Both Helen Hawkins and Sam Gibbons live in enviable old houses surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside in picturesque Teesdale. But inside their homes, it’s not always so tranquil.

Helen has two children, aged 13 and 11, Sam has three, aged 21, 14, and 13, and while the women are both passionate about interior design and styling – which is why they have just opened their own interiors store – they also want their own boltholes to be fun and accessible for their families and friends.

“First and foremost, a house should be a home,” says Sam. “We have an open door policy, and always seem to be busy with lots of friends and family visiting. The house needs to be very relaxed, somewhere people feel comfortable and happy.”

The women met at the school gate: their 13-year-old boys go to Barnard Castle School together and are firm friends. Sam lives just over the road from the school in the town’s impressive stone-built Old Vicarage, which dates back to 1852. The family moved in just over two years ago. “It’s very much a work in progress,” she says.

Helen lives a little further afield, at The Old Grange, a Grade II-listed Georgian farmhouse with a one-bedroom holiday cottage in the pretty village of Romaldkirk. “I’d say my home style is modern-country, with eclectic one-off antique pieces. It’s also comfortable and relaxed.”

It was this meeting of minds that led the women into business together, three years after they first met. Sam, who has a background in sales, marketing and latterly a food business with husband Steven, “retired” three years ago and had been itching to do something new.

“Interiors has always been something I have enjoyed,” she says. “Chatting to Helen, I discovered she had similar interests so we decided to give it a go together.”

Brown & Baxter – named after their mothers – opened at the beginning of July in Grange Road, Darlington, and already the pair have discovered their talents complement each other well.

Helen, who used to sell French and recycled furniture at country fairs, has a keen interest in interiors and architecture, and is a dab hand at DIY. In the weeks running up to the opening, she could be found in paint-spattered overalls, brush in hand, getting the shop ready. Sam’s natural domain is spreadsheets and accounts, “the boring paperwork,” she laughs. “But we are both fairly relaxed, easy-going characters and it’s lovely to have each other to bounce off in this exciting venture.”

The women felt Darlington was shouting out for an independent interiors shop and took the opportunity to open in Grange Road because they love its sense of community. Initially, Brown & Baxter will stock lovely furniture and accessories for the home, but fabrics, paints and an interior design service may well follow.

Enticing ranges include classic and timeless pieces from India Jane restored one-of-a-kind objects from all over the globe by Dutch company One World; Scandi goods from top interior design company Broste Copenhagen; modern, sustainable home goods by Canvas Home; and beautiful and imaginative home accessories from Voyage.

“The range offers an eclectic mixture of styles, which deliver on a unique bespoke look, but are also quality pieces with a good price point,” says Helen. “We also have a range of Brown & Baxter candles which are being hand-poured especially for us in the UK.”

Brown & Baxter, 8 Grange Road, Darlington, DL1 5NG

T: 01325-464914

W: brown&