Interiors: Homing Instinct
Inspired by her Nanna, from whom she inherited a love of all things vintage, Sophie Harvey has launched her own homeware brand: Long Melford’s Stone & Sage. Alice Ryan chats to her
To start at the beginning: when and how did your love of things vintage begin?
I was fortunate enough to spend many summers with my Nanna, with her love for ornaments, trinkets, 1940s-inspired attire and watching black and white romance films. From a young age I’d be caught up in it all, with Doris Day, John Wayne and heartthrob James Dean...
We would sit and sing, then dress up and go shopping to add to her collection of vintage and kitsch homewares. I saved my pocket money up when I was 7 and purchased a turquoise and gold compact powder and mirror for her.
The love of all things vintage was ingrained in me from then onwards. During my 20s, with my husband, we sourced vintage and secondhand pieces for the home; our wedding had little 1920s twist, including my Gatsby dress.
Last year my Nan passed away and it was a complete heartbreak. I felt lost between work, being a mother of two and contemplating that life is too short. I felt like I owed something to her.
I’ve had this burning desire in the back of my mind for more than a decade to do something interior-based with my passion for preloved and vintage. Her passing gave me the ambition and drive to want to create Stone & Sage.
I received the compact mirror back when she died and it’s my most valuable treasure that money cannot buy; this is why Stone & Sage exists.
Did you grow up in a house filled with vintage treasures?
I think being born in the 1980s was the best! I was surrounded by 70s décor at my grandparents’ house: big bold patterns in yellows, oranges and browns on the walls and floors. My mother also worked incredibly hard to upcycle our house, from sponged walls to flying ducks and an eclectic mix of oriental fabrics. I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a mix of interior design.
What led you to start Stone & Sage?
I’m a course director at West Suffolk College and have been teaching for more than 13 years. Being creative and teaching Art & Design is something I enjoy, but escapism is a hard thing to find and manage with such a demanding and professional job.
Now the children are of an age that they do not depend on me so much, it seemed like the right time to start S&S. I am also undertaking an MA in Fine Art to reconnect with my inner creativity.
The business doesn't only sell vintage pieces, it sells preloved items, too. How do you define the two? And what makes a find 'Stone & Sage'?
Vintage for me is anything from the 18th century to the 1920s. Victorian and Edwardian pieces are hard to source, or are incredibly overpriced due to their age.
Preloved can be anything from the last 30 to 40 years. I often source preloved items from family members. I get a lot of feedback from customers who say “My parents or grandparents had those”; these pieces immediately ignite nostalgic warm fuzzy feelings. This us why I love S&S - you cannot put a price on memories.
We try to source a range of items and try our hardest not to source the typical pieces you would find on an online vintage shop. There’s a section in the shop called ‘preloved that has travelled’: as a family we are keen on travelling around in our VW and exploring new places and, from time to time, we pick up a traveling curiosity and add it to the shop. That said, I do want to key into British homewares. We’ve had some epic eras of design.
We don't need specifics - we're not expecting you to share all your secrets! - but where do you buy your stock?
I try to source in Suffolk: not only is it where I live, but also we are steeped in so much history here. I shop at local vintage markets and shops.
I price the items by asking “What would I pay for it?” It’s not a get-rich business - far from it! I do it because I want people to feel something when they open their box of treasures from S&S.
The vintage market is so competitive you have to stand out from the crowd and stand for something. The S&S ethos is “preloved is the new loved” - it is about not buying new and creating a sustainable home.
Are you a collector yourself? What do you have a soft spot for?
Oh my goodness, yes! We love 70s furniture, Victorian apothecary bottles and 1940s kitchenalia.
Tell us about your home. We imagine it's beautiful. . .
To us it is beautiful; we have been working on it for the past eight years. We have a conservatory that we recently upcycled with second-hand furniture. In this room we have bold colours: jade green, mustard and pink. It sounds crazy, but it all works so well. I took a risk and painted our piano, where we display a collection of vintage pieces, from books to bottles and some old farming tools.
Our living space is the hub of the house. When we first moved in, we were keen on bringing our surroundings into the décor, so we sourced a large oak tree trunk and split it in half to create a fireplace. We have large antlers above it, along with some beautiful antique silver pheasants handed down to us.
We try our hardest not to buy new furniture, one because we can’t afford it and two we like knowing that it has had some form of past - and that it’s been loved.
The vintage and preloved market is booming. That's driven by more than fashion, isn't it? There's a planet-friendly element...
Absolutely! The preloved market is positive at the minute. The stigma of buying from charity shops has gone, thank goodness. Many charities now run great campaigns about the benefits of buying preloved and there are some fab apps only selling second-hand clothing, too, which is fantastic. I think the two - fashion and interiors - go hand in hand.
We are big on promoting sustainability. We only source items that could be used for something: in our product descriptions, we give ideas as to how each item could be used in the home. We offer free postage and all our wares are packed with recyclable, eco-friendly or decomposable items, from the boxes, packaging chips, tissue paper, stickers and tape to the inks we use to write the addresses. We have just started to package some orders sheep wool; as well as keeping the items safe, it could easily be reused for felting or bedding and is actually great for keeping food cool in a pantry.
What, if anything, is trending now? We get the feeling chintzy china may be falling out of favour and 60s/70s style coming more to the fore?
I think you are always going to get the self-confessed lovers of chintzy china: it is perfect for country cottage-style interiors, especially if it’s covered in peonies and roses. Scandi is what I think is trending big at the moment, along with wooden pieces; a feeling of the 70s, but with more linear shapes and sharper edges. I have so many customers asking me to source vintage wicker and baskets - that’s the ultimate rustic interior accessory.
When you're buying, is it hard to resist keeping things for yourself? What's the best thing - or biggest bargain - you've come across?
I would love to keep everything sourced for S&S but we do not have much space left in the home. We have vacated the shop down to the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden – it has the most beautiful views over the Suffolk countryside and I have a few little pieces in there that I use as props for photographing, along with my plants.
Our biggest bargain was a 70s radiogram in its unit we sourced for £1. When we got there to pick it up, the seller gave it to us for free! It sits in our living room and we get so many compliments on it.
When buying vintage/pre-loved, what should we bear in mind?
Do not get stung on the price! I’m a real stickler for fair pricing. Many vintage and antique shops will overcharge. Always think what would you realistically pay for it - do not get blind-sighted that, because you are in a vintage shop, the price must be right.
Always ask where the items where sourced too – I think it is important to know the history of something. Also, do not expect new quality; embrace and accept that, from time to time, pieces may have a bit of aging and will not be pristine.
Keep an eye out for local car boots or vintage markets. The sellers are there to sell - do not be afraid of haggling.
What would you say to encourage people to buy vintage/preloved over new, High Street homewares?
Why would you not? One thing that puts me off buying new is the packaging: there’s so, so much of it and the carbon footprint it has created in getting to its destination is usually extensive.
Also, local and small businesses care! Genuinely care. You will always have great customer support, because you are dealing with someone who is passionate about their business.
To find out more about Stone & Sage - and browse and buy in the online shop - visit stoneandsage.co.uk