Tent 2010 favourite, Zoe Murphy, lives by the motto ‘love what belongs to you.’ Inspired by the fading glory of her seaside hometown Margate; she lovingly breathes new life into discarded mid-century furniture and vintage textiles – creating colourful products you’ll want to keep forever.
Zoe Murphy Dreamland drawers
Despite being a very busy lady after another successful year at Tent; Zoe very kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me.
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
I love colour. I am inherently drawn to it and always seem to pick the most bright or punchy coloured of any option. Food, interiors, design, clothing, it’s always bright or bold.
Zoe Murphy Limited Edition bedside table
What inspires you about your hometown of Margate?
I love the nostalgia of the town; it’s just so retro and often when it doesn’t mean to be. But it is still quite run down too, and I like that as well. You don’t have a polished finish, it’s second-hand and needs love and attention – perfect for the ethos of my work!
Zoe Murphy Margate Recycled Silk Cushion
Why do you chose to refurbish mid-century furniture specifically?
The clean, un-fussy lines of furniture from that era are perfect for my designs as they are quite bright and detailed. Trying to compete with beautiful carving and attention grabbing forms would just be too much for the eye. Also, everything from that era seems to be the last in the line of well made furniture. Cabinet making was still a strong trade and you find that pieces were screwed and dovetailed together properly. That makes for an easy de-construction and re-construction.
Zoe Murphy Striped Margate coffee table
Describe your design process; from how you initially generate ideas, right through to the finished product.
Ideas come from everywhere, but particularly colour. I’ll often see an appealing shop front or amusement arcade and come away with a colour scheme. This is all engineered into designs which are screen printed onto the stripped and prepared furniture before a final polish. The last thing I do is drop in the fabric or printed drawer linings for the finishing touch.
Zoe Murphy Margate recycled bedside drawers
Tell me about the last couple of years – it must have been quite a roller-coaster ride!
The last couple of years have been very, very busy! I graduated expecting to just get a job in design, but my graduate show proved so popular that orders kept coming in. Before I knew it; it had been three months and I was having to register as self-employed. By the time I was at Tent in the Talentzone section, Liberty had picked up on the work and wanted to stock some of the smaller pieces. Interest has just grown and grown. I am always trying to keep things interesting for myself and for followers by undertaking fun projects and collaborations as a way of keeping everything fresh.
Zoe Murphy Margate recycled silk cushion
What is it about ‘up-cycling’ that appeals to you?
I have always been concerned about waste, and feel very responsible for calling things into existence. Working with recycled materials eases my conscience a little; knowing that I am extending the product life cycles. Using second-hand also means that you get a wonderful history with each piece, and provides great diversity in my work. The sourcing side of things remains a challenge, but finding little pieces of social history like old coins and retro drawer liners makes it all worthwhile. I think I like the challenge; tackling the issue of having to source second-hand feels like I might be making a difference, and hopefully encourages others to so as well.
Zoe Murphy Limited Edition drawers
What are your plans for the future?
I have lots of plans for the next year. I would definitely like to team up with other designers for new pieces. I hope to be growing the business a little space wise, and taking on a further assistant. I’m also designing a new range of cushions in time for christmas which will be launched in the next few months. All very exciting stuff! Generally, I would like to keep making a difference to the world of recycled furniture.
Zoe Murphy Windbreaker side table
Describe a good day and a bad day in the life of Zoe Murphy
A good day is one that starts early (with a bacon sandwich!) as I love morning work. It would be a full day in the studio printing and making. Sewing days are particularly fun for me as I don’t get to do that much. Another highlight of my job is getting to trawl around junk shops for materials and visiting car boot fairs on summer Sundays.
There aren’t many days in my job that I don’t enjoy. Bad days are those inevitable ‘off’ days that every designer or maker has. The little genie of bad luck will visit and for some reason things take longer, go wrong, smudge, break, fail… on days like that you just have to keep working through – persistence makes them productive.
Zoe Murphy Margate Recycled Silk cushions
What advice would you give to people just starting out in design?
Firstly to be aware of how hard it is to keep a creative business running, it takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm to not only keep up with admin and organisation, but also to make the goods as well. If your product is you and the designs you make, then it is incredibly important to keep yourself happy and inspired otherwise it will show in your work – in a way that it wouldn’t if you were selling other people’s pieces. I would also recommend working as smartly as you can. When I first started out I believed that hard work and long hours would be enough, but as there is always so much to do and so few hours in the day. You should always make sure you are making brilliant use of your time and materials. This includes not over organising or spending too long preparing for and generating business without actually creating, as ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.
So stay in love with what you do, and try to think cleverly about your time – it is very valuable.
Further reading for the especially geeky: