The sweet life in Man­ley

Gil­lian Han­d­ley ha s cre­ated a dream home for her­self in Man­ley, which makes a change from her usual role of cre­at­ing dream homes for other peo­ple

Cheshire Life - - Inside - WORDS: Kate Houghton PHO­TOS: Kirsty Thomp­son

Step in­side The Sugar House

Gil­lian Han­d­ley has spent a large part of her life de­sign­ing beau­ti­ful in­te­ri­ors for homes across Cheshire and the rest of the UK, for clients who ap­pre­ci­ate her style, eye for de­tail and pro­ject man­age­ment skills. Em­ploy­ing, with her niece Han­nah, a full team of ex­perts in their field, Hor­ton & Co draws at­ten­tion from own­ers of lux­ury homes world­wide – and hav­ing seen what she’s done with The Sugar House, in Man­ley, it’s clear why.

The ap­proach to The Sugar House is typ­i­cally Cheshire­ru­ral; a wind­ing, nar­row coun­try lane with deep hedges and over­hang­ing trees on each side. Just as you think you might be lost, there it is, the en­try to the drive­way and then – the house. It’s quite beau­ti­ful – se­ri­ous kerb ap­peal, you might say, were there any kerbs. Built in 2004, it in­cor­po­rates a much older build­ing, an old barn, be­long­ing to the nearby farm­house.

‘We bought the whole site, seven acres, in 1999. It in­cluded the farm­house, which was in need of some ren­o­va­tion, and this al­most derelict farm build­ing. We re­fur­bished the farm­house to live in, added six sta­bles and an out­door arena, and de­cided that we would re­build and ex­tend the farm build­ing next door to cre­ate of­fice space. The plan­ning per­mis­sion was limited to com­mer­cial use only, so I de­cided to cre­ate of­fices and a man­ager’s apart­ment and then rent this out to go sail­ing round the world for two years.

‘Han­nah joined me in the busi­ness af­ter grad­u­at­ing from her in­te­rior de­sign de­gree from KLC School of De­sign in Chelsea Har­bour, but had been work­ing here since the age of 15, when she had ‘conned’ me into pay­ing her to do work ex­pe­ri­ence!’

Gil­lian had ar­ranged for Han­nah to take over Hor­ton & Co while she sailed into the sun­set, as it were. Un­for­tu­nately, Gil­lian be­came ill and had to re­turn home. When she was able, she re-joined Han­nah in the busi­ness and they moved it into the re­built build­ing. Gil­lian sold the farm­house and moved her­self into the man­ager’s flat.

‘I moved Hor­ton & Co here in 2004, which made for a very short com­mute,’ laughs Gil­lian. ‘To be able to live and work in such a beau­ti­ful place, it’s just mag­i­cal.

‘Clients just loved com­ing here. It’s very dis­creet, of course, and we have had a lot of clients who have re­quired ab­so­lute con­fi­den­tial­ity.’

In 2008 Han­nah mar­ried and in 2014 moved with her hus­band Richard to his fam­ily es­tate in Shrews­bury, Longner Hall, where there have been Bur­tons in res­i­dence since the thir­teenth cen­tury, quite a feat when you con­sider the ex­cite­ment our coun­try has ex­pe­ri­enced in the last eight cen­turies. She con­tin­ued to com­mute to Cheshire but last year Gil­lian de­cided to step back, to al­low Han­nah to take over the reins more fully and to move the Hor­ton & Co of­fice to Shrews­bury, ef­fec­tively swap­ping roles and un­der­tak­ing the com­mute her­self.

‘I wanted more time to con­cen­trate on other things,’ says Gilly. ‘My hol­i­day cot­tage in Red

“To be able to live and work in such a beau­ti­ful place, it’s just mag­i­cal ”

Wharf Bay, for ex­am­ple. I ap­plied for a change of use for The Sugar House and was able to con­vert it all to a do­mes­tic dwelling.

‘The op­por­tu­nity to de­sign a home for my­self was too good to miss! I re­ally, re­ally wanted to do it. Work­ing for my­self, rather than to a client brief, has al­lowed me to cre­ate some­where I can give free rein to my own style.’

It’s fab­u­lous. Kirsty, our pho­tog­ra­pher, and I had the most won­der­ful tour and ut­tered many an ooh and aah, as we made fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cov­er­ies of art, col­lectibles and spot­ted clev­er­nesses of de­sign that im­pressed us greatly.

There is no sin­gle de­fin­able style you might name in Gil­lian’s home, but the use of warm and happy colours is key through­out, as is the eclec­tic place­ment of art and items from her col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful items with sig­nif­i­cant prove­nance. Putting pieces from her dear friend Wil­liam Ye­oward’s epony­mous fur­ni­ture de­sign com­pany along­side African flags, French ob­jets d’art and vin­tage painted fur­ni­ture from East­ern Europe might seem con­trived, but it ab­so­lutely works – pos­si­bly be­cause there is noth­ing here that has been cho­sen for its de­sign cre­den­tials, but purely be­cause it has cap­tured Gil­lian’s eye and heart.

‘I col­lect ethno­graphic tex­tiles and nau­ti­calia,’ she says. ‘I love sail­ing and I love the sea and I have col­lected lots of lovely things over the years.

‘I have had a pas­sion for African tribal art and crafts, such as bead­work and the crowns I have col­lected from the Yoruba tribe, since I was at uni­ver­sity. My fas­ci­na­tion started with the dis­cov­ery of a book about the Fante tribe and their Asafo flags, which be­long to the dozens of sep­a­rate Asafo, or lo­cal army com­pa­nies, linked to the towns and vil­lages within their tribal lands. It’s a fas­ci­na­tion for me that these tribes cre­ate such beau­ti­ful work but so many are com­pletely un­aware of ei­ther the aes­thetic or cul­tural value of what they do. It’s chang­ing though. At Mai­son et Ob­jet in Paris this year (the an­nual in­ter­na­tional in­te­rior de­sign show) I saw lots of tri­abl in­spired de­sign and thought – I’ve loved this for decades!’

The sit­ting room has a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of wool­work pic­tures, de­pic­tions of sail­ing ships made by the men who sailed on them in the 17th and 18th cen­turies. It’s not an art-form I have seen be­fore, and I love both the artis­tic ta­lent and the so­cial his­tory they con­vey.

In ev­ery sec­tion of the house Gil­lian’s love of colour and pat­tern has in­formed her de­sign. The util­ity room has to be the hap­pi­est space in which to clean a pair of boots ever, while the up­stairs land­ing is a dream of warm orange and green, with wood­work lifted by paints made by Ed­ward Bul­mer and match­ing his­tor­i­cal colours.

It’s a glo­ri­ous home and I’m rather sur­prised when Gil­lian tells me she’s de­cided to sell.

‘I have de­cided I re­ally don’t en­joy the com­mute to Shrews­bury! I have de­cided to move there, not only to be closer to the busi­ness, but to be of more sup­port to Han­nah with her young fam­ily. ’

And Gil­lian is quite fired up al­ready at the op­por­tu­nity.

‘I will do it all again,’ she laughs. ‘If the buyer of the The Sugar House wants to keep all the fur­ni­ture, that’s great, oth­er­wise I shall sim­ply take it all to Shrews­bury. It’s not a new chap­ter for me, sim­ply a turn of the page.’ The Sugar House is for sale through Jack­son Eques­trian. www.jack­soneques­trian.com

“The op­por­tu­nity to de­sign a home for my­self was too good to miss. I re­ally, re­ally wanted to do it”

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