Faye's Wonderland – Studio Toogood



British designer Faye Toogood established her own studio to specialise in interior and environments. She groups her furniture and objects together into assemblages which allow her to tell stories without words.

With degrees in art history and fine arts under her belt, some ten years ago an unconventional young lady with a pixie haircut and her signature flats entered the employment market. Despite childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut or acting on a stage, she ended up in an architect's office where she learned one thing in particular: that she didn't want to be an architect. On a whim, she applied for a job with one of the most renowned design and decorating magazines in the world, "The World of Interiors." In lieu of the usual job application, she dropped off a case full of collected items at the editorial department. It came as a somewhat unexpected surprise that she was offered the vacant position of stylist, especially since she wasn't quite sure what her tasks would include. After eight successful years, she and the man on her side – who she has meanwhile married and started a family with – left the British design bible to establish their own creative enterprise, the "Studio Toogood."

Two apples, a yogurt and a paper cup with Planet Organic printed on the side are lined up next to Toogood's MacBook that rests on the large communal table in the middle of the workspace. Wearing ballet flats, she sits on a red rubber ball, rocking back and front slightly while listening to briefings from her two co-workers. Two further designers discussing some sketches are also seated at the table. Quiet music issues from a computer somewhere in the room, and occasionally the phone rings; a constant, yet low-key sound backdrop to the open workspace of the studio. One of the large windows, which looks out on a typical British vista of brick buildings, trees and building cranes on the horizon, has a row of designers in front of it, busily working at their screens, their fashionably dressed derrières parked on chairs also designed by Toogood. The skies outside resemble a loosely woven carpet, with the linings of the thick, grey skeins of clouds highlighted by changeable sunlight.

Everything I do should always be brave, and it should always be extraordinary in some way, and I don't want it to look like anything else that you've seen before.

Talented Jill of All Trades

Her step into professional autonomy has made Faye Toogood (her real name, in case anybody was wondering) grow up. Not so grown-up that she's no longer afraid of the dark, or that she can be pigeon-holed, but more in the sense that she now feels confident enough to do all the things she wants to do. "I have been called a furniture designer, stylist, artist and interior specialist. And that is probably pretty accurate," she says, while a smile lights up her distinctive face. There's a lot of things I'm interested in ‒ I would never want to restrict myself to just one something. And probably I would describe myself as a greedy designer, although that's probably not a very good job title," she jokes. "I quite like that nobody can find the right word to describe me because it means that my work is moving, changing, and that is good."

Her alert eyes, two distinct shades of blue depending on the fall of light, trace the wooden beams on the ceiling before she continues. "I think in design we are taught to specialize and stay really focused. Most design agencies make their money and commercial profit by specializing in a certain style or discipline. And here we probably try to cover too much." In truth it is not easy to categorize their work. For department store Liberty, the studio designed new windows; for industrial designer Tom Dixon, they planned exhibition stands; for KENZO, a fashion show was organized; and for fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010, they created elaborate lookbooks of McQueen's creations to embody the designer's brand – amongst other things. "I just find there's a lot out there left to try out," she says, leaning back

Visual storyteller

She tries to spell out her views to her team. "I always say: It's not just about color and material and combining beautiful objects." Toogood places much more importance on what the compositions convey. "Before we start a project, we have to ask ourselves: What are we saying, how should it make people feel? Essentially, I think, through space, you're trying to tell a story." You can do all of these things with an environment. That's quite a powerful thing, to be able to influence or change someone's feelings or emotions with a space."

Using visual storytelling to provoke intense reactions is precisely what Toogood finds most fascinating about her work. The fact that a three-dimensional space is better suited for visual storytelling than a two-dimensional image is not just the purely mathematical aspect of an extra dimension. Much more to the point is that people can enter into a space, thereby making it, or its story, come to life, and influence it while experiencing it.

I believe that there is an inherent consistency in our taste and in our style. But there is no formula. I feel no one could copy it.

"Our style and design evolves constantly and we are always dependent on a variety of factors: the client, the place, feeling, taste and smell. You can copy a single object, copy a style, but the sensation an object evokes, the story it tells is never the same.

Faye is happy that her style "is out there and available to other people and that it actually means something to them." She doesn't feel the need to keep her ideas to herself for fear they might be copied. "I just feel safe in the knowledge that there's more in my head. I don't need to hold on to it because I know there's more there, waiting to come out!" she laughs.

To Faye Toogood, the world is a large picture book. When she thinks, she thinks in pictures. If you ask her a question she finds it easiest to reply with a picture. She envisions the concepts she creates. "I see something and then I go on a journey with it," she explains. Like a translator, she first has to render her picture in words so that those who think in words and numbers, and not in pictures, understand what she wants to convey. Or, you can skip the verbal step altogether, trust your perception entirely and engage in a wordless exchange with Toogood's work. In the end, the reward is a pass to a very special world: Faye's Wonderland ‒ the picture book in her head.

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