Take a glimpse into cre­ative life on the Devon coast with the man be­hind con­tem­po­rary home­ware brand Bert & Buoy

Mollie Makes - - Contents - Words: CO­LETTE EARLEY Pho­to­graphs: KASIA FISZER

Meet home­ware de­signer Bert Fowler

De­signer and il­lus­tra­tor Bert Fowler set up his nau­ti­cal home­ware brand, Bert & Buoy, in the sum­mer of 2015. Hav­ing al­ways found in­spi­ra­tion in his sur­round­ings, Bert spent his child­hood in the Mid­lands, climb­ing hills and fish­ing in lo­cal rivers.

Af­ter a num­ber of years, the love of a woman – his now wife – brought Bert to Devon, where he dis­cov­ered an­other love in the form of the coastal sur­round­ings. “The rare light, vivid colours, preva­lent wildlife and iconic places o er an un­ri­valled way of life.”

In­spired by his new home, Bert de­cided to de­sign a sea­side-themed home­ware range, Bert & Buoy, for which he pro­duced the brand­ing and first col­lec­tion in just six weeks, launch­ing with a pop-up at Dart­mouth Royal Re­gatta. It was a huge suc­cess and at­tracted in­ter­est from in­te­rior de­sign­ers and home­ware buyers want­ing to take home a slice of the Bri­tish coast.

We chat­ted with Bert about his won­der­ful life in the South West, and how he made his life­long dream of be­com­ing a de­signer a re­al­ity. De­scribe your style in a few words. The mod­ern clas­sic. Nau­ti­cal, but not as you know it.

What’s your typ­i­cal work­ing day like? I walk to my stu­dio along the stun­ning Devon coast – the best com­mute in the world. With a nice cuppa in hand and mu­sic fill­ing the room, I’ll catch up with the stu­dio team, pick and wrap cus­tomer de­liv­er­ies, re­spond to part­ner, me­dia and cus­tomer re­quests and then spend the bulk of my day do­ing some­thing cre­ative. It’s fair to say I’m a de­sign-aholic – a good idea takes sweat and some­times tears to get right and for me to be happy with it.

When did you first get into de­sign? I’ve al­ways been in­flu­enced by mid-cen­tury style – the sim­ple yet bold ap­proaches to de­sign. At univer­sity, I dis­cov­ered a love for film ti­tle art­work, as strange as that might sound, es­pe­cially those made by one of my de­sign icons, Saul Bass. Soon af­ter leav­ing univer­sity, I set up a cre­ative agency work­ing as a de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor for fes­ti­vals, mu­sic, mu­se­ums, gal­leries, the­atre and cinema across the UK. My work was recog­nised as mod­ern twists on clas­sic styles, bold com­po­si­tions and dis­tinc­tive

il­lus­tra­tion. This led me down a path to cre­ate Bert & Buoy.

How did you learn and hone your craft? Prac­tice makes per­fect. I needed time to build my con­fi­dence and it wasn’t un­til I hit 25 that I felt like, ac­tu­ally, I’m pretty good at this and now want to re­ally push my­self out there as a pro­fes­sional.

Share a bit about your cre­ative process. I’m for­tu­nate to have an amaz­ing stu­dio space by the sea in Tor­bay – the in­spi­ra­tion is lit­er­ally 360 . I start a new de­sign at the draw­ing board with a mug of tea. My process is to sketch po­ten­tial ideas and com­po­si­tions be­fore think­ing through how it might work as art on ce­ram­ics or tex­tiles. Once I com­mit to a de­sign, it’s the hard slog of re­fine­ment, re­fine­ment, re­fine­ment be­fore out­putting the fi­nal ver­sion.

Where does your love of all things nau­ti­cal come from? The place I call home. We live and breathe the nau­ti­cal life­style here in South Devon.

“I have an amaz­ing stu­dio space by the sea in Tor­bay – the in­spi­ra­tion is 360 .”

For­get the clichés, the Bert & Buoy col­lec­tion is an au­then­tic slice of the Bri­tish coast to take home and trea­sure.

Why did you choose home­ware? Be­cause home is at the heart of life and we all need good de­sign in our lives. To be able to have my de­signs in peo­ple’s homes makes me im­mensely happy.

How do you de­cide on de­sign styles? Trial and er­ror. I en­joy ex­per­i­ment­ing with my de­signs and see­ing if they will be­come a tes­sel­lat­ing sur­face pat­tern or a sin­gu­lar bold de­sign. I love work­ing with black line work and how ‘sim­ple’ can be so beau­ti­ful, but I also love a slab of colour, es­pe­cially o set­ting this colour in­side line work.

Tell us about your pro­duc­tion process. For the ce­ram­ics, it was very much a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Keith Brymer Jones. We met at a trade show and Keith in­vited me to his stu­dio. He loved my de­signs and had this idea about the mugs be­ing like a beach peb­ble – the smooth shape and the unglazed base. Keith threw the shape and I started the de­signs, wrap­ping bold com­po­si­tions around the mug.

What tools couldn’t you live with­out? The Rotring Me­chan­i­cal Pen­cil 800/0.7mm to be pre­cise – this is one

su­per-cool pen­cil. Also, a trac­ing pa­per pad and some Sharpies – I take these items ev­ery­where. I’ve taught my­self to not be pre­cious over us­ing just sketch­books and in­stead work freely across sheets of trac­ing pa­per that can be pulled out and pinned up. It gives you the free­dom to make mis­takes, which is the process of re­fine­ment and hap­pi­ness.

How do you bal­ance hav­ing a busy busi­ness with hav­ing a per­sonal life? When I’m home, I awake to ut­ter, joy­ful chaos each day; singing, laugh­ing, skip­ping and play­ing. I’ve two kids un­der four, you see. They keep me grounded and re­mind me to step away from my stu­dio to en­joy life by the sea to­gether.

Have there been any strug­gles in get­ting your de­sign busi­ness o the ground? Time. Some­times it feels like there’s so much to do, and that 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough to fit ev­ery­thing in. I’ve had to learn to let go and that it will all hap­pen… just one day at a time.

“Home is at the heart of life and we all need good de­sign in our lives.”

Old hold Bert’s printed wall art, with Fishy Line-up be­ing one of his sig­na­ture pat­terns. Bert al­ways 01 02 handy and loves tak­ing it out and about with him. Do you ever feel cre­atively stunted? It hasn’t hap­pened yet. If any­thing, I’ve got too many ideas. Too many scraps of pa­per with sketches, too many de­signs burst­ing for a lease of life in the Bert & Buoy col­lec­tion. I do find a lit­tle pres­sure help­ful though, of­ten a dead­line or goal will make me fo­cus. Also the clas­sic line of step­ping away from your usual sur­round­ings I find al­ways helps – a sketch­book on the go, away from the stu­dio, is su­per help­ful.

What’s the most im­por­tant busi­ness les­son you’ve learnt? Keep plug­ging away and put your­self out there. It’s so true that it’s 1% in­spi­ra­tion and 99% blood, sweat and tears!

Can you share what you’re work­ing on? I’m de­vel­op­ing the ce­ram­ics and kitchen range with Keith Brymer Jones – us­ing the ex­ist­ing de­signs and a few new­bies too. There’s a new in­ter­lock­ing de­sign I’ve called Mighty Mack­erel that I’m very ex­cited about – I can al­ready see it on a plate and a serv­ing board. I’m also work­ing on a range of new tex­tiles and hand-screen printed and foiled wall art.

Fi­nally, what’s the best piece of cre­ative ad­vice you’ve been given? Keep it sim­ple and trust your judge­ment.

map­ping out

01 The huge chalk­board in the stu­dio is great for colour and de­sign ideas. Bert’s col­lec­tion of bold nau­ti­cal 01 02

printed fea­ture his il­lus­tra­tions screen

cush­ions all are printed and made in the UK. Hand greet­ing cards. and 03 ‘Ship Ahoy’ 03


1950’s Nike Hy­draulics Bert & Buoy lamp­shades new coast­ers

Bert’s draw­ing board, where he sketches his ideas. The Oys­ter­catcher de­sign, plus some new Buoy’s that will be avail­able soon. A peek of Bert & in pro­duc­tion. 01 01 02 03 03


har­bour­side stu­dio, Dart­mouth

01 Ship­shape shelves in Bert’s Devon 01 dis­play­ing some of his lat­est prod­ucts. Bert & Buoy’s 02

il­lus­tra­tion Keith Brymer Jones

with as a large teatowel. The mug range that Bert pro­duced 03 03 for MAKE In­ter­na­tional.




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