Ahead of her Christmas show, Chris Titley meets the York woman who is passionate about interiors, good design and great craftsmanship
It’s probably best to start with what Natalia Willmott isn’t. She is not, she stresses, an interior designer, although she does enjoy “rejigging people’s interiors and finding certain elements that are missing”. Neither does she run an art gallery, although many of the pieces she chooses could only be classed as works of art.
Natalia herself admits she is not an easy person to pin down. “I like the mix. I like designing, making, sourcing, buying, selling – I like all the aspects.”
And it is this unclassifiable combination which makes her business, L’Atelier Natalia Willmott, unique. She describes it as “a mixture between a gallery and interiors – things you would have in your home”. Run from her home and workshop at Stillingfleet, the company now receives inquiries at the website from as far away as Australia.
L’Atalier sells everything from funky bottle carriers which transform into coasters (a snip at £9) to Indian wall art which would set you back £2,900.
In between are items as varied as porcelain jars, antique chairs and framed 1920s lithographs. All they have in common is that Natalia loves them, and they would enhance any home.
[column width=”55%” padding=”5%”]So where does she find them? “I worked in the art world for about ten years in London,” she explains over coffee and croissants at the Hotel du Vin in York. “I worked for an antique and textile dealer who was into ceramic art and Indian art.
“I have lots of contacts like that, friends who are art dealers, I go to auctions. I am very eclectic.”[/column][column width=”40%” padding=”0″]
Every time we go somewhere I have to go into the antiques shops. It drives my husband crazy.
[/column][end_columns]She sources mainly from new, unrecognised or forgotten designers and artists, and is always on the lookout for new finds. “Every time we go somewhere I have to go into the antiques shops. It drives my husband crazy.”
A cosmopolitan upbringing accounts for her wide and varied tastes. Born in London and raised in Paris Natalia was exposed to a multitude of influences from an early age.
She studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and Oxford University, specialising in both Islamic and French art. For the next ten years she worked in London, firstly with an art dealer and later with art restoration experts. She moved north with her husband and three small children in 2007 and had no qualms about relocating to York.
“We’d had a romantic weekend at Middlethorpe Hall, so when he suggested York I said I’d love to! There’s style, culture, it’s very pretty, there’s all sorts of interesting shops.”
After settling in, Natalia took an upholstery course. Reinvigorating an old and tired piece of furniture so it enjoys a fresh lease of life is clearly a source of pleasure for her.
Natalia hopes to grow her business while retaining the personal touch. “I am a good place to find unusual gifts. I don’t want to become a huge chain – I like having contact with people,” she says.
“You have chain stores which are great, like The White Company, and great stores like Mulberry Hall in York where you’ll find fantastic ceramics and glassware.
“But it’s also nice to combine that with something a bit unusual, that somebody else might not have.”
Natalia’s Christmas exhibition of art antiques and fun and unusual gifts, in conjunction with Charmian Ottaway jewellery and Lisa Wood of Corgi cashmere, runs from Friday, November 15 to Monday, November 19, in Stillingfleet – full details below.
It’s a mixed show. “There’ll be beautifully crafted and unusual games for all ages from the archive of an old Spanish workshop,” Natalia said. “And fun and bold antique images of cutlery and bathroom objects printed on cotton, as table runners, bathroom mats and hand towels.”
Five per cent of her sales go to breast cancer charity The Haven.
Her advice for someone thinking of buying a piece of art or unique object for their home? Let your heart rule your head, and don’t worry about a piece’s resale value. “At the end of the day you should really like what you are buying.”
Here are some of Natalia’s favourites…
“Charmian is a jeweller based in York, who works with precious metals, pearls and stones. She regularly shows collections in Galleries and Museums. Charmian’s delightful and imaginative ranges are inspired by ancient approaches to jewellery making and by natural forms in the world around her.”
Lisa Wood’s Corgi cashmere
“Lisa Wood carried on her great great grandfather’s successful cashmere business Corgi based in Wales with her brother more than a century after it was first opened and helped the company gain the Royal Warrant. I love Corgi cashmere for it’s warmth and softness and for its lovely range of delicately-knit to more chunky scarves, shawls and sweaters. Although the designs are simple they are classic wear with a twist.”
Twisted Leaf “Graphite Object”
“These are sculptural writing implements made from graphite by the Batle studio in San Francisco. Each piece is cast using carbonaceous graphite and can be used in its entirety as a pencil. You can write with it for seven to nine years if you use it every day.”
Mark Azopardi watercolour
Artist Mark Azopardi mostly works in pure watercolour, or a combination of watercolour and pencil. He moved to York in 1992 and opened the Three Ps in Walmgate, a gallery from where he sold his own work and ran a picture framing business. He now works in a studio next to the Steiner School in the city. For me, he’s one of the people to buy. If I didn’t sell the paintings I’d be very happy to keep them.”
- L’Atelier Natalia Willmott presents a Christmas Selling Exhibition takes place at Cotswold House, The Green, Stillingfleet, YO19 6SF
- You can visit any time between 9.30am to 3pm, Thursday, November 15 to Monday, November 19, or by appointment
- See the website for more details