, with its strap line “Product of Cornwall,” is so much more than just a “range of furniture and lighting designed for home, work and leisure,” as the website describes it.
Since its launch at 100% Design in 2008 (at which the Net chair scooped the Blueprint 100% Design award for best new interior product) it has been putting Cornish design and Cornish designers on a national if not international stage.
Ever keen to promote the burgeoning creative industries in Cornwall, I introduced myself to John Miller (co-creative director with Anna Hart) at 100% Design the following year (at which MARK was nominated by Elle Decoration for the British Design Awards “best new brand” and Kay+Stemmer’s Wave table was nominated for a Homes and Gardens Classic Design award – see what I mean?!).
I had just started writing my blog and was keen to get an interview. Eighteen months later, we’re finally there and I’m very pleased to be able to feature some MARK products as well as some insight from both John and Anna about working in the creative industries in Cornwall.
What’s so special about Cornwall?
JM: I was attracted to Cornwall initially by surfing, which I first tried in Cornwall on a plywood board on a caravan holiday in about 1977, although I have hardly surfed since I lived here! We have family connections, so like a lot of people always imagined living here, but it was really a fantasy until a job opportunity came up for me at University College Falmouth as Director of the Design School.
Having got here, I think that the Cornish and those who have moved here tend to be a resourceful lot and there is quite a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Meeting Anna was definitely a meeting of the minds and we have tapped that spirit in setting up and growing MARK.
AH: I think a lot of people have adopted Cornwall as a special county which they love and feel at home in even if they were not born here. Although it’s rather more spread out than urban areas we’ve still got a good mix of life happening here, which you can enjoy right on your doorstep and a huge amount of it seems to have a creative edge. Events such as Port Elliot festival
and theatre company Kneehigh
are just two examples. Both hold their own on a national scale; they just happen to be based in an area of outstanding natural beauty too, which is the greatest bonus!
Why do you think Cornwall attracts so many creative people?
JM: It has always attracted a lot of poets, writers and artists – Daphne Du Maurier, the Newlyn and St Ives Schools etc; people who want to sit in a hut on a cliff and be contemplative.
The design scene is much more recent, and University College Falmouth (UCF) probably plays a big role in this. The college has been here in one form or another for 100 years, but has really expanded rapidly in the last ten. Graduates staying on to work in Cornwall are seen as a key economic driver for the region and this is actively encouraged through schemes such as Unlocking Cornish Potential, which incentivises companies to take on graduates. Many of the local design businesses were set up by UCF alumni and there is a strong graphics and media focus to this.
What we are doing with MARK is even more of a recent phenomenon; linking the creative culture with the industrial heritage of the county, and the many skilled people that are here.
MARK Slide+Spin living room
Do you think the creative industries could provide a real future for Cornwall’s economy?
JM: Yes and no. The local market is not sufficient to sustain so many creative businesses so they have to be outward facing. It will be good for Cornwall’s economy for this to become increasingly competitive so that only the best are attracted and it becomes known for creative excellence more than creative lifestyle. I know that sounds very free market economics.
What advice would you give to a designer, or any creative person, thinking of relocating to Cornwall? Is it really possible to make a living there now?