Week 8 – London. It has now been eight weeks since we started the Workplace Series at our eOffice blog and Pier Paolo Mucelli is continuing to explore the cool and trendy workspaces in London, gathering information and knowledge on how people use such spaces these days. Today we are giving you an insight into the concept of private member’s clubs by way of an interview with Andrew Richardson, Managing Director of Home House.
Let us start with the story behind this fascinating and luxurious member’s club:
Home House is located across three Georgian townhouses at Portman Square. The club was opened in 1998, but their journey began many years before; the 18th century, when Elizabeth Countess of Home, commissioned the building of houses 19 and 20 at Portman Square. Andrew tells us that the reason these two Georgian houses were built was that The Countess wanted a palatial house to entertain the London elite. Consequently, the building was designed purely for enjoyment and entertainment; a place where the Countess hosted many soirées with an ensemble of entertainers and musicians to entertain and delight.
This historic building was rescued by Berkley Adam Ltd in 1996, after being left derelict for nearly ten years. The company restored it to its former glory and opened Home House as a private member’s club in 1998. When Andrew joined some ten years later, the neighbouring building at number 21 had been purchased and was already halfway through its restoration and redecoration. The addition of No.21 gave the club a completely new dimension as it added more space that changed the way they operated. “Suddenly, we were dealing with a different market,” Andrew explains. “We needed to learn how to operate at night time, as we were able to serve people until 3 am, and we had to change our strategy to attract younger members that were willing to stay awake until this time! The challenge was that the original membership was less interested in expansion and in some cases, wanted to keep the club as their “secret”. But we kept working hard and managed to grow our membership and introduce a younger audience to the club.”
“Could you tell us some more about your typical members?” Pier Asks.
Andrew replies: “I would say that our key strength is that we have a broad mix of people from the age of twenty up to eighty and that the members have varied backgrounds in terms of professions. We don’t only have people from finance, as you might expect of a Mayfair based club, but work hard to encourage a mix of interesting and colourful people that add to our community ethos. I believe that if you have a room full of suits, it becomes too much like an office and it changes the whole dynamic of the club. The consequences are that the people you want to come along, enjoy the club socially and ultimately spend their money, are turned off by the fact that they walk into a room with a sea of laptops and note paper.”
He continues “in fact, I think one of the interesting elements is that it is a melting pot, a place where people truly enjoy meeting other people. The reason is that often in our business lives, we spend our time networking with people for business aims, so it is quite refreshing and enjoyable to get a chance to mix socially with people from different professions, industries and demographics.”
We continue discussing the members and Pier asks how Home House manages this community.
Andrew responds that even though they really enjoy a mixed community, Home House is an exclusive brand and the only way you can stay exclusive is to be selective with those that you accept applications from and have a waiting list. At the same time, he points out that retention is extremely important. “You can only retain a membership by generating a relationship and loyalty. That is the key to keeping people engaged and wanting to use the club!”
Andrew carries on by explaining how they manage to create personal relations with their members: “It is important to have different things for different people. At Home House, we curate an extensive calendar of events in order to offer something for everybody to enjoy. We have membership parties, music evenings, cocktail classes, poetry and book readings. We also host outside events such as sailing, golf, shooting, etc. Furthermore, the relationship between staff and members is extremely important to us and is a key factor in driving the evolution of the club.”
“It is essential to us that our actions reflect our brand values, which include status, conviviality, and opulence. The status and the opulence derive from the location and the building. Then, it’s how we operate in terms of service, where we strive for a premium level of personalized service. Last but not least, it’s the enjoyment. If something isn’t fun, we don’t do it. These events, membership activities and relationships are critically important.”
“Today, we work really hard to make ourselves stand out from other membership clubs who assume that all they need to do is divide up space, fill it with chairs and people and not worry about what they are doing or how they use the club. Our challenge, but also the main difference we have over other clubs, is to use the House for what it was built for; having a wonderful time, socialising with joy, and not for looking at laptops all day.”
“We have talked a lot about this historic building, but could you please describe the various components in the club?” Pier asks.
Andrew tells us that Home House has a total 65 000 sq ft of floor space across three large Georgian houses and includes 6 bars, 3 restaurants with various dining options, 23 bedrooms, a gym, event spaces, a garden, and even a night club. All are operated pretty much 24 hours a day by 200 staff. “In other words, there is a lot going on in these houses and a lot of life,” he says.
When it comes to the historic side of the venue, Andrew informs us that they have invested considerable funds and time in its upkeep. “They are an important piece of history and our role is to ensure that our members and their guests enjoy these beautiful buildings and that we look after them.”
Moving on to a broader subject, Pier asks: “Since you joined Home House 10 years ago, have you seen any changing trends in the way the members are using the club?”
“Yes, absolutely,” Andrew replies. “Initially people would use the space a bit like an office and disguise that fact to a degree. Some clubs would tell their members that they can’t have meetings, use telephones, have papers out, and create many rules and regulations on how to use the space. At Home House, we are flexible. Therefore, we have no rules as such, but allow people the room to be more self-governing.” He continues and says: “People are looking for alternatives to a fixed office with rigid boundaries between work and play; they tend to use member’s clubs and hotel lobbies for meetings and invariably, it is for a mixture of business AND pleasure. That is what has already happened here and we can’t suddenly say that this behaviour is unacceptable because, at the end of the day, it all melds into one.”
“On the other hand,” Andrew continues, “I suppose that we are trying to reduce the number of obvious paper or boardroom style meetings. I believe life is all about meetings, whether it is social or business, so people sitting together and discussing things is fine. The challenge we have is to reduce the creation of a formal meeting environment as this spoils the ambience for others, especially when one comes to a beautiful place full of history to have afternoon tea and you then feel that you are sat in the middle of a boardroom! Therefore, we encourage people to use Home House for the reason it was actually built; to socialise more and to enjoy themselves.”
“In the future, are you planning to provide a business environment as a part of your club?” Pier Asks.
According to Andrew, Home House is constantly evolving to maintain its position as an exclusive club. He believes that you can’t be good at both and says: “You are either a place where you welcome people to use the facilities for work, or you are a club where socialising is more important than the business perspective.”
He then reveals how Home House has recently developed the opportunity to take on another site. “This new club will welcome, facilitate and encourage business at its heart; it will focus on nurturing, collaborating, and enabling.” He continues by explaining that they will focus on business-related events for people wanting to pitch for investment, needing information for their education, facilitated in a spirit of collaboration through great networking. It will be a business environment of like-minded individuals where even the staff will be hired on the basis that they are good at connecting other people. “Ultimately, we will be looking to hire graduates who are looking for their next career move and need the right environment to think and prepare for their future.”
Thank for your great hospitality Andrew Richardson and Home House!