Renovating her own home gave Suzi Ellis an idea for a furniture business that is 100 per cent Yorkshire. Sharon Dale reports. Main pictures by Tony Johnson.
Suzi Ellis was supremely well qualified to head the search for her family’s forever home. A property developer’s daughter with a passion for architecture, she is tenacious and charming.
“I spent every day on the phone to estate agents checking if there was anything new,” she says. The strategy paid off and she managed to sweet talk her way into a viewing a house before the For Sale sign went up. “I walked in and within five minutes I knew I had to have it. The location is a little pocket of beauty,” says Suzi.
The glorious setting overlooking the Woodsome valley in Huddersfield was a major attraction but, best of all, the property was brimming with potential. Built in 1865 for a mill owner’s daughter, it came with a separate coach house and various extensions, which made the interior look and feel disjointed. Suzi came up with a plan for a series of projects to turn the dated ugly duckling back into a beautiful home.
The first job was creating a large living kitchen/dining room where she, husband Richard and their daughters Bella, 21, and Tara, 16, could spend time together.
“The dining room was miles from the kitchen, which was small and dark, and there was a separate sitting room at the back,” she says.
The sitting room and kitchen were knocked together to create one large space divided by a chimney breast. She also moved the stairs and so what was the hall is now a formal dining room complete with carefully replicated Georgian features.
All the windows were replaced and look over a garden redesigned by Leeds-based Frances Hainsworth.
Suzi tackled the rest of the property room by room, replacing the pink chintzy decor with a sophisticated classic style that has a few modern twists inspired by her travels to top boutique hotels, including The Pig at Brocklehurst and Rick Stein’s hotel in Padstow.
Farrow and Ball colours were chosen for the walls, which range from Lulworth Blue in the dining room to soft off-whites and greys. They showcase a diverse collection of art, ranging from paintings from Provence to work by favourite artists, including Greg Ramsden and Neville Fleetwood. Her love of texture is apparent in the rich range of fabrics from velvets and silks to heavy cottons, while lighting is from Jim Lawrence and Vaughan.
Family heirlooms, such as the antique dining table and chairs and sideboard, helped add to the sense of history but Suzi struggled to find beautiful, well-made new furniture. It was doubly difficult as it had to pass a stringent “Richard test”. Richard and his cousin run the family’s 125-year-old furniture manufacturing business, JT Ellis in Huddersfield. It designs and manufactures kitchens and contract furniture for hotels, offices and retailers.
“He is a fourth generation furniture maker and is very fussy about what we put in our own home and rightly so,” says Suzi. “The most difficult thing to find was a dressing table for Tara’s bedroom. I was so disappointed at what was out there. Most of it was poor quality veneered MDF or cheap tulip wood with dovetail joints painted on. Almost everything was imported so I asked Richard if he could make one at the factory to my design.”
Handcrafted, painted and waiting to be delivered, it was in a corner of the workshop when it was spotted by one of JT Ellis’s commercial clients.
“They loved it and asked Richard to make him 1,000 for their hotels and that’s when I realised that there was a huge gap in the market for stylish, affordable, high quality furniture that was made in Britain,” says Suzi, who worked in marketing in America before meeting Richard on a return trip to her native Harrogate.
That lightbulb moment led to The English Cabinet Company and a collection of timeless, painted furniture for the residential market designed by Suzi and made in Yorkshire by JT Ellis
“We make to order using locally-sourced materials, combined with the latest machinery and proven cabinet making skills.
“All our design and manufacturing processes require human input, so people are involved every step of the way, checking for quality and precision. Much of the finishing work is done by hand too, which is rare and very special in today’s automated world,” says Suzi.
The recently launched range, sold via an online shop and pop-up shops, includes everything from beds and wardrobes to drawers and dressing tables, and is already a big success.
Suzi’s own home was the test-bed for her designs and their usability and reveal a gimlet eye for detail that is apparent throughout her house.
The English Cabinet Company is now taking up much of her time but she still has a few home improvement projects to tick off her list.
She wants to update the kitchen cabinets and is putting the finishing touches to her conversion of the old coach house, which will include a gym, wine cellar, two bedrooms and a living/entertaining space.
She also has planning permission to extend the house and wants to create a glazed link to the coach house.
“I adore this place, it’s a wonderful family home and it’s provided me with lots of projects, otherwise I would’ve been bored,” she says.
“I’ve always got something on the go. It’s in my blood.”
The English Cabinet Company, tel: Tel: 01484 415570, theenglishcabinetcompany.co.uk
Firenza Floral Design, firenzafloraldesign.co.uk
Garden designer, Frances Hainsworth, gardendesignerleeds.co.uk
Kitchen cabinets, JT Ellis, jtellis.co.uk
RHA Interiors, rhainteriors.co.uk
Tetrad sofas, tetrad.co.uk
Jim Lawrence lighting, jim-lawrence.co.uk
Vaughan Lighting, vaughandesigns.com