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May 15, 2023 —

Love What You Do: Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis

An intuition for colour and storytelling led Cassandra Ellis from a career in set and event design to creating thoughtful colour collections for Atelier Ellis, her small-batch handmade paint company
Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis, a UK natural paint company
Natural paint samples by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Hi Cassandra? How would you describe Atelier Ellis?

We make beautiful colours and paint as a conduit to help people tell their story of home. Our individual relationship with colours and palettes has always fascinated me; and I hope by making best practice natural paint, we give people the space – head and heart – to think about how they would like to live and what colours they would like to live with.

Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis, a UK natural paint company

How did Atelier Ellis come to be?

I’ve personally always made my own colours. The colours that interest me are always more complex and ‘dirtier’ than other offerings. I’m also deeply fascinated by humans and home – the ‘why’ people choose, much more than the ‘what’. One day I just decided to do it. Looking back, it was quite brave, making good and responsible paint is not easy.

What did you do before setting up Atelier Ellis?

I started my career in set and event design in TV –I’ve always been interested in making worlds that tell stories of home. I’m a New Zealander by birth but have lived in the UK for half my life. From set and event design I moved into product design and property. Colour and storytelling has always been the link.

White natural paint by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Always books, art, gardens, landscapes and poetry. You just have to want to see, and a plethora of ideas await.

How would you describe your style?

Spare, but detailed. I don’t like many things, but I do like them to have elements of the hand making or the passage of time as part of their appeal.

White natural paint by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

Are there themes that run through your work, or that you are drawn to?

I think it is the elements of delicate, spare, space and light. I’m probably most interested in ‘undoneness’ – leaving the cracks for the light to get in.

Could you tell us a little about your creative process?

It’s a very big circling process. I read a great deal – not necessarily design – but newspapers, politics, organic farming, poetry – anything really. I also visit a lot of exhibitions. But mostly I’m just very interested in life. Themes and ideas form; these could be personal or a collective movement that I can feel coming. I write, make visual mood boards, and write some more. And then we have a colour or a collection or colours!

Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis, a UK natural paint company

Describe a typical working day…

There really isn’t one. We have our factory and now our store. So, I am between both of these, plus on the road creating bespoke consultations. I plan and make our colours, but I also creative direct all our imagery and packaging. I work with my chemist to continually improve our product, and am with our production team every day  to make sure everything goes out to our customers as perfectly as humanly possible. We are a small team, so we all talk about what we make, how we can serve our customers better, or even who’s going to the allotment today! I would love to say that I have a day to write and think, but this is usually Sunday afternoon at home. 

What is the ethos behind your business, or the values that are a focus for you?

Humanity – helping people feel safe, protected and uplifted at home, that is all.

Dark black natural paint by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

What sort of space do you work in?

We have our factory – which is a classic industrial unit – paint being a heavy and tricky beast to transport. But it is on the River Avon, and our neighbours brew chai tea, which is an olfactory pleasure. We have south facing windows so our allotment plants get an excellent start, and we get to enjoy lots of light.

Our store is in Walcot Street, which is the artisan quarter of Bath. It’s a tiny townhouse with a retail shopfront – so a home that is open to all. And I love that. I have a studio at the top of the store here, but to be honest my books and paper travel from factory to store to home and back.

Black natural paint by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

Tell us about your location and neighbourhood…

We live in the centre of Bath, five minutes from our store on one side and 10 minutes to our factory. I love living here. It’s visually beautiful, life is simple and stimulating at the same time.

How valuable is the online community to your work?

We built our business based on this. I wanted our business to be about home, which means many individuals. I was told by many to ‘focus on trade’ – but my joy comes from helping people – and social media has helped us enormously.

Oatmeal and black walls natural paint by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

Working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

Making ‘paint’ as a true independent and as a woman – had been extraordinarily difficult. Most paint brands take a ‘white label’ offering from one of the big factories, which they then have to retrofit messaging, branding and colour stories. I was adamant that we would make our own formulas., our own colours ,and our own story. So, the challenge is being independent – and the real joy is being independent – wholly owned so we can do exactly what we want.

What does your ideal day off look like?

Simple pleasures – a walk and coffee with my husband and dogs. Reading, lunching, a glass or two of wine somewhere beautiful, or a drive to all of these.

Pink brown natural paint by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

What have been your business highlights so far?

Making the colours for the Whitechapel Gallery was fantastic, but mostly just being here. Growing slowly and carefully in a financially sound way. And making people feel their right self at home.

What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?

I mix and pack paint. Anything anyone else does in our business, I can do and quite happily will do.

Natural paint samples by independent paint maker Atelier Ellis

Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?

As a family we love to cook – so gathering people together to eat really well is wonderful. But textiles; sewing , pattern making, dyeing, I’ve always done it and it’s a very pleasurable way for me to spend time.

Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis, a UK natural paint company

What does the next year hold for Atelier Ellis?

We are just opening our first store  so I imagine there is a lot to hone, finesse and make better. We have had a fairly major last six months moving ourselves and the business from London to Bath, so this year is a year of making everything we have better.

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Books I loveThe Sensual Home – Ilse Crawford , We Are What We Eat – Alice Waters, Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Art Spirit – Robert Henri 

Creative heroes: Ilse Crawford, Pauline Rothschild, David Chipperfield and Dan Pearson

Shops I love: Egg, David Mellor, Arts & Science

Inspirational places: Kettle’s Yard and Neues Museum

www.atelierellis.co.uk

@atelier.ellis

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