Bringing it all back home

Bill Wallsgrove has worked on projects with big
business and major galleries, but combining
emerging talent and our rich art heritage gave him the most satisfaction

It is an undeniable truth that some of the smaller bespoke projects can give designers the most pride and satisfaction and lead to some surprising new opportunities.

We need large projects, with longevity and continuous income, to maintain our businesses, but some of the passion invested in one-off design projects can provide greater rewards later on – I will try to illustrate my point.

It all started with a can of paint. Some years ago I was running a creative brainstorm for Big Idea – then a client – against a brief to create an own-label decorative range for Kingfisher/B&Q to appeal to a more female and younger adult audience (this brief continues to this day). We had already had a great deal of success with three previous new branded paint ranges.

We wanted to create a brand that was about redefining personal space and not about traditional housing stock – cities in the UK were going through an energetic phase of designer lofts and imaginative building projects. We knew B&Q could not communicate this as a standalone brand, so we sought inspiration from galleries and architecture. We were all big fans of Tate Modern – the transformation of London’s Bankside power station into a truly iconic gallery was the most amazing property conversion.

The Tate brand licence seemed a compelling idea and within weeks we had brokered the deal between the very motivated Tate and B&Q commercial teams. We created four highly individual paint colour palettes for each Tate gallery and an innovative and influential wallpaper range designed by Judith Townley. We took this to market very quickly and it remains one of my favourite brand and product concepts to this day.

One thing leads to another and we still take creative ideas for products and services to the Tate. Brand licensing and the brokerage involved has now become a core area of our expertise.

Our gallery credentials have helped us win a project with the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (with our Russian partner TNC) and we continue to create international retail decorative ranges. However, a most recent spin-off has been one of the most satisfying. A Tate client left to join the management team at the National Trust property Waddesdon Manor. I went to visit her and was amazed by the magnificent setting, and the house itself and its grounds.

The manor was built in 1880 by Ferdinand de Rothschild to entertain parties of weekend guests and house his extraordinary art collection.

It is a huge idiosyncratic French Renaissance-style chateau situated right in the heart of Buckinghamshire and I found it truly inspiring. It is furnished with beautiful French furniture and porcelain, and its luxurious interiors are enhanced by wonderful wallpapers, textiles and English portraits.

We started projects for the manor and Rothschild wines, going back to authenticity and source material from historic archives, is very on-trend. But the sumptuous interiors and objects within made me believe there was an additional retail product opportunity.

Last year, I introduced the Waddesdon Manor team to Jeremy Myerson at the Royal College of Art. We all knew the house and collection would be a wonderfully rich source of research material for the students on the Helen Hamlyn Centre programme. More than 80 students and staff visited the house last November – from the ceramics, glass, goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery departments.

As we expected, the students were indeed inspired and submitted design proposals in February. The work was of an exceptional standard and ten winners were eventually chosen – their work has been manufactured to go on sale at Waddesdon later this month.

I can’t wait to buy some of these wonderful pieces – I am very proud of this innovative venture and the collaboration between future creative talent and an exquisite art heritage.


• Taking on cultural projects, outside the bounds of your usual commercial branding portfolio, enhances your reputation and broadens your portfolio
• Having such a variety of projects creates a new interest to add to your new-business pitch
• Doing extra-curricular work, particularly for charities or colleges, engenders a feel-good factor for you and your team
• It can open up new creative opportunities for your consultancy. You meet new people who may become clients in other spheres
• Dealing with cultural institutions can add a new dimension to existing clients’ view of what design can achieve
• Cultural projects can give freer range for creative expression, which helps to flex the design muscles of the team
• Working on projects with students can be as inspiring to consultancy teams as the opportunity for real work is to students
• You never know where the students you work with might end up – they might eventually become your clients

Bill Wallsgrove is creative director of Big Idea Brand Management

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