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Q&A with Nora Nilsson - Projektityyny

Meet Nora from Projektityyny, purveyor of the very finest and prettiest cotton cushions. We had a little chat about how a Finnish fashion girl comes to be living in deepest Dorset with a business making soft furnishings.


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Nora Evans portrait, founder os Projektityyny

Could you introduce yourself?

I'm Nora and I'm from Finland - the land of extremities of weather and light, thousands of lakes, forests and only very few people. At the time when I was eager to study for a creative career in my homeland there were very few paths available to follow, so I decided to come to London to study - I was 21 years old. I’ve stayed here ever since. I've lived more than half of my life here in the UK now (please don’t use this fact to work out my age!!) working mainly in fashion - and more recently building my own brand which I launched officially just over three years ago when we moved to the countryside, to beautiful rural Dorset. I live and breathe the forest like most Finns do so being so close to it and living amongst all this greenery suits me perfectly.

How did you get started in the world of textiles?

After graduating I worked several years in TV production which looking back never felt like a natural fit. I seemed to be at my happiest at the sewing machine, making things. So when working in TV had become a chore I decided to do something about it. I started sewing things, and before I knew it I was making underwear for myself and then for friends, and soon to shops too! I still remember taking a box of handmade knickers to my favourite shop at the time, the Dispensary on Newman street in Soho and the Buyer there bought the whole box there and then! It is thanks to her that I plucked the courage to start my journey with Bessie, my first foray into running a business and a brand.

Looking back, I have no idea how I knew how to do it at the time and how I found out the right contacts - there's a beauty in all that fearlessness and naivety - but Bessie got stocked in some very prestigious stores like Selfridges, Fenwicks and Topshop too and my range was used for some great campaigns like Kate Moss’ London Look with Rimmel. Her wearing my handmade bra was definitely one of my career highlights!

At the time I was making everything by hand, I was happy and it was taking ALL OF my time. About this time I was also pregnant with my first child, Elmer (who is now 16!). Not long after Elmer was born, I was offered a fantastic opportunity to work as a Buying Assistant at Topshop, on their underwear team and with a little one now to look after, it seemed like a sensible step to take, so I accepted the offer. That is how my career in Buying started. I worked in fashion buying for the next 10+ years and loved it, but once you’ve been your own boss for a while I suppose it stays with you and as years went by people often kept asking me wouldn't I want to start something of my own again?

So after my third child was born in 2017 I decided it was time to start my own business and relocate to somewhere slower and greener and here we are today, running Projektityyny and Steps Barn, our little ‘hideaway in the woods’. Projektityyny wasn’t of course born in a day - alongside my career in fashion I had started to develop an interest for interiors and this interest just grew as I grew older. I was making things by hand in my spare time and selling them through Instagram, and when we moved to the country I decided to officially launch the brand at Pulse - when Lumi, our daughter was only 2 months old. I started working with a factory whom I had a very close relationship with already. They had fantastic soft furnishings capabilities, so I spoke to them and I'm glad to say they were happy to help me on this journey! I still work with the same people today and I don't know where I'd be without this factory.

A mirror reflection of Projekityyny soft surnishings at Court Farm

What does the name stand for?

The name ProjektiTyyny means ‘pillow project’ in Finnish - this is where we started from. I wanted a name that says clearly (well to a Finnish person!) what we do and where we come from. The brand has developed organically and the growth has felt very natural.

How do you see the brand evolving?

Today we are probably most recognised for our cushions and quilts and we have just launched our first collection of table linen for Spring! I had a gut feeling, and personally got very obsessed with table settings - so it's only natural we have added that to the range - and the response has been fantastic. Whatever I feel passionate and excited about is what I will do - there is no point running your own brand if you don't enjoy the ride!

First year was mainly establishing some solid relationships with small boutiques across the UK. After that we have slowly managed to grow our international offering and our direct web sales have had a steady healthy growth year on year.
After spending the first year working from our spare room at home, I managed to find the most beautiful premises and I now work from my studio at Steps Barn - an old barn tucked away at a neighbouring farm - the other side of the barn we converted into an airbnb and it works as a great showroom for all my textiles!
As for short term plans for the brand - we are working on a couple of exciting collaborations at the moment and also discussing with a couple of amazing hotels / locations to provide them with our soft furnishings which is really exciting.

A mixture of Projektityyny cushions on The Hambledon's sofa

Your fabrics are beautiful, how do you source them?

With our handloom cushions, I design them from scratch. Over the course of the years I've designed lots of geometric patterns and now I am mad for gingham so I just wanted to do a couple of simple ginghams but on a handloom which gives it an interesting twist. With handloomed panels you get such amazing texture and individuality into each cushion they all become unique. My weaver in India will use recycled strips of cotton fabric which have been dyed to my palette to weave the design I'm after - it's total magic before your eyes! We use fashion industry’s waste cloth for our chindi cushions.
On our linens and cottons - I get inspired by everything! so sometimes I have a piece of fabric or an image as a starting point and usually a very specific handfeel I am after and we go from there.

We are nosy - tell us about your own home and how you have furnished it

For my own home, I only buy things that I absolutely love. We have very little extra - our home is quite minimal. I don’t like decorative items per se - only items that have a function that have been designed well.
Most of our furniture is vintage, some is found and some sourced or made specifically to fit our needs. So pretty much everything has a story - I really like that. I then mix some new items like modern lamps and my textiles to create that mix that I so love. Its very personal and people always say that both at home and in our barn they can see my touch everywhere! I spend so much time at home that its important to have surroundings that reflect you and who you are. That makes me happy, I don't like having anything in the house that I don't like looking at - it has to be visually beautiful as well as functional.

I don't understand why you would buy something ugly when you could buy something pretty. This applies to everything. Some may first mistake this statement to come from a position of privilege but in fact it does not - a lot of the things I choose to buy are cheaper than their widely available mass produced counterparts - they’ve just needed to be found and potentially repaired.
I have zero desire to buy rubbish quality or mass produced product. It does not bring me joy at all. Throwaway really upsets me - and I feel every single thing you have at home deserves care and should be looked after well no matter how big or small.

I have a 16 year old heavy oak dining table that has the lifespan of all our children drawn on it! Lots of happy times have been spent around that table and it can be seen! Sometimes I think I should sand it but I cannot bring myself to do it, I can still see some pen marks and drawings on it that my first son did when he was a baby! The legs have gone from pink, to grey, to black to now green! The beautiful mid century chairs that surround it were left on the roadside with a ‘please help yourself’ sign so they have been much loved by my family ever since. We upholster old things to give them a new lease of life. James bought me a pair of mid century chairs for Christmas and I had them upholstered locally and we bought this lovely glass cabinet which we covered in wallpaper inside and it now looks fab with all my yellow Finnish crockery! We are also both mad for beautiful ceramics so we have lots of vases and cups that are very close to our hearts - from our travels to South of France and Sweden in particular. And we all love books so we have books everywhere! But the funny thing is we don’t actually have a bookshelf! This is simply because I cannot find one that I love - I think I will have to get a builder to do a bespoke shelving that covers our entire hallway wall upstairs - and one thing that probably tells more about us than anything else is that we have never had a full length mirror in the house!

Images of the new stripe Projektityyny cushions at their Court Farm home

How has your design process evolved over the years?

I suppose at the very beginning I started almost with a blank canvas - and a lot of guessing! I now understand the capabilities and also the limitations of what I and the factory can do so the design process is a lot more focused. I am also never ever short of ideas - and I'm much more confident at developing even those ideas that to someone else may at first glimpse look uncommercial - if I love it I have to develop it! I keep a book of swatches and all my inspiration sources are filed and it is constantly evolving. Nowadays it all starts from a quilt usually, a particular idea that I have had and then I add the cushions to match. The factory also sends me regular updates of the kind of new techniques they can do, so sometimes new ideas stem from that!

What has been your proudest moment with the company?

There has been a few - but one of them definitely our Liberty launch last October! A few years back when I first started the brand I framed a Liberty tea towel onto the wall of my studio as a daily reminder to ‘aim high’ and where I would like to ultimately get to - so when we launched our ‘exclusive for Liberty’ quilts in the store in London last October it was definitely a pinch me moment. I love working with Liberty and hope that relationship continues for many years to come.

Harriett holding a pile of the new stripe Projektityyny cushions

What makes you smile?

a huge fabric showroom
my children
summer and the sun
amazing food
good music

Who do you work with and how does the typical day go?

Well there really isn’t a typical day when you wear all the different hats! Depending on what stage of the collection we are at the days can vary massively. I work on my own, either at my studio at Steps Barn or at home. Well I say on my own, I do have a wonderful team in India that I communicate with daily and a few regular fabric dealers that I am in communication with.
I start the day at 7am - getting my boys' lunches ready - they have a school bus coming to pick them up outside our house which is such a privilege!
I make a cup of tea and do all my emails - I start with India as they are just about to pack up for the day so we can still get through any of the most urgent bits. In the summer I usually do this from our garden which seems so luxurious and makes me feel very grateful.
One of us will take Lumi, our youngest to the nursery - James also runs his own business so we have a lot of flexibility in our days - we can adjust everything around the children and depending on whose business is going through the busiest time!
If I am just putting in new work with the factory there is a lot of time spent drawing and sketching and looking through images and talking to the factory about every single detail.
The time waiting for all our new samples to arrive, is exciting but painful as I am quite impatient - I cannot wait to see and feel everything! These weeks we arrange photo shoots, go through sets with my stylist, book meetings with our wholesale accounts and look for new ones.
If I have just launched a new range or we have an event like a sample sale, then I'm knee deep in packing orders! I run a tight ship and want to do everything so I pack everything myself too, especially our web orders. I am thinking for our wholesale orders I may try and get someone in as packing those can take days.
I usually try and finish most things by 4pm when all the kids are back - until their bedtime we are busy just doing family things and the house feels full of life and very noisy! Once the kids are in bed I'm often finishing emails and booking couriers!

Do you think Projektityyny is riding a trend for prettyness at the moment?

I'm not sure we are riding any trends - well at least not intentionally. I have to say I only do what I absolutely love and I always follow my own instinct and gut feeling, never trends. If you try and force something just because its on trend it will not work. Your passion won't shine through. Saying that though, I do not underestimate the power of Instagram and the print media in influencing us.

A bed at their Court Farm home with Projektityyny cushions

Why do you think the Hambledon and Projektityyny are such a good match?

I first came to visit the store about a year ago - as I had heard so many good things about it and had been a follower on Instagram. As soon as I walked in, I wanted to buy everything, from homeware and accessories to womenswear - in fact I wanted to move in! I knew immediately it was a place I'd like my product in! I actually left my card with a lady at the tills but it took a while to be noticed - I'm sure you get a lot of people leaving their cards! I try and visit all the stores we sell our product in to make sure it's a good match and I have to really like the store to sell there. I decline a lot of offers too. Again it's personal and has to feel right. The Buyers of homewares and fashion for The Hambledon are doing such an amazing job - the selection of product is unique and luxurious yet accessible; and the execution of the ranges in store are really unique and refreshing - all of the product is given its place to shine - there isn’t a stockpile anywhere to be seen. You feel really respected as a designer here. And The Hambledon is our closest store so we like that too!

You are based in West Dorset - tell us about your favourite places

We moved to Dorset about four weeks before Lumi was born in 2017. After 23 years living and working in London the move to a small hamlet with just cows and sheep for neighbours was definitely not without its challenges! Yes we may have been crazy and yes it's taken some time to adjust but it's starting to feel like home. I really craved a lifestyle change and some more time and ‘control’ over my own life and that is definitely what we have here. I am still very much discovering this place but I love that we are close to the sea - Bridport is only a 20mins drive with the beautiful Hive beach and the restaurant that serves the most amazing locally sourced fresh fish, amazing cakes and coffee too. Bridport itself is a lovely old town, slightly eccentric and has a fantastic array of vintage furniture and fashion shops. They run a lovely Saturday market and you can stop nearby at the Soulfood cafe, that offers lovely salads and cakes and a little garden at the back for sunny days. Bridport also has a lot to offer in terms of music, they host some fab indie bands so it's definitely worth a visit.
Studland is another beach I love. Stunning soft sandy beach and very shallow so very easy with kids. The Pig on the Beach hotel is just around the corner so we often combine a lunch or dinner there with a visit to the beach. And talking of beaches, I also have a secret favourite spot that not many people visit and it's fairly unknown: Church Ope in Portland. There is an odd beauty about Portland despite it being quite run down, and I think that is why Church Ope is never crowded. It is a rocky beach, but the walk down is simply breathtaking!
Personally one of my favourite local interior stores is Brassica Mercantile. Louise has got such an amazing eye for interiors and her restaurant is just over the road - the decor is to die for and has inspired some of my choices for our home!
Lyme Regis is not far from us, a beautiful quaint seaside town full of lovely cafes and restaurants and the kids love spending time on the beach here and looking for fossils. Just watch out for those low flying seagulls here, they have absolutely no shame!
Of course we have the famous Hardy's woods here where the author used to live and you can visit his divine little thatched cottage in the woods. This place is perfect for walks and bike rides, there are also wild horses. I never tire of walking here.

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The new Projektityyny stripe cushions on The Hambledon's sofa