Polly Dickens is a well-known figure on the London design scene. Famous for her brilliant eye, she has travelled the world as a buyer for retailers including Anthropologie, Liberty and The Conran Shop. Now Creative Director at Habitat, she has gone full circle back to her Conran roots charting the unexpected colour combos, textures and patterns that embody Habitat's genre-hopping, global mix.


Tell us about your new collection for Habitat.
We’ve looked at a range of ideas for AW15 from the 1980s Memphis design movement to mid-century America, 1950s Scandinavia and modern-day Africa. Our designers have translated these ideas into a collection that ticks lots of boxes with interesting use of materials, strong shapes and bright colours. My favourite is the new 'Astrid' light designed by Matthew Long, which was inspired by DNA molecules for a simple but elegant, graphic lighting concept. His 'Hawkins' armchair is also a real statement combining an angular shape with chrome frames and mixed fabric textures (see our picks from the Habitat AW15 collection here).

ABOVE RIGHT: 'Hawkins' armchair by Matthew Long in green wool and grey velvet, £995, Habitat
BELOW: 'Astrid' lights by Matthew Long, from £70, Habitat

What aspect of the range do you love the most?
That it’s brave and makes a statement. I always admired Habitat for creating designs that have a distinct personality – designs that aren’t afraid to challenge conventions and push people into looking at home furnishings in a different way. With this collection I really feel that we’ve done that again, creating statement designs that some will love and some will hate but that encourage people to be passionate and engage with design. Nobody else is doing that on the high street but it’s where Habitat will always be.

How would you sum up your style as a designer?
I’m not a designer as such but more of an editor – putting together designs and products for the Habitat collection and building the creative identity of the brand. For me, the provenance of a product is paramount and I’ve worked to champion ‘the hand of the maker’ at Habitat. You’ll notice, especially with our ceramics, textiles and accessories, that we’ve made sure you can see where a person has worked on a product – from brush strokes to imperfect shapes.

What are your influences?
I find that experience is my biggest influence – experiences from travels, exhibitions, trade fairs, theatre – the list goes on. I am continually inspired by people, places and things around me. These are constantly changing and translate into the collection in some shape or form. This year, the incredible Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Venice Guggenheim was the inspiration point for our Christmas 2016 collection, which we are really excited to launch.

BELOW: 'Mural' (1943) by Jackson Pollock is on show at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, until 16 November 2015

Who or what is exciting you in design right now?
UK designer Aaron Probyn (left). We worked with him on a retrospective project for Habitat’s 50th birthday back in 2014 and I’m working with him again on a new collection for SS16. The way he adapts across product categories using different mediums is fascinating.

ABOVE: 'Poise', 'Pendry' and 'Marlowe' table lamps for Habitat by Aaron Probyn, 2014
BELOW RIGHT: Jean Prouvé's 'Fauteuil Direction Pivotant' office chair by G–Star RAW for Vitra

What’s next for you?
We’ve just finished putting together our SS16 collection so it’s on to AW16. I’m off on a big buying trip to the Far East taking in Hong Kong, China and Thailand. We’ve worked with suppliers out there for a number of years and on this trip we’ll be looking at accessories from new ceramicists' studios, working on Christmas decoration designs and also new porcelain lighting in China.   

Who are your design heroes?
Jean Prouvé is one. I love his work and am fortunate enough to have collected several of his pieces for Vitra over the years.

Where’s on your travel wish list?
I’m a bit of a travel junkie. My job has meant I’ve been lucky enough to cover most corners of the globe but the one place I want to spend more time is Japan. It is such a diverse country that I have only been able to glimpse it on business trips so would love to have more time to explore. I’m also a passionate cook, so anywhere that has a good food market is on the list too. 

Is there anything you wish you had designed?
Anything from Korean-born, Brooklyn-based Jennie Jieun Lee’s ceramics collection.

ABOVE: The colourful painterly ceramic world of Jennie Jieun Lee

If you weren't a creative director, what might you have been?
At university I was heavily involved with student theatre, designing and making costumes for lots of different productions. I loved it and was thinking of extending my degree into theatre design.

What’s your social media of choice?
I’m quite an ‘unsocial’ media type, however I love photography and my iPhone’s memory is always full of all the pictures I take, so I’d have to be on Instagram.

Habitat's Autumn/Winter collection is available from September 2015


Pia Benham, Head of Fabric and Design at Heal's. The luscious background is the 'Trees' print by Cressida Bell

Pia Benham, Head of Fabric and Design at Heal's. The luscious background is the 'Trees' print by Cressida Bell

London retailer Heal’s has unveiled 1810, its first fabric collection since the 1970s. Featuring upcoming designers and stellar names such as Zandra Rhodes, the exclusive textiles and accessories line is a celebratory mix of archive and new. Pattern pageant queen Pia Benham tells us more.


How did the collection come about?
Heal’s style has always been about innovation and design, but we also have a 200-plus-year history. With this new collection, named after the year the store was founded in 1810, we went back to our Bloomsbury roots. We wanted to be inspired by how things were originally done: working with designers to their own aesthetic, rather than a Heal’s house style. The aim was to inject fun and excitement into our fabrics once again, by working with established as well as emerging talents – in the same way we did in the 1950s and 1960s.

What makes the patterns relevant now?
The current is always influenced by what’s gone before. Capturing the best bits of the past while bringing them up to date, our designs feature beautiful painterly details alongside forward-looking bold and colourful pattern. Heal's 1810 fabrics can be used for soft furnishings or light upholstery, plus we've applied some of the patterns to coordinating cushions, aprons, tea towels, oven gloves, notebooks and journals.

What do you think makes an iconic pattern?
For me, great colour is key – things that are eye-catching and draw you in. Although a pattern may have its influences, it needs to demonstrate something unique that makes it stand out.

Zandra Rhodes' 'Top Brass 2' is based on a print she first created for Heal's in 1963 while studying at the Royal College of Art

Zandra Rhodes' 'Top Brass 2' is based on a print she first created for Heal's in 1963 while studying at the Royal College of Art

              A coaster in the 'Herbarium' print by  Hvass & Hannibal

              A coaster in the 'Herbarium' print by Hvass & Hannibal

How did your passion for
textiles begin?

I grew up in Africa, which definitely made its mark. Also, my mother worked for Liberty in the 60s, so that was always a strong influence.

Which design aesthetic has influenced you most?
I like a mix of histories. While I admire the restraint and femininity of Georgian architecture, I also love contemporary Italian design by the likes of Moroso and Paola Navone, and Sweden's Svenskt Tenn. Mid-century Scandinavian designers are a great influence for me.

How would you describe your style?
I love symmetry and clean spaces that allow for a use of pattern and colour. My home is neutral but I have hundreds of pictures and many collections of things that stand out against the simple scheme.

How do you find inspiration?
I’m not particular in that I like one thing. It could be the incredibly theatrical designs of Leon Bakst through to Schiaparelli or Lanvin. I’m widely influenced but it very much comes back to pattern and colour. It’s almost down to the time of year. I’m seasonal in that way.

What social media do you use most?
I could quite happily lose myself on Pinterest for a couple of hours. It’s so visual, plus I have a real curiosity about other places and cultures. I like the joy of clicking on a picture and finding the source. You start researching one idea and before you know it you have a whole other thing going on.

Is there one interior that you really admire and wish you had designed?
James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room, where his art is stylized into these amazing designs. Originally part of a London dining room, it's now on display in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington's Smithsonian. If there was one thing I could have designed, it would probably have been that.

'Tea Time' fabric by the late Diana Bloomfield
An apron made from 'Top Brass 2' by Zandra Rhodes  zandrarhodes.com
'Peacock Flower Killary' fabric by Malika Favre  malikafavre.com

Cushion covered in 'Trees' print by Cressida Bell  cressidabell.com
'Kenny's Stripe' fabric by Paul Vogel  paulvogel.com
'Lady Jane' fabric by Petra Borner  petraborner.com

Heal's 1810 collection is on sale nowFor more on the design inspiration behind the range, check out the video below