In Good Company: Sir Peter Osborne

By Matt Balmer
April 19, 2018

This year, British fabric and wallpaper manufacturer Little & Osborne is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Sir Peter Osborne, who founded the brand with his brother-in-law Antony Little, talks to Studio about Osborne & Little’s growth, the Memphis furniture group, and why he is looking forward to going to south Germany later this summer.

April 2018

When was the company founded? 1968

How many staff? 123 in the UK and Europe, and 60 in the USA

Where is it based? London and Stamford, Connecticut

What is your latest significant achievement/project of note? 2018 is the 50th Anniversary of when we started (in 1968). Quite an achievement! The company has evolved from a small showroom in London’s Brompton Road to a worldwide presence. Our principle market are the USA, where we started our own distribution there in 1985. We began with a showroom in New York and now have five others in Boston, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

What is your best selling product (and how much of it do you sell)? Quite recently we started producing digitally printed wallpapers – large scale designs with repeats of up to three metres. The latest ones have included Rain Forest and Ceramica. We have several more in the pipeline.

I’ve just discovered… I’ve just read that great classic novel by Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks. It charts the fortunes of a great mercantile family in the Baltics over four generations – incredibly powerful and poignant. At 900 pages it will keep you occupied for many months, but it’s well worth it. Totally absorbing.

Who inspires me… I’m a huge fan of the Italian Memphis furniture group, especially Ettore Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi. It’s usually described as Postmodern – but really, it’s better described as colourful and kitsch! Unfortunately, it’s now become very fashionable after the recent sale of David Bowie’s collection, but I’ve bought a few nice pieces over the years.
And, in the same vein, I love the furniture of Piero Fornasetti. It’s quirky and fun, with amusing shapes and beautiful imagery. I have a large round table covered in a thousand different butterflies.

I’ve always been a fan of… I’ve always been a fan of British Pop Art and have one or two nice paintings by Peter Blake and Allen Jones. They go well with the Memphis and Fornasetti furniture – if you like a blast of colour!

My highlight of the last 12 months… Certainly, one highlight was going to the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth last August. Three operas (Lohengrin, Flying Dutchman, and Tannhäuser) over three nights – sheer magic. Some people just don’t get Wagner’s music; to me it’s the most lyrical and emotional of any composer. I’m going again this August!

My next design trip is to… Proposte in Como, at the beginning of May, is where the design world meets to view the latest offerings from all the leading textile mills – from Italy to India. I go there every year, but this year it coincides with moving house. I’ll get there somehow, even if it’s just a day trip!