Going it alone was a tough decision for Richard Grafton, who worked in the family firm before setting up his own eponymous business.
Leaving Harrogate-based James Brindley caused rifts that are yet to heal but it set him free to put his more imaginative ideas into practice. Now, just four years later and with one of the most successful and dynamic interiors businesses in Yorkshire, he has no regrets.
“It wasn’t easy but I had to do it. I called my business Richard Grafton so my clients would know where I was and their loyalty has been amazing,” he says.
Supported by his wife Millie and their three children, he has just opened a new showroom in Crescent Court, Ilkley. It’s his second and builds on the approach he took with his first in Harrogate’s Montpellier quarter.
It doesn’t look or feel like a shop. Instead, it is a cross between a luxurious but comfy home and a boutique hotel, with room sets, fires, smart lighting and sound system, fresh flowers and scented candles.
There are discreet price tags on everything in the rooms, from the affordable wine glasses and photo frames to the fabric, though not on the bespoke furniture, which now forms a large part of the business.
The storage wall in maple and the walnut vanity unit in the bathroom are by Grafton Freestone, Richard’s collaboration with Andrew Freestone, and are manufactured in their workshop in Thorp Arch, near Wetherby.
The kitchen is a showstopper that has attracted window gazers who drool over the cabinetry. It is all handmade and has been designed with the help of the Ilkley store’s new manager Greg Murray, a cabinet maker and furniture designer by trade.
“It showcases what we can do in a totally bespoke kitchen, from raised and fielded panels to rounded corners and curves that can be helpful if you have young children. We’ve even designed a barista cabinet with a lift-out tray for coffee lovers,” says Richard, who adds that building and developing a team is one of the things he loves best about business.
“I try to employ people who are better than me. Greg isn’t a salesman, he is someone who knows how furniture is made and what’s possible. We don’t do hard sell. The idea is that people can pop in and get ideas and advice in a place that feels comfortable and homely.”
Full of energy and a born entrepreneur, his main role is to oversee the company, though he visits trade shows all over the world and helps with everything from interior design projects to sales. On the day we meet, he is mopping the floor of the kitchen in the Ilkley showroom, which is decorated in what is now his trademark style, which he describes as “classic contemporary, informal but smart”. It’s a look that won’t easily date, though there is a nod to trends.
“Brown is the new grey,” when it comes to backdrops, says Richard, who stresses that it’s not boring beige but a “browny grey green” mix. The sitting room area features this colour enlivened by teal and gold.
Richard’s love of fabric and texture is also obvious with favourites by Mulberry and GP &J Baker in evidence, while the store’s design library contains hundreds of books and swatches.
“We like to mix expensive and less expensive fabrics so you get a luxe for less effect. It’s like wearing an M&S shirt with a designer tie,” he says pointing to a chair that is upholstered in three different materials, including a top-end Mulberry.
Fabric is part of his DNA. His family has a long history of importing high-end cloth and it’s where his career started. After A levels at Leeds Grammar School, his first job was managing a curtain shop in Castleford. It was a success, not least because, along with a creative, can-do attitude, he has always had a good head for numbers.
He moved to the family’s Harrogate store in 1994 when it was selling dress fabric and brought the interiors offering with him. Homeware and interior design gradually took over and he became MD of the retail and interiors section of the Brindley business.
“I tried to buy the family out of the shop as I didn’t have much share in the business but that wasn’t an option so after lots of sleepless nights I decided to leave and do something on my own,” he says.
The James Brindley store has since been sold on but the rest of the business, including the wholesale fabric operation remains.
“It was liberating but frightening going on my own but I love it,” says Richard, who has just taken delivery of new products from America.“I went over there looking for something different and I found some interesting lighting and some great art prints.”
The transatlantic journey allowed more time for dreaming up new ideas “I also keep a notepad at the side of the bed so when I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea I can write it down,” he says. “The plan is to grow the brand and maybe open a third store.”
*Brown is the new grey but not the beige and taupe of yesteryear. Deep “browny grey” will be popular for walls. The Dulux colour of the year for 2017 is Denim Drift, a deep grey blue.
*As Brexit and Trump take their toll on confidence, more homeowners will decide to stay put for longer. This should lead to more adventurous interiors schemes as owners please themselves, rather than thinking of a future buyer.
*House plants have enjoyed a renaissance and we will see more of them next year, along with some interesting pots and planters.
*Geometric designs are big news but use lightly or risk a headache.