Get to know the animal-loving British designer behind the illustrated ceramics that never fail to raise a smile
With her products sold in stores across the country, including John Lewis, Heal’s and Fortnum & Mason, and a thriving online business of her own, it’s rather surprising to hear that Fenella Smith started up her company a mere five years ago. From the start, when she began producing a range of mugs adorned with her brother’s adorable dog illustrations, Fenella’s products instantly tapped into the nation’s love for animals. She now produces a wide range of ceramics, kitchen textiles, cushions, giftwrap, stationery and even fabric by the metre.
THE WOMAN BEHIND THE LOOK
Growing up with two brothers, Fenella’s childhood was packed with adventure. ‘My parents were so laid back,’ she says.
‘They encouraged us to follow our dreams. Greg is an artist and creates all the illustrations that appear on our products, and Myles writes for children’s TV.’
Greg and Myles own animation company The Brothers McLeod and have both been awarded BAFTAs. ‘My brothers are a remarkable pair,’ says
Fenella. ‘I think having real freedom and encouragement from our parents allowed us all to find what we wanted to do. Our childhood was so fun and relaxed, and the house was full of musical instruments.’
Mugs, vases and dog bowl; all Dogs Trust range, from £14.50 for a mini mug, Fenella Smith
After studying fashion at Nottingham Trent University, Fenella worked as a PA at a PR firm that represented fashion and interiors brands. ‘I found it fascinating how products changed each season,’ she says. ‘It was a real eye-opener into the world of retail and product development.’
Fenella attributes her love of ceramics to her Nana Adelaide. ‘She had a cabinet full of crazy, unusual ceramics that I was obsessed with,’ she recalls. ‘When I began designing my own range, I set about creating pieces that I love; designs that are elegant, useful, classic and minimal, with a French look. I made a dog bowl for my Labrador, Bramble, and asked Greg to draw a picture of her to go on it. When friends kept commenting on how much they loved it, I thought perhaps I should develop it more. That’s how the company started.’
Pheasant tableware, £205 for a six-piece set, Fenella Smith
‘Growing up we had dogs, a cat, a rabbit, fish and stick insects, so animals have always been a part of our lives,’ says Fenella. ‘I think because I’m a mixture of creative and commercial, I’m quite happy to introduce a product and see how it goes. I can feel it in my bones if something is going to be a hit, though; our pug design, for instance, is so cute and perky, I knew it would do really well. The same goes for the Aga toppers in the Labrador print. As I see it, if you have an Aga, chances are you probably have a Labrador, too.’
Dog mugs, £17.50 each, Fenella Smith range, Amara
Pug linen cushion, £40, Fenella Smith range, John Lewis
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Fenella lives near Henley-on-Thames with her husband, Simon, her teenage stepchildren, Phoebe, Oscar and Thea, and her one-year-old daughter, Finty. Bramble the Labrador and Fox, a rescue border collie, complete the family. Both Greg and Myles live in Stratford and the siblings meet up most Fridays to catch up and chat about projects. As well as working regularly on product design with Greg, Fenella has also collaborated with both her brothers to create a book about dogs, called Breeds: A Canine Compendium. ‘It all came from a stupid conversation,’ she laughs. ‘Greg and I were having lunch together in a bar and there was a really long dachshund there. One of us commented that he looked like a draught excluder, so Greg drew a picture of it and it developed from there. Myles joined in, and a publisher picked it up and it became a book!’
Breeds: A Canine Compendium by Fenella Smith and The Brothers McLeod (£9.99, Square Peg)
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
‘Later this year, we’re launching a range of bakeware – a mixing bowl, a baking dish and a nest of three dishes – all in collaboration with John Whaite, who won The Great British Bake Off in 2012,’ explains Fenella. ‘I love to bake and I think the designs are really beautiful and quite different from what we usually do. Then, in January 2017, we’re launching our first
range of ceramics for kids. These days, children’s tableware is nearly always made from melamine, which I’m not keen on. My daughter, Finty, had a melamine bowl that she managed to break, which I didn’t even realise you could do. When I was young, I had ceramic bowls and cups, and Finty now has the same.’
Pug teapot, £34, Fenella Smith
Dogs Trust little jug, £18.50, Fenella Smith range, John Lewis
GET TO KNOW HER SIGNATURE STYLE
When asked what her main source of inspiration is, Fenella doesn’t hesitate: ‘Colour, colour, colour!’ she says.
‘My home is very minimalist with pops of bright accents. We have a big library area where we’ve colour-coded all the books, with all the yellows grouped together, the pinks together and so on.’
Fenella’s home is full of pieces that have a story attached to them. ‘I love things that have a personal element,’ she says. ‘I had a picture of a dandelion that my husband, Simon, had drawn digitally printed onto fabric, which was made into curtains for our breakfast room. We don’t have a lot of clutter in our house, but what we do have usually has history or a story attached to it. I recently bought my daughter Finty a beautiful old rocking chair and a push-along, fabric-covered horse on wheels, both from eBay. I want her to have classic toys to play with. I also love to look for old books, especially ones that have a name or date written inside. I once found a book with a load of beautiful old postcards tucked inside.’
Fenella also draws inspiration from the outdoors. ‘Our home backs onto a beautiful open space that, along with all the farmland around us, is owned by friends,’ she says. ‘In the summer, it’s heady with wild flowers and bees and lots of colour. We often see lambs and horses.
It’s a wonderful place to bring up children.’