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Editorial blog

Linda Barker - upcycler, survivor and craft reviver

19 May 2017
By Mark Hayhurst

Hot off our screens with her latest home improvement show, The Home Game, TV presenter and interior designer, Linda Barker, has also been playing an important part off-screen in the booming contemporary craft revival.

She talks to Angela Sara West about her craft trend predictions, her latest crafting and upcycling projects, her top tips for retailers and how she is encouraging people to rekindle old craft skills so they’re not forgotten.

A craft lover since childhood, Linda has had a lifelong love of creativity. Her mother taught her and her siblings to knit and sew, and she also caught the decorating bug at an early age.

“I would make clothes and soft toys to sell at school. I did lots of drawing, from my own photographs and postcards, along with drawing from real life, particularly outdoors in the summer. Some of my drawings were framed and others consumed in the maelstrom of a rambling farmhouse occupied by five kids!”

She went on to study Fine Arts at the Surrey Institute of Art & Design. “I wanted to be successful at things that made me happy, which was being creative and creating a beautiful home. I have a strong artistic ability and absolutely love being challenged and taken out of my comfort zone.”

The interior designer first burst onto our TV screens in the BBC’s landmark home improvement programme, Changing Rooms, and went on to star in a string of highly successful shows, including House Invaders and 60
Minute Makeover.

Behind the camera, Linda is a huge fan of both traditional and contemporary crafts and says sewing gives her a sense of freedom and joy, whether making clothes or creating beautiful accessories for the home.

“I love the challenge of copying a great dress from Vogue magazine or a ‘too expensive’ boutique, usually using soft-structured summer linens or fine-woven cotton or silk, and I’ve always loved a great haberdashery. Recent projects include linen slip dresses with handy side pockets; I’m not a great bag carrier, so I love them!”

As a design doyenne keen on keeping up with all the latest trends, what’s hot right now and which looks, styles and colours does she see being big this summer?

“Charcoal timber/ brass/marble, mosaic/blush pinks are my predictions for 2017.”

The colours on her palette? “I love the strong trend for dark colours, particularly charcoal black, dark navy blue and an inky bottle green. I’m very addicted to Annie Sloan’s ‘graphite’ (almost black) chalk paint with her neutral or black waxes. Her paint system transforms furniture effortlessly and the end results always look like you’ve spent a fortune.”

She says the trend for using natural materials is still strong. “But I think things are more sophisticated than the shabby chic aesthetic of a few years ago. There’s a lot of design inspiration from Denmark and Belgium in particular, working with reclaimed timber (especially pallets) and old floorboards. Clever retailers are using reclaimed materials that look noticeably high-end, and not bohemian scruffy. Check out Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek’s beautiful floorboard tables, for instance. Gorgeous, covetable pieces that would look sophisticated in any setting.”

Pottery is strong this year and Linda reveals she, too, loves a good throw down. “My sister is a professional potter and, although it’s not my strongest suit, I love it when we have time together in her studio. I naturally love producing tableware (I’m a homemaker, after all!). I like to use objects that have a sense of the maker, even if it’s a just a humble plate or teacup. We’re planning to make everyday eating bowls that will hold a decent porridge breakfast, a generous ramen soup or a healthy Buddha-bowl supper.”

There’s a modern crafting technique that Linda’s itching to try… “I fully intend to start experimenting with the real carbonising of furniture, working with a blowtorch and a wire brush, then protecting the end result with finishing waxes. I love this look right now.”

She has plenty of inspired ideas for wholesalers and retailers looking to make the most of the craft revival wave, and even get ahead of it. “I think window displays should invite real crafters in to do their own amazing things. If I had a big shop window, I’d book a free weekend ‘making’ session with a crack team of crafters. Put an embroidery sewing machine and heaps of charity shop clothes in the window with a sewing expert and invite those walking past to come and join in. Or, I’d clear a section of the shop floor into a long communal craft table for all to join in. It would be the best space ever to be in, wouldn’t it?!!

“Big retailers should lead the charge by running hourly tuition courses so passers-by can have a go. A kokedama expert, florist or paper crafter would have people flocking, I’m sure. Felt yourself a hair clip, sew a cute cami top or a pair of pyjama bottoms and the crowds will come. Just don’t be predictable; offer something that is vibrant and exciting.”

Linda also champions upcycling as a way to add style to the home and to encourage the re-use of pre-loved items. “There is enough ‘stuff’ in our world right now. Let’s repurpose what we have and not simply buy more.”

One of her favourite upscaling projects involved turning a beautiful birdcage into a bespoke lamp. “My cage light was literally a pavement find that I couldn’t walk past. It’s a parrot cage without a base, so I positioned a short branch inside the cage and perched fake-feathered birds on the twigs. An Edison light bulb was wired into the top and I placed the resulting pendant light as a bedside light in my spare bedroom. Everyone adores it when they come to stay.”

What exciting projects are in store for the nation’s favourite interior designer? “I’m looking to run creative workshops in Yorkshire and on board cruise ships later this year. And, of course, I’m always available for that crafting shop window!”

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