William Yeoward's prolific output marries subtle English touches with contemporary styling
Perhaps not surprisingly William Yeoward has – in abundance - some of the key qualities for a successful career in highend interiors. He is charming, seemingly unflappable, ruthlessly organised, discrete, and professional. But one particular quality that also stands out is modesty. Repeatedly during his interview with idfx, Yeoward explains that it is not about his name, it is all about his products – and there are many. Search for William Yeoward online and you will discover, if you haven’t already, pages of products that carry the Yeoward signature – fabric, crystal, lighting, wallpaper, accessories, furniture. Quite what the modest Mr Yeoward makes of this prolific virtual name-dropping, we may never know, but what we do know is the phenomenal appeal of his designs. He may display some of the typical traits of the designer’s character but his success is far from typical and the story of the Yeoward brand in modern British interiors is clearly exceptional.
Yeoward’s career has been almost entirely devoted to interiors and he opened his first shop over 25 years ago on the Kings Road in London where he is still today. He originally worked as both designer and decorator, commercialising the pieces he used in projects for his clients and selling them in his store. But he decided to give up the decorating side of his work at the end of the nineties, following his last decorating job for Lady Thatcher just after she left government.
This allowed Yeoward to focus on product design, working on lines of luxury products and forging partnerships with specialist British manufacturers. “I realised very early on in my creative life that if I could not find what I wanted, the best thing to do was to find someone to make it.”
Yeoward has worked with the likes of Timothy Jenkins, a third generation crystal designer, to create his hugely popular crystalware; Designers Guild which distributes his fabrics and wallpaper (Tricia Guild is a long-standing friend), and Chris and Suzanne Sharp at the Rug Company who launched his rugs in 2002.
Forced to choose, Yeoward describes the crystal as “the product that gives me the most joy”. And it was crystal that helped pave the way for success on the other side of the Atlantic when Yeoward opened a showroom devoted to his crystal designs on Madison Avenue in New York City in 1997.
Yeoward’s US customers are as fanatical about his design as his UK ones. What they appreciate about the brand, Yeoward says, is: “It’s a little bit English, a little bit homemade, a little bit special.” As with many designers, Yeoward carefully sidesteps the tricky topic of taste in his design: “To my mind design is an opinion. I just design what I would like to have in my home and fortunately there are other people who seem to like it too. Buying my work should bring long-term pleasure not instant gratification and then years of disappointment!”
His US presence was significantly upgraded last year with the launch of William Yeoward Furniture, a partnership with Edward Ferrell and Lewis Mittman. This furniture is being shown in three US locations: New York (through Profiles); Washington DC (through Edward Ferrell and Lewis Mittman), and Atlanta (through Grizel). These are soon to be joined by a fourth location in Dallas, with more to come, Yeoward promises.
Last year also saw the launch of his fourth book “William Yeoward at Home”, as well as a collection of furniture called Bench. These pieces are designed to offer value at a slightly lower price point and are kept in stock in the UK though manufactured in Asia, unusually for Yeoward.
“We are meticulous about maintaining quality throughout all our product lines,” stresses Yeoward. “All our bespoke pieces are made in the UK but we chose to manufacture the Bench collection in Asia. We still made sure we carefully tested all the products, including me having a dining table at home for a year to make sure it could cope with the fluctuations in temperature caused by British central heating.”
This frenetic pace is not slacking in 2011, with the launch of a major new fabric and wallpaper collection, Polperro, again to be distributed through Designers Guild. “We call it my book of 100 stripes,” jokes Yeoward. “The designs have been taken from my own archive and were sourced from original 19th century documents from all over Europe, such as Latvian ticking. We’re using blues, reds and whites – something I’ve never had the nerve to do before.”
Most of Yeoward’s business comes from the trade, more than 85% he states. He really appreciates the role the designer plays in recommending his products to clients and helping them realise that the buying Yeoward products represents a long-term investment and means they are buying quality. “Over the last ten years, people have become much more educated and informed about interiors. The customer today is much more sophisticated and a lot more careful about the decisions they make, especially when a table lamp can cost £1,200. Education has also been good for the design profession and I think it’s a shame that there are so many good, creative, talented designers who don’t get work. Housewives shouldn’t think they are designers and professionals should be better appreciated. Service is as important as the product and that is what we pride ourselves on offering here.”
This article was first published in idfx Magazine.