Five years ago Deryn Relph was wearing a lab coat and testing waste water for the environment agency. Now her designs have been featured in Elle Deco and Vogue and she spends her time creating her beautiful textiles in a log cabin at the bottom of her garden.
As a teenager in the 80s, Deryn was a bright girl who was pushed towards sciences rather than being allowed to indulge her creative side. She attended university where she briefly studied zoology before leaving early and ended with a series of jobs including lab technician in a school.
“It fitted round my twin boys so it suited me for a while,” she says. “I always loved making things, but I thought it would have to be a hobby. Then my husband got a better paid job and it meant that I could attend a City and Guilds course in soft furnishings.”
Ultimately, Deryn felt the course wasn’t allowing her to be as creative as she wished but this time she completed it, learning about upholstery and picking up some freelance work as a designer for Harlequin along the way.
Deryn is fascinated by the idea of colour as therapy; by the nostalgia that lies within us all when confronted by a certain grouping of shades into retro patterns.
“I really believe that happiness can come from colour. I love colour and pattern and that feeling of nostalgia it can create,” she says.
“When I did my first exhibition in January, it was really interesting to see people stand in front of the stall and to watch their faces change when they look at the patterns. You can see it takes them somewhere and they smile.”
In addition to the retro patterns that she creates, Deryn is also a big fan of upcycling.
“I source end-of-line lamps from a company near my house and use those in my work. The office chairs I find in junk shops and on ebay and that’s where the upholstery skills come in useful as I have to repair them before I can think about how to cover them.”
While Deryn loves to create her beautiful one-off pieces, not everyone understands what she is about.
“After I was in Vogue, I had a call from someone who wanted a matching pair of the chairs. She couldn’t understand that that wasn’t possible. For me the beauty lies in the fact that you are buying something unique, but I suppose we have become so use to buying mass-produced furniture that we just assume we can have as many as we want.”
So far Deryn has completed two collections, Retro Rainbow and Buttonbox and she is quietly mulling over her third.
“Retro rainbox was an extension of my degree show. I was really inspired by the Millennium Seed Bank Project (www.kew.org/science-conservation/save-seed-prosper/millennium-seed-bank/about-the-msb/index.htm) and the idea that so much colour and life in contained in that tiny seed and that led me to the emotional response that colour evokes.
“Buttonbox was simple. I was recently given my Nana’s box of buttons. I wanted it for ages, but my mother only just gave it to me. It’s funny how people hang on to buttons for so long even when they don’t use them. But they bring back such memories. Now I look at the buttons and I remember her clothes and when she wore them.”
With the new collection, Deryn is thinking of expanding the range to include more cushions and perhaps blankets and throws. Without giving away her trade secrets, we can reveal that her new range will be influenced by the other set of grandparents who were keen gardeners. But expect a little Deryn twist.