Notting Hill local Kirstie Allsopp is best known for her on-screen property hunting with Phil Spencer, but in more recent years, she’s adopted a new role as advocate of all things craft. As her Handmade Fair launches at Hampton Court Palace, Kirstie reveals why she fell in love will all things homespun
Think Kirstie Allsopp: think Kirstie and Phil, house-hunting duo extraordinaire. We fell in love with TV’s best non-couple during their Location, Location, Location days, but now that they are no longer exclusively faux-flirting and dishing out house-buying advice, both have gone on to their own projects. When not with Phil, Kirstie has become the doyenne of crafts, promoting everything handmade, upcycled and customised on the cheap.
It seems that Ms Allsopp has done for pom-poms what Mary Berry has done for glacé cherries – somehow, made them useful again.
Now she has taken her love of crafting to the next level with her Handmade Fair: a three day event at HamptonCourtPalace with workshops, record-breaking DIY sessions and expert advice from the likes of designer Cath Kidston (Kirstie’s cousin), floral designer Kitten Grayson and knitting maestro Benjamin G. Wilson.
Kirstie’s London life may revolve around time spent in Notting Hill, but the salubrious suburb unfortunately can’t lay claim to the beginning of her craft revolution – that honour befalls Meadowgate, her house in Devon, although she’s transferred her findings to the capital. ‘Meadowgate reinvigorated my passion for the handmade and the homemade, when I wanted to get everyone in the family involved in doing things with their own hands,’ she explains. ‘But in truth, making things has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It has been a lifelong thing; my mum was an interior decorator and my dad was an auctioneer at Christie’s, so it has always made sense to me.’
This family influence on Kirstie’s love of interiors now includes her partner Ben Andersen’s parents, who have owned the antiques emporium The Lacquer Chest in Kensington for the past 42 years (Kirstie has several pieces of their secondhand furniture – purchased at full price, she hastens to add).
Of course, when it comes to hunting for antique bargains, Kirstie lives in exactly the right place; Notting Hill is world renowned for its amazing vintage shopping. ‘People need to go to Golborne Road and Portobello Road market on a Friday. Get there early for the best stuff!’ she says.
Visitors might well spot Kirstie herself browsing through the stalls, looking for homewares to makeover. ‘It’s all about what’s not immediately on display, I find. There are so many hidden hideaways around London and Notting Hill, and if you’ve got the patience and energy to pull things to one side and really delve in, you can find almost anything,’ she says.
West London has been close to Kirstie’s heart since her early twenties, when she put the experience she attained working with interior designer Nicky Haslam and then at Country Living magazine into her first business: property search company Kirmir, formed in 1996 with her best friend Miranda. The pair focused on finding people prestigious and luxurious homes in central and west London, before her own specific brand of sparky honesty saw her snapped up by a TV producer to present the first series of Location, Location, Location. The beautiful – and sometimes very cheeky – friendship with ‘on-screen husband’ Phil Spencer has captivated a nation of homeowners.
‘We instantly hit it off,’ she says with a smile, ‘and we love working together.’ They went on to write a book and even have their own property search app: Kirstie and Phil’s House Hunter.
Kirstie still has multiple TV projects on the go to keep her busy when she hasn’t got a glue gun in her hand. She and Phil set up a TV company together, Raise The Roof. They have already produced several series, all featuring topics close to their hearts: Phil Spencer: Secret Agent, Kirstie’s Fill Your House For Free and Kirstie’s Crafty Christmas, which cemented her new TV specialism in DIY decorating and making. ‘I get to make a lot when I’m filming the shows, which is a brilliant fix,’ she says, when discussing how she balances her love of crafting with the things she creates especially for the programmes. ‘Other than that I do lots with my children,’ – a recent post on her website shows an adorable hand-painted milk jug and china cat that her two boys made for her birthday (they have clearly got the craft bug from their mum).
Like all good crafters, Kirstie has some long-term projects on the go. ‘My life’s ambition is to make my own quilt from start to finish,’ she says, clearly thinking about the patchwork squares that are crying out for attention at home.
‘Everyone has a craft they can do; you just need to find yours,’ she says. ‘And it doesn’t matter where you live or how big your canvas is – the boundaries are your imagination.
‘Take me for instance, I live in Notting Hill – I’m in an ugly house in a great location. It’s not the full picture, but what I can change through crafting and having a passion for my house looking great, on the inside at least, I do.’
To that end, she set up the Handmade Fair in response to the slightly out-dated craft fairs that take place in church halls across the land, in the hope of inspiring people to get involved. ‘I am excited by everything about it; the thought of doing something so bold and different to other fairs that are out there, putting learning at the core and celebrating so many talented people,’ she explains. On the day, she’s enthusiastic about the prospect of ‘sharing the whole experience with others who love making things’.
Kirstie is a multi-faceted personality. She’s turned her hand to property hunting and TV presenting, interviewed Prince Charles, and is now asking people to join her in a world record-breaking ‘World Pomination’ attempt at the Handmade Fair – as far as we know, it involves making a lot of pom-poms.
The outspoken Allsopp doesn’t let anything faze her; even when there was a huge backlash to her comments earlier this year advising women to skip university and have children, she stuck to her original opinion.
Kirstie and her sister Sofie also chose to speak out about the inherited risk of breast cancer after they lost their mother to the illness in January, at just 66 years of age.
‘Things happen in life and while my work will always be incredibly important to me, it’s family that really matters. We all have challenges, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to lead the life I do,’ she says.
The Handmade Fair takes place on 19-21 September at Hampton Court Palace; thehandmadefair.com