Go with the grain
Mark and Sally Bailey combine their love of timber and the wild in their Welsh hill cottage
How a love of wood inspired the design of a Welsh cottage
Mark and Sally Bailey met in an auction house in Pontypridd in south Wales 38 years ago, bidding against each other on the same brass and iron bed. Sally won the bid and convinced Mark to help her transport the bed back to her top-floor flat in Penarth. As a thank you, that evening she took Mark out for dinner on Penarth pier. Four months later, they were married. “When you know, you know,” says Sally.
The makings of a successful business partnership (the shared aesthetic, a willingness to act on instinct) were there from the start. The couple went on to found Baileys, an award-winning homeware brand that has evolved over three decades. “We’ve always thought naturally,” explains Sally. “Our philosophy has always been plain, simple, useful – and that hasn’t changed.”
Before they met, Sally had trained as an interior designer in Cardiff and Mark, who studied furniture design, owned an antique shop in south Wales. They began to renovate houses together. “If we couldn’t find the things we wanted, we’d get them made,” Sally explains. They soon realised there was a market for the fixtures and fittings they were commissioning, so Mark turned his shop into the first iteration of Baileys: a homeware store specialising in utilitarian goods and oneoff antique objects.
In the mid-80s, the couple moved to Herefordshire with Sally’s parents before starting a family of their own. They converted an old engine shed near Rosson-Wye and the brand took off. “We’ve always had quite a natural, pared-back look,” says Sally. In an era of flounces and decorative stencilling, Baileys went against the grain. “I think people thought we were a bit odd, but that’s been our aesthetic right from the start.”
Gradually, as tastes have evolved, the couple’s “undecorated” look has become more mainstream and the business has expanded. Fourteen years ago they bought White Cross Farm – a collection of barns and outbuildings just outside Ross-on-Wye. Nowadays the store has become a destination in its own right: a place to while away an hour or two, filling your basket with unpackaged wooden dolly pegs, vintage French pottery, maybe a bundle of slubby table linen, before ordering tea and cake in the tin tabernacle tea room.
The barns have been converted with a light touch: concrete floors, exposed wooden beams, chalky white walls. It’s a formula the Baileys use at home, too. During the week they live in the main farmhouse, at weekends they retreat to Maesgwyn, a two-bedroom cottage overlooking the Black Mountains. “We’re surrounded by sheep, red kites and hares,” says Sally. “We have no neighbours apart from farmers, who occasionally have to dig us out of the snow.”
The 18th-century cottage was in a sorry state when the pair bought it five years ago, so Mark set about building a shepherd’s hut which enabled them to dedicate their weekends to a full-scale renovation. The cottage was stripped back to its stone walls, which were then stuffed with sheep’s wool insulation and covered in lime plaster. A ground source heat ‹