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Editorial blog

Susie Watson: Creating Cosy Interiors & Pottering around in an English Country Garden

06 Dec 2018

Angela Sara West chats with Susie Watson about her unique company’s concept, her success secrets, her latest products, plus a very tasty Christmas collaboration.

Wiltshire-based Susie Watson Designs is a unique interiors business which, alongside offering design services, creates beautiful handmade furniture, perfect pottery and home accessories with an elegant English feel. But it’s not only the English country garden that influences these stunning designs - they’re infused with Indian inspiration, too.

Need a whole new look for your living room? Or maybe you’re seeking some pretty new pottery pieces for the ‘heart of the home’. Providing a full interior design service, from concept to completion, alongside measuring services for curtains and blinds, Susie Watson Designs also provides handmade products for the home… everything you need to create the perfect room, with talented designers on hand to help.

“I founded Susie Watson Designs on the belief that ‘using beautiful things everyday can be an unexpected source of pleasure’,” says Susie, who describes her highly-successful company’s signature look as “elegant, but relaxed and informal.” She says homes are for living in, not just looking at. “Maybe contemporary classics would best describe what we do. I always say that the relaxed nature of my collection means that our designs work for kitchen living and modern family life, creating looks that are warm and welcoming, yet stylish.”

With an emphasis on colour, her handmade collections comprise beautiful useful pieces for the home. “I have an almost obsessive love of colour and fascination with form and balance, which play a huge part in what I do.”

Championing traditional craftsmanship, her products are handmade from start to finish, with Susie and her small, hard-working team working passionately to create unique pieces. “I pride myself on creating classic designs and looks that stand the test of time. When you buy from us, you can be sure that you own something you’ll love for many years to come.”

What does she enjoy most about her job? “I love working on designs… it’s exciting when they finally come together and I enjoy the whole process of getting there. I work with a wonderful graphic designer here, and I love working on design in India with the people who make it. I work out there a lot, which is essential.”

Susie’s success secrets

With no-one else on the high street handmaking products on such a large scale, Susie describes her products as “little works of art” and frequently finds them featured in titles such as ‘Country Living’, ‘Period Living’, ‘Country Home & Interiors’ and ‘The English Home’.

What gives her the edge over her competitors? “We create all our own designs and have quite a unique look. Our showrooms are really lovely places to visit, where customers get all the attention and help they need to put things together. Our staff really enjoy helping customers - whether it’s a cushion combination, a whole room or a dinner service. I think this might be quite a unique offering and customers travel long distances to a showroom.”

Her creative career path has always seen Susie self-employed. “I became interested in interior design when I first had a house of my own. I worked with my husband, restoring old houses to resell for quite some time,” she explains. “I have always done my own drawings and designs and particularly love working on floorplans, windows and other joinery. I designed kitchens for people and our own houses very early on. I also had an art gallery and started to develop art objects for the home alongside selling paintings. It’s evolved, so it’s hard to be exact on when Susie Watson Designs was founded, but we started by doing fairs in early 2000s and opened our first two shops in 2008.”

The phenomenally successful business now boasts numerous showrooms, serving Salcombe, Marlborough, Marlow, Alresford, Chichester, Tunbridge Wells, Saffron Walden, Harrogate and Sherborne.

Chic ceramics

From mugs and jugs, to teapots and tiles, Susie’s perfect pottery pieces showcase her love for great pottery. What fired up her interest in the craft? “I wanted ceramics for kitchen living. The options were very limited in the late 90s. I love the feel of handmade pottery and the lovely colours. Watching the pottery being painted is fascinating!”

She says it was the idea of “art in the everyday” that inspired her first pottery collection. “A beautiful mug can bring you as much pleasure, if not more, than a piece of art on your walls.”

Susie’s renowned handmade pottery collection is dishwasher and microwave safe, thanks to the extremely high temperatures that the products are fired at. Her favourite pieces? “I honestly don’t know which design I like best… I love the effect of mixing different patterns together on the table. It’s fun and informal and much more decorative than one pattern on its own. For more formal occasions, I mix fewer patterns together.”

Her top pottery tip? “Mix designs!,” she says.

English country garden & indian inspiration

Susie says old buildings inspire her work. “I never used to go out without a tape measure in my bag and have always been fascinated by proportion and scale. There is very little new in the world. A visit to Egypt is possibly the most inspiring thing I can think of.”

It’s also the palette of the English garden and countryside, along with her inspiring travels to India and Sri Lanka, that have hugely influenced her cosy chic country interiors. This combination makes for unique, interesting designs that although influenced by her travels, always have an English feel. “We are lucky enough to have a wonderful mature garden, if a bit wild and unkempt, full of wonderful trees. I particularly love the colours of nature; they are the basis of most of our colour palette.”

Her favourite materials to work with? “Anything natural, but I prefer wood to stone.”

Creating the perfect look

The Susie Watson Designs look is perfectly suited to the way we live now – relaxed and informal with an emphasis on kitchen living and beautiful colour.

Alongside bespoke interior design schemes, Susie’s impeccable interiors’ offering includes handmade furniture collections hand-carved from the finest natural hardwood or handbuilt using carefully-selected beech timber and high-quality upholstery components. From hand-printed fabrics, paint and wallpaper and rugs and cushions, to glassware and mirrors, candles and candlesticks and lampshades and prints, you’ll even find lovingly-made beds, coats and bowls for man’s best friend, the dog!

Susie says a home should be a place that is warm and welcoming. “Making decisions about decorating a room, or a whole house, is undoubtedly racking! Unlike the dress you wish you’d never bought, it cannot be stuffed in the cupboard and forgotten. You live with it every day and even the most long longsuffering husband is unlikely to tell you it can be redone! Hence, we all agonise before making these decisions and sometimes can be a little too cautious.”

She says designing a room is a little like painting a picture. “First, create the background with a beautiful colour paint or wallpaper and a curtain fabric that either blends in gently with the walls or adds colour that compliments them. You can either start adding in the detail with richly-coloured throws and cushions for a warm and cosy look or keep the room pale and elegant. In a bedroom, you could add a lovely quilt. At this stage, it’s easy to experiment with everything that can be changed until you have achieved the look you are after.”

How it’s made in India

With the collections designed in Wiltshire, the bespoke sofas and armchairs are made to order in a small workshop in Lancashire, with almost everything else handmade by Susie’s teams of talented artisans in India and Sri Lanka. Each product is made with much dedication and care by highly-skilled individuals who take great pride in their work.

“We’ve worked with our charming little fabric factory in Karur, in the heart of the cotton weaving area of Southern India, for many years. Their artisan craftsmen and women understand our fabrics perfectly to help us achieve the best finish on our cushions,” explains Susie. “Mr Ravi and his delightful family have shown us expert techniques to help create our unique designs. It would be hard to exaggerate the extraordinary skill and care that goes into the handcrafting of our pottery. Each piece is handpainted by skilled artisan painters in Sri Lanka, and every detail on our candles is delicately hand painted in our small Sri Lankan studio, where candlemakers employ expert techniques.”

Susie has a deep-rooted belief in trading fairly, showcased in the fascinating behind-thescenes ‘how we make it’ videos on her website. “We strive to produce products at a price that is fair to both the manufacturer and to our customers. Our videos bring this to life.”

She says, to be sustainable, a business has to work for everyone, whether they are working here in the UK or overseas. “We believe this must be the basis of success and would love to see the end of the discount culture, which is obviously at odds with this. We are lucky to work very closely with our factories and the artisans have become friends. They are very much part of our team. Teaching people to appreciate handiwork is a challenge, but we try and lots of customers now do, too!”

Autumnal & festive offerings

Susie continued to make the most of outdoor living during our wonderful Indian summer this year, enjoying the colours that autumn brings. “The leaves are stunning now… Hydrangeas go a wonderful rosy pink at this time of year and dahlias can be lovely. If it’s warm enough, October is a lovely time to eat outside.”

Her autumn product launches include Akansha hand-block printed fabric, hare cushions and a charcoal lampshade. Several recent projects have proved particularly tricky… “Designing the new furniture collection was challenging. There are always lots of issues around using real woods but I hate laminates. Our latest designs of Guinea Fowl and Foxglove require 13 screens each and were a massive project for our graphic designer. She has done an exceptional job!”

Susie’s extensive ranges also include greeting cards and personalised gifts, and you’re more than covered for any occasion with her gorgeous gift wrap, boxes and bags.

She recently collaborated with Biscuiteers, to create a very tasty Advent Calendar… “Our handmade advent calendars look beautiful hung on the back of a door, filled with goodies. It makes sense for us to be working with Biscuiteers, who understand the real joy of something handmade. The collaboration is inspired by advent traditions for the modern family Christmas.”

The importance of craft

So, when it comes to sustainability, Susie “seams” to have things sewn up. What would be the main message she would like to get across about craft? “Making things is a wonderful way to use time. It’s all-consuming, and is therefore an excellent way to switch off. It would be great to give more people, especially children, the chance to get involved in making things. Until you try it, you cannot know the joy of it, so lots of people are probably missing out. Obviously, it’s not going to appeal to everyone but there may be lots of people who have just never had a chance…” She says craft can help hugely with wellbeing. “Being creative undoubtedly makes people happy!”

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