I'm not a great shopper. So it was quite a surprise this week to find myself more than a hundred miles from home, in a barn, now remodelled as Baileys Home Store, shopping like mad. This particular barn – pinkish Herefordshire stone, tarred clapboard, slate roof – is the sort of place where you walk in and say "I want one of everything". Even if you've already got several of the same at home. Never have oak plant labels stacked in a basket looked so good. Set dressing is a great art and Mark and Sally Bailey do it brilliantly: old wooden wheelbarrows, wooden sledges and wooden ladders are the background props for a mixture of vintage, recycled and new goods, all chosen because they are simple, useful and beautiful. Plastic? Don't even mention the word.
I've never been anywhere quite like Baileys, where you can buy honey or a custom-made sofa, rolls of vintage French hemp or an old spade, with a handle as smooth as silk. There's a logic to the displays which you soon pick up: kitchen stuff in the old cowshed, bathroom stuff in the barn loft, garden stuff in the yard, café (excellent coffee and homemade biscuits) in an old tin tabernacle which the Baileys rescued and restored.
So who are they, these Baileys? If you've read their book, Handmade Home (Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99), you'll know that she trained as an interior designer and he as a furniture designer and maker. For years, they've been selling – first antiques and then increasingly stuff for the home and garden that they either recycled or got specially made for them. They source as much as possible in this country – Sally reckons they keep at least a hundred British suppliers in business. There's a man who makes wooden plant dibbers for them, another who supplies stoneware jars, a different potter who throws traditional clay pots, usefully deep (priced from £9.50 to £14.50 depending on size). A local blacksmith makes sturdy D-shaped doorhandles (£5.50 small, £8.50 large).
Much of the commissioned stuff is made to their own specifications and they are very particular. That is what marks them (and the store) out. They don't do compromise. "Extreme retailers" they've been called, said Sally, but the challenge for them is to stay ahead of the game. "If I see a trend coming, I immediately want to run in the opposite direction," said Mark. I'd hate to be the one to tell him, but actually, I think they are right "on message" as the politicians say. The difference between them and everyone else is that you don't just drift by the merchandise, feeling you've seen it all a hundred times before.
The other clever thing they do is transform things that you might walk right by into other things that stop you in your tracks. Old Hobos for instance. These pressed tin horses, big enough to ride on, were 'most wanted' toys in the 1950s, if you were four or five years old. Mark strips off the over-bright paint and bingo, the Hobos become extraordinarily desirable tin sculptures. The Baileys had one in the window of their house which caught my eye long before I realised what it was.
He has a clever way with French brioche tins, too. He's been collecting them for years and is now getting them turned into lights. One upside-down, medium-sized brioche tin with another smaller one soldered the right way up on the top makes a very desirable light fitting. Lights are notoriously difficult things to get right and the Baileys have a good range. There are urn-shaped windlights made from recycled glass (£18) as well as strong metal bulkhead lights (£105) and extremely handsome arched lights to use outside (£145). Those three are classic fittings, but the Bailey touch comes with their pantile windlight, displayed on the outside wall of the barn: a glass chimney with a spike at the bottom for a candle is mounted on a long, gently curved clay pantile which provides a perfect backdrop (£29).
The third element of the store is vintage, more difficult to find now than it used to be. Old linen will probably have come from Hungary rather than France, painted wooden chairs, too. Sturdy, well-made wooden crates can still be found and on the morning I was there, the Baileys were taking delivery of 1,600 of the things. Long shallow potato crates, ex Rex Carter Farms Ltd, sell at Baileys for £12 each.
"So what are your bestselling lines?" I asked. "Baking things are having a definite moment," Sally Bailey said. "Mixing bowls. Wooden spoons. And cleaning things, too. Wooden brushes with proper bristles. Big brooms." "And what are your favourite things?" I continued. Stoutly, like good parents, they don't allow themselves shop favourites, but Mark took me over to the house to show me his own hand-picked collections: oversized tools (he has a spade two metres high and a pencil that's even taller) and 500 garden trowels, the best of them mounted in clips all the way alongside their bath. He's got quite a thing for wooden shoe lasts, too.
"What have you got there?" asked my husband when, later that day, he saw me hauling some large, brown paper bags out of the back of the car. "Oh! Just some presents for the children," I said. But that's not strictly true. Quite a few of the things I bought, including a vast and hairy ball of string, bigger than a football, are sidling into homes here with us. The string is hanging comfortably from a rafter in the potting shed. Well, if Mark Bailey can hang on to 500 trowels, I don't see why I shouldn't build up an equally large collection of string. Only 473 balls to go.
BAILEYS' 10 BEST BUYS FOR THE GARDEN
1. Vegetable scrubbing brush
Hard bristle one end, softer bristle the other (£4.50)
2. Chunky wine glasses
Heavy enough not to fall over outside (£6.50)
3. Wide shallow pans
In various sizes for paella parties in the garden. Would do for mass sausage feasts, too (£8.50 for 30cm diameter size, £12.50 for 38cm)
4. Wooden roller towel rail
Ready-fitted with heavy-duty towel. Useful in the potting shed, when you've been scrubbing tools in the water butt (£38.50)
5. Heavy-duty outdoor mat
Made from recycled car tyre. Surprisingly handsome (£24)
6. Heavy-duty outdoor scissors
Made from iron. Simple, elegant shape (£14)
7. Big hanks of hop twine (£6.50) or sizeable balls of tarred twine (£7.50), both invaluable for tying in sweet peas, bundling up bamboo canes, tying up the tops of plastic sacks before the contents spill out all over the boot of your car
8. Gardening gloves
The softest, palest leather (£12)
9. Small brown envelopes
Perfect for collecting seed (£2.50)
10. Beautifully-made vintage tree guard
More than 2m tall: eight iron uprights, splayed out at the top, with strong feet (£160)
Baileys Store, Whitecross Farm, Bridstow, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 6JU, 01989 561931, baileys-home-garden.co.uk, Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10.30am-4pmReuse content