If you’re one of the 30,000 people currently on a waiting list for membership of Soho House, there may be an easier way to bask in the studied cool of its private members’ clubs.
The worldwide hospitality brand launched an online retail business this summer that aims to ‘bring the House home’. Your home, specifically. Soho Home is the latest brainchild from Nick Jones, who founded his first ‘House’ for people who work in the creative industries on Greek Street in 1995.
Since then, it has spawned 17 sister clubs across Europe and North America, as well as a string of restaurants, cinemas, workspaces, spas and hotels.
Understated with an upcycled, rustic aesthetic, a visit to a Soho House is like spending an afternoon with a well-connected, writerly uncle with impeccably good taste at his enormous Georgian townhouse in Islington. Now Soho Home is up and running, you can go online and buy the furniture, glassware, crockery and art you pine for in the Houses.
There are around 450 products for sale, most matched exactly with House furnishings, with a few extra items in keeping with the brand, working with designers including Burleigh, Whichford and George Smith. There’s even a vintage range with new items released every month.
The idea has been in the works since 2013, but it was only last year that Jones felt he needed some external assistance. With a lifetime spent in retail, including 20 years at Harrods and over 10 years at Selfridges, Jayne Demuro was brought in as managing director to get it on track.
“I think Nick thought you could just turn the website on and people would come shopping,” she says. “He lives very much in his world – which is an amazing brand that’s been incredibly successful – but there’s only a finite number of members. And so, in order to be a successful, profitable business, we need to have all those non-members out there shopping, too.”
The Houses are Soho Home’s showrooms, and non-members can browse by logging on to the website or booking a room in the hotels – I’m told guests at Babington House in Somerset have bought bedrooms in their entirety. Demuro is in charge of a team 73, tasked with making sure everything from teaspoons to sofas to crystal to shampoo is delivered safely.
She said she was lured in by the scope of her role, which encompasses product development, warehousing and marketing. The latter aspect, in particular, is a fine balancing act; how do you maintain an air of exclusivity – the privilege that your members are paying for – while persuading non-members that they, too, can buy into the Soho House lifestyle?
“We’re very passionate about how we talk to our customers. Nick hates to be sold anything, so that’s been an interesting conversation,” Demuro says. “You can walk down Dean Street, where there’s that beautiful door with a number 76 on it, and if you’re a member you know exactly what’s behind that door, but people who aren’t members will have no idea. We’re in retail now so we need to be a little bit more overt – but it needs to be done in a Soho House way.”
With 60,000 members worldwide and new Houses set to open in Amsterdam and Mumbai, the Group recently had to sell its 50 per cent share in Pizza East, Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop to fund its expansion. It now has an extra £40m to play with, but accounts filed to Companies House for the 2015 financial year still showed an operating loss of £11.8m. Is this rapid growth endangering the brand’s exclusive appeal?
“Yes, we’re expanding,” Demuro replies, “but I think what’s so admirable is it doesn’t matter where the House is in the world, it still has that same spirit. And 17 Houses down, it’s not broken yet. We have very frank conversations about how to make sure we hang on to that, but we’re very ambitious.” Indeed they are: plans are already underway to sell more affordable starter interiors for the Houses’ Under 27 members, and office equipment from its Soho Works developments.
But Demuro insists the Group has its feet firmly on the ground; when asked to describe Soho House’s philosophy, she has a surprisingly humble answer.
“We don’t blow people’s minds but, hopefully, we never disappoint either. When I said to Nick, ‘tell me about Soho House’ he said to me, ‘I only ever want to be a warm brand. I never want to be a really hot brand and I don’t want to be a cold brand either – I don’t want to over-promise.’
"And having come from quite a brand-heavy, bling environment, I was really attracted to that. We’re much more unassuming, friendly and we do what we say we’re going to do.”
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