What a find! A trip to Beckington, near Frome will not disappoint anyone with a keen eye for vintage country cottage furniture. Meet Mel and Ali, the talented duo behind Dovetail Vintage

‘For my 9th birthday I asked my parents for Laura Ashley bedding and a matching border to be affixed around the top of my bedroom walls, I suppose looking back now I can see that I was into interiors at a very young age!’ Mel Bowen is the joint founder of Dovetail Vintage, an interiors shop specialising in French vintage, country cottage furniture which is located in Beckington, near Frome. Established two years ago, Mel and her business partner Ali Stokes decided to join forces bringing their interiors expertise to the county of Somerset, ‘As a Visual Merchandiser and Stylist I have a keen eye for sourcing pieces of furniture that have a story, whereas Ali has an incredible talent of creating bespoke pieces for clients, quite often adapting existing pieces to make them fit for a modern life.’

Great British Life: Ali and Mel, the founders of Dovetail Vintage Photo: Viewpoint Studios Ali and Mel, the founders of Dovetail Vintage Photo: Viewpoint Studios

Housed in an old stone barn, Dovetail Vintage is a treasure trove of brocante style, free-standing furniture, soft furnishings and meticulously sourced embellishments for the country home. With displays of floral crockery, vintage glassware and classical literature it’s the kind of place which makes you want to settle down at one of the antique pine kitchen tables and host a gathering with good friends. ‘I’m so lucky in that I love my job,’ says Mel, ‘sometimes Ali says I love my job a little too much though, it has been known for him to come in to the shop and spot a ‘SOLD’ sign, and he’ll ask me, ‘is that really sold?’ - he always seems to know when I want to hold on to a beautiful piece!’

Born and bred in Bath, Ali was taught his woodworking skills by his father, ‘At the age of 14, I was borrowing Dad’s tools to make simple things like shelves, a stool or a mirror and then before I knew it I was working full time as a builder and woodworker. I love to renovate kitchens and bathrooms in old and listed buildings; particularly the characterful cottages or Georgian homes within our county. Restoring old things is incredibly satisfying; to take a piece of furniture which is falling apart, and be able to bring it back to its former glory is a large part of what we do at Dovetail Vintage. And of course, buying a piece of furniture with a story is better from an environmental point of view too.’

Great British Life: Mel Bowen of Dovetail Vintage Photo: Viewpoint Studios Mel Bowen of Dovetail Vintage Photo: Viewpoint Studios Great British Life: Ali Stokes loves to give furniture another lease of life Photo: Viewpoint Studios Ali Stokes loves to give furniture another lease of life Photo: Viewpoint Studios

As Mel passes me a mug of tea and I settle into a smoky blue velvet button back chair, she reflects on how her childhood as the daughter of an estate agent encouraged her love for interior design, ‘When I was really little I used to spend hours rearranging my bedroom, repositioning the furniture and all my bookshelf trinkets. But, also my father was the village estate agent, the old-fashioned kind that used to find homes for people, and he would often take me along to these wonderful old properties and I would happily wander about getting lost in those houses. In fact, I was so obsessed with it that I created a detective club at school, a bit of a Miss Marple mystery club, that created stories which were based in those glorious old houses I had visited!’

As life moved on and it was time for Mel to find her first part time job, she was naturally drawn to work at Laura Ashley. ‘Back in those days there was a lady who used to dress the windows for many of the stores across quite a large region. Sometimes she couldn’t make it to our store, so she began leaving me lists of things to do and I absolutely loved it.’ With this experience under her belt, her career with Laura Ashley would continue when Mel moved to Bath and became the mobile Visual Merchandiser for the whole of the South West. ‘It was proper theatre and drama in those days. I had to learn so many DIY skills whether I was wallpapering, hanging blinds or even canopy ceilings – I honestly wouldn’t know what I’d do without a staple gun! I had so much opportunity and by working alongside creative leads David Harris and Mark Winstanley, we soon made the Regent Street store the flagship centre of excellence.’

Great British Life: Chippy green paint for a warm rustic finish Photo: Viewpoint Studios Chippy green paint for a warm rustic finish Photo: Viewpoint Studios Great British Life: A soft palette of greens Photo: Viewpoint StudiosA soft palette of greens Photo: Viewpoint Studios

With such success in her field, it wouldn’t be long before Mel was head-hunted and she began a new career with The White Company, ‘It was so different to Laura Ashley. A completely different colour palette, everything pristine, less is more etc but I learnt about space planning and I had to become creative in a different way which meant that the whole experience pushed me out of my comfort zone which was good for my natural career progression.’ Further opportunities arose over the years, with Mel consulting for Brissi in both their Bath and London stores and directing the photoshoots for their online presence. ‘I adored being back in Bath, I used to start at 7am and as I walked up through the city, it would just be me and the window cleaners, and I’d feel as though I was Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady! Bath has such a strong retail element and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this part of Somerset.’ Unfortunately, after working for Brissi for 5 years, the company went into administration but thankfully new opportunities were to come Mel’s way. ‘I’m so lucky that I get to work with 3 different brands now. I’m a freelance Stylist for Cox & Cox, the Visual Merchandiser and Stylist for Susie Watson, and a bit of everything for Dovetail Vintage of course! When I look back at my childhood in Kent, and where I am in Somerset now, I can see how the countryside and coast is massively important to me, the countryside brings me such joy. When I’m here at Dovetail Vintage I’ll have a little paddle in the river at lunchtime and I’ll see the fields and the sky and then before I know it I’m immersed in nature’s blue and green palette which is probably why there are so many blue and green things for sale in our shop!’

Great British Life: A treasure trove at Dovetail Vintage Photo: Viewpoint Studios A treasure trove at Dovetail Vintage Photo: Viewpoint Studios

After finishing my second cup of tea, I take my time to browse around the showroom. It’s clear to see that Dovetail Vintage is more than just a collection of furniture because each piece has been artfully displayed which has, in combination with Mel and Ali’s welcoming presence, created a warm, homely ambiance. Mel says, ‘That’s the beauty of old furniture. Each and every piece comes with a story and at Dovetail Vintage, we preserve those stories. Every time we source a new piece of furniture, it feels like Christmas Day for me, and we in turn, love to pass that feeling on to our clients.’