A converted Victorian pub in Shoreditch
When Owen Pacey bought this former Victorian pub, it was located in what he describes as a ‘gritty’ area of east London. Today the interior is something of a gem, transformed with antique fireplaces and vintage chandeliers. Photographs Brent Darby
Owen Pacey isn’t one to mince his words or to romanticise. He describes how he grew up as a ‘street urchin’, how he fell into the fireplace business after he was asked to strip a few pine numbers and realised he could make a bob or two, and how the transformation of his Shoreditch home was all ‘trial and error’. When asked what drew him to the property – which was, at the time, covered in bird excrement and located in what Owen describes as a ‘grimy and gritty’ part of town – he sums up: ‘I just knew. It was a gut reaction.’
The building was originally a Victorian pub but its most recent incarnation was as offices in the 1980s. Since then it had laid empty, save for the pigeons that had taken ownership of what is now the kitchen. The roof was falling apart and the third floor could be categorised as derelict. There was no doubt that the building would need to be gutted and the interior carved from scratch.
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On the plus side, this was 25 years ago and Shoreditch wasn’t the hipster heartland that it is today – the price and space that it offered were great. The ground floor was ideal for Owen’s already burgeoning business, which specialises in restored antique and bespoke fireplaces (and also sells 20th-century lighting, mirrors and statuary), while the three floors above provided the bare bones of the living area.
He would probably be the last to describe it as such but Owen has an eye. The interior has gone through various incarnations since he took it on, with the fireplaces – which range from elegant Georgian pieces to Gothic numbers – changing with almost the same casualness as other homeowners change their cushions. Today there’s a bold swagger to it and a slight brutalist edge: all hard lines, dramatic artwork and gold accents.
And for someone who owns an antiques business, it’s all remarkably minimal. The key to this, says Owen, is not to fall in love with what you buy or else you might not be able to sell it. Those pieces that do make it up the stairs are rather remarkable. Favourites include a collection of 17th to 19th-century religious books, which were bought from a nun in Hertfordshire (naturally) and are now displayed on floor-to-ceiling shelves in the living room. ‘One of my contacts told me about a convent that was being converted,’ says Owen. ‘I visited and offered the nun a price for half of their books. She wasn’t a mug – she said she wanted three times that figure or nothing. I ended up paying too much but I needed them.’
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The 1970s Venini chandelier in the same room was a lucky find. ‘I came across it in a box at an Italian flea market six years ago,’ he says. ‘I paid €1,200 (£900) for it. The seller didn’t realise what it was.’ Other standout items in the house include a table designed by Coco Chanel and a late 1800s carved wood gilt bed, which has inspired a reproduction made and sold by La Maison London.
Of course, Owen’s fireplaces, lighting and statuary are big players in the interior and help give it its distinct feel. The designs lean to the unusual. Aside from the Venini chandelier, there’s the contemporary ‘Elvis Fan’ light by Luke Morgan, a 20th-century ‘Spider’ chandelier by Carl Muylle and a haunting 18th-century stone cherub’s head. The look may have been ‘trial and error’ but it’s certainly enchanting.
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