Small wonder: how a York designer is making it big

Asta and Alanna, daughters of Frances and her colleague Emily Schofield, have a tache-tastic time
21 Jan 2014 @ 2.38 pm
| Business, Shopping
Asta and Alanna, daughters of Frances and her colleague Emily Schofield, have a tache-tastic time
Asta and Alanna, daughters of Frances and her colleague Emily Schofield, have a tache-tastic time

jayne-headshotYork business Halfpinthome creates quirky presents for youngsters and their rooms. Founder Frances Chalet tells Jayne Dwyer why she loves working with children and animals

What’s your background?

I have a first class honours degree in art and design from York St John University. My degree was the best thing I ever did for myself. It taught me to be free and not worry about constraints or limits; to use my imagination as much as possible. I specialised in fine art, mostly making installations or interventions, which were themed around our consumer society. It was a subject I never get bored of.

Were you designing before you had children?

Nope! But I did know I always wanted to be an artist. My mum is a hugely creative person; she studied and gained a distinction in 3D art and design when I was young and I loved seeing what she’d created. She was so happy and animated when she studied and produced work. I guess I thought that’s what you do to get happy.

I had my first child, Josh, in 2000, and started my degree when he was two. Raffi was born in 2006 and Alanna in 2008. Somewhere amongst family life the seeds for halfpinthome began to grow.

No half measures: Frances Chalet has big plans for halfpinthome
No half measures: Frances Chalet has big plans for halfpinthome

What came first, your designs or your studio?

The designs came first, and everything else grew around them. At first it was a small vintage desk in the corner of the bedroom that I used it for sewing bunting on request.

That felt like a huge step but after a few months sewing just wasn’t enough. I wanted the things I made to be different from anything else. So I enrolled myself on a six-week basic introduction to Adobe illustrator. It went well and I picked it up more easily than I expected.

The following year I spent all my free time practising and took part in the Made in York craft fairs with a group of friends. The more I create the more I see how vital this whole process was.

I don’t think I could live without my studio now. It’s my favourite place. Full of the art of others and everything I need to create. It’s home.

Where do your ideas come from?

My kids, their doodles, my daydreams, the world around me. It can be just a colour or something the kids say that sets off a trail in the mind.

There’s often a light-bulb moment, usually when I’m mid-way through another piece. I have lots of small notebooks, sketchbooks and bits of paper all over the studio full of ‘to do’ ideas. That’s the best bit; thinking what comes next.

Lovely ladybirds: Frances' bold designs come flying at her when she least expects them
Lovely ladybirds: Frances’ bold designs come flying at her when she least expects them

Which design launched the business?

The ant! When he appeared I knew he couldn’t just sit there doing nothing. I lacked confidence after being a stay at home mum and not having a career before having the children. I’d never been anything apart from a student or mum.

Which is your favourite design?

If I had to say which I felt I’d achieved the most with, it would have to be The Mini Makes Advent Calendar so far.

I work with Emily Schofield on the series of Mini Makes books. She edits and organises. We met less than a year ago at Made in York. Since then we have produced two books and the first was such a steep learning curve for both of us; we both poured six months solid work into it.

What’s next for halfpinthome?

I have more ideas than time, but this year I’ll definitely be introducing a ‘Yummy Mummy’ kitchen collection, a couple of really exciting collaborations and, of course, many more in the Mini Makes series.