Angela Gidden MBE on how to be creative and find a good sofa

Updated: Apr 11, 2018

‘You can’t just succeed by being normal. Aspire to be damn good.’

Angela with the Cwtch designed for Orangebox (a very successful product for the office), photograph by Matt Cant

Quality and originality are central to the work of Angela Gidden MBE, a renowned designer from Cardiff. She’s the creative behind furniture you may have seen, or sat in, in places such as the Senedd, the BBC, commercial offices and stores like Liberty, Habitat and The Conran Shop.

Angela in the studio, photograph by Warren Orchard

Last week, I was lucky enough to meet Angela, among a group of entrepreneurs at The Prince’s Trust’s Enterprise course.

From what Angela shared, there were two pearls of wisdom I felt are relevant to anyone at important junctures in life, and can help you get more fulfilment and happiness along the way.

Here is Angela’s advice:

1. How to be creative

Doodling something can capture everything in your head better than a thousand words. Angela once ran a course with students where she would take away their notebooks and ask them to bring back anything – a train ticket, a receipt, some packaging – that they could doodle on.

The key point is that ideas come up as we go through the world and get buried. One of the best things you can do is keep a pen and scribble it all down. Don’t throw your ideas away, even if it means keeping scraps of paper. Any seed of an idea can be germinated at some point.

When Angela started her business, factories weren’t used to working for a woman. It’s reassuringly better now. It can be hard, and even if you have an original idea, what you need most is the energy and capacity to achieve it.

Above all, allow yourself to be yourself. Don’t let others mould you into something you don’t want to be and can’t be. And lastly, don’t get too comfy in your creative world. The best is yet to come. Don’t get complacent because your job is never done.

Kootch, photograph by The Photodrome

2. How to find a good sofa

Angela is a pro at understanding what people look for in a piece of furniture – you may have one of hers in your own living room. For Angela, everything about a product needs to work in harmony, from production to the showroom and to the experience of using it. Here’s what she thinks people look for.

Shape and colour – This is what catches your eye and the difference between you walking up to a sofa in a shop or ignoring it. Fabric is important and Angela takes great care over this – she’s designed her own brushed denim and stonewash effects.

Proportions and size – How is the sofa going to fit into your house? Does it fit into your space and how will you use it?

Comfort – This is where you sit in it or ‘the two-second bum test.’ That is all the time you take to judge whether the sofa is for you.

Quality and sustainability – Angela walked past a Cardiff charity shop recently and saw a sofa in the window, the Pacino sofa she had designed for Habitat 25 years ago. It was their best-selling, longest-selling sofa worldwide. It looked as good as the day it was made.

The Pacino sofa for Habitat

It’s testament to the fact that good design and manufacture don’t need to compromise on quality – even when the product is priced at a lower budget entry level. Regardless, the Pacino was designed to last.

Sustainability is at the heart of what Angela does – she’s combating the ‘disposable’ attitude buyers may have to products. If you can buy a sofa for life, her work is done.

At the end of the day, everything about a great sofa, a great product or anything we create in life has to be just right. We have to aspire to be amazing.

And if that’s in your home or in your work, there’s great potential.

In Angela’s words:

“Good design is about coming up with solutions that make life better.”

If you'd like to find out more about the work of Angela Gidden, visit her website.

If you're interested in the Prince's Trust Enterprise course, find out more.

Angela at the Cardiff Bay Barrage, photograph by Warren Orchard