Design For Living: The fabric of Bethan Gray’s digital life.

Bethan Gray is one of the UK’s leading furniture and homeware designers. Characterised by bold and striking patterns, her designs are informed by the natural and built environments around her and, as she says, ‘Everything I design starts with a story – in collaboration with skilled craftspeople, I bring those stories to life for contemporary audiences.’

Those audiences, it transpires, have been keenly appreciative. Since she launched her eponymous studio in 2008 with her husband, Massimo, she has been awarded no fewer than four Elle Decoration British Design Awards, including the coveted gong for ‘Best British Designer.’ Her work, meanwhile, is sold at a variety of high-end shops, including Harrods, Liberty and Lane Crawford.

Telling collaborative cultural stories through craft and design is at the heart of everything Bethan creates. Working with master craftspeople around the globe, with whom she creates equal partnerships, the onus is on blending the worlds of traditional artistry with contemporary design and technology, and thus placing new relevance on skills that might otherwise become endangered.



That dedication to highlighting artisanal expertise stems in part from her own background. Born to a Scottish father and a Welsh mother, the maternal side of her family is descended from a nomadic Rajasthani clan that migrated across Arabia and Persia over the centuries. As she says, ‘My Grandmother was a Romani Gypsy. I was brought up to be proud of my roots and open to other cultures – that is why I love travelling so much.’

When, however, she is not exploring the cultures of faraway lands, Bethan also champions talent closer to home. Her practice places a great deal of emphasis on mentoring and connecting the next generation of female talent and, to that end, she recently launched a Prize for Women in Craft with Cardiff Metropolitan University, where she is an honorary fellow.

Here she tells us why she finds Google Maps not just indispensable but inspirational; whose Instagram she finds mesmeric and nostalgic; and which app has her polishing up her Italian – in anticipation of the longed-for moment when we can all travel with impunity once again.


My favourite website…


Collagerie, edited by former British Vogue Fashion Director Lucinda Chambers and Serena Hood, former Executive Fashion Director at British Vogue. I like its tastefully curated edit of high street and high-end fashion, jewellery, interiors and beauty – and I was really thrilled when they featured my Seven Sister hand painted earthenware vessel made in collaboration with 1882.

My favourite app…


Duolingo as I'm trying to learn Italian. My husband Massimo’s family hails from Puglia and in normal times, we go to Italy at least a few times a year, including for the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan. It has definitely helped because I’ve never had formal Italian lessons, and it’s a great help with teaching my seven-year-old son Cian. It's a bit like a game, fun and light.

My favourite podcast…


Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. She's super cool, I love listening to her accent and, obviously, I like listening to what she says: one of the best things that I've learned from her is about FFTs (Effing First Times) and knowing I'm not the only one that struggles when trying to do something new.

My favourite YouTuber…


I use YouTube to research how things are made. For example, recently learning more about ‘shou sugi ban’, the 18th-century Japanese technique for scorching wood for use in furniture making.



My most recent buy online…


One of Beatrice Larkin’s graphic black and white Merino wool throws. They’re woven in Lancashire, and feel so soft and comfortable, Cian and I fight over who gets to use it all the time.

Last book I read…


The Craft Heritage of Oman by Neil Richardson and Marcia Dorr. It is full of images and information about the history and significance of the country’s patterns and motifs. I’m always curious about understanding what's important in different cultures and the significance of things. I mean, I wouldn't want to unintentionally put a motif all over something that said death.

Favourite Instagrammer…


The Swedish artist Petra Börner who is based in London. She's always doing crazy stuff – I love her flip-book animations and the videos showing her artistic process. Recently she filmed herself drawing for 24 hours to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières (@doctorswithoutborders). She's great.

Favourite tech gadget…


The ‘Oura’ smart ring in gold – it is like a Fitbit, keeping track of my heart rate, but it also encourages better sleep and exercise.

The most useful gadget on your desk…


A tape measure. There's one in my desk at the studio, one in my desk at home and one in my handbag. Scale is really important in furniture design, so I'm constantly getting a tape measure out and checking because it’s not something you can do in the digital world; you have to do it in reality.

Most useful digital resource during lockdown…


Zoom. I used it for work and for family, and it was so important for me because I think visually, so it helped to see people's faces.



Most inspirational digital resource…


Google Maps. I really like to be able to look at specific things when I’m researching a project – a particular building or being able to walk down a street – because it gives me a better knowledge and understanding of a place. I'm a bit of a map girl – the legacy of my dad being a geography teacher – but I also use it like a notebook. If I read about a restaurant, bar or shop that looks cool, I'll save it in my Google Maps so that I always have interesting places to try, wherever I go.

First thing I look at on your mobile when you wake up in the morning…


WhatsApp, because it is how I communicate with family and friends. And I ask Alexa for the news.

Last thing you binge-watched…


Line of Duty. I like the twists and turns of crime drama – it's a complete escape from what I do in my working life. I also enjoyed Strike, based on the Cormoran Strike detective novels by JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith. Now I’m into Mare of Easttown.

Favourite brands discovered online…


Instagram is great for finding interesting artists, artisans and makers, like the hand thrown ceramics by Kate Russell of Skratch Studio, decorated with ‘sgraffito’ patterns of landscapes and folk motifs inspired by her home in South Wales. They are a wonderful reminder of my own Welsh childhood. I like watching the process of things being made – knowing who has made it, where the materials have come from, and the love that has gone into it.

Social media allowed me to meet…


Camille Walala. I followed her because I love her use of colour and the vibrancy of her work; then she followed me; and shortly after we met at a party by chance. It was really nice to actually meet in real life.

The best digital advice I've been given…


Someone suggested we include more video content on our website because it is a great way to show the craft process and how much work goes into each of our pieces.

My screensaver is…


My Nizwa cabinet photographed in front of the Nizwa Fort in Oman because somebody else at the studio set my computer up for me.

My standout online memory…


A big family quiz during lockdown, with a dozen of my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my father, brother and nephew, all scattered around the world, from Wales and London to Australia and New Zealand. It was a really great way to reconnect with that side of the family because we’re all so spread apart.

My pet online hate is…


When ads track you after you've just bought something.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or evil?


It's good. I don't know what I would have done without it in lockdown – especially with work and home schooling.

Follow Bethan on Instagram here.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2021

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Nancy Alsop

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