Made in London: Daniel Heath

This is the latest in our Made in London series of films about London-based makers by filmmaker William Scothern. This month’s video is about British surface pattern designer Daniel Heath. With the strapline “salvaged and crafted artisan surfaces,” Daniel hand-draws his historically inspired illustrations before applying them to everything from wallpaper and fabric to reclaimed slate tiles and antique mirrors mounted onto coffee tables.

Now based in the heart of East London, Daniel moved to the capital to study at the Royal College of Art. “The main influence this time had on my work was the idea that someone with training in textile design can apply their knowledge to other outcomes,” he says. “I worked with a lot of different people on a range of projects, often simultaneously. I remember running up and down the stairs because the lifts would be out of action and the departments are split across seven floors. I’d be running up to architecture, down to ceramics or product design, and up again to fashion. It was frenetic, exciting and a lot of fun.”

The experience has clearly had a profound influence on his work to this day, but the craftsmanship of his discipline has always been important too: “When I was studying textiles, I wanted to know all about the traditional process of screen printing and I wanted to be good at it.” He learnt his craft at the RCA, but honed it while hand-printing runs of 500 t-shirts and sweatshirts for a friend’s clothing label on a print table he bought while studying and stored in the roof of a dishcloth factory.

Now with his own studio at shared maker-space Blackhorse Workshop, Daniel is printing more than just t-shirts. He now specializes in up-cycling and re-appropriating what he calls “authentic heritage materials” to make bespoke, hand printed wallpapers and interior surfaces to order. Having to explore other materials because he couldn’t afford silk at university has served him well.

His designs, all hand-drawn, often recall the Victorian era to form playful narratives inspired by everything from taxidermy to the circus. “When I design a new wallpaper, I begin by doing a lot of research to establish an idea or theme,” he says. “I’ll go to exhibitions, visit locations, take photos and make sketches.”

He then applies the resulting designs using technologies such as laser engraving to create his unique products, which cross the boundaries between technology and craft. He makes everything to order. “I enjoy the making process,” he says. “Making to order means that my customers can request bespoke alterations and are not restricted to a set colour. And there are no stockpiles of stuff sitting around in warehouses that I need to worry about selling – if something is ordered, then I make it.”

Alongside his making career, Daniel is also an academic and has lectured at universities including Loughborough, Manchester, Bournemouth, Staffordshire, Bucks New University and Central St Martins. He also provides mentoring for young designers through the Crafts Council Hot House scheme.

He works for private clients as well as brands such as Swoon Editions, Panasonic Europe, Farrow & Ball, Heal’s and Anthropologie, and he is a brother of the Artworkers’ Guild, London.

Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven journalist, author and, podcaster championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. She is also the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a program and membership community for designer-makers who want to join the circular economy. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.