Bold ideas to stay ahead of the curve

One of London’s top decorators Shaun Clarkson takes a feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway approach to interiors


Shaun Clarkson is one of London’s top decorators. His work has featured in the Financial Times, World of Interiors and Elle Decor. Clarkson has a rock ’n’ roll sensibility that works well with his fine art training. In essence he has the ability to see things differently.

He first came to prominence when he did the décor for the Atlantic Bar and Grill, an art deco ballroom near Picadilly Circus, in the late 1990s, for Mayo man Oliver Peyton.

It was a time when London was swinging again and his décor signatures had all the swagger of that time. It’s also when he first met London-based, Waterford-born music mogul Vince Power and they bonded over their love of music. Power remains Clarkson’s oldest client. He decorated several of his now shuttered establishments: Moose Bar, opposite Selfridge’s, the supper club Pigalle; 101 Bar in Covent Garden and the Ladbroke Grove-based Liquid Nation where Clarkson invited 10 students from the University of Arts to decorate areas within it.

More recently Clarkson designed the bar and café in Harvey Nichols in Leeds, which opened in 2013, and decorated the affordable Hoxton Hotel in 2012 and he is in the middle of putting the finishing touches on his first bar in Dublin, the pierced-metal-fronted Chelsea Drugstore on South Great George’s Street. It is owned by Electric Picnic founder John Reynolds whom Clarkson met through Vince Power.

Planned as a Prohibition-style bar with access via a secret wall (the one with the shoe lasts) in the Market Bar, which will lead through an old-style butcher shop via a library bookshelf into the heart of the action.

This type of themed fantasy is typical of Clarkson. “It’s about getting inside your client’s head and adding a sprinkling of magic to their ideas. It’s about creating a fantasy world where you can lose yourself for a couple of hours and drink alcohol.”

Hotel style

Why go and stay in a boutique hotel when you can live in one, is Clarkson’s style credo. Clarkson manages to keep his home looking hotel pristine because by his own admission he is neat and tidy. But his partner is not, so they each have their own separate bathroom and dressingroom so they never have to row over who left the cap off the toothpaste. “His dressingroom is a tip but this way I don’t have to look at it,” he says. It works.

His love for old things turned him into “an accidental developer” as he puts it, buying up rundown properties and turning them into cool places for short stays. His property portfolio includes a tiny one-bedroom house painted blue, Power’s Cottage on the Hill in Co Waterford, that is his first foray into the Irish property market; Carrington House and Cliff Barnes, both in Norfolk; and Home-Tel in Hastings, still very much a shell and scheduled to open sometime next year.

If you want to buy well you need to follow the artists, he counsels. “They work and live in cheap spaces but these creative locations can still feel a little bit dangerous. You need imagination to be able to inhabit it as is and see the potential.” He and his partner, Paul Brewster, used to live in a warehouse in Shoreditch where it really was like living in a nightclub, he recalls. “There were decks there and the last of the weekend laggards wouldn’t leave until Monday morning.” This was prior to Shoreditch getting hip. Areas that have big immigrant populations also offer potential, something that is easier to spot in a metropolitan city the size of London. In Dublin Visual Artists Ireland says most artists have studios in the Dublin 1, 2, 7 and 8 areas where rents are more reasonable.

The couple live very differently now in their Georgian house in Clerkenwell but when they moved into what is now a sylvan square there were drug addicts everywhere. The council started to sell off its properties and a decade on it is a leafy suburb, he says. “You have to give it 10 years.”

Frequent changes

He has a fashion approach to furniture and furnishings, changing the look of his home as often as many of us change the contents of our wardrobe. He stays ahead of trends by moving items he’s grown tired of into his shop, Pitfield, which started life as a pop-up in department store Selfridges.

“We live in an age in which you can change your home far more frequently than our parents’ generation did. And if it’s not working you change it. I buy shrewdly. I love foraging for old things like a great shaped sofa that I can reupholster.”;;;;

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.