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Latter-day architects move in to former building of sculptor Harry Hems

In a fortuitous turn of fate, a latter-day team of architects and urban designers decided to move into an Exeter city centre building originally occupied by one of their industry forefathers, for the same reason.

In 1881, 19th century architectural and ecclesiastical sculptor Harry Hems had outgrown his Paris Street workshop so commissioned the construction of the three-storey gothic style brick building on Longbrook Street to accommodate his well-established, expanding team.

The practicality of the space and location has the same appeal to the directors of Clifton Emery Design, Neil Emery and Daniel Clifton, 136 years on, who moved in this spring, also seeking a more spacious base for their burgeoning team.

The directors also share Hems’ passion for contemporary, forward thinking, vibrant, quality design and received national recognition for their company’s work on the Torpoint Vision project, winning the Urban Design and Masterplanning Award in the Landscape Institute’s 2016 awards.

Having been based on Paris Street since 1868, by 1881 Hems’ work was contained in hundreds of churches and public buildings and the move to Longbrook Street enabled him to increase his capacity and output. Hems died in 1916 but his company, The Ecclesiastical Art Works, operated from the workshop producing woodwork and sculptures for churches the across the south west, England and abroad, until 1938.

Since its foundation at the end of 2012, Clifton Emery Design, which encompasses urban design, architecture and landscape design projects, has seen its team swell to 20. It also employs a further five designers at their satellite office in Bristol.

In May, after four years at premises close to Exeter Airport, Clifton Emery Design moved into Hems House, a building commissioned by Hems in 1923, adjacent to the Harry Hems Centre which also houses the eponymous Harry’s Restaurant.

Their move into a space linked to Hems’ former workshop has given the multi-disciplinary firm a more creative space for the business to grow. And as it did for Harry, the move will see their business into the future.

Having established their company near the city, the directors were well accustomed to Exeter’s connectivity with the rest of the south west and its ideal positioning for reaching existing and prospective clients, its talent pool of skilled industry professionals, and the lifestyle it affords.

Neil said:

Harry’s success was clearly down to him being good at what he did, but also because of the enduring quality of his work, and that’s exactly what we are about,” said Neil. “We also seem to share his innovative approach to design, so it’s nice to have this connection with him.


Our team, and the business had grown, but not the space. So practically, we wanted to move, as we had become a bit squashed, but also, we wanted to find somewhere that suited what we do better.


We considered all sorts of options, including more rural locations or the outskirts of Exeter, but were drawn to the centre of Exeter if the right property came up. We felt that a more vibrant setting might play its part in inspiring the team.

Neil said their choice of office space suits their medium to long term goal of consolidating the existing team’s skill base, rather than expanding further and inadvertently morphing into a large-scale company.

Neil added:

When we visited Hems’ House, although we needed to consider it carefully because of the fairly extensive refurbishment that was required, it had an attractive, characterful, light and airy environment, which is really important for a creative team of people.

Exeter’s position and transport links are essential to the firm which has a varied client base across the south west and beyond, not unlike Hems, whose wood carvings and sculptures were prolific across the region and further afield.

Clifton Emery Design’s portfolio ranges in scale from single home extensions to master planning for large urban extensions, and from fulfilling ambitious design briefs to consultative and advisory roles. The team also advises local authorities and other public bodies on how to achieve successful place-making through good design in the built environment.

Other current projects include a scheme for the redevelopment of Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education on Topsham Road and a master plan to guide the regeneration of over 200 former Ministry of Defence flats in Plymouth which involves working closely with residents. The firm has also been responsible for the detailed design of nearly 80 new homes in Landkey, North Devon and 10 new homes in St Agnes, Cornwall, both of which are currently under construction.

Cllr Rachel Sutton, Lead Councillor for Economy at Exeter City Council, said:

It’s great to hear about a locally established firm deciding to move its business into the city centre in search of more space in order to fulfil its future business goals. The architectural affiliation between Clifton Emery Design and the original occupant of the building serves to connect history with the present, re-energising the building’s identity.