Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas and happy new year

Interiors & Lifestyle Futures send their best wishes to to all our West Midlands companies, partners, colleagues and participants on the ILF Venture and Visioning programmes. Have a very Happy New Year. Our office reopens on Monday 5 January 2015.

Unlikely, we know!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Venture's Rosemarie Va Va vooms with her creations in London

Rosemarie James, who took part in our Venture start up programme last year, had her designer dresses wowing people on the catwalk in London.

The Fashion Designers and Craft Makers Young Designer Awards took place in November. VV by Rose's  designer outfits for larger busted women were showcased in the Emerging designer category.

"It was wonderful to see my designs on the catwalk at such a prestigious event," says Rosemarie. "I networked a lot and met many great designers including some from the USA."

Monday, 10 November 2014

Stax of ideas, Stax of effort

Stax Creations, alumni of our 2013-14 ILF Venture start up programme, go from strength to strength.

Most recently, the young team, which specialises in the design and build of large installations for retail, office and event spaces, achieved a major profile boost with their work for the Birmingham wing of TED the global ideas phenomenon.

Part of Stax Creations work for TEDxBrum

The theme at TEDxBrum event on November 8 was DIY and Stax whose own company ethos of 'do it yourself' dovetails so well with the TED philosophy, quickly created a distinctly visual stage set.

"We really wanted to do it," adds Nathaniel Hanna, Stax Creations managing director. "I'm a fan of the brand and it was a great opportunity to showcase what we can do."

The TEDxBrum project followed a busy summer and autumn for Stax, which included major builds for two festivals.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Sara Page - making a splash.

Surface designer Sara Page is a stalwart part of the Interiors & Lifestyle Futures community. She has recently teamed up with fellow ILF member GlassDomain to produce a kitchen glass splash back. The work will feature in online kitchen design magazine Utopia in January.

Sara with one of  her wild wine glass splash back designs
GlassDomain's visualisation of the wild wine kitchen splash back

And, if you are visiting Birmingham city centre, you will also notice that Sara features on posters as part of this year's Birmingham Made Me campaign, which runs on 19 November.

One of this year's Birmingham Made Me Expo posters 

If you cannot catch Sara at the Expo, make sure you check out her online website

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Venture workshop - David Clarke Critique

This week the ILF Venture workshop welcomed innovative  silversmith David Clarke.

David is also much in demand around the world as a teacher of design and creativity - in fact he had just returned from a three week stint in China.

He provided each of our Venture participant with a thorough critique of their business ideas (yes there were some tears!) and invaluable suggestions for improvements and opportunities.

"David gave me constructive criticism, showing me how and where I need to improve, " said clothing entrepreneur Lloyd Taylor.

David Clarke gets to the point
Around the table group discussion
(L-R) James Harris, Dawn-Marie Denton and Karim Kahn-Ali
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Friday, 17 October 2014

Visioning workshop Worcester

Interiors & Lifestyle Futures would like to thank all the companies that took part in our latest  workshop for the welcome they gave us and, more importantly, all the hard work they put into the two days! Thanks also to Natasha from Worcester CCC for the group photograph.

Adrian and Heather - AKH Vintage
Anneliese Appleby
Sarah Walker Artshades
Lisa and Andre -Blacktape
Gemma - Brown + Black Studio
Jenni Waugh Consulting
Sarah Millin Art

Visioning workshop Day 1

Visioning workshop Day 2

ILF team and participants

For more about  our Visioning workshops click here.
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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Next Visioning workshop - in Worcester

Following our very enjoyable two day Visioning workshop at Harper Adams with members of WIRE (Women in Rural Enterprise), the ILF team is taking its road show next to Worcester.

The workshop will take place at Worcester Cricket Club on Wednesday 8 October and Wednesday 15 October (days run from 9.45 am until 4.30 pm).

To book please contact Ruth Edwards on 0121 331 7922 or email

Members of WIRE and ILF at Harper Adams

About our workshops
If you are a creative West Midlands based small business or sole trader  wanting to take a fresh look at your future business direction, then this will be two days well spent.The workshop is free thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

You'll need to working broadly within the interiors and lifestyle sectors (furniture, furnishings, textiles,  interiors, ceramics, glass, jewellery, art or services that support these areas).

The two-day Visioning workshop  helps you
  • identify strengths, gaps and opportunities through our unique network wheel
  • take a look at your existing business and/or explore new ideas 
  • map your current business network, identifying positive and negative aspects
  • create an action timeline for implementing changes
  • discuss issues with and learn from other businesses
Penny Eccelston and Lyn Abraham at Workshop 16

They said
"I found the two days extremely useful, not least because the content helped me to reinforce that the action plan I am currently working with, which has been the result of my own research, evaluation and proactive nature, is on track." Maggie Hollinshead, Maggie's Studio. [workshop 16]

"There were also things to learn, not least by listening to others with different scenarios and their action plans, also responding to and taking on board different ideas for my business."

"It was great listening to others and their experience in business and how they go about finding opportunities," Maria Wigley, Textile Artist [workshop 10]

"What a wonderful, focused and inspiring day I had at the final session of the Visioning workshop in conjunction with WIRE." Gilly from Gilly Page Jewellery. [worshop 16]

"I have meet a group of very talented women and been mentored by great people from the Interiors and Lifestyle Futures team."

If you have any questions or would like to sign up for future workshops please telephone Ruth on 0121 3317922 or email  And, please pass on to any suitable contacts you think may like to attend a Visioning workshop. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Seven tips for brand authenticity

 Michael Beverland, Professor of Marketing at University of Bath, is an expert on the subject of brands. Here he provides Interiors & Lifestyle Futures companies with a brief exploration of the topic, including his seven steps to an authentic brand.

Why should brands be authentic?
The desire for the real, true and genuine (or authenticity) is a reoccurring theme in human social history. Individuals and groups seek to project their identity through various rituals, objects and practices. Historically, in Western societies, identity was found in notions of place, class, status, religion, and other social institutions (such as community groups, sports teams and so on). Although these institutions still matter, globalisation, immigration, and increased fragmentation have seen a decline in their role as shared identity markers (in fact many of these traditions more often than not alienate people).

In contrast, brands are both ubiquitous and open to all. As a result, consumers have begun to use brands as marketers of their desired identity. For example, I desire to be seen as creative. As a result, I adopt certain brands (such as Apple, Wacom, Chuck Taylor and Moleskine) to reflect this desired identity. Such a process is called self-authentication—or an activity that reveals the desired self. Since most people understand how these brands are positioned, my identity is reinforced socially through their use (sadly I am not in the least bit creative, so my desired identity is never achieved).

For marketers, this has many benefits. Leaving aside the obvious (such as ease of product placement and loyalty), research reveals that authentic brands attract and retain a higher proportion of high income consumers, enjoy high levels of word of mouth support, and are more likely to be purchased than brands positioned solely on functional performance. That is, authentic brands earn higher margins at less cost than their competitors.

How can brands be authentic?
Authenticity is hard to fake - in fact it is hard to create since ultimately consumers decide whether a brand is authentic or not. But, there has always been tension between the commerce and authenticity. The very self-interest inherent in commerce undermines the purity associated with authenticity. Artists or designers that overtly adopt commercial motives or practices often lose authenticity and eventually sales as they are viewed as selling out (Iggy Pop and Insurance anyone?). Despite these claims, many of the greatest artists in history have gained enduring commercial success, while the claims of authenticity made by European winemakers and other bearers of tradition often mask the reality of a very industrialised, commercially-driven operation. Brands it appears can be authentic, but to do so, they need to underplay their commercial motivations and marketing prowess.

Here are seven ways in which brands can achieve authenticity and endurance:

1. Tell Stories
Stories unite people because they seem true and brand-related stories are useful for connecting like-minded people.

2. Appear as Artisanal Amateurs
Take great pride in your work, but be humble about your skills when talking to consumers.

3. Stick to your roots
Authentic brands never ignore their past; instead they understand that their past is the one thing no one can copy.

4. Love the doing
If your staff love doing what they do, consumers will respond in kind, precisely because they themselves ultimately desire to follow their dreams.

5. Immerse yourself in your market
Firms can swear (hand on heart) that their products are derived from inspiration or feeling—a powerful marker of authenticity in an age when even so-called conviction politicians focus-group their ideas.

6. Contribute to something greater
The brand has been part of history in the making, and retains a powerful aura of authenticity.

7. Encourage cult-like devotion in staff
Behind every great brand lie great employees. Authentic brands go further than most by drawing a connection between the brand and real, everyday people. The lesson here is simple—in an age of mass production, putting a real face and story to your product provides a human connection to the brand.

Michael Beverland and his book 'Building Brand Authenticity'

To concludeThe key lesson from this article is that while your consumers ultimately give authenticity to you, brand managers also play a central part in creating authenticity. To do so, they must rethink many of their learned practices and habits, including the belief they know best, they are in control of the brand’s story, and staying on message is central to brand success. Instead, authenticity comes from being open to the new, focusing on substance and style, solving accepted trade-offs and immersing yourself in your consumers’ world. Consumers use brands to find meaning in their lives—are you prepared to keep it real?

For more about enhancing your brand’s authenticity, you can also check out Michael’s Building Brand Authenticity: 7 Habits of Iconic Brands at Amazon.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Right here, write now

At a recent Visioning workshop,  a designer-maker asked about writing press releases. This blog isn’t the place for a lengthy how-to -you'll find lots of detailed advice online (How to Write A Press Release for example)

 But, for a quick start here are my four basic tips*

  • Make sure you know exactly what story you want to tell. It is surprisingly easy to fall into the trap of loading your news with irrelevant details.
  • Aim for no more than 14 words in your opening sentence and tell everything concisely in your first paragraph – that’s all the editor may use. Make sure it answers these questions: Who, what, where when and how. And, why!
  • Check your spelling and grammar thoroughly – remember word processing spelling and grammar tools don’t think. They are weigh too dumb. See what I mean.
  • Top it off with a clear and attention-grabbing headline but watch out for unintended meanings -  such as ‘Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge’

* There's a rarely revealed tip. Forget the rules, type your story as it comes. Effective press releases aren’t written. Like all the best copy, they are rewritten.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Creative Industry Finance programme

For information:
 A programme "designed to assist creative enterprises in securing finance and investment to successfully develop and grow into sustainable businesses. We offer tailored business support with a focus on supporting applicants through the process of applying to a suitable lender for a business development loan."

"In order to be eligible to apply you need to fulfil the following criteria:

  • Minimum 18 months trading history
  • Registered/operating in England
  • Business activity falls within one or more of our creative industry classifiers"

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A designer, a maker and an artist walk into....

Furniture designer maker Armando Magnino attended an ILF Visioning workshop a few months ago. One exercise prompted some thoughts, which he explored on his Studio Sixteen blog. We thought it was well worth sharing here and thank Armando for permission to repost. (Latest Visioning workshop dates here)

I recently participated in a workshop organised by Interiors and Lifestyle Futures in Birmingham. One of the exercises asked us to discuss how we describe ourselves professionally. The facilitators shared a list they’ve been compiling from previous workshops: while the list was fairly long, it boiled down to combinations of designer, maker, artist, craftsperson. Within the context of the workshop, this exercise was little more than an icebreaker, but it resonated with me because, from the moment I started my business, I have been wondering about how I label my work and myself.

My standard answer is that I am a furniture designer maker. And I tend to say that I design and make bespoke furniture or fine furniture: I guess the first emphasises the uniqueness and customisation of my work, whereas the second hints more at the high level of technical skill in the making and the aesthetics of the pieces.

I have so far eschewed the term artist , when I haven’t actively rejected it. In fact when I was asked to write a profile piece for ArtSpace, the magazine of the LSA (Leamington Studio Artists) I titled it “Why I am not an artist”.

Joseph Campbell talks of true art as having the capacity to generate “aesthetic arrest”. As I understand it, what he means is that art can help us to “stop the world” (to borrow an expression from Carlos Castaneda), to interrupt our normal everyday perception of the world and open us to an experience of something “other”. Through the immanence of the artefact we can experience or at least glimpse the transcendent, the sublime, the transpersonal. I certainly cannot claim that quality for my work. But neither do many people that describe themselves as artists.

More down to earth, Alice Rawsthorn in “Hello World”, after a thorough discussion of the various features of art and design, concludes that the only identifiable and defining difference is in function. Design is about problem-solving. It has a practical application. Products that are designed have a use, art products do not. I agree with her reading, and in that sense I am not an artist. Yes, I want my work to be beautiful, original, intriguing but fundamentally useful.

And yet… When I make a commissioned piece I am indeed problem solving. I am designing and making something that is useful and needed. Usually when clients approach me to commission a piece, it’s because they haven’t found the solution to their problem. It might be that they need something that fits in an awkward space. Or that fulfils a particular function. Or it might be that the pieces they have found do not fit with the d├ęcor of the rest of the room…

But what about the speculative pieces? Something like the mirror and shelf combination that I call “This Thing of Darkness”. It is useful, yes, but the inspiration behind it was purely emotional and aesthetical. It started with the line from Shakespeare’s Tempest: “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”. It comes right at the end of the play: all the spells have been broken or released, the games are over. Prospero is describing, acknowledging and prescribing the new order. As part of this process he takes responsibility for Caliban, the misshapen, villainous creature (“this thing of darkness”) that has been doing his bidding.

This Thing of Darkness – English Oak

But watching the play with my wife, it struck us that we could give a psychological reading of that line. Over the years we have both worked with a personal development approach called “Shadowwork” based on the work of C. J. Jung. Jung talked of a Shadow we carry within our psyche. This Shadow is made up of the aspects of our personality that we choose to hide, deny and repress and from there it can affect our behaviour in ways that go against our conscious intentions. The work of therapy is then that of bringing these aspects into the light, to acknowledge them as part of us, in order to become a more whole, integrated person but also to strip the shadow of its power.

Reflecting on this reading of the line, it struck me how appropriate it would be as the title for a mirror. A symbolically magic mirror. One that reflects the parts of us that we do not want to see, our shadow, forcing us to face them and acknowledge them as “mine”.

As soon as I had that thought, I had a clear idea of what it could look like. It took me some time, sketching and playing with it to find the right proportions but also to convince myself that it would work. Ideas don’t usually come to me that quickly and easily. And of course it would have to be framed in a dark wood.

Does this make me an artist? After all the process was not about problem solving. In my mind, the functional aspects of the piece are somehow secondary to the psychological connotations and realisations that it carries for me. That might not be the case at all for the people that have bought the mirror. I’ll share this story with them, but they have simply bought it because it’s a beautiful piece that fits in their house and has a practical and decorative function (I imagine).

Having actually written it all down, now I wonder. Why is it so important to describe myself as just one thing? I know that as human beings we are much more complex than that. In the words of Walt Whitman “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Visit Armando's website here

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Venture start-up programme applications must be received by 15 August

Planning to set up your own West Midlands business? ILF Venture, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, can help with mentoring and development workshops.

Each week, experts will help you to focus your ideas, build business confidence and sharpen your entrepreneurial skills. You may also qualify for a bursary of up to £1,000, subject to funding conditions. 

Our programme is intensive and you will need to commit to a day each week from September 2014 to January 2015.

The business you plan to set up will need to fall within interiors and lifestyle sectors such as: furniture, furnishings, art, homewares, fashion, textiles, jewellery and giftware or related services.

You will need to be living in the West Midlands and to set your business up here. You must not yet be trading or registered as a business/self-employed before joining ILF Venture.

3 Day workshop October 2013

Introductory 3-day workshop: 23 – 25 September 2014
Weekly sessions start: 7 October 2014

Places are limited - we are looking for talented individuals with innovative ideas and a sense of design. If you are passionate about your idea, you should not miss this opportunity.

Application details
For application form & further information email: or phone: 0121 331 7922
Applications close: 15 August 2014
Interviews: 8 and 9 September 2014

  • Resident and eligible to work in the West Midlands
  • Planning to set up an interiors/lifestyle business in the region
  • Fully available for the four month programme in Birmingham
  • Not yet trading or registered as a business
  • Aged over 18

Here's what some of our recent participants said:

"A great team of experts to give you a boost up your own path. Every week when walking home we’d really feel that we’d learnt something," Nathaniel Hanna & Jake Lovell, Installation Specialists

"I had to change my career plans a few years ago. ILF not only helped me to plan the running of my own business but through them I also found part-time employment with one of the companies in the Interior & Lifestyle Futures network," Anna Peacock, Interior Designer

"Thanks to ILF my retirement dream came true 40 years early - kiln arrived!" Mpho Sekhonyana, Ceramicist

ILF Venture entrepreneurs March 2014

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Four by four. Basic design and planning principles from Interiors & Lifestyle Futures.

Four project level design management tips

  1. Always do your market research as part of the design process. The main reason for a design failing in the market place is not understanding customer requirements.
  2. The early stages of the design process are the best time for change . They don’t cost too much.
  3. Make sure you regularly review the design process against the design brief and specifications.
  4. Keep track of all improvements/changes to processes and technical performance identified in the regular reviews and final evaluation. This will be of major benefit to future projects.
Four general planning tips 
  1. Identify resource and equipment needs. For example, admin support, storage, technical information and external specialists.
  2. Set key dates for specific objectives and tasks including start and finish dates. Plan design activities, establish overall targets for the design team and monitor progress.
  3. Fix a project budget plan for all costs including any external funding elements.
  4. Have an effective system of management information for control purposes with good communications in place.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Meet our newest ILF businesses

The latest batch of entrepreneurs completing the Interiors & Lifestyle Venture start-up programme are pictured at Birmingham City University’s Parkside Building.

The group is setting up a range of design businesses that include specialist clothing, jewellery, ceramics, interior design and large scale build installers.

Anna Peacock who is setting up her own interior design business said that the ILF team had helped her turn her life around. "I had to change my career plans a few years ago. ILF not only helped me plan the running of my own business but through them I have also found part time employment with one of the companies of the Interior & Lifestyle Futures network."

The next phase of the ILF Venture programme begins in autumn 2014 and further details are available by emailing

Back: ILF's Kathryn Burns and Ruth Edwards
Row 2: Rosemary James (VV By Rose) Sid Edwards (Ripseam) Agnieszka Maksymiuk (
Row 3: Jake Lovell (Stax Creations) Anna Peacock (Anna B Pavone) Jasmine McKeever (Little Jasmine) Kay Taylor (Life of a Lemon)
Front : Nahida Mahood (Nahida Mahmood Designs) Mpho Sekhonyana (Hartjies)) Sahiba Kaur (Cityscapes) 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lord Heseltine visits the ILF stand during the official opening of the Parkside Building

While here for the official opening of Birmingham City University's Parkside Building Lord Micahel Heseltine visited the BIAD Trends stand and Interiors & Lifestyle Futures exhibition. Here he is checking checking out  the Cello chair by HF Contracts. Note the high end table by Glassdomain in the foreground.

Lord Heseltine tries out HF Contracts' Cello Chair. Table by Glassdomain
(c) Nick Robinson Photography

Lord Heseltine and ILF Project Director Kathryn Burns

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Monday, 24 February 2014

Great West Midlands products at an exhibition!

Interiors & Lifestyle Futures company products that wowed visitors at the Interiors UK 2014 show, on the Birmingham City University Stand. All photographs David Boynton Photography

Cups and plates by Heraldic Pottery
Heraldic Pottery

Chair by HF Contract Furniture

Lamp stand by Chad Lighting
Chair by mrf design

Plastic cushion cover by Rudd MacNamara

Digital tiles by Tiled Space

Thursday, 23 January 2014

QuIck look at the BCU Trend Stand at Interiors Uk

I'll post a  longer piece next week about the Birmingham City University Trends stand at Interiors UK (see previous post), but here's a snapshot of West Midland company products on the stand.

Collage by David Boynton
Chad Lighting Lamp stand
Heraldic Pottery Cups and plate
HFC Contract Furniture See through chairs
mrf design Dark chair with colour splashes
Rudd Macnamara Plastic printed cushion:
Tiled Space Tiles

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Monday, 13 January 2014

Updated: awards and networking event 20 January at Interiors UK 2014

Interiors & Lifestyle Futures and Birmingham City University would be delighted if you could join us at an industry awards and networking event at Interiors UK 2014.

It takes place on Monday 20 January between 3pm and 4pm on the University’s Stand (2B24), Hall 2 at the NEC, Birmingham.

The Awards will be hosted by Professor Chris O’Neil, alongside industry representatives from Tektura Wallcoverings and international trends prediction agency Global Color Research™ Mix publications.

This will be Birmingham City University’s sixth year exhibiting at INTERIORS UK. The stand will showcase the work of BA (Hons) Textile Design students and staff in conjunction with several West Midlands Interiors & Lifestyle Futures companies: 

Chad Lighting
HF Contract Furniture
Rudd Macnamara
Tiled Space

The students have created a range of new designs inspired by two trends forecast by Global Color Research™for Autumn/Winter 2014/15: ‘Axis’ and ‘Frame’.

Interiors UK will run from Sunday 19 January until Wednesday 22 January 2014.  

If you intend to join us on Monday 20 January could you please confirm your attendance no later than Tuesday 7 January 2014. RSVP:

 And, of course if you are at the show at any other days we would be delighted to see you. 

Don’t forget to visit the Interiors UK 2014 website to get your free entry to the show.

Student winner Zoe Watson (centre) & Tektura's Jo Cain & Julie Mason at Interiors UK 2013 

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