Caroline Gardner, one of the UK’s leading stationery designers, lives in Barnes, southwest London, with her husband Angus and their three sons and one daughter. Her eldest son graduated this summer and is now working in a film production company in Soho, and is living back at home. Their second son and a daughter are away at university and school respectively, and the youngest is still at home.
What is your family’s morning routine?
I guess our morning ritual is as chaotic as a lot of people’s. Our youngest travels to school in Wimbledon, and five minutes after he is supposed to have left to catch the bus, he can usually be found running about near the front door in a blur of rowing kit, football and school books. Our eldest son, who leaves everything to the last minute and seems to move from sound asleep to walking to the station in one seamless movement, slips out at about 8am: leaving me to take care of some quick emails and then take our dog, Miller, for a walk along the Thames Tow Path or in Richmond Park.
What is your office environment like?
I like to think our office is pretty relaxed. I’m sure Miller thinks that every morning I take her to this place which has an endless line of people sitting at desks waiting to pat her: heaven! We are lucky to overlook the Thames which is a huge source of inspiration. There is always something going on out there, come rain or shine. One summer we even saw a dolphin swimming around - and we are located 60 miles to the open sea!
Do you have such a thing as a typical day?
A typical day is only typical in the sense that there are always a million different things to do on each of them. But every day is different. If we are planning for a new release of designs (which we almost always are) then there are ideas to kick about and endless designs to tweak and sign off. We are launching a range of cotton shopping bags, mugs and tea towels featuring my designs, and have plans for even more exciting things for summer 2014. We seem to be exhibiting at more and more trade shows, both here and also in America where my designs are really taking off; which drives the demand for ‘new’ even more.
Did you always want to do what you do now, for a job?
To be honest, I’m not sure I ever really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have always known I would do something creative, having trained in art and design as well as interior design at Chelsea College of Art, but more precisely than that, no. To be able to know you want to be a doctor or a teacher at an early age, I imagine, must be liberating.
What was the first thing you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?
It was probably something to do with Lego. I was always building and rebuilding Lego houses as a young child, getting lost in the minutiae of layouts and all the possibilities. How great it would be to have all that total flexibility in real life!
What is the best thing about your job?
There are so many things I love about my job, but I suppose being able to come up with a product idea on one day and then see it on the shelves a few months later, never ceases to be a thrill.
How do you come up with creative, original ideas?
I have a genuine interest in so many creative areas, from painting to fashion and interiors to garden design. I find inspiration all over the place and when something inspires me in whatever area, I try to file it away. My children too are sometimes the catalyst for a new design – some of their quirky, funny ‘sayings’ even sparked a brand new range of card this year. It’s amazing how much crossover there is when you’re not looking.
How do you juggle family life with work life?
As with running our business, ‘running’ the family is something that we have always done as a team of two. Angus and I have been married for 26 years and the company is now 20 years old, so it’s going pretty well so far. With four children and a very busy business, things can get a bit hectic but we always manage to find a way to work it out and keep smiling. To have someone who you instinctively know has your interests at heart even more than their own is the perfect scenario and only good things can come of that.
What do you do outside of work, with your family?
Family life is the most important thing in our world. Things obviously change as your kids grow up, but although those early visits to the playground soon turn into the touch line of a football pitch, and then the ferrying around to parties at all hours, the core dynamic in many ways remains the same. Older kids complaining that the younger ones have it so much better than they did and vice versa. We still always manage to have fabulous family holidays like the one we had this summer; a road trip down the coast of California with everyone in tow. It was truly fantastic and I will never forget it.
Would you want your children to follow in your footsteps?
All our children are different. They have always been and will always be their own people. I couldn’t think of anything worse than wanting them to do what I have done.
If you had superhero skills, (flying, invisibility, super strength), what would be your dream job?
I get in to enough trouble with the unheroic powers I’ve got, thanks very much; imagine the mess I would get into with super powers.
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