Go with the grain

Mark and Sally Bai­ley com­bine their love of tim­ber and the wild in their Welsh hill cot­tage

The Observer Magazine - - The Observer Magazine - Words NELL CARD Pho­to­graphs DEBI TRELOAR

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 ‹

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