Wayne Hemingway: Multipurpose interiors and the importance of shower presssure

We talk to Red or Dead co-founder Wayne Hemingway about his knack for thrifting, mid-century modern design and his up-cycled sofas

Wayne Hemingway fashion and home design

Wayne Hemingway MBE is a British designer and co-founder, with his wife Gerardine, of Hemingway Design.

Advertisement MPU article

The couple created the iconic fashion label Red or Dead when they were 20 and 19 respectively, after starting out selling second-hand clothes in Camden Market. After they sold the label in 1995, they founded Hemingway Design to focus on affordable and social design with the core philosophy that “design is about improving things that matter in life”. The couple have four grown-up children and they divide their time between London and their home in West Sussex, which Gerardine designed. Their daughter Tilly also works for the family business and is a ceramicist in her own right.

Molly Mahon profile with pink patterned fabric print
Profile by Sarah Weal

What is central to your work?

We firmly believe that great design comes from a desire to improve things that matter in life, so we try and make sure that our projects have a social purpose and are as democratic and accessible as possible.

How did the business first take off?

Back in the 70s, we ran vintage clothing stalls. We loved the idea of buying something for 10p and selling it for £20. It never felt like work and eventually we were able to buy a house from the cash we made. We created the label and it went from there really.

Of all your projects, which makes you most proud?

The Staiths South Bank in Gateshead. I made a comment more than 15 years ago bemoaning the ‘Wimpeyfication’ of Britain’s new-build homes and was shocked when, rather than sue us, George Wimpey asked us to design a whole estate for them. We are very proud of Staiths: the overall design and visual appearance is uplifting and proves that it is possible to make affordable and better homes and still make money for house builders.

Wayne Hemingway G Plan Vintage Hemingway Design collaboration
© Hemingway Design
© Hemingway Design

For those who assume you can’t be thrifty and stylish, what would you say?

Have a browse through our website and visit our projects and events. Just like my mum and my nan – and the nightclubbing friends we grew up with – myself and Gerardine were from relatively poor backgrounds. Yet with a bit of nouse we were the coolest kids on the block.

Why did you move to West Sussex?

To be near a beautiful sandy beach at weekends and to bring the kids up in place where they could truly run free. Gerardine was pregnant with our fourth (and last!) child when the idea for our house was conceived, so family life was very much at the fore. It’s very open plan with communal spaces where the kids can play, do homework and we can cook dinner – there’s even a climbing wall.

What’s your advice on kitchens or bathrooms?

For us, it’s simplicity, minimalism, space to prep and nothing to clean/dust around in the bathroom. It’s the simple things that matter, like making sure the shower is powerful enough to feel good and can you put the soap on a shelf. In our house, adaptability is key so that the kitchen is an office, the office is a kitchen. The pool table is a cupboard, the cupboard is a pool table. The library is a hot plate. The hot plate is a design drawing board. It makes sense to ensure that every space and their features are as multi-functional as possible.

Wayne Hemingway Carnival Zest wallpaper and Royal Doulton ceramic collaboration
Royal Doulton ceramic collaboration and Carnival Zest wallpaper © Hemingway Design

Which are your most prized pieces in your home?

Our sofas. They are made from an old boat and make great talking points with friends and family. And my vinyl, which is mostly Northern Soul.

Advertisement MPU article

What is your favourite period for design?

Mid-century modern. I love buildings like the Southbank and the Barbican.