Hart & Willow - traditional upholstery in Kirkby Lonsdale
PUBLISHED: 18:30 05 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:24 14 April 2016
A young woman has quickly gained a reputation for her upholstery skills and works at some of the best addresses. George Appleton reports
When you are just 23 it takes a good deal of courage to quit your job and set up on your own. But that’s just what Emily Houghton did, launching her own upholstery and soft furnishings business, Hart & Willow.
While many of her contemporaries will have taken jobs involving the latest technologies, Emily’s tools are very traditional and her artisan craft is centuries old, attracting customers from some of the region’s most impressive homes.
Many upholsterers favour modern techniques and use materials such as foam and staples, but she prefers a more old fashioned approach. ‘I like to practise what’s known as traditional upholstery,’ she says. ‘I use techniques that have changed very little over hundreds of years.
‘It may be a little harder working with horsehair and tacks but it’s so much more rewarding. My customers really notice the difference too, and comment that a traditionally upholstered seat is far comfier to sit in than a modern one.’
It’s a very time consuming process. With any chair, there are a number of crucial layers hidden beneath the final covering of fabric. ‘It’s like building anything I suppose,’ says Emily. ‘A sofa can take over a fortnight to do. It can be rather a painstaking process, but it’s also quite therapeutic too. A beautiful finished piece of furniture more than makes up for all of the hard work.’
Emily, now 26, launched her business by taking a stall at the Aughton Pudding Festival back in August 2013. This is a delightfully eccentric tradition held every 21 years when the people of this Lune Valley village seek to break records for cooking the world’s largest plum pudding.
‘I thought this was the perfect place to launch as it’s a wonderful old Lancashire festival. I knew there would be plenty of people there,’ she says. ‘I only finished working in my last job a few weeks before the festival, so I had a pretty frantic time making lots of little things to sell – everything from cushions and Aga tops, to men’s handkerchiefs. I must say I was pretty nervous about how I would get on but I needn’t have worried. I all but sold out on the day, and no end of people picked up my cards.’
One of those was Lady Sue Kimber of Newton Hall, who became her very first customer. Since then her client base has rapidly expanded, and she has done work for many other notable people in the region, including the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, Lord Shuttleworth. Most recently she has undertaken a project making a special cushion for the National Trust at Sizergh Castle.
‘Although I technically work from home at Lupton near Kirkby Lonsdale, my work takes me all over the region. This year I have had a number of commissions from all over north Lancashire, as well as projects in north Yorkshire and the Lake District. I’ve also done work for a number of different interior designers, including K W Interiors and their renovation of Burrow Hall, near Kirkby Lonsdale,’ she says. ‘It’s great to be out and about and see different parts of the area, and also see inside some of the nicest houses in the region’.
Although a Lancastrian by birth, Emily’s family moved up to the south Lakes area when she was eight, and she went on to attend Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale. She is proud of her strong links to this region and says: ‘I always like to patronise local firms whenever possible for my supplies and materials.
‘I use Livedale from Wigan quite a lot for bits and bobs, and Standfast and Barracks in Lancaster is great too for all different kinds of fabric. If any specific restoration is required, I sent it to Spencer R. Samson of Kendal. I always recommend them to my clients.’
Ironically, she never intended to be an upholsterer, but planned on becoming a garden designer. She was studying at Myerscough College on the Fylde when she decided to take up a new hobby. ‘I saw an advert for a local upholstery course and just fancied giving it a go. I’ve always enjoyed making things, and I suppose I’m quite arty too, so I just seemed to take to it really quickly,’ said Emily, who also teaches upholstery.
‘Within days of finishing my Garden Design degree I was offered a job at a firm of upholsterers in Kendal. As a graduate any job was welcome so I thought why not? I worked there until deciding to go it alone shortly before Aughton’, she says.
Last year, Emily was admitted into the Guild of Master Craftsmen - a testament to her ability, and no mean feat for one so young.
Emily can be contacted at 07889 950746 or by email at email@example.com.