PROFILE: KATE SWINSON
A LIFELONG LOVE OF NATURE EMBOLDENS THIS ARTISTIC SYDNEY DESIGNER, WRITES ALEXANDRA GORDON.
A lifelong love of nature emboldens this artistic Sydney designer
PAST AND PRESENT EXPLOITS amid the Australian landscape and a carefree country childhood were the inspiration for Native Swinson, a new collection of hand-crafted wallpapers and fabrics by Sydney designer Kate Swinson. “I grew up on a farm in southern New South Wales and my own kids [Oona, 14, Frida, 11, and Teddy, 3] have triggered all those memories,” she says. “When I was a child, we’d all wander around in our gumboots and climb trees, and we made tree houses out of wood, so that definitely comes into my children’s wallpaper.” A sense of the hand-drawn helps to connect designs that are evenly weighted between those suitable for children — such as the wonderfully whimsical ‘ Native Treehouse’ mural and ‘Teeny, Tiny Native Birds in a Large Flock’ — and her more sophisticated motifs. “The idea is to make it like a drawing on your wall,” Swinson explains. Once she has completed her original, intricate line works, her team of graphic designers change their scale to suit wallpaper or fabric repeats. “I like to draw smaller, half the size of what it actually needs to be, because then you get the detail,” she says, pulling out the original work for her ‘Banksia’ print. Swinson is in the enviable position of being able to turn her passion into her livelihood. “I went through RMIT University in Melbourne with first-class honours in painting then did my master’s in drawing at COFA [College of Fine Arts, since renamed as the University of New South Wales School of Art & Design] in Sydney,” she says. After her studies, she spent three years designing homewares in Indonesia. “The wallpaper and fabric has been a great joining together of the fine arts and the design. It just made sense to me — two of the things that I love, I can ram them together.”
Sustainability is also close to Swinson’s heart. Her wallpapers and fabrics are screen-printed in Melbourne and use non-toxic certified inks on organic papers and cotton-base cloths. “I want everything to be very ethical and environmental, and finding the right materials and the right screen-printer was actually harder than I thought,” she says. Native Swinson wallpaper and fabric is currently made to order for the trade, but there are plans to branch out into high-end Sydney retailers and add finished products such as cushions. “There has also been talk of window coverings and the fabric is suitable for upholstery,” Swinson says. Sheers are planned for summer and new designs will focus on delicate wax and flower flannels. “It’s pretty limitless,” she admits. “I have been really fortunate. So far, so good.”
clockwise from top left: Native Swinson designs include ‘Banksia’ (front, right). Kate Swinson at her Bondi studio in Sydney. Biro drawings for ‘Teeny, Tiny Native Birds in a Large Flock’ typify the start of the process.