Made in Britain: Timorous Beasties

Timorous Beasties manufactures fabric and wallpaper.

made in britainThere’s nothing mouse-like about Timorous Beasties. The Glasgow-based design duo might have taken their name from Robert Burn’s ode To a Mouse, but, considering their fondness for subversive, off-trend, surreal and sometimes provocative patterns, their nickname of ‘The Beastie Boys’ is perhaps more appropriate.

Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons met at the Glasgow School of Art and set up their design studio in 1990. ‘We had that level of arrogance that you can only leave art school with and assumed that we could just take the market by storm and be making money within months. The reality was very different,’ explains Mr McAuley.

Set against a backdrop of (and in competition with) other manufacturers producing classic soft-edged patterns and discreet designs that had graced walls and windows for centuries, Timorous Beasties’ range of fabrics covered in weedy thistles and jagged lizards initially struggled to find a market. ‘That was fortunate in a way. No one wanted to print it and no one wanted to sell it, so we were forced to set up a studio and print everything in-house—but that way, we kept control.’

Fast-forward 25 years and the brand has found a loyal following and, although a line of cushions is now available in John Lewis— normally a by-word for hitting the mainstream—it still remains true to the artistic leanings of the founders. Two of their most popular patterns are Thistle and Iguana, but they’re also known for their modern take on toile du Jouy. However, instead of classic pastoral scenes, on closer inspection, you’ll notice vignettes of city life pictured: modern buildings and the grit and grime of its underbelly.

‘My friend said we’d “sold out” when he saw our Glasgow Toile, but we’d used references local to our studio for inspiration,’ says Mr McAuley. ‘It’s a recognisable, comforting textile with a subversive edge —some like it, some don’t, which is fine by us.’

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