The Saturday Q&A: Timourous Beasties – extraordinary wallpapers, fabric & more…

Timorous Beasties London Toile

Timorous Beasties London Toile

If you bought Issue 6, you’ll have seen the amazing endpapers, a pattern called “London Toile” designed by Timorous Beasties, the Glasgow-based design duo of Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons. What at first seems like a modern take on the classic toile designs of the Napoleonic era, under closer scrutiny, reveals itself to be a superbly witty and decorative mash-up of tradition and modern street culture!

Intrigued by the duo’s work, which includes interiors, fabrics, and textiles, we decided that a Q&A session was in order, and Paul Simmonds was kind enough to oblige…

Timorous Beasties Paul and Alistair

We love the surreal quality of the “London Toile” pattern, where did you get the idea?

There is never a definitive way that an idea becomes a reality, I guess we have always loved some of the very old toiles (1770s, as opposed to the Victorian toiles), paid homage to the past, and at the same time I live and love ‘the Contemporary’, so I guess it just naturally happened.

After prospective customers have done a ‘double take’ on what your toile patterns actually depicts, what’s their general reaction? Is it what you expected / wanted?

I think it’s always fun to have a double take, and people often, even though they might not know what a toile is, they will have seen one at some point and not realised what it is, so there is a definite visual joke that most people can relate to and appreciate. Sometimes it has backfired when a customer didn’t see the double take till it was too late! Oops!

Timorous Beasties Wallpaper battenberg

Was the move to starting your own company prompted by a desire for creative freedom, to take control of the whole print process or a combination of the two?

From 1988-1990, I (Paul) studied at the RCA in London, and Ali did a post grad in Glasgow. Nearly every stage of our business, we have always come to the conclusion that if you want to do something, you have to do it yourself; from producing our own designs, to selling our product, we have always ended up doing it ourselves, which in turn has given us total freedom, and nobody above us to tell us what to do.

Looking back over the past 12 years, was there a project / point where you thought, ‘now we’re on to something’, or has it been a more gradual process?

When you are so involved it is very hard to see from the inside out, but I guess it might have been the Glasgow Toile design in 2005, which led onto being nominated for the Designs of the Year prize at the Design Museum, which again gave us some credibility with people who had always liked our work, and also gave us new customers and new projects (Wellcome Trust window display, etc). That has been a constant since then.

Timorous Beasties Glasgow Toile

Your approach seems to be as much pure art as it is interior design…

In terms of art we have always been very clear that what we do is not Art, its design. What we do is about product, production and aesthetics in the interior market. Art is an entity of its own, although there are elements of both that overlap, I think art has a completely different agenda to what we do.

Both of us were at Art School in the late 1980s and graduating in the 1990s, with many of the artists that are now big names on the international scene, especially in Glasgow which has seen a bit of a contemporary art renaissance. This has only influenced us by giving us confidence that you can go out there and do it on your own terms, but not in terms of an aesthetic.

Having worked with the milliner Phillip Treacy and designed interiors for Glasgow’s Arches, and packaging for The Famous Grouse whiskey, you’ve covered a lot of ground. Have you ever thought about a full-on collaboration with a ‘fine’ artist or a filmmaker? Who would you love to collaborate with?

We have worked for artists, in terms of producing something for them, we worked with Simon Starling on overprinting with white opaque ink a patterned fabric he had bought. We worked with Claire Barclay and Lucy Skaer in realising some work for them, and with Thomas Demand, but never worked with artists as a collaboration – it might be fun or a total nightmare! Maybe Paul McCarthy or the Chapman Brothers would be good? A filmaker – that would be great, anyone?

Timorous Beasties Wellcome Trust Window

Your workshop’s in Glasgow and you have a shop there plus one in London. Which of the cities do you love the most / find the biggest inspiration and why?

The thing with London is that it’s so big, you will never run out of inspiration, it is so international you will never be an outsider, and it is so expensive it is very hard to get a workshop/studio like ours off the ground. We do love Glasgow because it is the underdog, it has the faded grandeur of a once very rich Victorian city, it has a self-deprecation that keeps it real, but also allows it to punch above its weight when least expected. It has a rich culture and intellectual past that still effects its present, but it is plagued by its urban failures and political stagnation. Both cities are very different, and good and bad in different ways.

What does 2013 hold for Timorous Beasties?

Many of our new designs have been really successful, and new technologies have really opened up the market for us so, ironically, 2013 holds less for us in terms of collaborations, but maybe more in terms of producing our own work, and selling on the international market through our website and stockists! Brazil, New York, Paris and a hotel in Austria are all in our sights – watch your backs!

Timorous Beasties Fabric battenberg

Finally, what is your Simple Thing?

Staring out of the window at trees blowing in the wind with a cup of coffee in hand – there’s about three Simple Things rolled into one!

Timorous Beasties The Room Example

Don’t forget, you can buy the print version of The Simple Things at good retailers around the globe, individually online or buy a subscription. For your iPad/iPhone, visit the Apple Newsstand. A digital version to read on a PC, Mac or Android device can be found on Zinio. For Android phones and tablets, we’re also now on Google Play. And now if you’re in the US, you can buy a version for your Barnes & Noble Nook eReader, tablet and apps.

Subscribe now and get a free copy of the fabulous Decorate Workshop by Holly Becker, a book worth £25! You can subscribe online, or call call 0844 848 2852 (quote code TSTW13 – Mon-Fri 8am-9.30pm & Sat 8am-4pm). Offer ends 31/03/2013.