Perfectly polished: a former varnish factory in east London

By Hannah Newton, The Guardian (August 2019)

A colourful artistic couple have converted an industrial space in Shoreditch into a vibrant home.

‘We don’t like to be sensible often’: the former manager’s boardroom with its Whitefriars glass collection on the mantel. Photograph: Claire Worthy/The Observer

It has become less ravey since we moved in,” says Di Atkinson of Shoreditch back in the mid-90s, when the former factories and warehouses were just that. “Buildings were taken over for two-day raves and used as squats. It is more gentrified now.” Di, an author and historian, lives with her husband, the British artist, Patrick Hughes in Great Eastern street. The couple met in 1986 at the Chelsea Arts Club. Peer through the window at street level and you will be greeted with a pleasing vista: other people working. Number 72 is home to the atelier Reverspective.

Inside, artists sit on swivel chairs surrounded by tables crammed with tubes of paint, brushes, rags and mixing palates. They are working on Patrick’s optical-illusion 3D canvases, creating intricate details of familiar scenes: the canals of Venice, a library, or surrealist images, a rainbow escaping from a box, a never-ending maze. This is Patrick’s business, making and selling his unique Reverspective artworks. Patrick and Di are old school: they live above the shop.

Mad hatters: Di Atkinson and Patrick Hughes. Photograph: Claire Worthy/The Observer

In the 19th century, Hackney was famed for its furniture factories and warehouses. You can still locate their building’s Edwardian roots in the elaborate wood-panelled entrance, polished to perfection to brandish the varnish the factory made. When they moved in, almost 25 years ago, the building was derelict office space. They bought the ground floor and first floor and had the basement thrown in as a bonus. The building had been divided up, but was presented to them with everything ripped out: vast empty rooms with wires dangling from the ceiling.

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