Jilly Mattley - Essentially Christmas Decorating at Appleby Magna

A seasonal table decoration

A seasonal table decoration - Credit: Archant

David Marley meets south Derbyshire entrepreneur Jilly Mattley whose successful business helps busy people with hectic lifestyles transform their homes for the festive season.

Jilly working on this year's decorations for King's College, Cambridge Photo: Sarah Marley

Jilly working on this year's decorations for King's College, Cambridge Photo: Sarah Marley - Credit: Archant

Jilly Mattley fell in love with Christmas at a very young age. One of her earliest childhood festive memories involved a long walk into the countryside with her Polish-born father to choose and dig-up a natural fir tree from a local farm, before carefully taking it home to dress it with pine cones, holly berries and cherished decorations.

It was this time-honoured midwinter tradition which helped to inspire Jilly to set up her bespoke Christmas design and installation service, something that has tapped into an accelerating desire of discerning people who wish to fashion their homes with the perfect festive look.

'As a child we'd always enjoyed decorating our home at Christmas time,' she explains. 'We loved the magical feeling that comes during the festive season. I've so many happy memories of creating cascades of natural garlands and stringing them over the inglenook fireplace, as well as building tasteful table centres and beautiful wreaths to welcome family and friends to our door. This creativity and working practically with my hands was something I always associated with the perfect Christmas.'

With a love of nature, combined with an eagle-eye for detail, Jilly continued her passion for design and creativity when she bought and moved into her south Derbyshire cottage. 'Inspired by the décor of wonderful Derbyshire homes like Chatsworth House, I loved to dress my home for dinner parties, Easter breakfasts, summer garden parties, Hallowe'en and Christmas,' she says.

Table manners with pop singer Michelle Heaton and her family - featuring Jilly's Christmas decorations Photo: Rich Barr

Table manners with pop singer Michelle Heaton and her family - featuring Jilly's Christmas decorations Photo: Rich Barr - Credit: Archant

'I loved building themes, taking hours to create the perfect look, using elements from nature, such as pussy willow in the spring, pumpkins in the autumn, flowers from the garden in summer, and rolls of garden twine, pots of glue and lots of yuletide imagination,' Jilly explains.

So it came as no surprise to friends when Jilly made a natural step to create a business that helped other people to style their homes, especially during the busy Christmas season. 'The trouble was at the time no one had heard of a Christmas decorating service. It seemed to many people that the idea was a bit of an American thing,' she recalls. 'But I was convinced that in an era of time-pressured busy professionals there surely was a need for some to sit back, relax and let someone else make the Christmas magic happen.'

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So in 2007 - just one year before the financial world-wide economic crash - Jilly made the decision to set-up her new business, Essentially Christmas Decorating, out of a tiny garage at home. 'I made the decision to have a go,' she smiles. 'My work location was totally impractical. It was so chilly in winter. We had an outside loo, ice-cold water to wash your hands and a hose pipe to fill the kettle - and often you could see your breath in puffs of mist in front of your face.'

Working 18-hour days, often in a ski-suit with matching moon boots to keep warm, she toiled tirelessly to seek out new clients to help put her business on the Christmas decorating map. 'Looking back it was a very harsh time to start a new business,' she says. 'Building a new company against all the odds - around the time of the financial collapse of the markets, cut backs, austerity and a population with reduced money to splash out on luxuries was crazy. But perseverance was my watchword and that's what I did.'

Ted's Grooming Room in Marylebone, London, dressed for Christmas with a garland and door wreath by Jilly

Ted's Grooming Room in Marylebone, London, dressed for Christmas with a garland and door wreath by Jilly - Credit: Archant

Realising that public awareness was critical to growing her new enterprise, she took a small advert in Country Life magazine and within days her telephone started to ring with enquiries from London. 'I remember the advert cost £500 but it was worth it. My very first customer was the chief executive officer of Poundland,' she says. 'He was a wonderful man and it was so exciting to help decorate his home.'

A decade later Jilly has grown Essentially Christmas Decorating into one of the most respected professional festive styling businesses in the UK. 'We continue to punch well above our weight,' she smiles. 'Today we've got clients from all around the country. We offer a great service with a friendly face and our customers know they can trust us to deliver the perfect Christmas.'

Jilly and her team work in properties ranging from small country estates to multi-million-pound Chelsea mansions, including those of model Danielle Lloyd and the actor Jude Law, but she has very much kept her feet on the ground. 'City professionals, architects, bankers and celebrities come to us for a well-earned treat and a helping hand when planning their Christmas festivities,' she says. 'There is, without doubt, a rising trend for people wanting to seek our help - everyone seems so busy nowadays. But we treat everyone the same and always charge everyone the same price for our service.'

Homeowners wanting to create a perfectly tasteful look can arrange a bespoke consultation with Jilly. The decorating services start at £1,500 for a front door wreath and the installation of a bespoke natural mantelpiece display, as well as a decorated fir tree. Clients and business owners with bigger budgets often commission Jilly to create one-off installations and designs which often involve metres of natural twisted garlands ascending staircases, hundreds of sparkly lights, entrance displays, painted wooden toys and hand-blown baubles.

A Christmas wreath

A Christmas wreath - Credit: Archant

'We have teams of artists and dressers who are highly-skilled in creating the perfect Christmas theme for your home or business,' Jilly says. 'A couple of years ago we were commissioned to dress the ballroom at Claridge's hotel in London as part of a christening celebration during the Christmas season. We took half a dozen large trees to the hotel and spent hours decorating them to perfection - and the finished look was amazing.'

Jilly is quick to praise and acknowledge her many clients. 'We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful customers. I've had so many amazing experiences since I set-up Essentially Christmas Decorating. I've decorated Jude Law's home - and enjoyed a cup of tea while discussing decorations in his kitchen. Last year we also decorated the former Derby County football manager, Frank Lampard's home,' she says. 'There are so many clients who remain with us loyally to this day - from Derbyshire homeowners, the rich and famous, countesses, England footballers, museums, luxury locomotives, fabulous hotels and some of the finest country homes in the world - we are so privileged.'

And after Christmas is over, Jilly also provides a tailored collection service. 'The last thing my busy clients want to do is start climbing ladders in January to put away their decorations. So we revisit our installations, taking them down and dismantling them and where appropriate storing them for next year's fun - any waste items are always recycled in a responsible way. It's all part of our service,' she says.

The company, which is based in workshops at Appleby Magna in south Derbyshire, has won a series of accolades from their clients - and business appears to be booming again for the forthcoming Christmas season. 'This year promises to be our biggest and best Christmas ever. We've already started working on commissions from prestigious venues such as King's College Cambridge and a number of celebrities across the UK,' Jilly reflects. 'Quite simply our clients want us to make their homes beautiful, without a fuss and with all the care and love we would put into decorating our own houses.'

Essentially Christmas - one of Jilly's designs for a mantelpiece garland

Essentially Christmas - one of Jilly's designs for a mantelpiece garland - Credit: Archant

For more information visit essentiallychristmasdecorating.co.uk or call 01530 272652.