It may only have an official population of 885 but one resident of the tiny village of Climping has made it world famous. From the rock pools at low tide on the beach to the seagulls wheeling above the distant hills, and birds chattering in the blossoming fruit trees, Fiona Howard has ensured the West Sussex enclave, just three miles from Littlehampton, has been seen far and wide.

That’s because the designer is inspired by her little corner of the county to create stunning wallpapers that decorate bedrooms, lounges, bathrooms, and kitchens around the British Isles, and indeed, the globe. That her undeniably gorgeous and quirky take on Sussex in the designs she makes at her studio are now featured in other people’s homes the world over is something that doesn’t faze her.

‘Sussex is my home. I was born here, I went to school here and I miss here when I’m away, and so it makes sense that it has had a massive impact on me and my designs – far more then I’m probably aware of,’ Fiona, 59, says. ‘I’m just so glad and grateful that other people like my work. It shows just how special Sussex is and that they like it enough to have it in their homes where they will look at it for a long time.’

Fiona’s love of wallpaper came from being surrounded by it growing up in a house between Cowfold and Warninglid, in West Sussex. ‘It was the 1970s and my mother wallpapered everything,’ she laughs. ‘We had green William Morris wallpaper in the living room, my dad’s study was decorated in orange, brown and gold stripes and even my bedroom ceiling was wallpapered!

Great British Life: Fiona is inspired by the Sussex coast and countryside Fiona is inspired by the Sussex coast and countryside (Image: Fiona Howard)

‘I’d fall asleep looking at the ditzy print of blue and yellow flowers on every surface and feel so cosy so being surrounded by wallpaper definitely influenced me.’ So much so that Fiona’s 400-year-old cottage, five minutes from the sea in Climping, is a virtual showhouse for her current collections of wallpaper.

‘The only room not wallpapered is the kitchen,’ she says. ‘I think it looks lovely, and, of course, all the patterns are inspired by here, so it echoes the beach and the landscape.’

It’s a far cry from Fiona’s beginnings at West Sussex College of Design, in Worthing, and Middlesex University where she studied printed textiles and would paint on giant sheets of paper five-foot-high.

‘I didn’t know what I wanted to specialise in then,’ she says. ‘I just loved painting and making patterns, and that became fabric from which I’d make deckchairs and backpacks.’

Great British Life: Birdsong in Jaipur is based on the view from her Climping studioBirdsong in Jaipur is based on the view from her Climping studio (Image: Fiona Howard)

The artist would use a variety of techniques including monoprint, watercolour and lino cut – the latter evolving into her signature look. ‘I remember doing lino cutting at school and remembering it was a bit of a faff, but my art teacher was fantastic and so I continued, and at college I did a project about the seashore. I carved out crabs and shells into lino. It was such fun.’

After leaving university with a 2:1 degree, Fiona joined a London-based agency where she created many popular designs which were sold in the capital as well as Paris and New York. She went freelance in 2007 and while juggling raising her family – stepdaughter Emmy, 37, and sons Eddie, 30 and Olly, 29 – her career took off with designs such as her Dandelion Clocks, which was bought by Sanderson’s for just £600, becoming contemporary classics.

‘I’ve done a lot of designs and would see them in Habitat and other places, but no one knows their mind, though Sanderson has just added my name to the Dandelion Clocks, which is nice. So many people will have my wallpaper in their home and not have a clue about me.’

Fiona created prints to sell on cups, tea towels, trays and furnishing fabrics – ‘you name it I made it!’ – which became tricky after she married her second husband Simon Wolf in 2011 and began living between Sussex and his base in Los Angeles.

Great British Life: Her designs - such as Rose Arbor - are all lino cutHer designs - such as Rose Arbor - are all lino cut (Image: Fiona Howard)

‘It was funny as Simon and I had gone to school at Ardingly College and liked each other but it had never come to anything, and we went our separate ways and married other people. He has a very successful business, Wolf, which makes leather goods, and has offices in London, Singapore and the US, and I would send him a Christmas card every year to his parent’s house as he was always travelling.

‘One time we both happened to be single and met up for a curry and the rest, as they say, is history. But it meant we had to be in America a lot of the time, and it became impossible to try and juggle mugs being manufactured in China and fabrics being made in India, and all the orders, while I was between two different countries.

‘After a few years I missed Sussex and wanted to come home. So, we started looking for a house. We had a long list of ‘must-haves’ for the ideal home, and the very first one was The One. We both fell in love with it and moved into it in 2020 just as lockdown hit.’

The pandemic helped her creatively – ‘there was so much beauty to look at. Sussex really inspired me’ – but her business came to a grinding halt. ‘The phone literally stopped ringing,’ she says.

Great British Life: Orchard is one of Fiona's new collectionsOrchard is one of Fiona's new collections (Image: Fiona Howard)

That’s when Fiona decided to focus on making wallpaper. ‘It was what my designs are suited to,’ she says. ‘I do repeating patterns and love working with lino and that has become part of my brand – it is my signature style.’

Now Fiona creates her own collections by hand in her studio. It begins with a mood board and sketches. She then spends up to a month drawing the original design. ‘It depends on the intricacy, but I draw it over and over again to see it as a wallpaper and to make sure it flows nicely,’ she explains. She will then carve the design into lino blocks – one for each layer of colour of the finished design. This is careful and meticulous work, and sometimes the tool (gouge) creates interesting and unexpected textures, but a lino print is a celebration of the marks made by the artist, the handwriting if you like. The textures are what sets the design apart from a computer-generated pattern and gives it life and soul.

‘There are between 3 – 4 linos, and it’s now the look of the brand. It has the perfect imperfections of lino cut, which I love.’

Her wallpapers are printed in the UK, using eco-friendly inks on FSC papers, and help fund the planting of native British trees.

Great British Life: Her stunning bathroom features Henley in buttercupHer stunning bathroom features Henley in buttercup (Image: Fiona Howard)

She doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Her Rockpools collection was created after taking a walk with eldest son Eddy along Climping Beach at low tide. ‘We came across lots of rock pools which were filled with lots of things such as crabs, interesting shells, and limestone pebbles. I took photos and made drawings and the design from that.’

Birdsong was created during lockdown after Fiona gazed out of her studio window and watched the birds feeding near blossoming fruit trees in her garden.

Her latest collection is Orchard. ‘I love it,’ Fiona says. ‘I was just sat at my desk and looked out of the window and started drawing. I drew the trees, which had lots of interesting shapes between them, so I filled them in.

Great British Life: Summer Meadow is used to great effect Summer Meadow is used to great effect (Image: Fiona Howard)

‘It tells a story of wandering between fruit trees in the foreground which become the frame for the orchard scene in the background. As our focus continues to grow around the environment and growing our own fruit and vegetables, this design is not just beautiful and decorative, but also topical and relevant. If you were lying in the bath, it would be nice to have something to gaze at. There’s so much to look at. I create wallpapers I hope people will love for years, not just for a season.’

So what’s next? ‘I don’t have a children’s design,’ Fiona admits. ‘I might start thinking about that. I will have to see what pops into my head. It won’t take long – after all there is always spectacular to see here.

‘The other day I spotted my cat in the garden and realised he had something in his mouth. I rushed out to rescue whatever it was and saw it was a weasel. I managed to get the cat to drop it and the weasel ran off. Seconds later it reappeared holding a shrew in its mouth. That’s the circle of life, I suppose. Sussex never disappoints.’

Great British Life: Fiona's bedroom is decorated in Birdsong in linenFiona's bedroom is decorated in Birdsong in linen (Image: Fiona Howard)