The desire for a new and more fulfilling career has triggered a whole series of seismic life changes for Beth and Martyn Baylis.
The couple had built themselves a good life in London. Beth worked in media sales, Martyn was a graphic designer, and they owned a one bedroom flat in the lovely riverside village of St Margarets, west London.
But Martyn, now 40, was bored stiff of office work. What he really wanted to do was hand make fine wooden furniture and, after taking a training course, felt he was ready to quit his job and give it a go. The problem was that workshop space in London is expensive.
“He found some space in a pub cellar, but it wasn’t ideal carrying big bits of wood up and down the cellar steps, and he had all this equipment — I kept on tripping over chainsaws in the kitchen,” said Beth, 44.
The couple needed more space, but finding a larger home plus workshop space in London was prohibitively expensive. They considered Sussex but found prices were too high there as well. Then one of Beth’s colleagues who lived in Tonbridge suggested they take a look at Kent, with its good train links to London and more affordable prices.
“We just went for a drive, and looked in some estate agents’ windows,” said Beth. “We really liked the feel of the area.”
In 2016 the couple viewed a quirky two-bedroom Victorian cottage in the historic town of Staplehurst, and were charmed by its open fireplace and big garden. It also had a garage which could be converted into a workshop for Martyn.
The cottage cost £325,000, and they were able to buy it by remortgaging the flat — which is now rented out. The cottage needed renovation, and over the next 18 months Martyn deferred his furniture making dream and set about fixing it up, doing everything from installing under floor heating to replastering while Beth started commuting to work.
Once the house was finished Martyn set up his business, Made By Bayliss (www.madebybayliss.co.uk) and began accepting private commissions and working on renovation projects. Last year, keen to focus more on furniture making, he set up a pop up shop in nearby Cranbrook as an experiment, and his hand made homewares and furniture proved a hit. Emboldened, in June the couple took over a shop in Tenterden, on the edge of the High Weald, which showcases his work and that of other local makers.
Beth, meanwhile, stopped commuting and went freelance which means she can help out in the shop.
“I am passionate about hand made on the high street,” she said. “The shop has allowed us to bring in more makers and give the a chance, and that is lovely.”
Right now Beth and Martyn are fully focussed on their new venture (as well as caring for their two cats and the small flock of rescue chickens who live in their garden). But the fact that they still have their London flat is at the back of Beth’s mind. “I love London and I definitely wouldn’t rule out moving back there one day – it would be just right for two retired old people,” she said.