Kate Conrad, an interior design specialist at Madison and Mayfair, has always found literature a source of inspiration in her work. To celebrate the life of the author, Kate pens a thoughtful reflection on Austen’s work. She tells us how her writings work to make us all better individuals.
1) We hear you have written a thoughtful reflection on Austen’s work. Can you tell us what inspired this and where we can read it? How has this inspired your work?
My design work has always been inspired by literary greats – I’ve been outspoken in the past about the influence of the likes of Wilde and Fitzgerald on my design work. Jane Austen’s representation of Regency-era style is unmatched, and her work has provided great inspiration for a number of my design projects. I wrote the piece around the time of national Jane Austen Day, which was celebrated in December 2021, to share why her writing is still so pertinent today – not just in terms of her influence on my design, but her influence on myself as a person too. The full piece is up on Madison & Mayfair’s website with our other articles if you’d like to read it.
2) As an interior design specialist working in a creative field how important is it for you to find inspiration?
Creative inspiration is absolutely crucial to what I do. For anyone working in a creative field, whether they are an interior designer like me, or a musician, writer or artist, finding inspiration is essential to the craft. Such inspiration can come from anywhere, and you may find yourself inspired by anything – for me, inspiration comes largely in the form of literature.
3) Besides books, what other things motivate your creativity?
Truthfully, a lot of my motivation comes directly from my career path. I began my career as a schoolteacher and later decided to pursue interior design as it was something I felt incredibly passionate about. There’s a Japanese concept called ‘ikigai’ which refers to the balanced fulfillment you find when your talents and passions converge; my vocational switch allowed me to find this balance, and it’s the gratification I get from doing what I love that motivates me.
4) Before Jane Austen were there any other authors or creative personalities you have closely associated your work with?
My design work has been inspired by a host of literary figures. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, is practically synonymous with the Art Deco movement and the roaring 20s in America. Art Deco design is always cycling back into style, and it’s a timeless style I love using to embody in my work. Beyond aesthetics, though, Fitzgerald was an author who romanticised the very concept of timelessness, longing for the golden hour of youth to be preserved so it could remedy the symptoms of life’s harsh reality. Fitzgerald lauded Art Deco aesthetic grandeur – not for merely superficial cause, but because it represented a comforting escape from the world outside. Fitzgerald’s philosophy is one I strive to encapsulate in my work.
5) What are you working on at the moment?
We launched a number of soft furnishing items over the Winter, which was a new and exciting exploration for our company. At the moment, though, I’m getting ready to launch a new product range full of products from really varying interests. Of course, I find my primary inspiration in literature, but in these new ranges, I’ve worked with a lot of new décor styles from around the world to expand my creativity. I can’t spill too many details, but I can say that I’m super excited!
6) Why could we all do with a bit more of Austen’s spirit in our lives?
Austen was a revolutionary of her time but managed to hide her assessments of strict Regency morality behind a veil of sarcasm. She drew attention to the confining reality faced by women in her contemporary era to provide a commentary on society’s downfalls. For all her vigorous, moralistic appraisals, though, Austen also offers her readership hope. Her female protagonists embodied hope for the future, where women would have the freedom to be witty and quick, not befitting of the defined mould they were expected to fit. Austen blended the real and the ideal, revealing society’s shortcomings while instilling optimism for women in the future. When you cast your eyes over the global landscape we’re in right now, it’s undeniable that moral assessment is needed, but it is equally true that hope is something we could all use a little more of.
7) Austen’s writing served an important moral purpose in its revelation of the inequalities and injustices of society. Her writing often tried to expose the confining realities of women and their position in society. Do you see any change in women’s position in society in 2022?
The women in Jane Austen’s novels had a lot to contend with when it came to their restricted societal position. In Regency-era Britain, women were not allowed to have independent careers, but were merely to hope for a companionate and a wealthy husband on whom they could rely upon would appear. Though women don’t experience this same type of restriction in 2022, their place in society is not held without struggle. Events of the last year or so have demonstrated the demoralising and deep-rooted prevalence of misogyny in our society. Though I’m sure many may be feeling despondent, we must remember that what is happening is categorically wrong. Stay optimistic and keep breaking glass ceilings – change, though perhaps slow, will be inevitable.
8) Sustainability is currently very topical. What steps is the interior design industry taking to be part of this journey?
Enacting sustainable practices is something every industry must do, and interior design is no different. Companies should be taking the lifecycle of products into account, and refrain from making products that are quickly replaced. Sustainable materials must also be utilised further. To use myself as an example, I’ve worked to embody tireless trends in my products, to ensure they stand the test of time. Moreover, as sustainable practices have grown in prevalence, companies dedicated to enacting them have grown too. At our events, we’ve enlisted the help of Delta Global to ensure our packaging met sustainability standards – outsourcing is a great option when it comes to sustainability measures, and has helped us greatly in the past.
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Kate Conrad is the lead interior designer for homeware company Madison & Mayfair. She is an avid reader of literary classics, who combines her love of design with the works of her favourite literary figures, creating unique artistic products. Kate draws on her favourite authors in her design work, combining timeless trends with modern sensibilities. Her free time is spent travelling, absorbing the spirit of design of every place she visits, and she cherishes moments spent with her family and friends.