PUBLISHED: 18:02 22 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
Jan Ashton has created a glorious home and garden at aptly-named Belle Vue. Now she and her business partner are offering their design skills and eye for lovely homeware to you.
Jan Ashton has created a glorious home and garden at aptly-named Belle Vue. Now she and her business partner are offering their design skills and eye for lovely homeware to you
Pictures by John Snowdon
"We've left all the original features, but hardly anything else in this house has stayed the same," says interior designer Jan Ashton.
She is describing the large Victorian town house that she moved to with partner Keith 12 years ago. Today it is a handsome home full of light, colour and eye-catching objects. In many ways the house, along a tree-lined street, in Belle Vue, on the outskirts of Shrewsbury's historic town centre, is the inspiration for a new online shopping experience. Jan has teamed up with friend Sue Newman to launch a website selling homeware and gifts that echo their own tastes and style.
"We've both got similar tastes and tend to home in on the same objects when we're sourcing products at craft fairs," comments Sue who lives just a stone's throw away.
The women set up The Mobile Gift Company a year ago, selling their "English home style" range of practical and ornamental objects directly to customers through 'parlour parties' in clients' homes. They launched the website a month ago. Products vary from a handy butler's tray with a fold-away stand, wooden garden trugs and straw baskets to colourful tea trays, ornamental cake stands, velvety cushions and quirky doorstops.
Jan's home brims with similar objects.
"When we moved in the big challenge was to turn this house from a Victorian home, with all the large rooms and main living areas at the front, to a contemporary living space facing onto the rear garden," she recalls.
"The kitchen was totally blocked off from the garden as it had been built for servants, and the house was very tired with no central heating. The garden had also seen better days."
The installation of central heating and additional bathrooms were the first jobs. "And because I couldn't stand the bland garden we did that next." As a garden designer too Jan was soon knocking it into shape. "I wanted it to be a formal garden, in keeping with the house," she says. Emerald green lawns, box hedging, hedges clipped into topiary balls and spirals, an ornamental pond and bordered flowerbeds spilling with cottage garden blooms. It perfectly sums up a traditional English garden.
While Keith keeps the lawns immaculate Jan clips those hedges. "It's a really easy garden to maintain," she muses.
"I like to have nice clean bold edges so the planting can be wild and random. You can get away with a lot that way. The actual flowerbeds need sorting just twice a year."
Moving back indoors the kitchen and some ancillary rooms were all knocked into one to create a larger kitchen and give direct access to the rear garden. Two sets of large wooden French doors were installed instantly flooding the room with light.
The kitchen already had its cobalt blue Aga tucked into the old Victorian fireplace. Local craftsman David Orton was commissioned to build a stunning bespoke kitchen in maple with a black marble worktop.
Five years ago part of the internal kitchen wall was knocked through into one of the grand front rooms. Previously used as a dining room, this was where Jan planned to create a relaxing and contemporary-styled family living room.
She says: "I wanted a family room near the kitchen. Before we had to walk from one end of the house to the other which was a drag." The family has maintained the old sitting room, traditional in style, for formal family occasions. Jan's children, now aged 18 and 21, always like to celebrate Christmas in this room.
The new living room is ultra modern, fresh and vibrant in shades of burnt orange and russet. Jan took style cues from two 1960's swivel armchairs that she had been given many years earlier. She had them re-upholstered in faux suede and they now sit either side of the Victorian red marble fireplace. Jan teamed the chairs with a luxurious, contemporary, leather sofa. She first spotted the unusual De Sede kidney-shaped sofa in the window of an exclusive shop in London and instantly fell in love. The price tag was steep; however, after doing research, she tracked down an identical sofa being sold for less at a shop in Manchester.
"The man who sold it to me was very enthusiastic, telling me Baby Spice had one of these in bright red," she says.
It really is a family-inspired room as the clever, modern suspended shelf was built by Keith's carpenter son and bold paintings and drawings by Jan's talented daughter, now studying at art college, line the walls alongside dramatic work by other artists.
But the biggest alteration to the house came 18 months ago when the dazzling garden room extension was built.
"I wanted something that really brought you into the garden," comments Jan.
The light-filled space is ringed by giant windows and is crowned by an elegant glass roof lantern. Interior chalky shades of pale stone, biscuit and muted bluey greens reflect the golden tones of the outdoor terrace and garden greenery.
Bringing the outdoors in, in one continuous line, the same golden travertine marble tiles have been used for both the garden room flooring and the terrace paving.
The garden room is as lovely on the outside as it is on the inside. Jan and Keith sourced a local stone, sunny Grinshill stone, for the construction. It gleams in sunshine, seemingly casting a big smile over the flowerbeds below.
Jan and Sue are keen to make style tips widely accessible. Through their website they also offer a 'Style & Sell' service. It provides practical, cost-effective tips on how to present an individual home to its best advantage and maximise its selling potential.
The Mobile Gift Company is now introducing a range of Christmas decorations and ladies gifts. For further details visit www.themobilegiftcompany.co.uk. For information on parlour parties or Style & Sell contact Jan Ashton (07939 343377) or Sue Newman (07891 075420). The Mobile Gift Company will be at the Attingham Park Frost Fair on December 6/7.