It’s fair to say that antiques run in Jo Saffell’s family. Her father, brother, sister, aunt and one of her cousins were all antiques dealers and she and husband Michael have been in the business since 1975. Initially, the couple had a shop in Plymouth with Jo’s sister but Michael found himself increasingly returning to Bath, where he had been a student, to sell his stock at The Great Western Antiques Centre. ‘We both admired the architecture and the beauty of the stone’, says Michael. Deciding they would try and buy a typical Georgian house in the city was one thing but it also needed to have a shop on the ground floor, a family-sized space above and fit the couple’s budget.
The house they found 33 years ago seemed ideal: just 10 minutes from the town centre, largely untouched and, critically, it included a shop, which had been a butchers since the early 1800s, when most of the street-level rooms were turned into shops. The 1970s ‘old lady’ wallpaper could be removed and ideas for restoration were excitedly discussed. What was not evident was the fact that the house was leaning against its neighbour and needed serious propping up. ‘Our surveyor mentioned there were a few problems with this place but we went ahead with the purchase,’ says Jo. That problem required the interiors to be stripped out and it took the couple 10 years to sort out the legal aspects.
When the restoration work began, with help from a historic buildings grant, Michael and Jo determined to preserve as much of the period detailing as possible – from sections of mouldings
and the butcher’s shop iron hooks on the exterior to marble slabs, which are now countertops in the kitchen.
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While the butcher’s shop previously took up the whole ground floor, Michael has managed to contain the shop, which specialise in old decorative tins of every sort imaginable, to the front. The couple’s bright kitchen is behind with stunning views over the garden. Painted in Farrow and Ball’s ‘Dorset Cream’, it comprises unfitted, painted furniture with homemade open shelves, a large ceramic sink, old tins still in use and Victorian printed show cards and product labels. ‘The light is stunning all year no matter what the weather,’ says Michael, ‘and having open vistas over the river is a great bonus’.
When it came to decoration, Jo and Michael have tried to reflect the period of the house by using soft natural paint colours. Not only is Michael a knowledgeable antiques expert but he is a skilled carpenter and decorator, too. He built the bedroom cupboards and headboard, painting them and the walls to resemble old stone and enhanced the sitting room fireplace with a marbling effect.
Although the couple began to specialise in antique tins after moving to Bath, the collections in their home are broad. Throughout the house are humorous enamel signs from a bygone age. One reads, ‘No climbing on the railings by patients or staff.’ ‘They come from all sorts of sources, from hospitals to chemists,’ says Michael. The couple have a preference for craftsmanship and things with a story. ‘Most of our possessions have been with us for a long time,’ says Michael. ‘All the old china is used daily and there is nothing precious about the antique furniture.’ On the kitchen wall is a display of wooden peels (p113). These are boards with handles that were once commonly used for removing baked items such as bread from the oven. The Saffell’s collection is mostly early to mid 19th century and made of pine, sycamore, elm and fruitwood.
Of course, there are also some very decorative tins that have escaped the shop in evidence around the home, too. ‘We have to be fairly disciplined. There are times when things may sneak in for a little while…’ says Michael with a smile.
Find out more about Michael and Jo’s shop at michaelsaffell.com
Feature: Joanna Thornycroft
Photographs: Andreas von Einsiedel