When brand strategist Mark Hampshire and designer Keith Stevenson came together to form Absolute Zero, they did so with very little fanfare, six years on and it’s a very different story. Ever since the release of their, now classic, “Swallows” wallpaper catapulted the company into the limelight, this jack of all trades design partnership has been on an unstoppable course to creative stardom.
Though they like to be flexible for their clients, it is undoubtedly wallpaper for which Absolute Zero are best known. So what exactly is their secret, I mean, there are lots of great wallpaper companies out there these days- Cole & Sons, Laura Ashley and Lucy Art to name just a few. Looking at some examples of Mark and Keith’s work, though you might never have seen it before there is something familiar about it, you won’t be able to put your finger on it but you will find it oddly comforting- this is where the genius of the work lies.
Mark and Keith originally came together through a mutual appreciation they shared for mid 20th century design, so when creating new wallpaper they would use images and evocative memories from their childhoods as inspiration. The result is not so much as collection of period reprints but a montage of fond recollections and it is this that grabs us on a level that gives goose bumps.
A great example of this is their “Do You Live in a Town?” wallpaper which unashamedly harks back to the seventies, specifically the classic seventies children’s cartoon “Mary, Mungo and Midge”. This playful approach is definitely a trademark of Absolute Zero- launching Mini Moderns a few years back in response to the lack of great design aimed at children. And it is obviously an approach that has paid of handsomely as the range now has its own dedicated website which sells sixteen separate wallpapers, chinaware, textiles, ready made curtains, bedside table tamps and other accessories.
A current favourite amongst trendy homeowners is Absolute Zero’s “Net & Ball” paper. Based on Peter Moro and Leslie Martin’s 1951 carpet for the Royal Festival Hall, the design is very retro in its style but also has a strong graphic element to it- drawing on experiences from Keith’s previous guise as a graphic designer.
Another fantastic example of their special brand of easy-to-relate-to work is their “Sitting Comfortably” wallpaper which features a range of fifties and sixties style chairs. Simple yes, but incredibly effect and comfortingly nostalgic- made even more so by the pencil drawn style of the pattern-remember pencils?!!
Absolute Zero’s wallpaper designs artfully bridge the gap between old and new design whilst deftly steering around the over trodden ground of cliché ridden design. They provide the perfect background for today’s trend for filling rooms with an eclectic mix of furniture form various eras.
Though it shouldn’t be a shock when the old sits comfortably next the new- after all that is the point of good design- that it lasts- it is always a pleasant surprise when someone does it so well, Mark and Keith have done more than that, they have taken nostalgia and made it cutting edge!