Building an Arts and Crafts home in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 15:05 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 12:15 19 August 2020
Antiques dealer Holly Johnson admires the Arts & Crafts style so much she completely redesigned her 1970s Allostock home, from the outside in
Holly Johnson is an internationally renowned antiques dealer and interior designer, with clients across the globe, from Palm Springs to Prestbury, and including such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, Woody Allen, Marco Pierre White and Lord Bamford, not to mention scores of interior designers who know Holly as just the person to find the very piece they need, or indeed furnish a whole house.
Having grown up in Hale, Holly moved to Ollerton with her parents in her teens, before heading to Manchester to study History of Art. Her love of the subject landed her a role at Christie’s Auction House in London, a position that delivered much in the way of learning but little in the way of income.
“It was a great start for me,” Holly says, “but I couldn’t afford to stay there. I moved back to Cheshire and found a job at Phillips, now Bonhams, in Chester. My family knew David Dickinson, long before he found fame on TV, and I then worked with him for two years. It was here that I really learned the trade. We travelled the country buying and selling, and he had a shop in Manchester too. After two years, in my mid-20s, I decided to set up for myself. I did the big fairs in London, and then overseas too, specialising in 18th and 19th century furniture, especially Gillows of Lancaster, Lamb of Manchester, and Holland & Sons, pieces they made for the Great Exhibitions of the 19th century. I used to spend lots of time in libraries and museums, researching each piece. The good thing about a lot of the Great Exhibition pieces is that it was all quite well recorded, you have these big catalogues you can go through.”
Holly’s husband, Ben Aardwerk, was born into the antiques trade, with his family in the Netherlands having dealt in gold, jewellery, snuff boxes and other delightful ephemera of times past for four generations. They met at the Art and Antiques Fair at Olympia, but had travelled the same circuit for years without once meeting before.
“My mother was one of the first Dutch dealers to do the Olympia Fair, back in the 1970s, when it was still opened by Princess Margaret. We attended every year but because we dealt with very different things, our stands were in different parts of the building. The year they mixed it up they put us opposite each other. I arrived and my stand was blocked with boxes and I thought, well, we shall see about that!”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was divorced, with two daughters, when we met,” Holly says. “Ben was living the calm, ordered bachelor life and had never ventured further north than Birmingham NEC. Now life is very different for him. Before the internet all the curators, collectors and interior designers would travel to all the Fairs – Palm Beach, San Fransisco, Chicago... Now we live here in Allostock, with my daughters Alana and April, and our son, Zachary, and his life certainly isn’t calm and ordered anymore!”
The house in Allostock looks just as you would expect the home of two high-end antiques dealers to look, but a great deal of effort went into making this happen.
“When I bought the property 18 years ago it was a typical 1970s brick-built house. I love the Arts and Crafts movement, and am particularly inspired by Voysey, so decided to change it to that style. It was three years in the planning, but essentially we built round the shell of the house and made it into an Arts and Crafts house.
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The house is beautiful, inside and out. Holly and Ben have created stunning gardens, with a lake, and the views from almost every room, across the bright Cheshire countryside, are breathtaking. All the panelling and flooring reclaimed and the furniture, well, each piece tells its own story, but can’t rely on remaining in place for long.
“Nothing stays forever,” Ben laughs. “We are antique dealers, it’s our business. We have pieces here, we have pieces in the showroom and they are all for sale, if people want them.”
The house doesn’t fit any style that could be labelled, it all comes together in a dazzle of colour and a tumble of simply glorious pieces of furniture. Everywhere I look there’s something I want to ask about. The walls are filled with art, from renowned Northern Artists such as Peter Brook to the wonderfully detailed animal art of Macclesfield’s own C.F Tunnicliffe – including some beautiful otters, which he created as the illustrations for the 1971 edition of Tarka the Otter. Wallpaper is a riot of pattern and colour, chosen from collections by Cole & Son and Colefax & Fowler.
As you enter the house, it’s hard to know where to look first: into the dining room, lit at one end by a huge wall of windows, which wraps around and over the ceiling, much as it must once have done in the captain’s quarters of a sailing ship; into the sitting room, filled with huge sofas and fabulous cabinets you just know have an interesting tale to tell; or into the garden room, a splash of glowing green and golden wood beckoning temptingly. I am hard pressed not to rush about like a toddler let loose in Hamley’s. There’s also a leisure suite, ultra-modern in design, with a pool and a gym, that just cries out for extended investigation.
Holly laughs at my joy, but recognises something she’s seen in her newly opened showroom in Knutsford.
“People get so excited,” she exclaims, as she shows me the interior of a cabinet designed by Piero Fornasetti himself, that has been in some of the most exalted venues in Europe, before finding its way here. It comes as no surprise to me. Just gazing upon a Murano glass vase, handmade by the late Pino Signoretto – one of the most famous and widely hailed glass masters in the world, ever – gives one a buzz; the colour, the fall of light through the glass, the intricacy and impossibility of the design (you can see him on YouTube, he’s extraordinary).
Holly opened her Knutsford showroom right in the middle of lockdown, which at least, I imagine, gave her all the time she needed to create the various rooms that make up the shop.
“We just felt that now was the right time. People are getting more interested in antique furniture and a more period, classical look, getting sick of the high street. After 25 years of doing Fairs, I am ready to spend time just sitting down in a shop, as well as visiting clients. There are multiple rooms and each one is its own showroom, with furniture and art displayed in room settings, as if it were at a Fair. It’s been really busy since opening, people love it.”
If you’re keen to see Holly’s current collection (some of which she’s using in her own home) visit her website: hollyjohnsonantiques.com and be inspired.
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