The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

A thoroughly modern partnership


Illustration by Jane Moxham

Published in the Camberwell Quarterly

Mark Hampshire and Keith Stephenson, both 55, run Mini Moderns from their live-work unit in Empress Mews. The interior design brand is inspired by mid-century style and the products are stocked internationally. In their modernist living room (Robin Day sofa, Portmerion pottery, Marian Mahler fabric), they talk to Marie Staunton.


We grew up sixty miles apart in Yorkshire and met 30 years later working at Cato, one of the first branding agencies. Early on we realised that we had trodden the same paths as teenagers, which gave us a cultural shorthand. It only took two months before we officially became a couple.

As teenagers, a regular Saturday afternoon for both of us was jumble sales and charity shops. If you did not want to look like Simon Le Bon, you made your own style. Each generation looks back to the fashion of their parents’ youth. I used to raid my dad’s wardrobe. Re-runs of stylish mid-century shows such as The Prisoner and The Avengers on Channel 4 were a big influence.

We both went to university in Newcastle, had some of the same friends, but never met. We drank at the Strawberry with arty students, gays, lesbians and old men. I always used the left side of the central bar, Keith the right. I went to the club Rockshots on Thursdays; Keith went on Tuesdays.

After my English degree and a spell in TV, I became a designer / maker. I sold handmade mirrors and cushions to Heals and Galeries Lafayette, but could not make a living. But I learnt sales: how to approach retailers and fix a price. Keith has complementary skills in manufacturing and graphics.

Our creative process starts with a story. We add a mood (e.g. The Avengers). We both produce drafts. Keith does most of the final artwork and I work with him on pattern repeats and colourways.

I worked for another company while Keith was building our design business. But no creative director could get even my basic references. I said to Keith, “I cannot bear doing this job without your creative input.” So, we started Mini Moderns in 2006. Many of our design heroes are couples, such as Ray and Charles Eames, Lucienne and Robin Day

Friends with grown-up jobs, solicitors, psychiatrists are starting to retire. Not us. We have just outsourced our logistics to focus on creating Travelogue, a new collection based on our travels.


The day we met I was late for work. Ashamed, I sneaked up the back stairs. Mark spotted me. It was his first day and his desk was next to mine. Abigail’s Party had just been on the BBC, and I started quoting the lines. He laughed a lot. I thought this is going to be OK.

We worked well together on brands such as Johnny Walker, Pepsi and BA. Mark was a strategist but understood design. I was creative director, but understood what you had to do to sell.

The 90s were the age of beige, Kelly Hoppen and minimalism. We grew up with mid-century and pattern. Friends’ parents would give me old curtains in mid-century prints to cut up and make my own clothes, material that would be worth £500 a metre today.

When we studied at Newcastle it was seen as hard, angular, post-industrial and difficult. But people were obsessed with fashion and music. If you were up for a good time, you were in.

After my graphic design degree, I worked for major brands such as Red or Dead. But no professional relationship was as creative as the one with Mark. Soon after we met, Mark phoned me and recognised the Camberwell band Stereolab I was playing. We had both bought it for the cover design. The band were photographed on the Festival of Britain carpet at the Royal Festival Hall which later inspired our net and ball wallpaper.

I travelled a lot to Poland and Spain when I was developing the design business. Mark was away in Russia and Israel. This was not how we wanted to live our lives. Mini Moderns mean we can be together all the time.

Even on holiday we look for inspiration. We planned Mark’s birthday in Copenhagen around the Arne Jacobsen exhibition and our next US trip around the refurbishment of the old TWA terminal. Living and working together is stimulating and creative. We are not ones for grand romantic gestures. We live it every day.

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival