“I’m vintage now, you know!”
PUBLISHED: 09:40 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:41 26 November 2013
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011
“There are always things you wished you’d done in life, and for me it is learning French properly and playing the piano. My granddaughter was having lessons and she moved away so I decided to take her place,” says Pat Albeck.
Mischievous and spirited in a way that those a quarter of her age would envy, the inspirational textile designer is making tea in her kitchen while discussing her weekly piano lesson, in which she admits to not being the easiest of pupils.
She and husband Peter Rice, a theatre designer, live in a suitably characterful old house on the picturesque village green in Aldborough, with blue stained windows and a colourful cottage garden. Inside, the house is marvellously eclectic. Nothing appears to belong to one particular period yet everything seems to fit perfectly. Her designs are evident everywhere.
“I’m vintage now you know,” laughs Pat, as she gestures up her staircase at the bold, almost monochrome patterned wallpaper which was recently re-issued by Sanderson.
“I always remember because I designed it when Matthew was born.” Matthew, of course, is Matthew Rice, designer, author, architectural and nature enthusiast, and husband of renowned pottery designer Emma Bridgewater. Around the room there is no escaping the pottery influence.
“I am not short of mugs, being Emma Bridgewater’s mother-in-law,” she laughs. Over the years, she has designed for some of the most famous textile companies in the world, including Sanderson, Liberty of London and Horrockses, and her work has been the subject of countless exhibitions.
Her fabrics are all about bright, bold colours and dramatic shapes, but they are also inspired by nature, with imaginative greenery and swirling floral patterns.
“The ones I always really liked are the ones that never seem to look so dated now. I don’t think I used to work like other designers. I think I had my own style which changed with periods but was not necessarily typical of that period.”
She still likes to paint every day and is still creating those iconic textile designs.
“I like to get up and start with a clean white sheet of paper and then pick a bunch of flowers from the garden to paint,” she says.
Pat attended art school in her home town of Hull, but her career really started when she enrolled at The Royal College of Art in 1950 in London. “It was three years in the heart of South Kensington and I loved every moment. Then I was spotted by Horrockses and got the most wonderful job designing dress fabrics.
“They say the Queen had Horrockses but I don’t remember that. But they did dress so many of the famous actresses at the time, like Vivien Leigh.”
Her career has taken her all over the world and when she left Horrockses, she began designing what she describes as “problem things” – like bed linen and table mats – working for likes of John Lewis, Conran and Habitat. Since 1967, she has also designed a tea towel every year for the National Trust.
Pat and Peter moved to Norfolk from London just over a decade ago, following Matthew and Emma here.
“My favourite thing about Norfolk is Alan Gray and his amazing gardens at East Ruston. They are a work of art and a real inspiration.”
In her office, there are photographs, fabrics, postcards everywhere, alongside her sleek white Mac book.
In the spare room, where her surprising collection of boxed vintage Barbie dolls also live among the art work, the bed is completely covered in samples of her work, old and very new.
“For my 80th birthday, my present from Emma and Matthew was to design a range of tea towels for Bridgewater. If someone said for my next birthday I could design a range of wall paper for Sandersons I would prefer that to a diamond necklace,” she laughs.