17th feb 2010 I had an email asking me to make a proposal for the TV programme “The Buying Game” It was a busy day but a couple of hours later I sent in an application with my “stool in a bag” The name and description were a bit tongue in cheek and I read them out to my teenage children before sending it off
“There is something very personable about stools they are like friendly animals. This one is cute, and yet robust, with an array of decorative formica finishes. It fits well in any room, as a bedside table, an occasional table for drinks, a child’s first stool, something to step on to get to the top cupboards, or a stool to carry out to the front garden to sit in the sun.
It’s a bit of an archetype, something that you would imagine would be for sale everywhere but isn’t.
It is a very unusual and portable gift, easy to buy and take home, a little bit of a surprise to receive and easy to find a home for when you receive it. It’s small and unassuming and yet unique, very basic but also decorative. It can fit into almost any interior, traditional, shabby chic, bohemian, high tec, student bedsit or sheltered housing!!”
I attached three pictures and didn’t really give it another thought until I got a phone call a couple of weeks later to say I’d been picked from ‘hundreds of hopefuls’ to attend an open day at Habitat.
Of course I was worried about how I would look: over fifty, not much money for clothes and haircuts and without any make-up-know-how! I just decided it was something I had to do like jumping out of a burning building.
With five days notice before the big day I made some presentation sheets, and got a friend of my sisters to cut my hair in the kitchen. I didn’t have any time even to look for new clothes.
On the day there was a lot of hanging around waiting to be filmed, I was last at everything, so had a lot of time for whispered chats with the other ‘competitors’ I successfully predicted all the red cards, but after talking to some of the ‘unsuccessful’ I really wanted them to be given a chance…there were a lot of stories of poverty, imagination and dogged determination !!
After my on camara interview, when I was presented with the red card the Habitat designers looked at my portfolio and gave me a business card, saying they would like to do some work with me, independent of the TV thing, it was all very hurried and unreal, my head was spinning.
I then had my “Apprentice” moment when Theo Paphitis asked me if it was The best thing that had ever happened to me. Being truthful, I said “not really” I was married with children and besides I had learn’t to be cynical about great opportunities…but Theo was determined to get his sound bite and in the end I said something over the top and arrogant just to put an end to it!!!
Thank goodness that was cut!
After that it was another very long wait for the handshake moment which I had to do three times, each time attempting to look spontaneously overjoyed!
The next day Steve and I were off to Yorkshire at dawn, to a Touring Exhibition Group annual meeting at Leeds museum and then a meeting at the Cooper gallery in Barnsley where I was to be curating my exhibition “More than Floral” (currently at Bilston Craft Gallery).
Well, my dream of working for my favourite shop since childhood did happen, although I have to admit that it is a shadow of it’s former self. (My advice would be to have less stores with less products, ethically sourced materials and high design standards and much more careful marketing and display… Somewhere between Muji and Liberty ….but whoam I to say…)
Most of the work was communicated by email, it would have been almost impossible without photoshop, illustrator and adobe acrobat, but paper, pencil, paint, scissors and real weeds were involved as welAnother high spot was my one day trip to Pisa in Italy with Catherine Grey and Ros and Theo from Habitat and a couple of people from the TV company .Our main purpose was to visit the family run workshop that decorated our ceramics and has an amazing store room with a garish mix of samples including famous pieces from the Memphis days. Catherine had never been to Italy before, so I viewed it a bit through her eyes, you can definitely get a feeling for the country even if you are only there for a few hours and most of that squashed into a very small, hot car. Unfortunately there was only time for sandwiches and beer but they were very Italian.
I have to say I was very disappointed in the cost cutting choice of materials for the boxes and tables. Although in the end I was pleased with the detailing of the tables and I like the fresh look of the boxes. I also think that the products are rather overpriced, due to the rush to produce them in time for the TV launch which was originally scheduled for last September. The in store display has been the biggest disappointment, after the careful way that I am used to displaying my products in shows such as ‘Made’ and ‘Mid-century modern’.
Who knows why the producers of the programme decided not to feature me or Euan Lind and his excellent light…(apart from a few ‘blink and you miss it’ cameo appearances) but maybe I made a lucky escape..the pictures of me handling the table leg do look rather embarrassing..
Britains Next Big Thing continues Tuesday 20.00 BBC2
Alison Milner will be exhibiting at MADE11 - in November