Together by design
As an eighteen-year-old student, Neela Shan used to pull pints for Adrian Tratalos in the Griffin in Bowdon. Little did she know how significant a part they would eventually come to play in each other’s lives. Adrian reckons Neela was way out of his league in those days, but he somehow managed to improve his powers of persuasion over time. A chance meeting decades later in a Hale restaurant marked the start of both a new relationship and an all-consuming business venture. With both recently separated from their spouses, the timing was definitely a case of serendipity.
Neela said: “As we got to know each other better, it became clear how much we had in common. A simple example is how our mutual love of British wildlife, and nature generally, brought us closer together. When we knew each other in our youth, the night clubs of Manchester were the usual setting. Now, the little free time we have is spent walking the Welsh mountains or the countryside of the Cotswolds. Seeing a hare running across an open field, or a kestrel hovering above its prey, gives us far more joy than anything the glamour of the city can offer.”
Adrian proposed over a champagne lunch, high above Tower Bridge in London, on the 32nd floor of the newly opened Shard, and they were married on Midsummer’s day 2014.
Adrian surprised Neela by secretly paying homage to her random penchant for men in kilts:
Neela said: “As I descended the stairs of the stately home where we were marrying, I was astounded, in a wonderful way, to see Adrian and his best man Laurence, standing there in full Scottish national dress. I was overcome with emotion before the ceremony had even started!”
The pair were introduced to artist Barry Ward, just as the new world of digital printing on furnishing fabrics was gathering pace. Barry’s outstanding artistic talent, Neela’s industry contacts, and Adrian’s business experience created an obvious synergy, the result of which was Arley House, a design-led digital printing fabric business, based in the Cheshire village of Ashley.
As with all new business ventures, there have been challenges and potential pitfalls along the way. Arley House not only designs its own fabric collections but also manufactures its products in workshops behind its Ashley showroom.
Building a new business whilst managing a family can require a juggling act, and that is especially the case for Neela with her two girls, Tia and Anya, still at school. Adrian has three grown-up children of his own, Louisa, Anna (who lives in Barcelona) and screenwriter son, Laurence.
A long-standing friend of Adrian’s, John Nono, who created the brand Nono Living with his wife Gill, offered to help by joining the team at Arley House. John was appointed marketing director and his industry experience is proving to be a real asset: Adrian said: “There is no substitute for someone who has done it before. Accepting John’s offer of assistance was a no-brainer.”
In addition to having a showroom open to the public at its Ashley premises, and supplying interior designers with its fabric collections, the business has a growing contract division – servicing designers and architects who work with hotels, restaurants and bars.
Neela said: “We are always excited to see our fabrics covering seating in local establishments. For example, we recently enjoyed a family meal in the newly-opened restaurant Sigiriya in Hale, and were surprised and thrilled to realise we were sitting on Arley House fabric!”
In 2016, Adrian approached the world-renowned Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) with a view to exploring the possibility of a creative collaboration. For the V&A, it is all about quality and, after several meetings and various visits to Arley’s premises, an exclusive licence agreement was signed. Working with archive designs, Arley House has created three V&A collections, which it launched at the international interiors trade show, Decorex last September.
Adrian was subsequently approached by the British Museum, partly because of the company’s work with the V&A, and the resultant collaboration led to the creation of a luxury British Museum-branded cushion collection. Neela and Adrian are particularly proud that two such iconic British institutions chose to put their faith in the relatively unknown Arley House.
However, for the couple that had no inkling of what the future might bring when they first encountered each other all those years ago, home is definitely where the heart is.
“Working closely with the V&A and the British Museum has been a very exciting experience, but it is our own Arley House designs that make us who we are.”