and enable us to continue to evolve along our path.
Take a peek at the Caroline Gardner collection at Utility - Have you got a favourite design?