Taking an adult gap year to go travelling proved life-changing for Christian Hawley. The colourful hand-crafted goods in the Far East and the fresh, contemporary interiors found in fashionable areas of Sydney, combined to inspire a career change from IT to homeware.
“I’d sold my share in an IT business and I was looking to do something new. Australia in particular opened my eyes to a more modern outlook,” he says.
After a trip to the Milan Furniture Fair, one of the world’s most cutting-edge trade shows, he set up a design store in Sheffield. An e-commerce site, Nest.co.uk, followed and is now one of the UK’s top online destinations for contemporary homeware with a strict policy of stocking originals rather than shamelessly plagiarised copies.
“We launched the website 10 years ago and the first day we got ten views but it took off and now we get over 2,000 a day. We’ve also invested in a bigger store and have expanded into supplying hotels and restaurants,” says Christian, whose enthusiasm for hunting down new products and a vigorous attention to detail have ensured the company’s success.
He applied the same passion and precision when renovating his Sheffield home. He and his wife Debbie bought the property a decade ago and have transformed it inside and out.
It was small and dated but detached and, although it lacked square footage inside, the garden was extra large.
“It was a tiny, two-bedroomed house and the original plan was to stay three or four years then move somewhere bigger, but instead we’ve made the most of what we’ve got,” say Christian.
“We like the area and the children are really settled and happy here. I moved around a lot as a child and hated it, so I didn’t want that for them.
He and Debbie, who have two children, Flynn, seven, and four-year-old Esme, extended the house to create a new dining kitchen with glazed doors onto the garden and an extra bedroom and bathroom above. Initially, they knocked down most of the internal walls on the ground floor to make an enormous open-plan space, but realised it was “one too many”. They have since reinstated a wall so that there is a second sitting room. The old doorway from the hall to the kitchen has been glazed, which brings in natural light and satisfies fire regulations.
Upstairs, they reconfigured the layout to create three bedrooms and two bathrooms and they have also recently completed a basement conversion.
What was previously a small cellar was dug out and tanked to create a utility room and cloakroom, plus a playroom for Flynn and Esme, with a storage system by String, a Vitra Hang it All rack and Panton chairs.
“We dug out two feet of soil to get the head height and the whole project cost £22,000 in total. It was worth it for the extra space and we’ve been able to declutter the rest of the house of toys and store them all in the kids’ cave,” says Christian, who is now planning a loft conversion.
The furniture and accessories throughout the house are mostly investment pieces and fit with the couple’s “buy well” ethos, which they say is a European trait that is becoming more common in the UK.
The sofa is a good example. It is by Zanotta and has retained its shape and character despite ten years of use. The Bigfoot dining table is another design classic that has stood the test of time and toddlers.
There is a mix of Christian’s favourite brands, including Tom Dixon, Flos, Knoll, San Cal and the Danish company Hay. His favourite chair is the Fritz Hansen egg chair and his latest buy is the wood and tooled leather Brogue table by Bethan Gray and Thomas Turner.
“I am always looking for new designers and trends. At the moment, there is a move away from the very high end Italian furniture, which can be quite clinical and cold, to Scandinavian designs, which are warmer and softer looking with more organic shapes,” adds Christian.
He and his business partner, Toni Sanderson, are just back from the latest Milan fair, which is a great place to spot emerging fashions.
Toni says: “We saw a lot of rich colours like plums and reds and some dusky pinks and we noticed that brands were replacing older products with softer silhouettes and spongier upholstery.”
Debbie is pleased to hear it as she and Christian don’t always agree when it comes to home decor.
“I prefer a prettier, more feminine style and I like flowered wallpaper, which Christian hates. I am quite laidback so I tend to compromise, though I get used to something and then it changes. He is always bringing new pieces home,” she says.
Christian will soon have his very own space to decorate as he pleases, thanks to the addition of a “shoffice”. It is being built in the newly-revamped garden, which was inspired by Australian landscape designer Jamie Durie’s outdoor rooms.
“It will be my own man cave and I am looking forward to doing exactly what I want with it,” he says.
“I’ve already got plans for how it will look. I like everything to be perfect.”
• Nest is at 9 Parkway Rise, Sheffield, and online at www.nest.co.uk