Imagine a department store that exclusively sold antique and vintage pieces. Where prices were reasonable and the quality was high and everything was laid out in an orderly, contemporary, pleasing way. Just such an emporium is what Jim and Chloe Read dream about creating – that is, if they weren’t in the clocks and watches business.
The owners Jim and Chloe Read – founders of Newgate Clocks and watches – live here with their three children Ruby, Buster and Lola.
The house was built in 1770 and is in Shrewsbury. It has four floors – the basement is currently a painting studio and storage space; the first floor has the kitchen, living room, games room and utility rooms; while six bedrooms, a study and dressing room are spread over the top two floors.
In 1991 the couple founded Newgate Clocks – the company synonymous with vintage-inspired, often industrial and oversized clocks and, more recently, watches. But, with both of their parents working in the antiques business while they were growing up, Jim and Chloe have a joint affinity with the world of antiques. ‘We both remember coming home to discover chests that hadn’t been unlocked for decades, filled with treasures inside,’ says Jim. ‘Chloe’s parents were dealers at Alfies Antique Market, while my dad still has a shop in Oswestry. And my mum owned a museum of childhood, filled with a 20,000-piece collection of toys, games and children’s clothing. When it was closed, I used to go in and play behind the red rope.’
Growing up surrounded by antiques often goes hand in hand with living in a house filled with old pieces as an adult, but Jim and Chloe’s previous home was cool and contemporary, with white walls and a scant amount of furniture. ‘After moving from there, we both had a hunger to return to a more antiques-y feel,’ says Jim. And so, in their current home – a typically Georgian building, striking in its exterior symmetry – they fully embraced antiques.
‘This was our blank slate where we could start again,’ says Jim. ‘We bought most of the furniture specially for the house. It was all relatively inexpensive as big brown pieces of furniture aren’t as costly as they have been.’ The house had originally been built as a vicarage although it had never been used as such. Later, during the war, it became a general hospital and after that it was primarily used as a maternity hospital. In what is now the games room, there are still hospital bed numbers screwed to the floorboards as well as small holes that would have been used to secure screens. Because of its heritage, says Jim, 1940s furniture feels at home here. ‘Furniture from this era is well made and robust,’ he says. ‘I like the simplicity of the design and the patina of the oak. Plus, it costs a fraction of anything new.’ While the house may have a different aesthetic to their former home, its design is assuredly eclectic – with vintage pieces juxtaposed with a modern palette.
What also characterises this house is its ingenuity. Jim’s grandfather was a radio engineer for MI5 and Jim remembers visiting his house as a child and marvelling at his post-war oak furniture piled with scientific, radio and testing equipment. ‘Our own home probably looks quite similar now,’ he says. Certainly Jim’s office does conjure images of fervent creativity and invention with the piles of reference books and a 1970s educational telephone. ‘I started collecting old scientific equipment – and specifically pieces that have been in schools – six years ago,’ says Jim. Elsewhere, his own handiwork can be spotted. The bookcase, displaying 3,000 books, that runs the four floors of the back staircase was built to hide pipes and electric cables, while the light above the kitchen island was created by Jim from salvaged pieces. ‘I couldn’t find an original chandelier to go here so decided to make one. I stripped a broken 1940s light of its original white globes and brass galleries and fixed them to a brass pipe, then hung it all from an original 1920s ceiling rose. It wasn’t a dissimilar process to making a clock.’
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Despite its impressive scale, the house is warm and, beyond anything, fun. ‘It really does feel like a great house for kids,’ says Jim. ‘They’re always nagging us to play hide and seek.’ And really, with so many treasure-filled rooms, who can blame them?
Photographs: Brent Darby
Words: Katie Pike