This Life: Wendy Morrison, rug designer

Colour is king in the splendidly eclectic home of this talented rug designer

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A riot of colour in the lounge, courtesy of a pink chaise from Made.com and Manuel Canovas wallpaper. “The room is light and very bright, so it can handle it,” says the designer

Photography Ivar Janssen
Styling Wilma Custers
Words Karola Woll

Every colour under the sun is welcome in the home of Wendy Morrison – every colour, that is, bar one. There is no place for magnolia amid the peacock blues, hot pinks and sultry oranges that sing out in a wild profusion of patterns on almost every surface of her rambling Georgian farmhouse. To step from the grey drizzle of Dunbar into this oasis of the exotic feels almost too much of an overload for the senses. But then it’s not us she has to please, but herself and her family, and Morrison couldn’t be happier with the home she has created here on the east coast.

It’s no surprise to discover that this graduate of the Scottish College of Textiles has a background in fashion; she spent the early part of her career designing clothes for several big brands. These days, however, she is much better known for her rugs – although that word hardly does justice to these sublime creations in silk and wool. They are works of art in their own right, and would look as at home on the wall as they do on the floor.

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From left: The designer’s love of birds makes its mark on the wooden headboard with its carved peacocks. The lamp is from Habitat and the nightstand is an Oriental reproduction from The Nine Schools; Checking colour samples – the rug below is her Zebra Leopard Palms

Morrison’s flair for putting together unlikely combinations is in evidence in every room. In less skilful hands, this could be a mishmash of clashing tones, but it’s clear that composing boldly colourful patterns comes easily to her. Today, she is sitting in front of a yellow wallpaper dotted with palms and wild animals – flora and fauna is a key decor theme in this house, and it reappears time and again in surprising yet harmonious ways. That it doesn’t overwhelm is thanks to the clever use of black, white and gold as grounding and balancing elements. Here, for instance, is a black-and-white painting on the plain white wall next to her; it creates a calm, cosy and embracing corner.

The designer makes herself comfortable with a hot lemon and honey: it’s cold outside in Dunbar. But Morrison is used to this kind of weather. She grew up not far away in Edinburgh, and before she and her family decamped first to Switzerland and later to France, she had already lived in this windswept East Lothian beach town. On their return to Scotland, she and her husband Gregor and their two sons rented this house – it belonged to a friend who had moved to the States; after a while, the family were offered the chance to buy it and call the lovely Georgian farmhouse their own. They didn’t have to be asked twice.

So Morrison was familiar with the place long before it became hers to reshape and redecorate. “It reminds me of the house where I grew up,” she says. “I love it so much. I never thought that I would live here one day.”

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Morrison’s flair for putting together unlikely combina­tions is in evidence in every room

Major renovations were not urgently required. “It’s very strong and sturdy – it has been here for a long time.” To her, the house is much more than just the family’s shelter. Its strength and heartfelt warmth are augmented by vivid and inspiring beauty, external as well as internal. When she refreshed the entire house (with the help of local painter and decorator Barry), the starting point of her decisions was always natural light and how it fell in each room. “It gives you directions on how to arrange the furniture.” The L-shaped three-bedroom farmhouse is blessed with an orientation that means it is filled with light all day long.

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Nearly every room has at least one wall covered in a flamboyant wallpaper. It’s a bit like encountering the energy of a jungle – rich in colour, rich in nature, rich in life, and therefore rich in beauty. It might also stem from Morrison’s ambition to have something beautiful to look at no matter where you sit, lie or move. Where does her love of design come from? It has always been there, she reckons. “I’d say it’s instinctive. My style is eclectic and I’m inspired by nature and history, and by Asia. As for colours, it’s impossible to pick a favourite – there are just too many good ones!”

What she is certain about is that the lounge is her preferred room since it combines all the ingredients she looks for in a good interior: first, plentiful light; second, beautiful views. The family lurcher, Eddie, keeps a lazy eye on the garden while reclining on the room’s orange sofa, his black coat a point of stillness amid the colours. His mistress’s comfortable rose-pink chaise longue, meanwhile, has been carefully positioned so she too can gaze out over the garden while relaxing or working on her laptop.

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From left: Morrison’s artistic eye means there are pleasing arrangements of pattern and colour all over the house: “Wherever you sit you always have something beautiful to look at”; Wendy Morrison and her husband Gregor at their Georgian farmhouse

She might find inspiration here, but the majority of her designs and sketches are made in her studio, an old school building nearby. “It has white walls and is very cold but very quiet. I have two large desks that allow me to spread out. We’re moving soon to a new space in Edinburgh that I’m looking forward to dressing, but I think I’ll continue to draw in my draughty old studio – I like the peace.”

The rug designs she produces here are sent to be scaled up onto canvas; yarns are dyed to the specific colours; and then the tufting of the rug can begin. It takes around 14 days for an experienced weaver to tuft a small rug, and there are still many more processes each piece has to go through before it’s finished. “It’s very time-consuming,” she agrees, “especially if there’s a lot of detail in the design.”

The rugs, as vibrantly alive with colour and pattern as you would imagine, display the now-familiar grounding elements of black, white and gold. The one in the living room, for instance, features a zebra pattern and palms, which perfectly fits into Morrison’s flora and fauna theme. The flora extends to real plants too – the house is full of their fresh greens: “Plants radiate life into dead spaces.” 

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From left: This bedroom is decorated in a warm teal green. “It’s a very rich colour,” says Morrison. “It makes this draughty house feel warm.” She inherited the dressing table from her parents; it goes well with the chair which came from a salvage yard; The dining table, says Morrison, “had to be glass so you can see the rug” (her Floral Waves Blue design)

Morrison likes to clear her head before she begins work each morning: “My day almost always starts with a run with the dog,” she says. “If I’m having a drawing day, I try to make sure that’s all I do. More often, though, I’ll do a mix of styling (faffing), shifting furniture, meetings, skyping, emails… Yoga and running every morning are great for coping with stress. I always try to keep things in perspective too: we run a rug design business – it’s not heart surgery, thankfully.”

The desire to discover new motifs, new tonal combinations and new playful accessories is an ongoing process in this house. That’s why the white wall is about to be painted a soft pink, right next to the orange wallpaper featuring pink palm trees and wild animals. Morrison’s experiments with colour compositions and textiles are unlikely ever to come to an end – and why should they? There are too many beautiful ones out there, ready to be explored and combined.

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