Willow and Hen was founded by Sue Chalmers and extra-ordinary lady with a flair for country chic interior design and the mantra of “Hug your life, Hug Your Home”. Here is her story
I ran a garage business with my ex-husband for 24 years. I had always worked in the motor industry, so when he got made redundant, it was a natural progression for us to start our own business. We had two children and I was juggling the whole garage thing and children. Although I was massively involved in the garage for 5.5 days a week, there was always other things that I wanted to do, but the garage always took over again.
At one stage I thought I would try beauty therapy, I realised quickly that it wasn’t for me. As soon as someone came in and wanted me to do their feet it was like – no! While running the garage and bringing up the kids, I had always renovated our houses.
The first house was one I had bought not far from the garage and it was just a plain, 4 bedroom detached house but it had very little character, nothing that you would walk in and say wow about. This was the late 80s, and I did the whole rag rolling, the sponging, I added stencilling up the stairs, I put candy stripes in my daughter’s bedroom and I made my own curtains and blinds. Even then I was very much into interiors and giving my family that homely feeling, not just in the house but in the garden as well. I then decided to extend the house, so I did the planning permission and everything that goes with it and extended the property. When we came to sell it, we put the house on the market and within 48 hours it sold. There were two reasons the house sold so fast: the first was I had styled it for selling, but also, the unintentional aspect was the way it was decorated, they absolutely loved it because it was something completely different, when they got in the house. Although from the outside the property looked fairly similar to a lot of the houses that were built in the 80s, once you go inside it was completely different, you couldn’t help but feel that it was a home and not just a cold impersonal house.
We then moved on to a farmhouse and I thought do you know what I am going to do an interior design course. I was still running the garage, still had two young kids, but we moved into this farmhouse and I did an online interior design course and I absolutely loved it! I really wanted to set up my own business then, but I didn’t have the time or the head space to do it justice. So, I renovated the farm house, we were there for ten years, I didn’t double the value but we added a lot of value onto the house and again we sold it within 48 hours of putting it on the market. And that was in the month of February, people say you can’t sell houses in February, yes you can you just need to know how to sell it. Then friends started asking me to help them with aspects of their interior design and I absolutely loved helping them create homes that fit their family and lifestyles.
When I left my husband in 2015, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I spent a couple of years doing bookkeeping because that is what I had always done. One day, I was on Instagram and I saw a lady who was selling home décor items online. I thought I would love to do that! At the time I was in the middle of renovating my new house, although it was a lovely house it was very modern, and I wanted to add some character and my own style to it. Still, I decided to take the leap! I set up my website and got some stock in. I was working, I set up Willow and Hen and I was renovating my house – all at the same time! Obviously, it didn’t work out too well. I decided I would give up my job because I was struggling to concentrate on all three projects. I had my house and realised that I had all this equity in it because I had added so much value to it with my renovations.
Shortly after I was going on holiday, I happened to be in the airport and I saw the barn on the market and I thought I know exactly where that is and I loved the look of it, the whole rustic feeling of it. I am a country girl at heart, I am not a city person, I just love being in the country and when I saw this place I thought Yes! I rang my Estate Agent, I had put my house on the market previously, so they had some old pictures, and I said look I need to get my house back on the market, I have seen somewhere I want. I went on holiday and they sold the house while I was away. I came back, had a look at the barn and fell in love with it. I walked through the front door and thought, yes this is where I want to be. It just felt right!
The barn had previously belonged to an old couple which was evident from the decor. I walked in and I could see the potential of the property. Now that the renovations are well under way (with still a way to go) every little change I make to the barn strengthens that “HUG” that I get from my home. It is that “HUG” feeling that motivated me then to take Willow and Hen to the next level, as this is what I want to do. I want to help people get the feeling I have when I walk into the barn. That feeling of belonging and being “home”. This feeling I have is what inspires me when I am working with Interior Design clients, it is what I keep in mind when I am choosing stock items, all of the products that are on my website are all around my house. I spend a lot of time researching and sourcing items that will add to someone’s homely feeling.
And now I have added the Lifestyle side to the busines too. This was inspired by talking to so many people of a similar age to me. Our journey is a long way from being over, things are changing but they are changing for all of us, not just for the person who feels like they are on their own with it all. With the Willow and Hen Hub, people can go on there and get advice, support and encouragement from everyone in the group. It is good for people to think that they are not the only ones with these problems. We have all got these issues, we have all got this stuff going on and we are all in it together. I quite often invite guest speakers for live events to address some of the concerns, issues and interests we all have. We talk about everything from the menopause to intermittent fasting to which Gin flavour we have just discovered. I also share interior design tips and my other loves: exercise, nutrition, fashion, travelling and of course the odd tipple!
Life is very much about a balance, it is about just enjoying life and sharing that with like-minded ladies of a certain age.
Thank you for taking the time to read my About page. This is my (the Willow and Hen) story, to date, there is plenty to more to come I am sure. In the meantime feel free to browse through my carefully selected items in my online shop, join us in the Willow and Hen Hub, read through the Willow and Hen news and interior design tips and if you need some help creating a home that works for your lifestyle then grab a 15 minute complimentary Zoom call with me so we can see if we are the right fit for each other.
I had an Interior Design consultant via Zoom with Sue Chalmers from Willow & Hen and I am so pleased I did. Honestly, this woman really knows her stuff. In just one hour, she had given me advice on the placement of furniture and design ideas for 7 rooms! All using things I already owned. She then gave me advice on a few items I could purchase that would have a huge impact and bring a touch of love to my home. These were all from one shop and very reasonably priced. I was so excited I went out and bought them that afternoon. Just a few additions and Sue's magic and it feels like a new home !
What can I say about Sue? Not only is she a fabulous person, she is completely on the money. I have worked in property for 12 years and have been advising homeowners how to stage their home for sale and what can put off potential buyers. Sue is like a kindred spirit in this regard and gives expert advice that frankly works. Couldn't recommend her highly enough!