Steve Parkin’s office is a home-from-home. Sharon Dale takes a tour of his Leeds penthouse. Pictures by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
A former miner turned lorry driver who left school with no qualifications, Steve Parkin is every inch the self-made man. His logistics empire and other businesses have made him a multi-millionaire with all the trappings that wealth can bring.
Born savvy, one of the secrets of his success is continually asking the question “is this a good investment?” and he applies it to almost everything, including his hobbies. He loves racing but while his heart said “buy a racehorse” his head told that him the odds of a good return were poor, so instead opened his own stud farm.
“The money is in breeding racehorses,” he says. “The aim is to create a dynasty and be as successful as Juddmonte.”
Applying the same logic, Leeds United supporters keen for him to buy the club could be disappointed. He’s a loyal fan and his firm, Clipper Logistics, sponsors a stand at Elland Road, but he’s probably noticed that football clubs can be money pits.
Small of stature with a cheeky charm, he thinks big, which is why he recently moved the Clipper plc HQ to a spectacular penthouse in Leeds city centre. The fit-out alone cost £3m and it is designed to feel like a home-from-home. It is on a prime plot of land on Wellington Street that was once destined to give rise to Lumiere, the biggest skyscraper in Europe.
The recession killed that dream and Steve and a business partner later bought what he describes as “a £5.2m hole in the ground”. With investment from M&G Real Estate, it became Central Square, which has swish offices, an M&S and cafes.
“The top floor was a plant room but I could see there was enough space for a new headquarters,” says Steve, 56, who sold his share of the building to M&G and rents the space from them.
DLA Design did the layout, which includes a large reception/lounge, a huge boardroom, a kitchen, bathrooms and offices for Clipper chairman Steve, the firm’s chief executive, the finance director and their PAs.
Director Emma Bennett, of Ralph Capper Interiors brought in Space Invader, both companies now owned by Steve, to work on the design concept, to oversee the decor and furnishing of the space with the very best of everything. There was no set budget. She has done an astounding job and, along with German design classics and a wool and silk carpet sourced from America, she had supporting the local economy in mind and commissioned Yorkshire craftspeople, product designers and factories to create bespoke pieces.
She designed the boardroom’s 26-seater walnut conference table, which has a gold inlay.
It is a showcase for British craftsmanship and is wired with high-tech equipment with pop-up screens and microphones. The total cost was £200,000 and the chairs by Knoll were £3,000 each.
On one side of this room are marble-topped credenzas and on the other windows draped with curtains in the colour of Steve’s racing silks. The light is designed to mimic Clipper’s wave logo.
“We used a lot of artisans and it was a massive job. There were 14 people involved in creating the table alone,” says Emma.
So how did Steve justify spending such an eye-popping sum knowing that if he flogged the table on eBay next week he’d get a fraction of what he paid?
“It’s all been a good investment in that it is symbolic of the company’s success and it’s a statement. It’s somewhere I can entertain clients and it tells them that we are a serious outfit. There is nothing else like this in Leeds, this is a London-style office,” he says.
“Clipper started with me and a van and we now have 46 warehouses and 8,000 employees. I also have other businesses. The old, traditional office in Gelderd Road didn’t reflect that progress.”
His brief to Emma was that the penthouse should be stunning without looking flash.
“I also work long hours and I didn’t want it to look like a conventional office. I wanted it to be more homely,” he adds.
Emma’s interpretation of this was “understated elegance” and it’s a look she has pulled off with aplomb.
“The more comfortable and relaxed the environment, the more creative and productive people are but this kind of simplicity of design is very difficult to achieve,” she says.
Walter Knoll are experts, which is why she ordered Steve a £30,000 desk from the company. The handmade leather sofa in Steve’s office was designed by Leeds’s Laura Wellington and covered in leather by Emma’s father, Fred Bennett, a renowned upholsterer.
The reception, which doubles as an event space, has a leather panelled wall, a Knoll rug and sofas and lamps from Flos.
Leeds-based Arlington Interiors supplied the kitchen and the bathrooms are clad in marble.
The attention to detail is exceptional and even the door handles are bespoke, made from saddle leather and designed to look like riding crops.
Outside, a grim-looking terrace has been turned into an outdoor room with a living wall full of plants and a butterfly hotel.While the whole place, inside and out, is aimed at impressing corporate guests, they may not realise that the toilet brush in the bathroom cost £500.
Steve chose that and admits that the cost-benefit analysis may reveal a non-profitable extravagance but the penthouse art collection should make up for it.
It was bought with re-sale values in mind. Emma worked with a dealer in London and Steve had the final say. He loves David Hockney’s work and is buying some of the artist’s iPad drawings. Above his desk are pictures by an up-and-coming Polish artist, which have already risen in value. They depict football violence and remind him of matches in the 1970s.
“I am delighted with the way it all looks,” he says, adding that he stopped short of adding a bedroom in case his wife got the wrong idea. “That was a no-no but I love spending time here. The view is amazing,” he says, pointing over the city centre rooftops to his beloved Elland Road ground.
Emma Bennett is director of Ralph Capper Interiors. It specialises in commercial and domestic design and has a studio and showroom at the Green Sand Foundry in Leeds, ralphcapper.com.