Nora Nilsson’s decision to start ProjektiTyyny began quietly; with an evening at home, sewing. ‘I was just playing around with some fabric and decided to make a cushion,’ she says ‘it was an experiment really, but I was pleased with end result so I posted it on Instagram and didn’t think much more about it.’ The response from her followers was overwhelmingly positive. ‘It was amazing to see all these lovely comments and I thought, hang on, maybe I could do something with this.’
A couple of years later ProjektiTyyny was born – the name is a nod to her Finnish roots, ‘I’m from Finland,’ Nora explains ‘and wanted a Finnish name for my brand, which was simple and self-explanatory so Projekti (project) and Tyyny (cushion) seemed perfect!’
Setting up her own brand was not a new experience for Nora; shortly after graduating from university with a degree in art she launched an underwear brand – her first foray into design and running a business. ‘I really enjoyed having my own brand, and I was selling at some high end stores like Selfridges and Fenwicks but I was offered an amazing opportunity to join the buying office of a major international retailer, so accepted the position and moved into fashion buying.’ We’d also just recently had our first baby so it seemed like a ‘safer’ option.
Nora’s time in buying meant working closely with designers and textiles, ‘I tended to buy woven rather than knitted materials – it’s my real forte! My years as a buyer means I really understand the potential of woven cloth and what can be achieved – it’s been fundamental to my design work.’
Buying also involved frequent trips to the Far East and India. ‘Those trips were a real turning point. They gave me the opportunity to see some amazing materials, techniques and the latest developments in fabric weaving.’ She discovered a passion for the aesthetic of Indian textiles in particular. ‘I always brought back treasure from India – and I always knew they’d feature in my home in one shape or form.’
Initially, Nora ran ProjektiTyyny alongside her job in buying. Working full time, whilst trying to build the business proved frustrating; ‘My time was so limited, I felt like I wasn’t giving my all to ProjektiTyyny and that was quickly becoming my priority.’ So, in early 2017 Nora left work for maternity leave – and a decision was made. ‘I had to choose to either go full steam ahead with Tyyny,’ she explains, ‘or give up and focus on buying. I decided to make the jump and leave my job. It felt risky, but exciting at the same time!’
The risk paid off: ProjektiTyyny has gone from strength to strength and has led to a change of lifestyle with a move from London to West Dorset. ‘We’re now living in the most beautiful countryside,’ Nora says, ‘I’ve not looked back – I craved a slower, simpler life after 20 years in London.’ The move has also given Nora the opportunity to rent a workspace, five minutes drive from her house. ‘It’s great to finally have somewhere just for the business so I don’t have to burden our home with all the clutter a growing business brings along!’
Nora structures her day around her three children – starting after dropping her eldest two at school, and working in ‘short bursts of productivity’ around Lumi, her youngest child. Work stops once the children are home from school and starts up again once the children are in bed. ‘I think once Lumi starts playschool and I have more solid time in the day, I’ll have a more structured approach,’ she says, ‘but for now, once she’s napping I work on whatever is next in line whether it’s working on a new design, setting up a new marketing campaign or working on accounts.’
Her design process is ‘layered’ and can be lengthy ‘it can take weeks or months to get from an initial idea to a proto of a product,’ she explains. ‘I collate ideas in a scrapbook, which percolate for a bit before I start designing. I’m inspired by lots of things – nature, people, architecture – I’m always ‘on’ when it comes to finding inspiration. Once I have a design I’m happy with, I create a colour palette – I buy swatches of materials and wool and play around until it’s perfect.’
Nora often weaves a miniature version of her design on a small hand loom to get an idea of what the finished sample will look like. Next, in Nora’s words, comes the hardest part – explaining the design to her maker in India. ‘It often takes a few protos until we get to the point where I’m happy with the product. We’ve worked together for a few years now, but it can be tricky to communicate my vision over email using images and drawings. The next thing on my list is to spend some time in India so we can do all the development face to face.’
Nora’s designs bring together a Scandinavian aesthetic and Indian design – was this blend of styles a deliberate decision? ‘Not really, I didn’t set out to do it but it seemed to happen naturally. I’m Finnish, so the Scandinavian simplistic aesthetic is solidly rooted in me. I grew up in a world of monochrome palettes and simplistic shapes.’
The opposite is true of the intricacies of Indian design… ‘I know! I love simplicity but yet I love so much about Indian weaving techniques. I try and take the elements I love most from both cultures and combine them into something which I’d like to have in my home. People say they love the result – so it seems to work!’
Does she ever get creatively blocked? ‘I do, especially if I am trying to design to a specific deadline. I have learnt the best way to deal with it is to keep the process fluid, and not to stop and start. It helps to not worry about seasons or trends – it’s less limiting – and good design is always timeless.’
What advice would she give an aspiring designer? ‘Always follow your heart and never compromise on your designs. It never works. Know that you’ll have long, hard days but remember once you get it right you’ll reap the rewards – working for yourself means the sky is the limit, you are in complete control,’ she says. ‘And it’s hugely satisfying to be doing something every day that you absolutely love.’
Describe your work in three words: Luxury home textiles
What are your making rituals? None for the moment – a little baby means there’s no time for rituals!
Tea or Coffee? Tea in the morning and coffee in the afternoon!
Mountains or Sea? Oh this is tricky… I think it would have to be mountains
Night Owl or Early Bird? Early bird definitely
I wish someone had told me… to always have a backup plan and to keep all my receipts in order!