A former sex shop in Hove is being turned back into a family home after planning permission was granted this week for an 18-month restoration project.
The shop, Taboo, in Blatchington Road, closed more than a year ago, and the property was bought in February by Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth, 41, who is also a beekeeper and developer.
While Councillor Nemeth unsurprisingly hopes for a return, the project has also become something of a labour of love as he looks to restore some of the Victorian building’s original features.
Most of the properties in Blatchington Road were originally houses, according to local historian Judy Middleton. But by the start of the 20th century, many had been converted into shops at street level.
Now, a few of the shops have been turned back into homes as a growing number of people make more of their purchases online – in the switch from bricks to clicks.
For many years the shop had a sign for GW Priestley, a butcher. Judy Middleton said: “By 1935 it was still a butcher’s shop but run by JH Dewhurst and in 1954 it was still the same name above the shop.”
Later it was a grocer’s and then, in 2003, it became a sex shop called Ignition, causing a few raised eyebrows and prompting some concern.
It reopened in 2010 as Taboo, owned by Tim Richardson, who had another branch in Surrey Street, near Brighton station, as well as another outlet called Lust in Gardner Street, Brighton.
Channel 4 screened a documentary in 2019 about his family business called A Very British Sex Shop.
Since buying the property, Councillor Nemeth has submitted two planning applications to Brighton and Hove City Council as part of his £100,000 project to convert the shop back into a home.
There was a one-bedroom flat above the shop but after work has been completed, the whole property – two storeys plus a basement – will become one home.
A report to the council’s Planning Committee last week said: “While the loss of the retail unit is regrettable, the proposal would create a family dwelling with garden within a sustainable location.
“The improvements to the shopfront would make a positive contribution to the appearance and character of the property.
“The proposed dwelling would benefit from a high standard of accommodation for future occupiers and would include a number of sustainability improvements.
“The renovations include the introduction of an air source heat pump to the development which would allow the development to lower its carbon footprint in the future.”
The home will have triple glazing – and the air source heat pump alone is expected to cost about £5,000 compared with about £3,000 for a conventional boiler.
On Wednesday 1 December the council’s Planning Committee approved the plans.
A report submitted with the planning application said that the building had been in a poor state of repair when Councillor Nemeth bought it and was in urgent need of repair and restoration.
The report also said: “External alterations are proposed as part of an overall renovation and restoration of the property, to restore its original features and architectural merit.
“The building, once restored, will be of genuine architectural merit, having been designed by prolific local architect Thomas Lainson, who was also responsible for Hove Museum, the Royal Alexandra Hospital (in Dyke Road), Middle Street Synagogue and Adelaide Mansions. The building has architectural pedigree.”
Councillor Nemeth said: “The sheer number of visitors during careful demolition work has made this project great fun from the outset.
“Past customers and old neighbours of the various shop iterations constantly pop in to see historic features and to impart stories.
“I’ve received huge support for the work generally and won’t let people down. Many respected professionals are lined up to do various elements of the restoration which will be carried out in a relaxed way over the next year or so.
“I’m particularly looking forward to pushing the boundaries on eco-features and commissioning various one-off features such as numerous stained-glass windows, stone reliefs, iron balustrades and Edwardian-style signage.”
Councillor Nemeth was pleased that his plans received more than 20 letters of support as, unusually for an application of this nature, it went before the council’s Planning Committee to maximise transparency.
He gave credit to the project’s architect Ewan Stoddart and the planning consultancy Whaleback.