As MR PORTER launches the new homeware brand, we meet the Soho House interiors guru behind the line
If you count yourself among the 21st century’s emergent “creative class” – by which we mean you own a Macbook, have “digital” in your job title and don’t feel obliged to wear a tie to work – then you’ll no doubt be familiar with Soho House. Established in 1995 by Mr Nick Jones as the antidote to stuffy, old-fashioned members’ clubs, it was marketed as a “home from home” for London’s creative types. Since then, it has grown into a global network with no fewer than 17 outposts spanning Europe and North America.
Lately, it has seemed like they just can’t open new houses fast enough. There are at least another five in the pipeline, the first of which, Soho House Barcelona, opens its doors later this month. That will shortly be followed by houses in Mumbai and Amsterdam, as well as further locations in London and in New York. They join a portfolio of properties that already includes a Malibu beach house, a former east London tea warehouse, an old American consulate in Istanbul and a 100-acre country retreat in Oxfordshire complete with stables and a boating lake.
Central to the appeal – and wild success – of the Soho House brand is its unique ambience, which varies only slightly from house to house. If you’ve ever sipped a Soho Mule from a copper mug while sinking into a plush-yet-shabby Chesterfield sofa – something you can do in downtown Chicago or leafy Chiswick – you’ll have experienced this ambience first-hand. It’s cosy, charmingly retro, welcoming and unpretentious. It’s homely, in other words, and as such it entirely succeeds in fulfilling Mr Jones’s mission statement of creating a home from home. So now they’re monetising that feeling with their homeware range, Soho Home.
“In the 20 years that we’ve been doing this, people have come to expect a certain experience from us,” says Mr James Waterworth, European design director for Soho House & Co. “While it’s important that each house has its own identity and is in keeping with its surroundings, it still has to be recognisably Soho House. Whether they’re in New York or Barcelona, we want our members to feel like they’re coming home when they walk into one of our houses.”
Shoes off, socked feet pulled up on to the sofa and blond hair tied back into a loose bun, the easy-going 31-year-old seems very much at home when we meet on the top floor of the group’s 76 Dean Street property to discuss Soho Home, the new foray into the homewares market, a selection of which is now available on MR PORTER.
“Naturally, this is quite different to what you’d expect from Barcelona,” he says, gesturing towards his oak-panelled surroundings. “And we have something different again in mind for Amsterdam, which will be housed in a beautiful old art nouveau bank. That’s both the challenge and the beauty of it: we’re never working from a blank canvas.”
These nuances in house style are built into the Soho Home brand, which is currently split into five ranges – Chicago, Farmhouse, Babington, High Road and New York – with each range comprising pieces that you’ll find in the corresponding house. By browsing the Chicago range, for instance, you’ll see the same velvet and mohair sofas and hand-decorated china that give richness and character to the industrial, warehousey feel of Soho House Chicago. In the Farmhouse range are the same cashmere throws that you’ll find dotted around the fire pit in deepest rural Oxfordshire. And as new houses open, new Soho Home ranges will become available to the public.
“The idea for Soho Home actually came about quite organically,” says Mr Waterworth. “Every time we’d open a new house, people would ask us – or, more specifically, Nick – where he got this piece or that, where he sourced the antiques, or where the glassware was made. We were never able to give them an answer, as all of our pieces are custom-made. But it just made sense to offer it to everyone: we were already doing the product development, and we had good suppliers. All we needed to do was to scale it up.”
One of the benefits of the group’s meandering route to the retail market is that every product has already been tried and tested to destruction. The sofas have been sat on thousands of times; the tableware has been endlessly knocked about and washed and dried and polished. “Soho House venues get such a battering,” says Mr Waterworth. “If a product can survive here, it can survive anywhere.”
Another – no less rigorous – form of quality control exists in the form of Mr Nick Jones himself, who personally oversees and signs off on every product. “He has an incredible eye for design,” says Mr Waterworth, who still remembers handing over the keys to Soho Beach House Miami, his first project for the brand, back in 2010 when he was working for interior designer Mr Martin Brudnizki. “I remember the day Nick arrived to sign off on the project. He walked through the whole building in silence. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more nervous in my life,” he laughs. “He’s an incredibly gifted guy – the reason I joined Soho House.”
The question remains, however, how this expansion into the public market will affect the Soho House brand, which was built with an aura of exclusivity. “There may be a perception of exclusivity around the brand itself, but so many of our products have been out in the public realm for some time already,” says Mr Waterworth – and he’s right. The glassware has been in use at Cecconi’s (a Mayfair restaurant owned by Soho House & Co) for years. You can find the light fittings in Dean Street Townhouse. The bathroom fittings adorn the walls in the group’s Dirty Burger, Pizza East and Chicken Shop restaurants.
What Soho House and Mr Jones might very well have pulled off with the creation of Soho Home, then, is the holy grail of brand expansions: one that opens up an exclusive brand to the masses without making it appear any less exclusive. Non-members have the chance to buy into the Soho House lifestyle, while members – who still breathe the rarified air of their local Soho House club – can take the house home, too. It helps, of course, that the products are desirable in and of themselves. Now there’s no excuse not to join the club.