In the world of textiles and design, Amanda Floyd is a cupid of sorts. Her mission: to make fond partners of art and utility. Under her peppy eye, curtains need not be the glum servants of windows, blinds have no excuse to be yawningly ho-hum and wallpaper can lead far more than a shy, retiring life.
Amanda established Brown Street Bespoke Textiles and Design in 2007 to straddle the too-often estranged spheres of “high art” and craft and offer up an alternative to mass-produced textiles. From the front room of her Dunedin home, in the company of her faithful printing press, she creates textiles for clients seeking a spot of domestic design oomph. Hers is mainly a diet of curtains, blinds and wallpaper, though she has also turned her hand to pillowcases, cushions and hand-painted lampshades. Reviewing this inventory brings a reaction, however: “Not sure I want to be known as the soft furnishings queen!”
She needn’t worry. There’s nothing matronly about Amanda’s work. The collection of pre-loved aprons and other op shop-sourced textile treasures hanging in her studio has a decidedly retro lean. She’s a big fan of the vibrant patterns that jolted eyeballs in the 1960s and 70s. “At the time we thought they were quite tasteless but actually they were bold, clever statements.”
She also loves the clean geometry of early modernism and the opulent decorative energy of art deco.
Her urge to return textiles to the human hand puts Amanda in lofty company, like that of William Morris, 19th century champion of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the early 20th century Bloomsbury Omega Workshops. Like them, she believes in the power of bespoke products: “I hope people will view them a bit like an artwork and see something different each time.”
Textile design was an accidental path for Amanda. After graduating with a degree in fine arts from Canterbury University, where she specialised in printmaking, she looked likely to follow the path of “high art”. She taught at Westlake Girls High School in Auckland for six years, but by 2002 a love of craft was starting to infiltrate her art practice. In a trio of exhibitions at Campbell Grant Galleries in Christchurch, she set about blurring the boundaries between art, craft, design and fashion with a display of hand-printed wallpaper, thermal fabric and curtains. Not your usual gallery fare.
This pull towards craft owes much to her mum Jo, an ace weaver, whose prized loom had squatting rights in the family lounge. Jo sold her woven wares and Amanda went on to create and sell her own hand-painted textiles and clothes to friends while still at high school.
Her mum’s example also taught her that textile design could fit snugly around motherhood (Amanda and husband Noel have two young daughters). “Mum would start weaving when we left for school and finish when we got home,” says Amanda. “My practice is a lot like that.”
But there were other more personal factors prompting Amanda to abandon the art world track. She suffered a heart attack in 2006 (aged 38) while galloping towards an exhibition deadline: “It reinforced the idea that as a family we needed to get a better work-life balance. Before that my art practice was very much about making work specific to the size and form of the gallery space and having a conversation with a gallery audience. After my health scare I decided that every moment in my studio had to work for me and our family – both time wise and cost effectively.
“Having children, you have to weigh up your priorities and time. It’s such a luxury to make art; philosophically, I can’t justify putting lots of energy into the making of art, but I can justify making objects that people will actually buy and use.”
Guarding time for her family (and heart) dictates a more sedate professional pace, but Amanda feels this only helps to stimulate her creative juices: “I’ve come to the realisation that it’s a positive move to allow plenty of time to consult with clients and to think. I suspect it’s a bit like slow food – if you take the time to find the most appropriate materials and let the ideas brew, the results are more complex, considered and rewarding.”
To see more of Amanda’s work visit brownstreetbespoke.wordpress.com
Story: Claire Finlayson
Photographs: Sharron Bennett