Saturday, 18 September 2021

Framing shop stays true to roots with flats conversion

IF you’ve found yourself stuck at the temporary traffic lights along the Reading Road recently, it’ll

IF you’ve found yourself stuck at the temporary traffic lights along the Reading Road recently, it’ll be down to workers putting the finishing touches to the Opal picture framing shop redevelopment.

Picture this: you know your local framing business well; your step-daughter works there part time; you’re a property developer with a love of Henley... When the owner of said business has to retire and sell up, what do you do?

“It was a bit of a no-brainer to buy it,” says developer John Grimes, of Drummond House Developments. Having run his property business since the Nineties, restoring the usage of 153 Reading Road (Canada Terrace) to three flats became the latest in his portfolio of historical projects.

And what fun he has had doing so. Matching porch tiles to neighbouring properties (in the shop they were called The Victorian Tile) and removing the old shop frontage, among other changes, to make the building not only more habitable but more attractive, while keeping true to its roots. I had the choice to keep the Victorian cast iron pole from the shop,” says John. “I chose to do this even though it probably cost me more money to do so.

“I felt keeping the pole helped to create the individuality I was looking to achieve. I also matched the new sash windows exactly to the originals.”

These decisions were taken, in part, due to Canada Terrace falling inside a conservation area and South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority kept a close eye on what was proposed.

“The council was very specific about the look of the property,” says John. “There are certain limitations to keep the properties as they were originally intended.

“For instance, the exterior facing lower elevations had to be painted in a carefully researched colour to match the original look of the building and only in certain areas. The wooden sash windows are powder-coated and double-glazed meaning longer lasting, with more draft proofing and sound proofing.

“Together with other measures taken during construction, such as floor and wall insulation, the new windows give the two flats an extremely good EPC rating.”

Like the rest of the building, they also come with a 10 year guarantee. It’s also worth noting that the new Victorian front door to the apartments is sound-sealed and secure-bolted through the door frames.

John thinks 153 Canada Terrace/Reading Road became a shop in the early 1900s and he was happy to return the building to its former residential usage. Only now, there are three homes under one roof, rather than just one.

Named after the old picture framing shop, house number three (at the back of the site) is called New Opal House although it is yet to be finished. Apartments A and B (at the front of the building) have a selling price of £325,000 and £375,000 respectively.

“The picture framing shop was a successful business and locals knew it well,” said John. In fact, the Opal’s owner Les used to say that George Harrison was a customer. “In tribute to Les, we’ve named the soon-to-be-finished house in honour of a long standing Henley business.”

The building was in poor condition by the time John got to it and had to be reinforced with steel. But that wasnt all that he discovered. It turned out the chimney was hanging in position by pure determination. The chimney was condemnedso we essentially rebuilt it to retain the look of the street. Now we have a building with all the right look, but with all the modern standards, said John.

Although it is purely visual now, the chimney would have served a major purpose when first built for labourers of the time, enabling them to cook t

heir meals as well as drying clothes and warming bath water...ÍŸ

On a historical note, with the rail link opened in 1857 and the burgeoning success of the Regatta, the 1800s saw Henley enjoying a positive period of expansion and redevelopment. New streets were laid out on the town’s western and southern edges, followed in the 1890s by a great deal of expansion

southwards along Reading Road and the higher ground to its west. The American street names found in this part of Henley are due to the Hamilton brothers, Thomas and William, who were the dominant developers/builders in this area at the time. Having links to North America they chose their street names accordingly. Thus, we get Niagra Road, Boston Road and Quebec Road, along with Canada Terrace. William Hamilton was also responsible for Albert Road, as well as a

rectangular plot at the corner of Reading Road and Harpsden Road, essentially creating a self-contained suburb of artisan housing, with its own pub, The Three Horseshoes.

Meanwhile, brother Thomas was busy developing Kings Road and connecting York and Clarence Roads, followed by Park and Marmion (adjacent to Quebec). Thomas’s houses were said to be generally better built than Williams which were criticised for having walls of only half the required thickness, and insufficient lime in the mortar.

Additional changes to our town included the replacement of the town hall in 1899– 1901 and the rebuilding of the waterfront, turning it from a largely commercial area of wharfs and warehouses to one dominated by boathouses, villas and hotels.

By WWI, Henley had been transformed into a fashionable riverside resort, and a desirable place to live for the prosperous middle classes and professional London commuters. Alot has happened since the late 1800s/1900s, however this last seems as true today as it did then.

Given the nearness to Henley Station and its links to Paddington and the Elizabeth line we are getting a number of enquiries from professionals moving away from high cost housing in West London,continues John. Although the properties would suit local young couples or “down-sizers.”

The kitchens and bathrooms of A and B, 153 Reading Road, have been beautifully done, and each apartment has its own built-in dishwasher, oven, washing machine and fridge/freezer. The hobs are waiting still for their splashbacks –John has decided to let the buyers make their own choice of colour/finish before installation.

Two-bedroom flat B comes with one parking space, however flat A does not.

Normally there is space in Quebec Rd (to the side of the property), however. Another car parking space will be sold with New Opal House.

With all three properties, I hope I have provided all the latest home comforts which define this age, located in a style that conforms with Henley’s established character, ends John.

While Standard Property was visiting the site - watching Thames Water link each property to the mains water supply - a neighbour popped his head in to congratulate John on the success of his renovation. Norman Ingram of Reading Road said: We all knew Les, and I think hed agree youve done a great job here!

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