Welcome to the House of Fun
Written by Lola Borg
Photographs by James Merrell
Production by Mary Weaver
THE OWNERS Jim and Chloe Read, founders, designers and makers of iconic Newgate Clocks and Watches, and their children Ruby, 12, Buster, ten, and Lola, seven, plus Badger the lurcher.
THE PROPERTY A double-fronted Georgian house in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, which runs over four floors. It has a living room, kitchen, utility room and games room/cinema on the ground floor. There are two bedrooms including the master suite, dressing room and a study on the first floor, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor. The basement has a workshop, studio, bathroom and another games room.
‘Obviously this is a party house,’says Jim Read, ‘and we’ve designed it to be just that.’ A huge and elegant space, it’s a fabulous family home that can flip easily into a place to entertain. This New Year, Jim and his wife Chloe, owners of Newgate Clocks and Watches, will have a proper bash – light fires and candles in every room and push the Chesterfield back against the window. Then, they’ll get the place into full-on festive mode with their children and friends congregating for ‘hopefully a wild night’, says Jim, ‘the messier the better.’ They invite the entire street, so never have to worry about complaints from the neighbours. The final touch is the fairy lights on windows and doors, which are designed, says Jim, not to be visible during the day, but are so bright, they can illuminate the house at night.
LIVING ROOM - The drawer unit came from a bank. ‘The original piece was about six times as long as this,’ says Jim. ‘Sadly, we only bought this section. It was falling apart but my dad spent hours making it good. He can restore furniture, which is handy.’
This time last year, they had only just moved in, which is as good an excuse as any to celebrate. Eighteen months ago, looking for a new family home outside of Shrewsbury, Chloe and Jim were feeling despondent after the property they wanted fell through and, antsy to move, decided to look at ‘any house at all that was remarkable’. A couple of weeks later, their agent phoned to say something was coming on the market that night. She sent one photograph. ‘As soon as we saw it, we had that hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling you get when you see something and you just know,’ says Jim. ‘We begged her to show it to us the next day and sure enough, it was amazing.’ Within three weeks, they were the new owners.
What appealed to them most about the house were the proportions. ‘It’s not only a crazy designer thing, but it’s also that Chloe and I have always had a yearning for the big classic Georgian houses that are completely symmetrical.’ In fact, Jim and Chloe used to walk past the house when they were in their twenties and admired it. Built in 1770, it has had various incarnations over the years, including a spell as a maternity hospital. ‘Our games and cinema room was the gynaecologist’s study,’ says Jim.
KITCHEN - The island unit was made from a glass counter with brass banding and a vintage cosmetic display unit with the original glass and mirroring kept intact. The work surface is Carrara marble with a ‘honed’ – or matt – finish. ‘So it’s not all shiny,’ says Jim. ‘It’s the same as in Harrods’ Food Hall, apparently.’
When they first viewed the house, every single original feature was still intact and the interiors had hardly been touched. ‘Although so dishevelled, it was a bit like Miss Havisham’s house,’ says Jim. Someone else’s unfinished project, they had to complete what the previous owners had started, but wanted to leave it as complete as possible. All it needed, says Jim, was repair, ‘lots of TLC’ and a team of craftsmen to work their magic on the interior. Jim and Chloe have cleverly allowed the house to dictate what they do inside and when they couldn’t find exactly what worked, Jim made it.
‘What was important was the house was an inspiration for what we do,’ says Jim, who works from home at least two days a week (Newgate’s main office in Oswestry, Shropshire, is 30 minutes away). The couple set up the company in 1990 and have grown the business from a tiny cottage industry operating from a spare room to supplying upmarket department stores. The brand has recently expanded into watches, which, as with their clocks, are informed by their mutual love of mid-century furniture and accessories. Jim has a collection of ‘hundreds’ of vintage clocks, 99 per cent of which, he says, are in storage (though you’ll see a few around the house too).
MASTER BEDROOM - Bound stacks of The Times newspaper are used as a side table. ‘The bed? We’ve been looking for a new one for ages,’ says Jim.
CHILDREN’S BATHROOM - ‘We wanted this space to be fresh and simple. The tub is raised so the kids can bathe and look out over the park and river,’ says Jim. ‘the print is bespoke by Sunny Side Art – it has our house on it.’
Both Jim and Chloe have parents who are antique dealers, so sourcing vintage is in their DNA. ‘We both had childhoods sitting in the back of Volvos in a tiny space surrounded by stuff our parents had bought at auctions and house clearances,’ he says. This background has shaped how they source their furniture – they still go to car boots and antiques fairs, but they are clever buyers. ‘All our chandeliers, for example, have been reasonably priced,’ says Jim. ‘Because we know the business from our parents, we have a feel for what prices should be’.
Designing and making clocks and watches is, of course, all about precision and attention to detail, which is absolutely reflected in the house. But it’s also a family home too. The only downside to the space is that, even with refurbished windows, the house is still drafty. ‘We just wear jumpers a lot of the time and we have loads of open fires and keep them running as much as we can,’ says Jim. ‘In fact, there’s only a short period in the summer when we don’t have fires. But then, they’re so lovely aren’t they?’
STUDY - ‘This is one of my favourite rooms, because it’s my centre of creativity,’ says Jim. ‘Watch design is quite complex and requires solitude.’ The timepieces are all by Newgate Watches.
BUSTER’S ROOM - ‘Chloe and I made the “Buster” sign when our son was younger,’ says Jim. ‘It was part of his bunk bed at the last house and he insisted it came with him!’
JIM, DO YOU LOVE OR HATE NEW YEAR’S EVE? I absolutely love New year’s Eve. What do I do? I get drunk.
DRINK OF CHOICE? Vodka and grapefruit juice, and that’s very heavy on the vodka. It’s the best thing.
THE BEST AND WORST THING ABOUT LIVING AND WORKING TOGETHER? The best thing is having someone completely on your side 24 hours a day. To be honest, there’s no worst thing really. Chloe and I get on really well.
WHO’S THE COOK? We both love food, but Chloe complains she does 99 per cent of the cooking.
FAVOURITE WAY TO ESCAPE TIME? Shopping or watching movies. In our games room we have a ten-foot cinema screen. We do vintage shopping, of course, or sometimes have a day out in a city – we love Manchester, London and Liverpool.
EXTERIOR - ‘Watchmaking is all about symmetry and classic Georgian houses are definitely a draw for that reason,’ says Jim. ‘And when you open the door into the hallway, you see how clever the Georgians were at creating spaces.’
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