A perfect find: antiques dealers Jo and Michael Saffell’s Bath home

When relocating to Bath, antiques dealers Jo and Michael Saffell weren’t just after a period home – they were also looking for a place with a ready-made shop below, now filled with their collections of hard-to-come by British tins

The sitting room features an overmantel mirror that the couple bought at an auction in Plymouth. The inherited club chair has a throw from the Biggest Blanket Company. An Edwardian brass coal box and fender complements the unusual Regency fire guard

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.

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The decorative balcony of Jo and Michael's shop still has its iron fittings where meat and game was hung from poles during its time as a butchers.
The decorative balcony of Jo and Michael’s shop still has its iron fittings where meat and game was hung from poles during its time as a butchers.
The blue, white and orange china on top of the dresser is ‘Fantasy’ by Barker Bros. The blue-and-white plates are marked ‘Turners patent’ and are quite rare. The collection of peel boards makes a striking display on the wall above
The blue, white and orange china on top of the dresser is ‘Fantasy’ by Barker Bros. The blue-and-white plates are marked ‘Turners patent’ and are quite rare. The collection of peel boards makes a striking display on the wall above.

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.

n the kitchen, Jo uses antique tin jugs (c1905) as flower containers.
In the kitchen, Jo uses antique tin jugs (c1905) as flower containers.
An Ikea candle chandelier has been embellished with an old brass chain and faceted glass discs bought at the Birmingham Rag Market
An Ikea candle chandelier has been embellished with an old brass chain and faceted glass discs bought at the Birmingham Rag Market.

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.

The living room, once part of a shop, has windows onto the street. The rug is a traditional Tuareg design made from straw and leather; the yellow chair is a prototype made by Camille. Camille uses picture ledges so that she can swap around displays easily.

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’.

Jo and Michael’s collection of Huntley & Palmers oriental-style biscuit tins in their living room dates from the 1890s to 1908.
Jo and Michael’s collection of Huntley & Palmers oriental-style biscuit tins in their living room dates from the 1890s to 1908.
The sitting room features an overmantel mirror that the couple bought at an auction in Plymouth. The inherited club chair has a throw from the Biggest Blanket Company. An Edwardian brass coal box and fender complements the unusual Regency fire guard
The sitting room features an overmantel mirror that the couple bought at an auction in Plymouth. The inherited club chair has a throw from the Biggest Blanket Company. An Edwardian brass coal box and fender complements the unusual Regency fire guard.

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. 

Hanging above a chest of drawers in the bedroom is a 1924 hand-tinted photograph of a young girl posed against a dreamy wooded landscape. ‘I bought it about 35 years ago for its charm and lovely frame,’ says Michael
Hanging above a chest of drawers in the bedroom is a 1924 hand-tinted photograph of a young girl posed against a dreamy wooded landscape. ‘I bought it about 35 years ago for its charm and lovely frame,’ says Michael.

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

Michael made the bedhead to match the pair of cupboards opposite. An indigo Indian kantha throw from Egg in London is teamed with a sage cashmere blanket, adding a cosy touch to the bed
Michael made the bedhead to match the pair of cupboards opposite. An indigo Indian kantha throw from Egg in London is teamed with a sage cashmere blanket, adding a cosy touch to the bed.
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Feature: Joanna Thornycroft
Photographs: Andreas von Einsiedel