Wayne Hemingway is a man of many talents. Co-founder of design studio Hemingway Design with his wife Geraldine, the duo have brought their signature quirky British twist to everything from tiles and wallpaper to Transport for London uniforms and housing projects.
Hemingway Design is also the instigator of the popular Vintage festivals and are behind the recent relaunch of Margate’s iconic Dreamland theme park, which has brought a forgotten gem of the British seaside back to life. We caught up with Wayne to get his thoughts on design past and present, and to find out how he tackled the challenge of restoring beloved landmark Dreamland on a shoestring…
I’m interested in good design and not wasting things. For me it was always about being thrifty and not throwing things out – because I hate things which are designed to make people spend more money on something supposedly new and better – which often, it isn’t. So that’s a strong narrative behind everything that we [at Hemingway design] do.
I grew up in a family that loved fashion and made all of their own clothes, and loved doing up their home. Where we lived, in Morecambe, wasn’t exactly full of designer boutiques but my mum learnt how to look amazing without them. I think that resourcefulness naturally gets passed down. When I was going out to nightclubs, I never had any money, but I wanted to look as everyone there, so I learnt how to do it on the cheap, by buying from second-hand stores and jumble sales, and adapting it. That’s where my interest in design started.
Buying second-hand stuff is more acceptable than it’s ever been. In the past, for a lot of people, if you wore second-hand clothes, it was like a badge saying you’re poor. Now, it’s a badge showing you’re cool and you can make something that’s old look absolutely brilliant, but also that you’re sustainable and thrifty. Now it’s seen as a choice and a badge of honour.
Vintage isn’t about trying to create a museum. It’s about appreciating good design. We weren’t trying to make Dreamland a museum. Yes, it’s celebrating history and there are some vintage rides, but the most important thing is that we brought something back from the dead for a fraction of the price, by reusing old stuff. The cost of bringing back 17 or 18 rides at Dreamland, plus all the buildings, is the equivalent of one new ride at Alton Towers.
We used a mix of visual styles at Dreamland, so some of the rides were restored back to their original glory the traditional way, and others use the new Dreamland branding. They still work together – a British seaside narrative runs through it all and ties it together.
If I had to pick my favourite thing it would be the Roller Disco. I love the way that the space has been brought back to life and is true to the way that we found it – it's an old beauty. It looks fantastic and yet it’s all been done so cost-effectively.
The British seaside is iconic. It’s in our consciousness. Most of us are lucky enough to have been taken to the seaside as a child, and it’s like peeling back layers of different eras – you’ll find an old cafe that’s been there since the 1950s, or an old advertising sign painted on the side of building – it’s all there. When you arrive and look out over the water, it does something to human beings. It’s a nostalgic experience even if you’re not from a generation that would recognise those things from the past. It’s inbuilt into our culture, really.
I think the mid-century is an important period for many designers because you can look at what came out of the mid-century era and it still looks totally and utterly modern today – it will always feel modern. To me, the Royal Festival hall on the Southbank, or the work of [designer] Robin Day – it’s timeless.
Things will always come back around again. Imagine a 16-year-old today, just getting into youth culture. Something like grunge happened 10 years before they were born, but why should they be denied something as good and as powerful, and as long-lasting as that? For example, something like Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana will never not sound brilliant, and it will still sound powerful for generations to come in the way that an amazing Northern Soul record does - the messages and the sound still reach a part of people in new generations. In the same way, people choose to live in mid-century and Victorian homes not because they want to live in the past, but because they’re designed better than a lot of recently built houses.