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In The Spotlight: Bell Hutley

Meet Bell Hutley: the British artist and illustrator who’s eponymous tableware brand is loved by the London social set.

Bell Hutley was just 21 when she launched her brand in 2018: an array of whimsical placemats, coasters, jugs, and table linens, adorned with her fanciful illustrations of beetles, butterflies and celestial motifs. Inspired by nature, folklore, and childhood fairy tales, Bell’s designs are always something of a conversation starter around the dining tables her homeware is placed.

We caught up with the designer to discuss her brand and, of course, pick her brain for the best tablescaping tips ahead of Christmas.


How did the brand come about and what is your background?

I have wanted to be a children’s book illustrator since I can remember. I always loved the idea of telling stories through art. I was very close with my art teacher, he really brought English literature and art alive for me.  He opened my eyes to what was possible; I thank Edward Towhig for everything! I have always been fascinated by making things into art. I started going to antique shops and thrift shops and painting on second-hand trays, placemats, lampshades and so on. The brand basically evolved from there. Once I found a factory that could remake my second-hand prototypes things started to spiral!

When did your love for the arts and interiors start?

From a very young age; I loved going through my granny’s dressing table and wardrobe. Her style was very Art Deco and she had these huge 1920s lampshades and so many little beautiful trinkets; everything was lace and I loved it all. I come from a very creative and artistic family. It runs in my blood, so it was always a topic of conversation at the dinner table. My love and obsession doesn’t stop at art and interiors. I have always been inspired by fashion, movies, and literature, as well as art history and other cultures.

 

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You started out at just 21, what does it take to start your own brand?

I realised from the start that I had to have a thick skin. My approach was, given I hadn’t any idea what I was doing, nine times out of 10 things will probably go wrong, so go with that 10th thing and learn from all the other nine mistakes. Mistakes are key – you learn so much more when things go wrong. I have a lot of respect for people who start something on their own. Putting yourself out there takes guts, but it can also be really humbling. You should be trying to create something different, and at the start people find different strange, which can kill your vision. I learnt (and am still learning) to rise above and ignore them.

How would you describe the brand aesthetic and what sets it apart?

I find it hard to describe something that I’m so involved in creating. What I try and capture is a distinct illustrative style that sings to nature and my subject matters. Being born and bred in England, I have a love affair with its different periods: Medieval and Gothic art, calligraphy, as well as Victorian fashion and illustration. I definitely try to carry my love for these into my designs.

 

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What are your top tablescaping tips?

I really like layering up. What’s even better is, there is no right or wrong way to do it. I love collecting things from around the house and the garden, like shells and shrubs, and decorating from the centre of the table. I especially love to build up the middle so it’s a little museum, scattered with wine and candles.

I’m adverse to anything too perfect or regimented. I feel like it takes away the creativity, and has a boring formality to it. But each to their own.

How do you get inspiration for your whimsical designs?

A lot of what inspires me comes from nature. I grew up in the south of England, playing in our garden and woods. It was a real fairyland and from this stemmed my ever-growing love for nature. Nothing makes me happier. Other things that have inspired my work are children’s books such as, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, and The Little Grey Men. Works like these have influenced the stories I try to tell through my art.

Which fellow creatives have inspired your work?

I am obsessed with the illustrators that have come from The Golden Age of Illustration. My favourite of all time being Aubrey Beasdley. He has changed the way I look at art and composition. Along with him are the likes of Kay Nelison. I will always refer to his beautiful work when creating something new. The late Alexander McQueen was a true genius, who turned the fashion industry on its head, questioned it and told stories through such beautiful craft. He will always be an important figure to me. Lastly, Tim Burton, for his stories, set design, props – he creates worlds for us to escape to for a little while. 

 

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What’s your favourite piece from the current collection?

I love my giant wooden toadstools, which I hand-paint myself.

What’s next for the brand?

I’d like to keep creating things that I love, and I’d want myself in my own home. I don’t really like planning things as I feel that they never go according to plan. What makes me happy is continuing to tell stories with beautiful objects.

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