My Home: Conrad Shawcross

When a young sculptor found an old taxidermy factory in east London, he began his largest project yet - creating a studio and living space

Tessa Williams-Akoto
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:16

The son of royal biographer William Shawcross and the writer Marina Warner, Conrad Shawcross lives in Clapton, East London with his girlfriend, the actress Sophie Hunter

Saatchi bought some of my work last year, which meant I could finally get a deposit together to buy my own place. I wanted an unusual space and it took me months of searching factories, warehouses and disused buildings before I stumbled across this place.

It originally stabled the horses that used to pull the No 38 bus. After that, it became one of the largest taxidermist offices in London. At the height of the taxidermy trade, tigers and elephants would have all been stuffed here.

When I first saw the building it was facing demolition, so I got it at a knock-down price. Its 5,000 square feet, and a perfect space for me to work in and for my girlfriend Sophie and I to live in. My work takes up a lot of room and this has everything I need.

It's great to have somewhere to ourselves. Before this, I shared a studio/live space with six other artists in Dalston, not far from here. I don't need a lot of luxuries, but even for me it was raw - we didn't even have electricity. Although my new home may not seem that luxurious, it's like the Hilton compared to the last one.

The location is pretty good as well. It's in Clapton, which is a bit rough, but I've always liked East London. And Clapton has everything I want. There are no restaurants worth eating in, but there's a 24-hour shop next door, and a bus stop just around the corner, which means I can hop on a bus into town quickly. And this area is definitely changing. Clapton Pond used to be known as a big draw and now there is a huge project to regenerate the pond and rebuild the Victorian bridge.

The weird thing about owning your own property is the way it ages you. I am 28, and before this I led quite a carefree life. Now, with all the worry I've had, I feel about 50.

When we moved in they still had gas lighting from the 1930s. I've had to change absolutely everything. I didn't do the plumbing or plastering, but everything else I've done myself, from the electrical wiring to re-roofing. And we are still living in a very makeshift way. We don't really mind, though, since we have all the basics: kitchen, shower, bathroom and, crucially, electricity and heating. And when it is all finished it is going to be quite spectacular. I started by completely gutting the whole building, which meant I could then rebuild all the rooms. The sitting room is split into two levels: I have an office in a galleried area that is reached by a rather rickety ladder. I just have my computer and my record player there. I'm a vinyl junkie - when I tell people they are often surprised that someone my age hasn't been affected by the iPod generation thing, but I love real music. I don't listen to music while I am working, as my work is far too noisy, but when I am relaxing or we have friends round, I like a bit of Tom Waits.

I don't tend to buy furniture. I inherited quite a few bits and pieces from my grandfather, like a wonderful old set of leather suitcases - he was a lawyer and he used them for work; we use them as a table. Other things I need I tend to find by scavenging in abandoned warehouses and derelict buildings (there are an abundance of them around here). I have an amazing 1920s anatomist table that I found in an old building in Oxford from my student days at The Ruskin.

One thing I did buy was my roll-top bath, which I recently found on eBay. It now sits a few feet away from our bed. I painted the underside of it black to make it look more elegant. That was Sophie's idea - she's an actress [in Vanity Fair] and likes things to look dramatic. I also put two skylights in to give the room better light. One of my current projects is to build a study for Sophie. It is going to be between our bedroom and the living room and will be somewhere she can keep all her clothes and practise her lines.

The kitchen is one of my favourite areas of the house. I have a huge Belfast sink that I found in an architectural salvage store on the Essex Road in Islington. Also, I have a great range cooker, which is wonderful for knocking up pasta on.

The best thing about this place is that it has a lot of character - it is a true East End workshop. I've always lived in London. I grew up in Kentish Town and both my parents still live here. All my friends are in London and my work is here as well - my gallery is the Victoria Miro Gallery in Old Street.

It will probably take me three years to totally finish working on the house - but the most essential things will be completed in the next six months or so. I don't mind that it's not ready: living like this feels a bit like backpacking and I have always like travelling. Even when it is finished, I still want it to have the look and feel of a workshop. I don't think it is necessary for homes to have huge plasma televisions and wall-to-wall carpeting. I never watch television and only listen to Radio 4 occasionally. I like living simply.

Conrad Shawcross will exhibit at Sudeley Castle, as part of the Reconstruction # 1 exhibition from tomorrow until 31 July,

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