Inside the tiny London studio with a handpainted wraparound mural of Clissold Park


A tiny studio dubbed the ‘Opera Box’, measuring 171sq ft, has been given the illusion of acres of space thanks to a parkland mural painted around the entire perimeter of the room.

Opera director and set designer John Pascoe spent six hours every day for four months painting scenes from nearby Clissold Park onto the walls of the Highbury pied-à-terre.

The trees, gently rolling hills and church spires are painted throughout the single room, which features the original Victorian fireplace, a desk, a sofabed and a kitchen nook. There is also a shower room.

Now listed for £350,000, its murals fly in the face of the well-trod estate agent mantra that suggests giving your home a neutral makeover will speed up a sale.

The original Victorian fireplace, which Pascoe restored (Savills)
The original Victorian fireplace, which Pascoe restored (Savills)

While a blank canvas can help a buyer visualise how they’d put their own stamp on the property, Pascoe isn’t concerned about narrowing his potential pool.

“I’m waiting for the right price, and the right person. Why would someone pay the extra, and then paint over it?”

Measuring less than the average double garage, the micro-flat is most likely to sell to a cash buyer thanks to the difficulty of securing a mortgage on studios.

“It’s a unique flat which makes for a unique viewing experience”, says Joe Marshall of Savills Islington, who is overseeing the sale.

“We’ve mainly had cash buyers through the door, and the pool of mortgage lenders is likely to be smaller due to the size of the property”.

Northolme Road is a leafy Highbury address (Savills)
Northolme Road is a leafy Highbury address (Savills)

The Bath-born creative bought the Victorian terrace house with his former partner in the early 1980s, before splitting it into four flats and selling them on.

He retained the current tiny flat as a London studio and pied-à-terre as life and work took him to the US, and then Tuscany, which is now his permanent base.

Its four walls have been privy to as many decades of opera design, including costumes for Renée Fleming in the late Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata at the New York Met and sets for a Royal Opera House show that was the first in Europe to use supertitles.

“I’ve sold half a dozen houses in my life and I’ve always painted them. This is a marvellous space,” says Pascoe, whose four months in the diminutive apartment have even inspired him to downsize his home in Tuscany.

The flat overlooks gardens (Savills)
The flat overlooks gardens (Savills)

Pascoe’s first mural commission was for British entrepeneur Andrew Brownsword, who asked him to paint a ceiling in the living room of his Georgian home in Bath’s Royal Crescent nearly 50 years ago.

Myriad murals later, what would he say to a buyer wary of visual overload?

“When the interior designer Nina Campbell came to see my work in Italy, she commented that the murals “make the walls disappear”’, says Pascoe. “You move into the imagined, the painted space. Plus, one never grows tires of looking at beautiful greens.”

An original 1890s fireplace – which Pascoe scrubbed down to the original black steel – occupies one wall of the combined living and bedroom space, with a green kitchen tucked around the corner.

Not one to put down his paintbrush for long, Pascoe is planning to squeeze in an homage to the Victorian water tower next to Woodberry Wetlands before a buyer moves in.

As well as a live-in artwork, there’s a hidden bonus for any potential buyer, says Pascoe: tolerant neighbours. “Although I’ve put down carpets and underlay... let’s say they have been blessed to hear opera.”