Surface designer: Giles Miller

In his East London studio, Giles Miller is constantly exploring new ways to create textural and three-dimensional interest at the cutting edge of his field.

Meet Giles Miller

Experimenting with pattern, texture and the reflection of light, Giles Miller and his team create a range of innovative mural surfaces from diverse materials, such as metal, ceramic, plastic and wood. Blending art with function, the East London studio has produced counter fronts, columns, desks, window displays and feature walls for a host of forward-thinking clients, including Stella McCartney, Selfridges, the V&A and the Design Museum.

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Giles Miller surface designer

Giles Miller in his east London studio.

I studied furniture design at Loughborough University and, in the final year of my BA, I started using corrugated cardboard to make furniture for homeless people. Cardboard was an obvious choice, given its abundance as a waste material but, as I played around with it, I also discovered that cutting and reassembling it in new ways gave rise to subtle patterns and imagery in the ridged surface. This became the foundation of my graduation work, as well as prompting my first few commissions afterwards.

Giles Miller surface designer

The creative studio in east London.

I went on to study a Master’s degree in design products at the Royal College of Art. While I was there, Stella McCartney commissioned me to apply my cardboard designs to a wall, and it was then that I realised there was a market for this kind of work. So I expanded the concept of light manipulation to generate subtle patterns, and this has been my area of interest ever since.

I worked with Stella on numerous interiors and pop-ups before experimenting with other materials, putting together my first range of surfaces for 100% Design in 2010. This led to further commissions and, as the projects got larger, I was able to bring together a group of young, talented designers with a shared philosophy and a desire to push our ideas as far as possible. That’s how the studio was born.

Giles Miller surface designer

The core concept of manipulating light and shadow is illustrated by tiles hanging on the studio’s exposed brick walls.

Our concept is all about light and shadow and the manipulation of materials. It is an evolutionary process that grows and takes a natural path as we explore new designs. We are also influenced by our clients, who often enable us to try out ideas that lead us on to the next step. Inspiration is all around, but we take the most from those who encourage the studio’s experimental approach.

We have produced murals from corrugated cardboard, etched brass, steel and copper, as well as from plastics and three-dimensional printed components. Most of our materials are from suppliers within the UK, with the exception of our ceramic tiles, which are produced in Italy, and solid timber tiles, which are made in Slovenia.

We only outsource further afield if we can’t find the best quality at home. If we have a particular requirement, we will seek a supplier who is prepared to take some element of risk in working with a young design studio. Finding a good manufacturing partner who is willing to develop a relationship with us is very inspiring.

Giles Miller surface designer

Designs are fashioned from a wide range of materials, such as etched sheet metal.

Other than my trademark ‘pixel’ style, we have other methods of producing surface designs, but the consistent element is generally some type of pixel. These can vary dramatically in shape, and can be cut and bent out of sheet, made in tiles or even suspended in three-dimensional clusters, but a mass of components is almost always a signature aspect of our studio.

When we are commissioned to create a mural, the process usually starts with us developing colour and finish options with the client, then we work to incorporate their graphic content or imagery into the surface. Once this has been signed off, we generate a laser-etched grid that allows us to hand position different tiles in the right places with the correct rotation, to create a bespoke design. For example, we recently developed two feature walls for a Westfield shopping centre. The company chose one of our geometric pattern designs, and we then tested the lighting options to ensure the best effect. Once the concept was agreed on, we hand applied more than 17,000 individual hexagonal tiles onto panels to create the final piece. It was a great collaboration.

Giles Miller surface designer

Intricate textural designs include Fluting in three-dimensional cardboard (behind), a bespoke laser-cut wood veneer (left) and Gigi, in a silk-based fabric (below).

I enjoy unexpected projects that come from far and wide, especially those that can show off the vast adaptability and diversity of our designs. We have worked with fashion brands, airlines and retailers, and knowing that we reach such prolific and varied clients all over the world is hugely satisfying. Dubai’s Kempinski Hotel has recently commissioned us to make the feature artwork for its lobby. It’s our first job of this scale, allowing us to create an entirely new concept, which is a significant step in a new direction. We can’t wait to see the results later in the summer.

Giles Miller surface designer

he components of a specially designed lighting installation, Castor & Pollux, which was unveiled at Dubai’s Design Days fair in March 2014.

My morning usually involves jumping on a scooter and heading to the gym for a run before arriving at the studio at around 9.30am. We meet, and prioritise the actions for the day, then start working. I am often dashing around London meeting potential clients, finding suppliers or visiting our production space in East London. We try to be strict with our time, aiming to spend the morning focusing on the operational design work needed for specific projects and reserving afternoons for experimenting with new designs.

Currently we are a team of five full-timers. We also have a fairly substantial network of ‘friends of the studio’ who come to help us out with production on specific jobs depending on our requirements. We have had around 15 to 20 people working on various aspects of the studio’s work at one time.

Giles Miller surface designer

Cast metal pixels used to create the studio’s popular Harper surface.

We are looking to capitalise on the interest we have been receiving from overseas – I’m a strong believer in the benefit of export, so it’s great be targeting specific regions internationally. I’d also like to expand our designs into new and different areas, so we are currently devoting some time to working on our first lighting project. I find it very exciting to be able to build on our initial concept and to see how far it will go. We have many more ideas in the pipeline.

Giles Miller Studio, 6A Toynbee Street, London E1 7NE, 020 7247 8405, gilesmiller.com.

Photography/ Jake Curtis

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