Newgate's founders, Jim and Chloe Read, chat to the Times about the transformation of their Georgian home.
If there is a large clock staring down at you from your kitchen wall, the chances are it was made by Jim and Chloe Read. It might feature the clean lines and thick black rim of a Fifties-style Electric Company clock or the ornate hands of a Victorian department store clock, but it probably began life in the Reads’ imagination. They are the chief designers at Newgate Clocks, the company they founded in 1991 and which launched a thousand interior decor schemes where a bold statement timepiece takes centre stage.
It’s a trend that has seen their tiny cottage industry grow into a supplier to major stores around the world and, along the way, brought Jim and Chloe the trappings of success. So when the big house in the country they’d set their hearts on fell through, their brief to the estate agent was that they’d consider “anything at all that was remarkable”.
So it was they came upon a £1.5 million former vicarage in the Shropshire town of Shrewsbury. Built in 1770, it is a double-fronted Georgian town house, completely symmetrical in design and precisely the style the Reads had been searching for. The interiors had been largely untouched, with every original feature still intact and in reasonable condition. “It was an unfinished renovation project, abandoned by the owners before us, so we had to finish what they’d started,” says Jim Read.
The Reads, with their three children, Ruby, Buster and Lola, and a lurcher called Badger, moved in in early 2015, having spent the previous year refurbishing the place. “Actually, it was just the two middle floors that were finished, but we moved into those while the top and bottom ones were completed – which, of course, meant dust from both ends.”
They took a subtle approach to the renovations, changing little structurally. The whole family helped. Read’s parents, who are antique dealers, restored and polished the beautiful original oak floors, while the couple spent 15 weekends meticulously stripping away white paint from the sides of the main stair treads. “Some things were too far gone to save,” says Read. “The flock wallpaper in the hall could have looked amazing, but someone had dug new electrical channels through it, so we had to strip it and paint it instead.”
A drawing room, kitchen, utility room and games room cum cinema fill the ground floor, flanking a wide hallway, the floor of which is a octagon-and-cabochon-tiled marble design. On the first floor are two bedrooms, including the master suite, dressing room and an office. On the second are four bedrooms and two bathrooms and, in the basement, there’s a studio, workshop, bathroom and second games room.
Dyed-in-the-wool vintage enthusiasts, the Reads’ passion for the rare and unusual is nowhere more evident than in the kitchen, which is kitted out with old haberdashery furniture, modified to fit the space. The centre island was made from two vintage pieces: a glass counter with brass detailing, and a cosmetics display unit with original mirrored glass interior. “We did butcher them quite a lot to get them to work as one, and there were bits missing all over, so our carpenter filled in the gaps. Then I distressed it, to make it look authentic. We topped it with a Carrara marble work surface, honed rather than smooth and shiny,” says Read, who also made the light above it from four antique glass globes.
Double doors open from the kitchen into the drawing room, an elegant space with a floor-to-ceiling window bay, into which an antique dining table, found at Newark Antiques & Collectors Fair, fits perfectly. “We entertain, eat, watch films and design products here,” says Read, clearing a clutter of wristwatch prototypes and piles of books and papers to make room for that night’s supper.
Inspired by the mid-century furniture they favour, some of their own clock designs can be seen about the house. “Its proportions are perfect for the bigger timepieces,” says Read. They certainly chime well with the eclectic melange of proper antiques, contemporary designer collectables, vintage bargains and even leather-bound folios of old editions of The Times, now used as side tables.
“It’s full of interesting stuff, but we’re not precious,” says Read. “Which is just as well because we like to throw wild parties, the messier the better. None of the neighbours complain; they’re all here, having fun.”
Article published by The Times magazine.
Written by: Ruth Corbett - Photos: James Merrell