Wonderful mural wallpaper and whatnot by Emma Hayes

Step one on the road to running Emma Hayes Textiles saw its talented founder graduating from Unitec with a Bachelor of Design majoring in visual communications, before working in graphic design and advertising in Aotearoa and the UK. On returning home from overseas, she was given the chance to design fabric for fashion label Cybèle and later other brands, which spurred a love of seeing a design come to life on a tactile surface. Interiors seemed like the next natural step. She set up her own studio in 2011, began creating art prints, cushions and silk throws, and eventually placed her main focus on wallcoverings.

So Emma, how long did it take for you to find your groove in the business? I started incrementally while managing my young family with my partner Johnny [Bruce]. This allowed time for the brand to grow and product to get a foothold in the market. The business is constantly evolving and we’re learning every day. Today, my working life is a wonderful combination of so many things I love: paint, print, paper, colour, textiles, interiors…

How does the process play out from collection to collection? We release designs throughout the year, so atany one time there will be pieces at various stages, from development to production. As I’ve built up a larger body of work, I find one idea evolves from the next, and I usually have several concepts or working drawings on the go at once. I like experimenting and asking “What if…?”.
Once I have something working well, it takes time to refine. The paper we work with is often as important as the patterns themselves in enhancing or communicating the finish we want to convey.
I’m sure my team gets frustrated at the mess I make in the studio! But I like to have pieces in progress around me and accessible. Sometimes I need to mull over an idea, colour or form before I’m ready to move forward with it.
A final stage is photographing our pieces in situ, and we’ve been lucky enough to work with homestyle’s art director Juliette Wanty many times in producing those images. I love her interpretations of our work and collaborating creatively with her.

ABOVE  To create her beautiful painterly effects, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland-based Emma starts with mark-making explorations of different mediums (including dye, paint and ink) and textures. “I’m drawn to gentle transitions of colour, from light to dark and concentrated to sparse, and I often build layers of colour,” she says. “My designs start by hand, then the digital process allows me to refine scale, create more than one colourway of a design, and prepare the artwork for its final production method.”

How do you land on the themes for your collections? The New Zealand landscape is one of my primary inspirations, which wasn’t intentional initially but came through subconsciously and is now is an important cornerstone of our designs. I also like being in touch with my art-school roots — mark-making, artisan makers, inspirational artists and the conceptual side of my art practice.

Is there much testing required to work out whether a design will work at scale? I do a lot of testing. If I’m working with a design on screen, it can be very deceptive and different to how you might experience it in real life. Room types, ceiling heights and other elements such as doors, mirrors and furniture also affect the scale of a design and how it’ll work.
I like the concept of the abstract expressionists who wanted to immerse the viewer in their art so it was something to be experienced, not just seen. If we’re applying this art to our walls, it no longer exists within the confines of a frame, and in an interior it can really affect the mood in a room, so I often ask myself how I want people to feel when they walk past or live with this art.

ABOVE How does Emma knows when a new design is ‘finished’ or ‘right’? “When it’s right, it feels harmonious and everything falls into place,” she says. “If I look at a finished piece in retrospect or go through my journals, I often find it links back to an idea I explored previously but didn’t fully realise and forgot about. The subconscious is a powerful thing!”

It must be a thrill to see your work in some amazing interiors… I’m so grateful for the projects we’ve had the opportunity to be part of. In terms of residential interiors, I think the most memorable has been seeing our wallpapers installed in high-end private homes throughout North America, in big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami.
We’ve also been involved in some incredible commercial projects, like the Louis Vuitton retail spaces in Auckland and Melbourne, and more recently the Rosewood hotel in Doha, Qatar. One of my early commercial sales was to a beauty store in New York. With three small babies, I hadn’t ventured far from my house in many months, and here was my work all the way across the world.

Back home, how does a regular day in the studio go for you? No two days are the same. A lot of energy goes into the day-to-day running of the business, so I’ve had to learn to carve out set times for product development and being creative in the studio, but I’m always adjusting my processes and priorities.

How do you stay motivated and inspired? With the basics: time with my family, exercise, fresh air, nature. Heading outside always helps me to recharge. When I’m not working, you can find me exploring in the Waitākere Ranges, wandering along west coast beaches, escaping to the central South Island or beside a sports field with my three boys.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Larnie Nicolson

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