A brief bout of insomnia last year led craft-loving architect Hayley Breen to make the decision to turn her himmeli hobby into a fully-fledged business. She has spent 2017 honing her craft and now creates beautifully intricate, Finnish-inspired geometric homeware items from her lounge in Bathford. And a recent small screen appearance with a certain crafty TV property expert has catapulted himmeli – and Hayley – into homes across the country.
Hayley: "GeoAttic came about when I decided to open an online shop, late one night when I couldn’t sleep in December 2016. A few weeks previous to this I had discovered the Finnish craft of Himmeli when I was looking for a geometric wreath to decorate our front door at Christmas. I followed a DIY tutorial online, using plastic cocktail straws and wire to make a himmeli wreath, which I then spray painted copper, and I became hooked. As an architect I fell in love with the simple lines and geometric form of the wreath, and the simplicity of the construction process, and I couldn’t help but experiment with the craft and begin to develop and create my own designs."
Hayley comes from a family of makers and has always been inspired by her mother’s love of crafts. Now she has her own family, and is lucky to be able to produce her himmeli-inspired designs around her children and her career.
Hayley: "Growing up in Lincolnshire, our family home was always full of homemade items and crafts. You name the craft and my mum has probably put her hand to it, or is at least wanting to try it soon. A couple of years ago, my sister and mum set up an online shop together, KookyBirdCo, making and selling beautiful lampshades and rag rugs. I decided to see if this was something I could do with my own himmeli designs. I’m a mum to two young children: Joanie who is six, and Jimmy who is two. Since Joanie was three-years-old I have been working from home as an architect, initially doing freelance work and now working mostly on my own projects for domestic residential clients. Alongside my passion for architecture and interiors, I have always loved upcycling, creating, and crafting as hobbies, and when I have time to myself this is what I do to relax."
Himmeli is a traditional Scandinavian craft. Geometric designs constructed from straw are hung above dining tables in Finnish homes at Christmas to encourage a bumper crop for the coming year. Hayley sticks to the craft’s original concept, but her designs have a more modern approach.
Hayley: "The name GeoAttic comes from my love of geometrics and wanting to create and curate a treasure trove for people who have a passion for geometrics in home and interior accessories too. My contemporary version of himmeli designs include geometric clocks, mirrors, wreaths, starbursts, sunbursts, hearts, hanging garlands, plant pot holders, air plant holders, and decorative objects. When designing new pieces I start off by experimenting with plastic straws and wire to work out tube sizes and proportions. With the larger items like the clocks and mirrors, I’ll draw them on the computer to work out the diameter and size options. I construct the items using brass, copper, and carbon fibre tubes cut to different lengths and threaded together using wire, and I use natural wooden beads to add extra texture and form to some of the designs."
As well as gaining inspiration from her family, Hayley credits the himmeli community as a great source of her ideas.
Hayley: "Since the beginning I have been inspired by images online of other himmeli creations. The craft is not only popular in Scandinavian countries, but particularly in Japan and America also. I have been inspired by the re-emergence of the macrame trend and, as a result of this, have developed himmeli plant pot hanger designs, incorporating the natural wooden beads. The himmeli wreath that I originally made also inspired me to experiment with other wreath designs, which developed into starbursts and sunbursts, which most recently developed into my clock and mirror designs. These are my personal favourites out of all my designs so far and are the ones that I am most proud of. hey are unique in this style, and I find their form so aesthetically pleasing and sculptural alongside their practical use."
Hayley has the flexibility of working her own hours in her own home and, as you can imagine, she has a beautiful himmeli-inspired workspace.
Hayley: "I have now been making himmeli-style home accessories and decorations for 12-months. All the designs are made at my home in Bathford, either at the workspace in the corner of my dining room, or, in the evenings when the children are in bed, from my sofa. The beauty of himmeli is the simplicity of the construction. There is no soldering or gluing required so it is a portable craft, and can be carried out anywhere with space to lay the materials out. The himmeli process itself is also quite quick, with smaller items taking from 15-minutes to make, to larger items taking up to five-hours to make, plus time for cutting the tubes to size and polishing them."
Despite GeoAttic only being 12-months old, Hayley’s talent has already caught the eye of some pretty important crafters – including TV property guru and craft-lover Kirstie Allsopp.
Hayley: "I took part in the Christmas tree decorating competition on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas. I went to film the competition at a big country house in Devon for a day back in October and had three-hours to decorate an 8ft-tree with my himmeli and wooden bead decorations that I’d prepared beforehand at home. There were four of us who took part in the tree decorating competition, chosen from hundreds of applications! I also filmed with Kirstie showing her how to make one of my himmeli decorations. I have always loved watching Kirstie’s handmade and upcycling programmes, and so it was great to meet her in person. The whole experience was amazing, despite feeling very awkward in front of the cameras!"
Hayley came to the county to study architecture nearly 20-years ago and loved it so much that she decided to stay. But why does she love Somerset?
Hayley: "I came to Bath in 1999 to study architecture at university and after ﬁnishing my degree decided to stay. I have always loved Bath since visiting the city as a child with family. I am not a big city kind of girl, and I love the compactness of Bath, and the fact that even in the middle of town you can always spot glimpses of the leafy green lushness of the surrounding countryside. I love the opportunities and activities that the city has to offer, but also the possibility of bumping into friends and acquaintances wherever you go. I now live on the outskirts of the city with my family and one of our favourite things to do is bike ride along the canal path, turning right to go into town, or heading left towards Dundas and on to Bradford-on-Avon. We are always so grateful for the stunning surroundings of where we now call our home. The added bonuses of living in Somerset, that I have recently discovered since setting up GeoAttic, are the underlying creative communities and the amazing artisans and makers that I have met at the fantastic local markets. As a county, I really do think that in Somerset we are spoilt for choice for independent businesses and industries, and I am enjoying discovering more and more of them daily."