My Modern House: Ray-Stitch haberdasher Rachel Hart opens up her renovated 1920s factory apartment in Hackney


Rachel Hart: “The building is quite well-known as it was used as artists’ studios for a long time. A few of my friends started their careers renting spaces here. It was originally built as a shoe factory in the early 1920s.

“I’ve lived in Hackney for a long time. I built the Framehouse on Lower Clapton Road with my husband and I bought this place through The Modern House when we separated. We both wanted to move on to something new and we were in the process of selling the Framehouse with you when your agent pointed this out to me.

“The most important thing was to find something interesting. I love the history of factories and their relationship to making and manufacturing. Living in one felt like a way to celebrate what it was. I just fell in love with it.

“The apartment is spread over two floors and the living space spans the full width of the building. The previous owner had divided it up with a plywood partition, but I installed the sliding transparent screens to allow the light to travel through. They’re by Plain English but we developed a new sliding mechanism which they hadn’t done before.

“Studio P Architects drew up the designs, but it was very much a case of a light touch. If a space already has character I don’t think you want to do a lot to it. I really like leaving the materials in the fabric of the building exposed – the brick and concrete, the steel trusses and the pipework.

“My last home was a shared project between myself and my husband, but this has felt like a project of my own. It’s more of a reflection of my tastes and interests – my husband had a very modern aesthetic and I’ve definitely indulged in vintage furniture and houseplants here!

“When I moved in I went to a reclaimed furniture store under the railway arches on Mentmore Terrace and bought almost everything I needed. Our separation was amicable and it felt like a great opportunity to have a new start. It was a really good feeling.

“I like the contrast of a modern backdrop with older pieces of furniture, and vice versa. There have been modern interventions into the fabric of this building, and the combination of old and new within it make one another more interesting.

“The chests of drawers are all ex-RAF officers’ mess cabinets. They’re solid teak with the standard-issue Formica tops. I love their simplicity – they’re a winner. The guys at Vintage Mix on Mentmore Terrace helped me source as many as we could. I have them in all of the bedrooms, there’s one behind the dining table, and four of them hold sewing patterns in my fabric shop, Ray-Stitch.

“I made a lot of my own furniture and textiles for my homes in the past, but I’m much busier with work now and I don’t have access to a workshop in the way that I used to.

“My background is in architectural model making but I set up Ray-Stitch after my friend Emma and I had been bemoaning the absence of more contemporary, curated fabric shops. So many are either a scrummage or incredibly twee.

“Learning a craft to make meaningful things is something that resonates with a lot of people at the moment. It’s a rebuff to all the throw-away fashion and consumerism.

“I do a lot of sewing at home and there’s always painting going on in the house. The light is good for that. My eldest daughter is studying fine art in The Hague and the younger two are both interested in that as well.

“At night the place has a very different feel. The light is much more uniform and gives the appearance of one space. The living area extends into my bedroom and the table extends so we can fit lots of people around for dinner.”

What are your thoughts on modern living?
“I guess modern living is about an awareness and a consideration of ‘how’ you live. The popularity of ‘hygge’ is interesting as that’s all about slowing down and enjoying smaller moments. The luxury of modern life is having a bit more time – caring for plants and taking satisfaction out of bringing little things together, fixing things up and setting things out.”

If you were to leave, what would you miss most about the space?
“I absolutely love factories and I relish any chance I get to look inside a factory or a textile mill.  Industry is disappearing and I think I’m fond of this building because it has that history. If I were to move I would have to try and replicate some of it’s features, I love the light and the height of the ceilings.”

Asides from this, are there any other properties on The Modern House that have caught your eye over the years?
“I couldn’t have landed anywhere better and I’m very happy here, but experiencing such a successful move has emboldened me to think about moving again. I’m fairly sure I’ll never leave London so although I have a mini fantasy every time I gaze upon your idyllic houses outside the city, country living will remain a fantasy. I do love the Eric Lyons Span housing and I can definitely see myself in one of those. The light and the space appeals, and I’d enjoy bird spotting as the houses tend to be in tranquil urban settings amongst mature trees. In fact it would complete The Modern House set for me, I’ve done terraced house conversions, a new-build house and a converted factory space – so Span’s the plan for the next move.”

Explore our collection of Hackney Highlights to view properties for sale in the area.