Inside Karen Hanton's historic East London home on sale for £3 million
As a dotcom veteran and serial entrepreneur, Karen Hanton MBE is used to talking business.
How to build a successful startup, investing wisely, mentoring and empowering women in the boardroom are all subjects on which she is the go-to expert.
But what she just doesn’t get to talk about enough, she says, is her exquisite early Georgian home, in the heart of the Spitalfields conservation area, in London’s East End.
‘I just adore it,’ says Karen, who was famously raised on a croft in Aberdeenshire before setting up dining website Toptable in 2000 – and selling it for a reported £35 million ten years ago.
‘I was completely wowed by the house as soon as I stepped inside it, in 2015. Plus I became part of the most incredible, creative inner-city community.’
Karen – who in 2011 co-founded travel website PetsPyjamas, for those too crazy about their canines to leave them behind when they go on holiday – had lusted after one of the immaculate 1720s terraced homes on Princelet Street, off Brick Lane, for years.
As they rarely hit the open market, however, Karen knew she would have to apply as much acumen to securing one as she would to a business deal.
‘I knew that architect Chris Dyson had a tenant at his house on the street, which he had immaculately restored with the most incredible attention to detail. I asked an agent to approach Chris, and got a tour of the house.’
Despite its seamless fit with its soaring five-storey red brick-fronted neighbours, much of the one-time Huguenot physician’s home is in fact an ingeniously reconstructed replica.
Devastated by a vibration from a bomb hit during World War II, it was later remodelled as workshops, with nearly every original detail lost. In 1997, Chris, an expert on the area’s architecture, bought the unlisted house from a leather coat manufacturer and embarked on a decade-long restoration odyssey.
The shabby façade had its woodgrain panelling reinstalled, and decorative brickwork, timber sash windows, fluted interior columns and salvaged 18th-century plasterwork added to the scheme.
Karen, shares the home with her partner and her Parson Russell Terrier, Wilson. But she did, however, want to make a few key changes of her own.
‘The kitchen was on the lower-ground floor, and I have always thought it was lovely to have a kitchen as a welcoming space on the ground floor,’ Karen says. A huge bedroom with freestanding zinc bath and concealed kitchen was created on the lower-ground, and the kitchen was duly moved up a storey.
With recycled timber cabinetry and open shelving, the room was designed to look as little like a kitchen as possible. An authentic butcher’s block, serving as the central island, was found at vintage shop fittings specialist D&A Binder, for £250. Karen’s two concessions to glossy modernity are her wine cooler and Sonos sound system – on which she loves to blast out Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.
The entrepreneur, who founded IT staffing firm Mortimer Spinks when she was just 29, also added an elaborate conservatory, which serves as a dining room, at the rear of the home.
Opening on to a surprisingly large courtyard garden dominated by a jewel-bright mural of birds, blooms and butterflies by artist Ian Harper, it is filled with sombre dark wood furniture and candlesticks for historic impact.
‘I bought the four ornate, carved oak chairs in Hastings Old Town for £100, and a beautifully carved, tall sideboard for £200, all of which just needed a good polish to create a gothic feel.’
In fact, when she’s not creating multi-million-pound investment plans, Karen can often be found clambering over piles of bric-a-brac and sifting through boxes of old tapestries and pictures in search of a good find, with one of her favourite hunting grounds The French Depot in St Leonard’s-on-Sea. It all comes, she says, from her upbringing on the croft, where conservation, recycling and sustainability were part of daily life.
‘Most of the things that mean anything to me have been pre-owned, and I have the most enormous amount of fun scouring auctions for things I never knew I needed,’ says Karen, who is also co-founder of Positive Luxury, which awards a certification mark to luxury brands demonstrating a positive social and environmental impact. ‘I tend to spend hundreds of pounds, not thousands of pounds, on things.’
Among Karen’s favourite finds are an antique bed with a headboard upholstered in green William Morris fabric, which takes centre stage in her top floor bedroom, with its views over Hawksmoor’s magnificent Christ Church. ‘All it needed was a good shampoo!’ she says.
This commitment to avoiding wastefulness means that Karen has now put her home on the market, for £3 million.
‘It really is just too big,’ she sighs. ‘There are several parts of the house that we hardly ever visit, and I want someone else to use every inch of the house.’
Karen says she has found a new live-work space near Old Street, where she can be in the heart of London’s main tech ’hood. You can guarantee though, as soon as Old Spitalfields market is open, she’ll be browsing for vintage jewellery and old photos.
Karen’s home is for sale with Knight Frank.
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