Hilary Johnson Handmade
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How would you describe the Hilary Johnson Handmade style?

Functional in style and inspiration with intuitive proportions, well finished in production and with a fun approach to colour.

I also like stories and narratives so the styles evolve, grow up, undress!

Do you work on your own?

No - I have a small but fabulous team… Monica and Rosamund help me in the workshop and Nish is my go-to builder and mechanic. Susan visions the promotional look and leads on the marketing and scope of our market.

The designer and creative force behind hilary johnson handmade talks about her life, her inspiration, and how the tranquillity of the hidden parts of Devon is good for the soul.

What led you to start hilary johnson handmade?

Not following the urge to do their own thing is a regret many creative people have and I could suppress it no longer! I was also very keen to have a synchronous life… I wanted my work to be creative and with space to breathe.

Why is it important to you that you make your own bags rather than having them made elsewhere?

I am very practical and a visual problem solver, so it’s easier for me if I make them myself.

Working in my studio gives me space to think too so it’s very enjoyable. This translates into the bags…each one reflects the time, effort and expertise that has gone into it – they are not rushed.

This is the ethos of the workshop and all of us here have the same approach….you can't order that from anyone else.

I really enjoy the challenges of running a small business – and it’s very important to me that it’s enjoyable for everyone.

We’re fortunate living where we do that life generally runs at a much less stressful pace and people are more flexible with their time as they are not constantly rushing around – it’s quite old-fashioned really. It works well for us.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Seasonal changes, life, interesting people, customer requests, Vogue and Radio 4.

What brought you to this part of North Devon - it's definitely off the beaten track!

We were drawn to the authentic rural feel of the area - it is still an agricultural community where generations of families have worked the land without too much intrusion from the influences of the outside world.   This gave me access to people with tremendous knowledge and skill with animals, husbandry and the land.

The Chulmleigh people have been genuinely supportive of the shop – it’s a wonderful community to live in.

What do you do when you're not in your studio?

Nish and I have a smallholding that we share with a variety of animals including Gotland sheep, poultry, our two dogs Oz and Bill, my retired horse Edward, my big horse Arnie and our Shetland pony Jerry.  Our gander Valentine rules the roost at home.

Nish grows speciality oriental salad vegetables and edible flowers in our polytunnels which he supplies to caterers and at Christmas he makes German baked goods such as Black Forest stollen and advent biscuits.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to take the business to the next level – to reach a wider audience through more effective use of the internet and other media whilst retaining the handmade quality of the products and our pace of life.

I’m also keen to focus on running more workshops in my studio – creating a handmade bag is such an enjoyable and satisfying thing to do – and if you do it whilst chatting to good friends and eating homemade cake it’s even better!

I would like more people to have a go and see what they can create.

Read more about life in Chulmleigh



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