Behind the scenes at interior design agency Horton & Co in Tarporley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 May 2016
You can’t put Horton & Co into a neat little box – interior design, landscape and architectural design – everything from a full house to a single table lamp can be sourced from their offices in Manley, writes Kate Houghton.
Gillian Handley founded Horton & Co after her life took her on a winding and twisty path, in part as a way to provide herself with some foundations of her own. Growing up in Cheshire, she excelled at art and creative pursuits but was told by her school that there wasn’t a career to be had there and to think sensibly. A degree in Law and Business Accounting followed, then a course in Stockbroking and Investment Analysis. If you think this is hard to equate to soft furnishings and pretty table lamps, her next move, into commodity broking in the City, should befuddle you.
‘I loved it! I had always wanted to be my own boss, and this was as close to it as you can get while still being employed. However, when I married I moved back up to Cheshire so left it all behind. Wanting to work, I reverted to my old love of art and started a small business painting children’s furniture.
‘Very quickly I attracted attention from Harrods, The Great Trading Company and various boutiques. One thing led to another and I started being asked to create nursery schemes, which led to sourcing fabrics and working with various trades. Before I knew it I was doing entire houses.’
Gillian’s business hadn’t been long up and running before the onset of ME took away her ability to do anything at all. It was five years before she was able to start moving again, and even then her energy levels were intermittent.
‘This is why, when I started again, I decided against the sole trader route,’ says Gillian. ‘I wanted a team around me, people to keep going on those days when I wasn’t able to do anything myself. This is why the business is named Horton & Co, and not after myself.’
It’s apparent very quickly that Horton & Co are very much a team, an entity that goes beyond any single individual, including Gillian’s niece, Hannah Burton, whose first experience with her aunt’s work came at the age of five, when she acted as Gillian’s model for her painted nursery furniture.
Like Gillian, Hannah had no plans to pursue a creative career and in fact started university studies in Equine Sciences with a view to becoming a horse physiotherapist.
‘I was soon quite disappointed and disillusioned,’ says Hannah. ‘I didn’t get the satisfaction from the learning that I’d hoped for. I’d come into Horton & Co during my teens for work experience, and Gillian said that I could come back again, but if I wanted to be considered for a full time, permanent role, I needed to go and get a qualification in business studies and a second one in interior design. I worked during the day and studied for an HND in the evenings. Once this was complete, I went to London where I studied interior design at KLC School of Design in Chelsea Harbour.’
Since Hannah’s return to Horton & Co in 2002 the company has evolved into something considerably more than the interior design agency Gillian had established. This has been driven in part by client demands and in part by their own frustrations with the process of working on new properties and refurbishments, where often they found themselves taking second place to architects and trades who considered Horton’s work to be no more than finishing touches.
These frustrations led to a decision to offer a full service consultancy, a complete package from architectural design to, yes, the finishing touches.
Gillian said: ‘In 2012 we recruited an architectural technologist, Simon Morris. He’s qualified to design full homes, the same as an architect, but does all the technical drawings himself, unlike most architects – who use technologists. He’s perfect when clients are reshaping or rebuilding their home, simply renovating or even want to start something wholly from scratch.
‘Hannah is marvellous at functional aspects – the electrical and lighting layouts. She has fantastic spacial awareness, whereas my strength is the creative overlay. We also have a landscape designer, Sonia Swain, who has great vision.
‘Last summer we brought in Andy Cobbold, an interior architect, who is responsible for all the physical details, from bathrooms and kitchens to architraving, skirting boards, door frames, etc. This means we can make everything bespoke, which can save our clients a great deal of money on a kitchen for example.
‘Our senior designer, Helen Lewis, has been with us since she graduated, when she came for a two week internship and we decided we couldn’t let her go. Fiona Moxie has been here for 15 years now and our newest design recruit is Laura Baader. We only employ design graduates who have achieved a First.
‘Finally, there’s the amazing Sara Watts. Sara came as a temp, to help us out over a very busy period and we couldn’t let her go. PR, marketing, systems, operations, accounts…she’s our ‘fixer’, the one who lets us do what we all do best. Sara also maintains our online client portal, where clients can log in and see progress on jobs when they aren’t onsite themselves.
‘Interestingly, recently we’ve seen a much better understanding of how we work and willingness to engage from architects across the area. Major projects are no longer quite so modular, but much more collaborative.’
Hannah says: ‘One of the most satisfying things about working with such a talented group is the sheer creativity. When we get going, throwing ideas around, we become so much more than the sum of our parts. We can start with a blank sheet of paper and then, suddenly, it’s there – something spectacular.’
Hannah has recently established offices for Horton & Co in Shropshire. While this was partly done for convenience - her husband is Richard Burton, the amateur jockey who made the Guinness Book of Records for the most wins, including the amateur equivalent of the Grand National, an artwork of which hangs in Gillian’s offices. He now runs a niche equestrian estate agency business, based in Shropshire - it has also enabled Horton & Co to push south, having been mostly operating only in the North West to date.
‘We won three briefs on our opening night,’ says Hannah. ‘It seems that local architects there have just been waiting for us to arrive!’
Horton & Co, Sugar Lane, Manley.