Life throws the unexpected at all of us and Jo Howat had no idea when she bumped into a childhood friend that it would be the start of a brand new career in interior design.
Howat and Hutchinson is a homeware, accessories and gifts brand, offering stylish items made from the finest quality leather and cowhide.
It is run by Sallyanne Hutchinson and Jo Howat; two Northern women who decided they wanted to share their love of beautiful things with the world.
“Sallyanne and I both love interiors and we always have.
“Everything is designed to look beautiful but also to be used. There’s a saying that some things should be beautiful or practical, well we think things should be both!” Jo said.
From decorative storage baskets to desk accessories and a range of gifts, Sallyanne and Jo lovingly design nearly every item on sale.
“Sallyanne and I were friends as teenagers, we both grew up in the north east then we sort of went our separate ways. I did English at Oxford, then I went off to work at the BBC in London as a radio journalist, and she went off to have a career in PR.
“We both moved back up to Yorkshire when our children were small but we lost touch and then literally, our children were at the same school and we met at the school gates and went: I know you!
“It was really nice because we became friends again. By which time Sallyanne had already started up Leather and Lavender, as it was, as a hobby.”
Sallyanne had started the business, then called Leather and Lavender, selling to friends and exhibiting at local fairs. When both their kids went to school, the childhood friends wanted a new challenge.
In 2012, Jo joined the business, helping to get it more online savvy and going out on the road to showcase the products.
Jo said: “We’ve come quite a long way from where we started. “We are lucky that we completely agree in what we like and we will get really excited because we like the same things and that part of the process is really fun for us.”
Leather is a tactile textile and goes with everything, Jo explained. It goes with any colour scheme and will fit in whether you have a traditional or contemporary home, which is why it has become so popular.
However, not everything in the business has been so plain sailing. In September 2012, the warehouse and Jo’s home, an idyllic 18th century watermill that she shares with her husband Graham and two children in Bedale, was almost ruined in severe flooding.
She said: “We almost lost the stock, the river came right up and thankfully the water receded at the door of the warehouse. Actually it completely wrecked the ground floor of our house and we had to move out and have it all re-done but then we ended up with a bigger warehouse as a result.”
Sallyanne has now moved to Leciestershire but Jo still lives in the watermill and said she would never consider moving back to London.
“We are just on the edge of the Dales. It’s fantastic. We are surrounded by beautiful countryside, we’ve got dogs to walk and the dales to explore and it’s fabulous.”
She moved back to Yorkshire 14 years ago, when she was pregnant with her first child.
Jo had previously worked for BBC Radio 5 Live as a drive time journalist and was working when the news came in that the twin towers in New York had been destroyed in a terrorist attack. Now 9/11 will also be emblazoned in her memory, not only as the horrible tragedy it was, but also as the moment she told herself she couldn’t be a journalist anymore.
“I used to love it and get a buzz from it but when you are about to bring a child into the world and that happens, you just think, actually, I think I’ve had enough of this now.”
Jo has two children Archie, 14, and Clemmie, 11, with her childhood sweetheart Graham. As well as running the business, she is also a magistrate, so for Jo it never stops but that’s just how she likes it.
In terms of the future, the website has now taken off, the pair are hoping to feature in more wholesalers and have been contacted by interior designers to help broaden their products.
As a Yorkshire company, Jo wanted to shake off the idea that interior design equals London and prove that you don’t have to be a London-centric business in order to succeed. And that is just what Jo and Sallyanne are doing.