Frances Chalet, the creative force behind Halfpint Home
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 January 2014
Jo Haywood meets a York graphic illustrator homing in on the halfpint market
Home has always been where the art is for Frances Chalet. She was raised in a house full of her mum’s art projects. And now her own children – Josh, 13, Raffi, seven, and Alanna, five – live, work and play in an atmosphere of creative crafting.
Her home studio is full of beautiful fabrics, cards, books and furnishings featuring her fun and friendly graphic characters, reminiscent of Tove Jansson’s evocative Moomin world illustrations, which she sells through Not On The High Street as Halfpint Home.
‘I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was five,’ she said over a cup of tea in her front room-cum-workspace. ‘My mum signed up for a 3D design course when I was young and there were always interesting objects and projects around the house. I guess I just thought that was what mums did. There was a general atmosphere of making and crafting that I’ve brought with me into my own family.’
It was Frances’ desire to create a warm, fun yet functional environment for her children that drove her to set up her own design business.
‘I just couldn’t find the things I wanted,’ she explained. ‘I wanted funky graphics and all I could find were pretty floral prints, gingham or Disney princesses. In the end I decided to cut out the middle man and just make the things myself, so I bought some fabric and a sewing machine and just started to sew.’
It began as a simple home project but, spurred on by friends’ requests, she decided to up the ante with an illustration course at Bar Lane Studios in York, where she began creating her own idiosyncratic graphic characters to decorate her designs.
When her youngest child, Alanna, started school, she knew it was a now or never opportunity to launch her own online business.
‘I either had to get on with making a career for myself or get a job in a supermarket,’ said Frances. ‘I’ve never been particularly confident though. As a salesperson, I’m a very good designer. But that’s where Facebook and online stores come into their own – you can talk to people you don’t know, and will probably never know; selling without having to do the pitch face-to-face. It’s very freeing.’
She began with Facebook and a shop on Etsy (an e-commerce website focused on handmade and vintage items) and now also sells through Not On The High Street, an award-winning website founded by two women determined to hunt out the most original items from the finest creators and bring them together in a single, easy-to-navigate marketplace.
Orders began to trickle in, then the trickle became a steady flow and, finally, a seasonal flood.
‘I used to panic when orders came in, relying on my mum – my personal packing pixie,’ said Frances. ‘But now I know what I can do and am able to pace myself.’
Among her best-selling products is her series of My Mini Makes books, which she works on with her friend and editor Emily Schofield. They are simple but beautifully-illustrated activity books aimed at getting kids crafting.
‘I think it’s lovely that people still value print products,’ said Frances. ‘We’ll definitely be doing more of those this year.
‘I also want to create more wall art for children, more designs for personalised cushions and notebooks, and I’m also going to look at party bags. With three children, I’ve had a lot of experience with party bags so I know how difficult it can be to find nice but inexpensive things to put in them. How many times have you taken something out of your child’s bag and put it straight in the bin? There will be nothing made of plastic – I really dislike plastic.’
She’s also going to design a new series of products for the fullpint market, starting with a Yummy Mummy Kitchen range, including jar labels, planners and notepads, which should be out in time for Mother’s Day.
Business is certainly booming, but that doesn’t mean that Halfpint is going to be leaving home anytime soon. Frances is inspired by her family and is most productive when surrounded by the chaos and debris generated by her three children.
‘I used to fantasise about having a Cath Kidston-style shop,’ she said.
‘I actually nearly took on a place in Bishopthorpe Road, not far from where we live. But the reality is you have to be making a lot of money to have an actual shop. And anyway, I don’t want to be behind a counter; I want to be at home in my studio.’