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
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”