Independent glass designer Emma Britton launched her own business in 2010 with an Enterprise grant for East Midland’s graduates. After completing a degree in printed textiles from Loughborough University and then working in the glass industry, she came up with the idea of applying pattern to glass for splashbacks, just like wallpaper and fabric, to create something completely fresh and different. Sara Walker finds out how it’s done.
SW: I think your designs are absolutely stunning – with such bold use of colour and pattern they’d be a great focal point for any kitchen. Can you talk me through how the process works, and how the design gets onto the glass? What’s the most difficult part of the process, and were there any pitfalls you didn’t realise in advance? For example, perhaps finding glass that was up to the job was difficult.
EB: Thank you, yes the collections combine very striking designs and then I bring in softer ones to suit different tastes and interiors but always within the collection concept. All my designs are hand-painted.
My background is in printed textiles and then I worked in the glass industry, which is where my USP comes from. I am actually a laminated glass designer. The designs are inside the glass which gives a depth to them, I think that’s why they are so popular. You can print onto glass but I think it looks a bit flat. Laminating glass is a low temperature process often specified by architects as a safety glass because the glass is stronger bonded together but you can encapsulate things inside hence my approach.
Laminating glass is a scientific process, it’s taken me a while to perfect it, but there are still challenges when working with new materials inside the glass, but as a small business I like to explore and experiment in a way that glass factories don’t have the time to do. I wish I’d tried harder at science and maths at school, so essential for running my business, but I always preferred art!
SW: I really like the fact that you’ve got some home textiles and glassware available in your designs, as it makes them more accessible to a wider audience. Presumably your splashbacks came first – how did the product range develop from there?
EB: Yes absolutely, I had this idea eight years ago to put floral patterns on glass and it was a completely new idea. Things developed from there. Early on, I realised that my customers loved my work but when they’d had their dream splashback installed they didn’t have any need for me again – apart from the ones with second homes and glass coffee table commissions!
Homewares gave me an opportunity to build a range, so that I don’t always have to find new customers. My interest is in glass splashbacks and a range built around decorative glass and the kitchen and bathroom. I’m not going to start doing cushions and lampshades as I like my specialism but being able to design for other brands has given me the opportunity to get my signature florals further afield.
SW: Which of your designs is your personal favourite, and which is your best seller?
That’s a hard question. I am proudest of my commissions, a lot of thought goes into them and I form close relationships with the customers but I couldn’t pick a favourite as I like them all for different reasons.
My best seller was ‘Watercolour in Grey’ from my Maple Collection and it still is really popular but since I launched GLASSHOUSE in the summer ‘Willow & Red Admiral’ is giving it a run for its money! I like that about design, when you create something you often have no idea whether it will be a best seller or a total flop!
SW: You mention in your bio that you’re inspired by ‘suburbia’, and your products do have a retro fifties feel. What particularly appeals about that period?
EB: I think it’s sub-conscious but I really like retro homewares like Mason Cache and Pyrex. The modern kitchens of the fifties painted in cool colours with formica tops are right up my street. Kitchens should be like the rest of the home, they don’t need to be sterile and bland.
SW: Let’s say I want to order a bespoke splashback. Could you take me through the process of what I’d need to do?
EB: Have a chat on the phone, talk about budget and then arrange for me to visit you or you come to my studio, look at samples together, talk about likes and dislikes. I then go away and put some design ideas together and then if you are happy we start the process. The process will definitely take at least eight weeks, dependent on how busy I am and if you’ve finished your kitchen or not!
For bespoke commissions I think it is so important to visit the space I am designing for. A decorative splashback is not a pattern on glass, it is a piece of fitted furniture that must work with everything else in the room. If you choose from one of my collections splashbacks take three weeks to make and are made to your sizes.
SW: What’s the hardest thing about running your own glass designer business?
EB: Time to develop new ranges and products. When you are self-employed you perform many different roles but the hard thing is working on development as I am often just working in the business. I have to carve out time to design new products in my schedule, I blocked out three weeks to design the GLASSHOUSE Collection for example.
Now the business has been established for a while I am all for paying people with skills to bring in their expertise and would recommend this to any small business, you can’t be good at everything, which is why I have a book keeper, photographer, PR and glass fitters whom I work with regularly.
Going forwards, I am super excited to be exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower Show in May 2019! I have also just launched a new Meadow design in my glassware range, which is available now.
To find out more about glass designer Emma Britton and her wonderful array of products, visit her website at www.emmabritton.net. Prices for splashbacks vary according to size and specification. Prices for homeware accessories start at £10.
Images: all images (c) Emma Britton 2018.3