• Shaun Clarkson in Observer Magazine - 13th November 2015
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Shaun Clarkson in Observer Magazine - 13th November 2015

When Shaun Clarkson and his partner Paul Brewster first viewed their two-storey townhouse just off Exmouth Market in Islington, London, they had been house-hunting for five years, looking for a project. “Most houses we saw had been ‘done’ – ruined by developers with laminate flooring and new kitchens,” explains Clarkson. “It took us a long time to find the right place.”

After a decade of open-plan warehouse living in Shoreditch, Shaun and Paul were drawn to the cosy intimacy of Georgian rooms. “We were party animals when we bought our first east London flat,” recalls Clarkson. “We grew out of that lifestyle when somebody from the Elbow Room started to throw billiard balls through our windows at 4am. The final straw was when I came home one day to find a human turd on the doorstep. We realised we wanted quiet nights and open fires instead.”

                                                           Photographer: James Balston

The Islington house was being used as a solicitor’s office, with grey carpets and no fireplaces. But having spent years transforming unloved, derelict spaces into high-end night clubs, restaurants and bars, Clarkson could immediately see the house’s potential and set about restoring the Grade II listed property to its former glory.

Clarkson subscribes to the “no pain, no gain” school of interior design. Nothing is too much trouble. A window had to be removed in order to get his enormous antler chandelier into the kitchen, and his cast-iron Georgian bath was heaved up three flights of stairs by six burly men. While on honeymoon in Argentina, Clarkson built his own crate from orange boxes and gaffer tape so he could get an oil painting safely on the plane home. His gigantic bespoke sofa was lifted over high brick walls and down into the summer room by a crane, before the room’s glass roof was fitted. “If I ever sell the house, I’ll have to sell the sofa with it, or saw it in half to get it out,” he chuckles.

Photographer : James Balston

A self-confessed “obsessive” antiques addict, Clarkson has filled his home with extensive collections. A kitchen cabinet is packed to the brim with Poole pottery, alcoves are filled with rare Hornsea and Denby pieces, while the staircase is lined with vintage photographs. “I have 400 plates, but I can only seat six people at the table,” he admits. “I’m a maximalist, but I’m trying to be more restrained.”

Years spent designing glossy interiors for glamorous night spots mean that Clarkson is at ease using tricks of the trade in his own home. A mirrored wall in the summer room gives the impression of infinite space, while printed book- spine images glued to a corner cupboard door (which houses a decidedly un-sexy gas meter) create faux library shelves. “I’m an illusionist. For nightclub interiors, I like creating depth with screens and black mirrors. In dim light, you can really mess with people’s heads – especially when they’re drunk and have taken an E.”

The master bedroom has floor-to-ceiling sheers, blue curtains and pale blue-grey walls, which combine to lend the space an ethereal, restful ambiance. “Light changes colours throughout the day, so always get a litre of paint on a wall before you commit. I’ve just done a project that was meant to be Yves Saint Laurent blue. My client called up to complain that his bar looked like a branch of Barclays. It was a disaster.”

Despite the elegant interiors, Clarkson says his home is “never finished”. He’d like planning permission to add another storey so he can enjoy views of the London skyline. Meanwhile, he has another scheme on the horizon: a plan to buy a stately home in Norfolk and turn it into a wedding and events space, with a community art school and music studios. The Elizabethan mansion he has his eye on is meant to have a resident ghost. “I quite like all that,” he says with a smile. “According to the estate agent, it costs £38,000 a year just to heat it, so that will probably be what haunts me.”

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