Regular visitors to The Mad House will know that I am a huge fan of Brendan Young and Vanessa Battaglia, the husband and wife team behind the Eccentric (their capital E) British Design House Mineheart. You can see their wonderful trompe l’oeil bookshelf wallpaper in the images above, which I bought five years ago and used to disguise the 11-year-old’s bedroom door.
They have featured on the blog many times since as I always enjoy seeing the latest designs that they have come up with, and the collection has grown to include several wallpapers – panelling, wrought iron and Persian rug designs as well as actual rugs, furniture and lighting.
I was delighted when they contacted me to ask if I would like to meet them for an interview. It’s a rare privilege as they don’t grant (m)any interviews and it was a good chance to get to know the couple behind the brand and, let’s be honest, find out where the madcap ideas come from.
As it turned out their schedule was too busy to allow a real life meeting but eventually we managed to catch up on the phone and I began by asking them if they saw themselves as their heirs to the Italian designer Piero Fornasetti, whose work I also love and whose ideas seem to be to be a natural precursor to Mineheart.
Brendan said: “I have never thought of us as a 21st century Fornasetti. We got to know him late. We were already working together and we didn’t really know about his work. We just do the things that we want to do.”
He added that their house, which they have recently moved into, is a sort of experimental playground for them (in much the same way as Fornasetti’s Milan house was in fact).
Vanessa takes over: “Our house is how our first design came about – we were doing things for our own house and could not find what we liked and so we started with the wallpaper designs. Then people came to visit us and wanted what we had made and it all grew from there.”
The couple had worked for other companies for about 15 years before they set up on their own. Both have done work for John Lewis and Next, among others, but wanted to push the boundaries further.
“There is always a commercial compromise but now the things that we are doing are one hundred per cent us,” says Brendan, who like many couples who know each other inside out, will often start a thought that Vanessa will finish.
“At first it was just Brendan and I but now we have a whole team working for us. It is a bit scary but we have to make sure we stick with what we like and not be swayed by what other people say,” she adds.
But how do they manage working together and living together as well as bringing up their 15-month-old son Anthony? Surely that’s a recipe for a few rows?
Vanessa is tactful: “We have to find a balance between work and family and to make sure we have a change of conversation.
“Brendan is a brilliant ideas person and if I like it straight away it is a winner and I don’t like it at once then we usually know that it is something that needs some work. There is quite often debate,” she says tactfully. “But it’s healthy to discuss further.”
When it comes to their favourite designs, somehow I am not surprised that Brendan is instantly and completely in love with the thing that he is “working on now”. Vanessa likes their cowhide rugs best. “Whenever I see it it makes me happy.”
They are equally decisive when I ask what product they wish they had come up with themselves or what they would like to do next. Brendan basically says: “Everything.
“We would like to do furniture and to be able to do everything in a house from the wallpaper to the sofa and the crockery that is where I would like to get to.
“Although whenever we are doing like a bathroom I find it really hard to source the taps I want. I have a sketchbook of taps already.”
So what’s next? They have just created a new range of lighting; the cauldron and factory lights which you can see in this post and Brendan admits that with the birth of their son they are becoming more interested in childrens’ designs although not necessarily decor.
“Anthony’s room is not full of kids’ stuff. It has normal stuff in it, but maybe a range of toys,” says Brendan.
So having spoken to them, I think I was wrong. They are not modern day Fornasettis, they are more in the spirit of Arne Jacobsen. The Danish designer was so obsessed with the detail that he famously oversaw everything from the exterior of the building to the door handles and teaspoons.
Actually, they are, quite simply, their own people. And I for one can’t wait to see what a Mineheart tap or child’s trainset would look like. In the meantime here’s a detail of one of a new series of still life wallart canvasses by the artist Himitsuana which is coming to the Mineheart store soon.