Deborah's Trompe L'Oeil Studio

Deborah's Trompe L'Oeil Studio

Rebecca Bond
Oct 1, 2013

Name: Deborah Bowness, wallpaper designer
Location: St Leonards; Sussex, UK
Size: 600 square feet
Years in business: 12 years

When Deborah Bowness spotted a run-down former bank on St Leonards seafront, she knew she had found her studio. “When I heard it was vacant, I was so excited. I took it straight away even though I had nowhere to live.” The high ceilings, ample floorspace and huge arched windows, which flood the interior with a crystal clear light, make this an ideal space for Deborah to create her trademark trompe l'oeil designs.

Deborah’s wallpapers feature everyday domestic objects; a chair, a standard lamp, a dress on a hanger, shelves full of books, a stack of filing cabinets. She uses photography, collage, hand silk screen printing and digital printing to create life-size images which appear to be three dimensional objects. “The designs provide interiors with an extra dimension. They interact with real objects and play on visual trickery,” explains Deborah.

In fact, her studio has an Alice in Wonderland feel of slippery reality. Wallpaper prototypes are propped up next to physical objects, and at first glance it is not always clear what is art and what is real. I was completely taken in by the exposed brick wallpaper around the doorway. To add the the confusion, I recognized the blue unit and step ladder from her wallpaper collection.

This studio is Deborah’s thinking and creating space. Once she has completed a design, it is made up in a factory in the north of England. “I have a nomadic existence, traveling up and down between St Leonards and York. I think maybe I am supposed to explore the idea of home through being nomadic. I rent, so I don’t have my own walls to make permanent marks on. I put all my things and objects onto a temporary surface instead.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Trompe l'oeil with a twist.

Inspiration: Everyday, domestic objects. I like to take things out of context and see something where it is not supposed to be.

Favorite Element: The light and the view of the seafront.

Biggest Challenge: I need space to work and space to think. The reality is, I am always tidying up after myself so that I can create a clear area to play around with ideas. The studio isn't big enough for me, but I think I would fill up any space.

What People Say: Passersby are intrigued by what is going on inside. I am the mystery on the corner. I hear people standing outside saying "What's it going to be?" They think I am just setting up, even though I've been here for four years.

Biggest Embarrassment: The damp basement. I have to keep everything sealed up because of the humidity. I would love a place with open shelves where I could display all my objects.

Proudest DIY: I laid the floor with help from Leigh, my sister and business partner. I also love the trick bricks around the doorway.

Biggest Indulgence: I finally got a big screen for my Mac and splashed out on a plan chest, which cost a silly amount of money!

Best Advice: Don't give up. Your problems will stay the same, but you'll get better at dealing with them.

Dream Sources: I like really old shops that have been there for years and still have stock in the original 1970s packaging. Lots of charity shops are getting too modern. I prefer the more obscure ones. It's important they have the rummage factor. I love finding things, though I am trying to stop myself collecting. My basement already has years of hoarding to sort through.

Resources of Note:


  • papers and coloured grounds: "a trade secret!"
  • watercolours: Winsor & Newton
  • paint brushes: Daler-Rowney
  • Apple mac 20-inch monitor
  • Cameras: Lomo, digital Canon, digital Leica


  • unit with blue doors: junk shop
  • wardrobe: junk shop
  • workbench: Shop
  • armchair: junk shop
  • plan chest: Bisley
  • print table: homemade


  • suitcases: junk shops
  • wire shopping baskets: Woolworths closing down sale
  • crockery: junk shops and charity shops
  • Depression-era teacups and milk jug: gift from sister


  • oriented strand board



  • wallpaper: Deborah Bowness

Thanks, Deborah!

(Images: Rebecca Bond)

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