Inside Suffolk's own Repair Shop
- Credit: Hythe Conservation
Restoration is an art unto itself, helping preserve beautiful objects. Gina Long meets Harriet Sylvester of Suffolk-based Hythe Conservation
“I knew starting my own business during lockdown was something of a leap of faith. But the last year has also given me a lot of time to think about my career.
“I was passionate about setting up my studio and the first six months couldn’t have gone any better.”
From intricately restoring 300-year-old Chinese porcelain to repairing a Victorian teething toy and rattle, Harriet Sylvester has built up an impressive portfolio as a qualified ceramic conservator and restorer.
But her most recent step was perhaps her bravest one after deciding to set up her own conservation studio in her home county of Suffolk.
She said: “During the first lockdown, I was working in Surrey and began to think about the next stage of my conservation career – and the potential opportunity to return to my home county of Suffolk.
“I have always had a passionate ambition to set up my own conservation studio and the reality of this happening came much sooner.”
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In September last year, Hythe Conservation was born in her well-equipped studio in Woodbridge offering services in the conservation and restoration of decorative objects, including the repair of ceramics, glass, enamel, plaster, stone, and other related materials.
For Harriet, it was a realisation of a long-held dream. Even the name of the new business paid tribute to Harriet’s love of Suffolk, as she explained: “The name ‘Hythe’ was derived as a reference to the historic riverside town of Woodbridge.
“The name refers to a river landing-place and comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘hithe’, meaning a haven.”
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Despite the challenges faced by everyone over the last six months, Harriet has enjoyed a highly successful start to her new business.
She has completed several private client projects across a diverse range of materials, whilst also freelancing in and outside of East Anglia.
She has worked with private individuals, auction houses, museums, galleries and fellow conservators.
The brave decision to start a new business during lockdown follows a decade of studying her craft which has now seen her work on a variety of materials from public and private collections in the UK and abroad.
Harriet decided to dedicate her studies to becoming a qualified conservator and restorer, culminating in two years at the internationally recognised West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, achieving a Masters Degree in Conservation Studies specialising in ceramics and glass.
During the course of her studies, she was awarded The British Antique Dealers’ Association Scholarship and achieved additional awards from the Anna Plowden Trust, the Edward James Foundation and the City of Chichester DFAS (NADFAS Sussex Area).
During three years of working as a sculpture and objects conservator in Surrey, her projects included checking an entire English rock band exhibition whilst it toured major cities across Europe.
But her desire to start her own business and return to Suffolk eventually proved too strong.
Harriet, an associate member of the Institute of Conservation (ICON), admitted that her career gives her personal achievement and also the ability to work on so many different projects.
Amongst her many restoration projects, she has removed unsightly Victorian rivets from a Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Charger, circa 1700.
The shards were cleaned, bonded and rivet holes filled.
She also helped repair and painstakingly restored an 18th century Italian Majolica leaf-shaped dish.
The dish had been previously repaired showing discoloured and brittle excess adhesive between the bonded fragments.
The previous restoration adhesive was softened and mechanically removed.
Eventually, one-by-one the fragments were dismantled. Each shard was thoroughly cleaned, before bonding with a conservation grade adhesive and losses along the break edges were filled to create a smooth surface for colour matching.
Retouching was achieved to replicate the decorative detail.
Harriet concludes: “I gain a huge sense of personal achievement and satisfaction from working through initial proposals to the completion of treatments.
“I feel it is really important to protect and preserve objects for the benefit of future generations.”
Hythe Conservation can be found on Instagram – @hythe_conservation – and Facebook @hytheconservationSuffolk – or to find out more visit www.hytheconservation.co.uk.