Karen Welman obituary

Other lives: Designer and innovator who caused fun and mayhem whatever she did. The word impossible was not in her vocabulary

My wife, Karen Welman, who has died of a heart attack aged 59 (fulfilling her often joked-about ambition to avoid reaching 60), was a designer and innovator with a formidable creative spirit and vision.

She started her design career at Michael Peters and Partners in London, and that was where, in 1984, I met, worked with and, ultimately, fell in love with her. Together we helped to establish the agency’s US office in New York in 1989; it was later to become Sterling Design, a new brand of design agency that Karen and I also helped to launch. She was a creative maverick who seemed to cause fun and mayhem with whatever she did – all in a beautiful, unique style that I called “predictably unpredictable”.

Following our return to the UK, in 1992 we co-founded the design agency Pearlfisher with a friend and colleague, Mike Branson. As chief creative officer of its four global studios, Karen inspired clients and colleagues alike with her dynamic design vision; one that earned her an impressive collection of design awards for clients such as Green & Black’s, Absolut Vodka, Waitrose, Seedlip, and the Clock and Library luxury gyms.

The Pearlfisher garden at the RHS Chelsea flower show, 2018, through which Karen Welman highlighted the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.
The Pearlfisher garden at the RHS Chelsea flower show, 2018, through which Karen Welman highlighted the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Outside the agency walls, Karen also developed and launched the brand 37degrees – a stylish and functional clothing line for babies that uses Nasa-developed materials to regulate body temperature. In 2018 she highlighted the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans by creating a sustainable underwater garden – known as the Pearlfisher garden – at the Chelsea flower show, helping to win a gold award. Not bad for someone who hated gardening.

Karen was born in Isleworth, west London, to Gwenda (nee Phillips) and Robert Welman. After secondary school she gained a degree in art at Epsom Design College before moving into the world of design. She was an all-round inspirational woman, never veering from her mission to use bold, challenging and original design. What she had, more than any of us, was fearlessness. If someone said “it can’t be done”, then she did it. The words “that’s impossible” were not in her vocabulary.

She is survived by our four children, Jasper, Ophelia, Chloe and Oscar, and by me.

Jonathan Ford

The GuardianTramp

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