Kids Design

INTERVIEW MONDAY SIAN ZENG

Founded out of a desire to create products that evoke a sense of magic and fun for children and adults alike, Sian Zeng is an award winning London-based design company specialising in wallpapers. Sian’s philosophy is to encourage playfulness and imagination, which is how she developed her range of interactive, magnetic wallpapers. Offering a fresh interior design perspective and a desire to create a whimsical narrative, allowing you to play out your own fantasies by moving a cast of magnetic creatures and buildings across the wall, adding quotes and stories with the write-on speech bubbles.

Originally born in China, Sian moved to Hungary when she was 7 and sees her multicultural upbringing as the driving force behind her imaginative concepts. 

Please Introduce us to your brand.

We are a London based wallcoverings studio known for our hand-drawn classic and magnetic wallpaper designs. Founded in 2010, our products have been featured in magazines such as Elle Decoration, the Sunday Times and Architectural Digest.

From sweeping landscapes to dream-like intricacies, every design is created from an original artwork, painted at 100% scale either by Sian herself or part of a collaboration with another artist or illustrator.

What Inspired you to start your own brand?

My parents had a business whilst I was growing up and almost all their friends had businesses too. It was fascinating to hear their stories so I’ve always known I wanted to have my own business someday.

I set up my company soon after graduating, first as a freelance design business as well as selling soft toys and cushions on the side. The business got more serious when Hilary Duff’s interior designer placed a large order for rolls of Magnetic wallpapers for the actress/singer’s son’s bedroom. They had seen the prototype I created for my graduate show at Central Saint Martins on a blog. Once we put the wallpaper into production and it garnered interest, I started to focus my work/business/brand in this direction.

Where did the idea of creating magnetic wallpapers come from?

Whilst writing my dissertation about Little Red Riding Hood, I was surprised to find how the story had evolved over time. I was interested to find out the stories people would tell based on the same landscape and set of characters. That’s when I thought to create an interactive wall where viewers would be able to move the characters and buildings around, and write on the speech bubbles to tell their version of events.

What was the process of producing them? Anything you need to keep in mind when designing for children?

The process for  normal wallpaper was pretty straightforward as many companies can produce it. The hard part came with the magnetic versions;  finding the right material, writing up the hanging guide for the magnet receptive liner as well as having it safety tested. Due to the playful and interactive nature of the magnetic wallpaper, we also had to find a way to seal the paper so that it is easier for parents to clean the surface.

The magnets themselves had to be safety tested and the size was carefully considered to avoid becoming a choking hazard.

Did you always wanted to be a designer?

I’ve always liked drawing and painting and I was good at it at school, so I dreamt about working in the creative field from a young age, but it was not always welcomed in my family; they didn’t see  creative work as a very stable source of income. So when I applied to study Art and Design foundation course at Saint Martins, I had already completed an Economics degree because I had been encouraged to do that first. I knew then, though, that I wanted to pursue a creative career, so I went on to study a BA in Textile Design at Saint Martins as well.

What sparked your interest in design?

My primary school teacher showed me how to draw a princess on a piece of paper and thereafter I was hooked. I would draw various styles of dresses on the princesses and would show them to my classmates, many of whom were busy drawing them as well. It was a great way to communicate with other children and establish friendships as I didn’t speak the local language, Hungarian, at the time.

What does your average day look like?

I get into work by 10am. To begin, my assistant, Kelly, and I have a catch up because we work slightly different hours. I tend to work on smaller tasks such as emailing until 12.30, before I have my lunch at my friend’s space (Another Studio) a few metres down the corridor. After lunch I dive into the tasks that tend to take me a long time to complete. I leave the studio at around 6pm, sometimes even  later, depending on our deadlines. When I get home, I have dinner, do a bit of housework, go for a run and watch a movie with my husband, before a good night’s sleep.

At what age did you first notice fashion / design around you?

I was about four or five years old when I started noticing beautifully designed notebooks, pens and dresses.

What sort of clothes and or accessories did you enjoy wearing as a child and what did you hate wearing?

I loved wearing dresses as a child and my Mum used to tie my hair up with a huge bow. I hated wearing turtle necks or necklaces. I didn’t like having things around my neck and I still don’t like it as an adult, although I can now tolerate necklaces if I wear them for short periods of time.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Producing the magnetic wallpaper. The product development journey was fairly hard to say the least since. We had to make sure that wallpaper decorators around the world would have an easy understanding of how to hang this new type of wallpaper. We went through product safety testing, a series of hanging tests both by ourselves, by wallpaper decorators, our manufacturers and at some point by Solvite (sellers of the wallpaper paste).

It was worth though, to go through all that to create something as unique as our magnetic wallpaper.

What’s in your handbag?

An umbrella, a battery pack for my mobile phone, a bit of make-up, my wallet, keys and a reusable coffee mug for when I’m out and about in London.

What’s your unique selling point?

We’ve recently created a survey and our customers have rated design as the reason why they purchased our products. Our designs are unique because we take the time to explore and experiment with our imagery, before painting the artwork to 100% scale. This way, when it’s scanned in professionally the artwork maintains its hand drawn quality. A lot of our customers tell us that when they received the paper they are surprised to see how detailed it is.

Are you superstitious or do you have any rules you live by?

I’m not superstitious in any way but sometimes I still knock on wood when I say something amazing is going to happen, so not to jinx it. It’s more of a way to bring my own expectations down rather than thinking knocking on wood would change anything.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your new wallpaper collection?

The Clematis Wallpaper Mural is one of our dreamiest designs to date. It depicts a myriad of clematis flowers tumbling over the side of the garden wall, using a romantic blend of pink and green to create a magical backdrop for your chosen room. The design is inspired by fairytale scenes such as sleeping beauty, providing a sense of escapism in the home, whilst channeling the very real and uplifting beauty of the natural world. It took me eight months to design and has been painted at 100% scale so people can really bring their homes to life with the magic of the outdoors.

What can we expect next from Sian Zeng?

We’ve recently started reaching out to fresh talent whose work we love so we can  introduce them to our customers.

We are working with a very talented young French illustrator at the moment to create a jungle mural. Hopefully we will be able to share more details soon!

How is your work received internationally?

We are lucky to exist in an increasingly digital age, so  our customers are able to see our wall coverings online and order from us wherever they are in  the world. I love the surprise that comes with receiving an order that wants to be shipped to a remote area of the world.

I’d say our brand is currently very popular with our American customers.

If one of our readers is in your city, which is London, for 24 hours. What things would you recommend they do?

Make a visit to the V&A, have an afternoon tea in Sketch, go and see the Buckingham Palace/Big Ben and enjoy an evening performance at Sadler’s Wells.

Website Sian Zeng: www.sianzeng.com