Bonnie Ashley and Neil Downie: colour inspirations and creating crockery

We have a conversation with Bonnie and Neil across the Pacific to discuss printing processes and the botanical influences from their travels across the globe

Bonnie Ashley and Neil Downie printing studio

Australian duo Bonnie Ashley and Neil Downie have been the proud owners of their interiors brand, Bonnie and Neil, since 2010. While Bonnie has roots in floristry, Neil has spent time working in furniture and now, together, Bonnie and Neil boasts over 80 stockists as well as its own store in Melbourne.

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Nikki Pierce profile interior

How do your backgrounds and skills complement each other?

Between Neil and I, we have a range of skills gathered over the years in both a professional and personal capacity including floristry, fine art, photography, textiles, furniture making and set designs. Our skill set is very complementary, I have the creative vision and Neil applies the practical, problem solving side of things to make these visions come to life.

Can you describe your studio and its location to us?

We’ve recently purchased a studio of our very own in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. The area is called Reservoir and has traditionally been quite industrial but there are lots of other creative people relocating there which also means cafés, bars and other like-minded businesses are opening up shop. We’re excited to be part of a suburb that’s transitioning. Our studio space services all parts of our business process. It’s where the majority of our production happens from hand screen-printing textiles to making furniture pieces and artworks. At the back, we’ve a designated space which lets us show our latest collection, shoot product and sell pieces too.

What do you hope people enjoy most about their visit to your showspace?

Customers are often surprised that our products are handmade and printed straight out of our studio in Melbourne. Even long-time Bonnie & Neil fans are fascinated to see our team printing products in front of them. Having our showroom space located right inside our studio gives anyone who visits a new-found appreciation for the time and effort that goes into each piece from concept development to gift wrapping. We love seeing how people style our products in their own spaces, so it’s great to see photos and chat about their plans.

Bonnie and Neil pillow and crockery printing designs

How do you get your ideas from paper to product?

Some ideas are slow burning, whereas others are completely spontaneous. Most start with a painting, drawing or photograph, scanned then collaged often to get our final artwork. We make all of our screens in-house, so each part of the process is bespoke. Many of our ideas are botanically inspired as I was a florist for years.

Where have you travelled and how much have these places inspired your design ideas?

We love travelling, both around Australia and to faraway places. Some of the best locations we’ve visited include Hawaii, Europe and India. We’ve also participated in trade fairs in the US and Europe, and often visit our wholesale customers in both locations as well as those based in Asia. When travelling we regularly visit botanic gardens and natural wonders, making notes and taking photos for future collections and design ideas. Australia is a huge country with a wide range of different landscapes. From the rainforests of Queensland to the rough coastline of Victoria, we’ve been exposed to all sorts of flora and fauna, and we’ve still got so much to explore.

How does the diverse Australian culture and landscape inspire you and your work?

The Australian landscape and particularly its flora and fauna are regular creative influences of our work. Our earlier collections included birds, native animals and local plant life from areas like the Daintree rainforest. Since then we’ve continued to incorporate native plants such as Hakea and the flowering wattle, and also added more birds to our ranges.

How do you choose colour palettes and what are your thoughts on the influence of fashion and trends?

Our colour palettes can be inspired by a photo or vintage textile, anything really. We are not so directly dictated to by trends, rather we design and make what we love and what we would love to have in our own home.

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What would be your dream creative project to work on?

Probably a unique restaurant or dining experience, everything from the plates, flatware, linen, vases and flowers.