Toronto textile guru Virginia Johnson has gained international acclaim for her designs, from resortwear and homeware for her own eponymous brand to stationery and journals for Kate Spade. We recently caught up with Virginia, who’s getting ready to move her flagship store to 970 College Street in Toronto this spring, to find out where she started, what inspires her and what’s next!
Design & Decor Blog
1 How would you describe your work?
Bright and cheerful – I want to make people feel like they’re on vacation.
2 What is one of your earliest design memories?
I drew constantly when I was a teenager, most often designing outfits for characters from my favourite TV shows.
3 How do fashion and decor relate?
Both worlds revolve around shape, proportion, colour and print. In fashion, trends come and go in a single season, but decor trends tend to have a longer life. I treat fashion like I treat interiors: an item should be enduring and still relevant ten years after you buy it.
4 What’s your favourite room in your house?
My favourite room is the bathroom. The bright blue and white cement tiles on the floor make me happy every time I walk by!
5 How has being Canadian shaped you as a designer?
Canadians tend to be quite open in general, and there are many different cultural influences here. I think Canadians are often good observers as well, so I absorb elements from many different sources and it gives energy to my work.
6 Where and how do you collect inspiration?
I collect inspiration all the time, compiled in piles and piles of books! I try to keep them organized in folders and flip through them regularly.
7 Tell us a bit about your creative process.
I work almost exclusively with watercolour paints and paper. This is the most natural way for me to work and I love being able to work with the colours directly. I never got used to drawing on the computer, but I do use it for touch-ups.
8 How did your collaboration with Anthro come about?
We had discussed a collaboration for several years, but it seemed like the timing was right to do shawls with my illustrations on them and bring the collection to a wider market. It has been a very fun collaboration as our aesthetics are complimentary.
9 Tell us about the most recent collection.
Our second collection hit the stores in February, and the theme is the Bloomsbury Group. I did three different shawls based on this theme, featuring a woodcut, a drawing room, and a flowering hydrangea. All have powdery colours like blush and pale blue mixed with black.
10 Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
Personally I love the drawing room because it really evokes the Bloomsbury spirit.
11 How does this relate to what you’ve done for Anthro in the past?
The themes tend to be print-focused and feminine and whimsical. They usually reflect a time period or movement or place.
12 Tell us a little about how you started working with Kate Spade.
It came about accidentally. I was interviewing for a job as an accessories designer and happened to bring along my illustration portfolio. Andy Spade asked if I would illustrate some invitations for them, which turned into illustrating their stationary program, after that, their etiquette books. There’s so much energy that is created when you partner up with someone else. I am flooded with ideas that are generated from working with other like-minded people, and I can’t wait to get to work.
13 What are the golden rules of using multiple patterns in either a room or an outfit?
I think unifying by colour is the easiest and looks the most beautiful. This doesn’t mean necessarily the same colour, but colours which are in the same family. I also think it’s more interesting to vary the scale, density and rhythm. For example if you use a large floral on a sofa, it can be very grounding to use something more linear or geometric on the carpet.
14 In using colour, where should you take risks and where do you stay safe?
It’s technically safer to use neutrals on larger pieces of furniture and add colour and pattern in accent pieces, like throw pillows and lamps. However, when it comes to my own home I’ll always choose a wonderful pattern over a plain beige swatch. I am all for lots of colour and lots of prints, even on furniture you want to keep for twenty years. I think it should be fun and if you really love a print, why not!
15 Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’m really excited about a new book I’ve illustrated for Domino founder Deborah Needleman called The Perfectly Imperfect Home.