Shed’s heaven

Alan Leach in his studio at his home in York
Alan Leach in his studio at his home in York
Have your say

Shed Seven drummer Alan Leach has turned his York home into the perfect property to live and work. Sharon Dale reports.

The definition of man cave is this: “A male sanctuary, such as a specially equipped garage, den or basement. It is not a cave but a metaphor describing a place where guys can do as they please without fear of upsetting female sensibility about house decor or design.”

So Alan Leach’s converted garage appears to be a shining example of the genre. There is no colour scheme and no soft furnishing, and it’s almost too kind to describe the contents as organised chaos.

Yet this annexe is the subject of envy thanks to the gold discs on the wall, the top notch drum kit, the recording studio, the giant, slightly skewiff Stone Roses poster and the jukebox. To top it all, the palatial man cave is fully sound-proofed.

“That was essential,” says Alan, who is a founder member and drummer for Shed Seven. “I practise here and I give lessons and it gets really loud. This way I can drum at 3am if I want to and the neighbours can’t hear a thing.”

The garage is also HQ for a pub quiz craze that is sweeping the nation and is set to go transatlantic. SpeedQuizzing was invented by Alan and his brother John, an IT expert. It enables participants to answer questions via an app on their smartphone linked to the quizmasters computer. It prevents cheating and the software collates the scores.

“It’s a lot of fun and takes the hassle out of running a quiz. The pub pays £21 per SpeedQuiz and you can use them in schools, at festivals and for corporate team building,” says Alan, who writes all the questions.

The portfolio career is perfect for Alan, who enjoys working at home while getting out of the “office” with the occasional Shed Seven tour.

The York band was part of the Britpop scene after forming in York in 1990. At the height of their popularity, between 1994 and 1999, they had 14 top 40 singles and four top 20 albums.

The band officially broke up in 2003, but reformed in 2007 to do festivals and occasional greatest hits tours. Their latest is this month and features fans favourites like Going for Gold and Disco Down.

“It’s enjoyable and for some reason, probably nostalgia and a really loyal fan base, we’re selling more tickets now than we did when we had a top 10 single,” says Alan. “I think playing greatest hits rather than new material also helps. You’re giving people what they want.”

He and his wife Jane met through the band. She is is the sister of lead singer Rick Witter, now a DJ with his own radio show on Minster FM. The couple, who have been together for 20 years, had a Victorian terraced house before buying their 1930s semi-detached in York eight years ago. He wanted a garage to convert and she wanted a garden.

The couple, who have three children, Jeanie, 15, Sonny, 13, and Betsy, seven, have since modernised and redecorated the property. The transformation is largely thanks to Jane’s creativity. After perfecting her sewing skills, she set up Sunday Nest, a haberdashery at Mr and Mrs Fisher in York. She also co-ordinates the craft room there, which hosts workshops, crafting parties and a children’s club.

She made most of the curtains and blinds for the house using the fabrics she stocks, including prints by Liberty, Kokka and Sarah Waterhouse. She also planned the décor.

“The house needed a lot of work. It was one of those places where you opened the kitchen cupboard and the door fell off,” she says.

One of the first jobs was new units, made bespoke by a joiner, followed by a new fireplace for the sitting room. The dining room now doubles as the music room, where Sonny plays guitar and Jeanie and Alan piano. He is also responsible for the lyric wall in the downstairs loo. The children are allowed to write their favourite lyrics on there in black marker pen. The older two have been well trained and their contributions include lines from David Bowie, The Smiths and Nick Drake. Betsy, however, has added rather less profound words from One Direction and High School Musical.

“I’m going to have to get some thick matt paint and start again,” laughs Alan, who adds: “I’m not really bothered about what’s in the house. I’m house impartial. The lyric wall is my one contribution.”

Furniture, sourced by Jane, is a mix of new items from Snow Home and Blossom and Walker in York, Habitat, Salts Mill in Saltaire and Lucy and the Caterpillar in Hebden Bridge.

Old pieces are from Banana Warehouse, vintage specialists and eBay. The 
best finds include a 1930s smoking 
chair for £30, a Duresta sofa from eBay 
and a stunning Art Deco mirror, which 
was £120 from Harrogate retro store 
Space. The mirror looks perfect above the fireplace and the new wood burning stove, though the latter is contentious. It keeps the room cosy but also appears to be playing havoc with Alan’s asthma.

“It’s another man thing. I like building the fire and stoking it but it sets my chest off,” he says.

Next on the list of jobs is a loft conversion, though there is no rush. The family expects to stay put.

“We could’ve moved up the property ladder but we don’t want a big mortgage and we’re very happy with the house,” says Alan. “It’s got everything we need including the garage, which I’m really pleased with. It’s now got everything I need. “It’s basically what the house would look like if I was in charge.”

To see a slideshow of Alan and Jane’s house visit