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Meet the Northern Ireland designer creating sumptuous interiors inspired by Ulster’s coastline

Cookstown woman Julie Hall explains to Stephanie Bell why she designed her own home in contrast to the colourful patterns she creates for Bedeck, the company which has been making a mark on the world stage

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Julie Hall and others.

Julie Hall and others.

Julie Hall and others.

Nestled in a state-of-the-art factory in a quiet Co Down village is a team of world class designers who are creating bedding which is so beautiful that it is now sought after around the globe.

Heading up that talent at family-run firm Bedeck is Julie Hall, head of design and one of the key people behind the now iconic brand which has taken centre stage in fashionable modern homeware.

Pick up any glossy interiors magazine and chances are that Julie will be featured in its pages advising on the latest looks for your bedroom.

And as she reveals today, much of the inspiration for the company's signature ranges - Bedeck of Belfast and Murmur - has come from the natural beauty of the Northern Ireland landscape.

As well as working on the designs of its own brands, Bedeck has an impressive portfolio which includes some of the biggest design houses in the world such as Sanderson, DKNY, William Morris & Co, Harlequin, V&A, Scion, Joules and Clarissa Hulse.

The Magheralin firm has come a long way since it was first set up as a linen handkerchief manufacturer in 1951 by local man Alexander Irwin.

Now run by his grandsons, brothers Gary and Andrew Irwin, it is known as one of the UK's leading creators of design led, luxury bed and bath linens.

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Grand designs: Julie Hall at Bedeck in Magheralin

Grand designs: Julie Hall at Bedeck in Magheralin

It has two flagship stores in Northern Ireland - Bedeck Lisburn Road, in Belfast, and Bedeck Linen Green, at Dungannon - as well as more than 20 retail outlets, 60 concessions throughout the UK and Ireland and a website at www.bedeckhome.com.

Prices in the Bedeck of Belfast bedding range start from £75 for a duvet for a double bed to £160 for a super king size. Knitted throws start from £120 and cushions are £45. The popular Murmur range starts at £90 for a double bed duvet and throws are £95.

As head of design, Julie is one step ahead when it comes to fashion in our homes and today shares some of the secrets of her success as well as giving us as glimpse of just what new looks will be brightening our homes this year and through 2021.

Well-known in the industry throughout the UK, she was recently awarded a bronze medal by the Society of Dyers and Colourists for her "enthusiastic services to fashion in Northern Ireland".

Originally from Cookstown, but now living close to her work in the village of Waringstown in Co Down, she says she knew as a young girl that she wanted to be a designer.

"From a very early age my favourite thing to do was to draw and paint," she says.

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Proud day: at the new Bedeck showroom’s official opening were, from left, Gary Irwin, joint managing director, TV presenter and architect George Clarke, Julie Hall, head of design, and Andrew Irwin, joint managing director

Proud day: at the new Bedeck showroom’s official opening were, from left, Gary Irwin, joint managing director, TV presenter and architect George Clarke, Julie Hall, head of design, and Andrew Irwin, joint managing director

"On Saturdays, a favourite aunt would take me to Belfast on the bus and buy me colouring pencils and paints - and I was only seven when I decided that I would go to art college and become a designer."

Julie went on to enjoy spells in some impressive design schools. She studied for a BA in printed and woven textiles at Belfast art college, then went on to do a postgraduate course at Winchester School of Art, followed by an MA in textiles and fashion design at Central Saint Martins, London.

She began her career as a freelance artist, drawing and painting artworks for the fashion industry, and worked at the Anthea Davies design studio in Kensington while studying at Central Saint Martins.

Homesickness brought her back to Northern Ireland in 1987 where she joined Irish linen company Ewart Liddell, part of the Coats Viyella group, as design and development manager.

The move to Bedeck came in 1997 as design and product development manager and she soon started to build her own dynamic design studio developing the in-house brands, Bedeck of Belfast and Murmur.

She was appointed head of design in 2006 and now runs a team of 14.

Julie reveals what the driving force behind her work is.

"My job is to create beautiful home textiles that people will want to take home and delight in using," she says.

"I enjoy the whole creative process; each collection has its own identity and challenges. Each brand has its own personality. Colour, pattern and texture are all the key ingredients. I have a wonderful team of 14 creative and innovative designers working across 13 brands.

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Tua duvet cover set, £100 for king size, fitted sheets, £35-£50, Misti cushions, £40, Freya woven throw, £95, Murmur at Bedeck

Tua duvet cover set, £100 for king size, fitted sheets, £35-£50, Misti cushions, £40, Freya woven throw, £95, Murmur at Bedeck

"My main focus is on our in-house brands - Bedeck of Belfast and our Murmur range - and it all starts with a white sheet of paper and it's up to us to come up with the look and colours.

"We usually are working 18 months in advance and I am currently working on designs for autumn/winter 2021.

"Working that far ahead you just rely on intuition and a gut instinct which all designers have about what will be on trend.

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Top team: working in the Bedeck design archive, (from left) Amy Connon, Susie McMahon, Emma Murray, Christine Bell, Julie Hall and Helen Murray

Top team: working in the Bedeck design archive, (from left) Amy Connon, Susie McMahon, Emma Murray, Christine Bell, Julie Hall and Helen Murray

"We go on a lot of trips which could be as far away as India or equally close to home in Ballintoy on the north coast which inspired our new Murmur collection. I also go to a lot of major exhibitions in the likes of the Tate Gallery, the Royal Academy and the V&A museum to get inspiration."

Julie scours specialist shops and the internet for vintage fabrics and has amassed such a vast and valuable collection of materials from down through the ages that the company has recently opened a stunning purpose-built design archive to house some 4,000-plus items.

"Our archive collection is really quite exciting," she enthuses.

"I'm like a magpie as I never throw anything out and the items have been collected over the past 22 years. Our new archive contains hand painted patterns as well as classical and modern designs.

"We have a lot of document textiles, which are getting quite rare now and are highly collectable.

"We also have a range of Japanese kimonos, fabrics from the Forties and Fifties, as well as 18th century silks. The indigos are my favourite! This information is all held in the archive which as built as part of our new showroom and it is a huge room and a fantastic resource for the team to call on."

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Reed diffuser, £30, and scented candle, £25, Murmur at Bedeck

Reed diffuser, £30, and scented candle, £25, Murmur at Bedeck

A lovely part of the job is creating ideas through inspiration gleaned from field trips by the design team, many of which are close to home in Northern Ireland.

The soft signature look of the Murmur brand in particular is inspired by the local environment.

For the spring/summer 2021 collection Julie and two members of her team spent a few days on the Ards peninsula in search of new ideas.

"We stayed in a lovely traditional cottage B&B in Greyabbey and spent a few days going round the peninsula and we were inspired by the colours and the lovely lilacs and greys coming off the sky and the texture of the landscape," she says.

"We also went to Ballintoy and did something similar there and walked the beaches and just took time to look around and see the colours of the flora and fauna.

"At the harbour there was this painted door in the most gorgeous colour of blue which was so inspirational.

"We are taking our ideas from nature and from local architecture and then we bring that all back to the studio and try and convey it on the mood board.

"Murmur is a very soft and gentle brand, all made from organic cotton and very natural. The colours are all very soft and it lends itself perfectly to the lovely Irish landscape."

Looking ahead to trends which will be dominating the coolest homes this year and next, Julie predicts a new colour trend of "classic blue" and a move away from the greys which have dominating interiors for a few years now.

"We are fans of blue at Bedeck!" she says.

"It's a great colour for interiors, especially bedrooms as it has a calming effect.

"Browns are also making a comeback - think dried driftwood and sand with lots of clean white.

"Green is also important, everything from vibrant emeralds to soft grey-green. Soft tonal greens and blues with white create a tranquil softness. Mixing these colours creates the feeling of calm."

Design trends for our home are ever-changing and the good news is that whether you like bold and bright or soft and white, two new emerging trends will have something for everyone.

"This year it is all about 'maximalism'," Julie says. "This is the new big trend, and a reaction to minimalism. It is loud - a mix of colour and pattern, so if you love lots of vibrant colour and pattern you will have fun with this. The main colour palette emerging for this is indigo, blue, emerald green, chartreuse and hot pinks which will all capture this mood.

"Another new trend - and my favourite - is Japandi. This has a huge Japanese influence of simple, clean design, where everything is carefully considered. Mixed with the clean lines of Scandi sensibility, it is a modern, uncluttered look. The colour palette includes mid blue, soft grey/green, linen, pale warm grey and lots of white."

Julie's own home is modern and is painted in a calming palette of creams and whites.

"I actually don't have a lot of pattern in my home," she explains.

"I look at pattern and colour all day in work so when I come home I like things to be quite calm. I love linens and adding texture and I would bring pattern in through paintings and ceramics. My house is about 15 years old and my taste tends to be modern."

Julie is single and enjoys spa weekends and yoga retreats with friends. She entertains mostly at home and especially enjoys having friends over for food in the summer so that they can sit outside and enjoy her beautiful garden.

She describes her garden as her sanctuary and it's where she loves creating seasonal colour and plants to encourage birds and butterflies. She also enjoys cooking and is a vegetarian.

And art and the love of it also plays a huge part in her free time.

"I love collecting stuff - paintings, artisan crafts, and ceramics, nothing too high-brow, but just things I like," she reveals.

"And I love visiting exhibitions. I try to see all the major exhibitions in London or in whatever city I am visiting. I'm excited to see the new Japanese kimono exhibition at the V&A fashion textile museum."

Being able to combine this love of art with her work is a blessing she has never taken for granted.

"My life and career have always been very influenced by every aspect of art and design, and I'm very lucky that my role here allows me to explore so many areas within it," she acknowledges.

"The opportunity to nurture and develop talented young designers has also been very rewarding part of my career."

Julie's top five home design tips

1. There are no set rules when it comes to interior design - it's very personal. Everyone's lifestyle is different, so do what suits you and your family and don't try to be too perfect. A home should tell the narrative of those who live there.

2. Remember the William Morris quote: "Only have in your home that which you deem to be either beautiful or useful!" So buy and collect what you love, surround yourself with items that inspire and make you happy. Be the curator of your own home.

3. Declutter - most of us have too much 'stuff'. Decluttering is free and it will create more space, which people are often short of.

4. When decorating, I like to keep floors, walls and ceilings very neutral, in palettes of soft whites, sandy tones, or warm greys. A warm white or light colour used throughout the home creates a feeling of space.

5. Decorate with the seasons like you would with your wardrobe. In winter add warm cosy throws and cushions and go for warmer tones of colour for your decorating scheme. Layer up with quilted cotton throws and mohair blankets - mixing different textures is also a key trend. In summer, ring the change with cooler colours, adding throws in cotton and linen, replace woolly rugs with flat weave and change your bedding to crisp cotton percale or linen.

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