Moving upwards: Manchester loft lured me from London | Karen Wilson | Life and elegance


“I needed a pleasant place in a pleasant space, which might have been an actual stretch in London,” says Stuart Eminson. He’s a 44-year-old clarinettist, who’s performed with numerous skilled symphony and chamber orchestras – in addition to in musicals together with Wicked, Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Having rented for 20 years in Primrose Hill after which Camberwell, he was in a quandary. “I was disappointed with the flats I viewed in London,” he says, “so decided to look on the outskirts towards Hertfordshire. But realised I wasn’t ready for the quiet life yet.”

Originally from Nottinghamshire, Stuart fell into London life after finding out on the Royal Academy of Music, however found Manchester’s charms whereas touring with Wicked in 2013. “I was staying with friends in the area and just made a snap decision,” he says. “They suggested I rented first, but I just wanted to go the whole hog and buy somewhere. I figured I could always sell it or rent it out if things didn’t work out.”

After 25 viewings, Stuart made a proposal on a one-bedroom condo within the younger, central suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. But then a good friend steered him in direction of a two-bedroom transformed Victorian loft condo in the identical space.

A collection of vintage and retro accessories on shelves with a dark blue wall behind

‘I like a mishmash of things’: a part of Stuart’s assortment of classic and retro equipment. Photograph: Katie Lee for the Observer

“I first viewed it on a dark and miserable, rainy evening,” says Stuart. “The place was untidy and the measurements were wrong on the details, so I was expecting it to be bigger and I was a bit disappointed.” His 2nd daytime viewing was fully totally different. “It was a sunny day and the tenants had tidied up and put some funky music on, which changed the whole feel of the place,” he says. “I loved its quirkiness, with the mezzanine floor, old beams and curved wall in the hallway.”

Stuart spent £3,000 changing the home windows, including metro tiles to the kitchen and redecorating. He needed a impartial backdrop for his treasured assortment of classic retro furnishings and equipment which had been in storage for 2 years. “It was a bit like Christmas when the van arrived and I could finally unbox everything,” he says. “I’m naturally drawn to the more colourful aspects of the 60s and 70s. However I like a mishmash of things, otherwise it becomes too stylised.”

In the lounge, his tiled 70s espresso desk, orange Rya rug and teal G-plan couch from John Lewis offered the start line for the color scheme. Lampshades created by Snygg and Fox Originals, alongside cushions long-established from classic Liberty material by Retro68, add to the colourful combine. The room was additionally given a brand new point of interest – a 1970s hearth that many householders would toss on the skip, however which Stuart bagged for £15 on-line.

A chunky oak bed, unmade with a blue cover pulled back, with a chinky oak sideboard

Ethnic really feel: the spare room with a mattress made by Derek Jarman’s carpenter. Photograph: Katie Lee for the Observer

Artwork is a mix of Tretchikoff and JH Lynch originals, and prints by Manchester-based artist Stanley Chow depicting icons akin to Elvis, Dolly Parton, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones and Starsky & Hutch.

Some items are comparatively onerous to search out within the UK – just like the ceramic cat and chicken by Bitossi, and a smoked glass wave lamp by Koch & Lowy for Peill and Putzler. “I bought it from German eBay where you sometimes find more obscure midcentury things,” he says.

Other items weren’t even supposed on the market, akin to the big orange Scheurich West German vase noticed within the window of a Stockport café known as Pokusevskis, which he begged the homeowners for. His greatest ideas for retro finds embody Cream and Chrome, Kirk Modern and Pineapple Retro.

A 1970s fireplace with two tall vases and a desk and chair

Retro appeal: the principle room with its 1970s hearth. Photograph: The Observer

The mezzanine deck above the lounge that helped clinch the sale is now a chill-out space which Austin Powers could be happy with, and the place Stuart listens to music. It’s adorned with shag pile rugs, a restricted version 1960s psychedelic silk display screen print known as Jezebel by Linnet Gotch and a kitsch Tom Selleck nook.

Although the open-plan front room and kitchen lends itself to mild partitions, Stuart has chosen to go darker in the master suite and paint the partitions in Farrow & Ball’s Stiffkey Blue. “It gives it a cocoon-like, cosy feel,” he says. “I started painting one wall, but couldn’t stop. I’ll probably do the ceiling and skirting boards, too, and then I might experiment with different wall colours in the living room as there are so many corners and shapes in there.”

The visitor bed room has an ethnic vibe, influenced by his time working for the Symphony Orchestra of India in Mumbai 10 years in the past. Dominating the house is a mattress created from sleepers which belonged to artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman. “I bought it on Ebay from a friend of his,” he explains. “It was made for his London apartment by ‘Andy the carpenter’ as mentioned in his biography, and has a letter ‘A’ carved inside.”

A bed in the roof space with a view to the main room below

In the heights: a mattress within the roof house. Photograph: Katie Lee for the Observer

Two years on and Stuart has no regrets about transferring. He’s made new mates, expanded his work alternatives within the north whereas holding London commitments, and has no bother renting his place through Airbnb or Theatre Digs when on tour.

“Manchester is much quieter and cheaper, and there’s an abundance of nice, independent cafés and restaurants on my doorstep,” he says. “I sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of London, but I’m still there a lot because of my work. I also see my London friends more than I used to because I stay with them whenever I visit. It was a spur of the moment decision, but it’s really paid off.”

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