FROM time to time we all sit and wonder about the kind of home we’d have if money were no object. Imagine the bedroom. Vast flatscreen telly? De rigueur. Cavernous walk-in wardrobe? Yes please, ideally with outfits rotated electronically. En suite with jacuzzi? Why not. Supercar hoisted up and parked at the end of the bed? Hang on.
“The funny thing is that it wasn’t that amazing a car,” says interior designer to the super rich, Martin Kemp, of a project carried out for one client. “It was only a Lamborghini, hardly something really impressive like a Bugatti.”
Right, of course. There’s an elevated world in which Lamborghinis are a bit small-time, but parking one at the end of the bed is probably a bit of a wheeze. It’s a world where homes, yachts and jets are accumulated like art – badges of status demonstrated through outlandishness, ambition and sheer expense.
“The circles our clients move in, it’s all about the watch you own, the shoes you wear, and property is the same – it’s about having something one-off,” Kemp says.
One-off is Kemp’s raison d’etre. You won’t have heard of him but you’ll likely be aware of some of the projects he’s overseen, as head of design for brothers Christian and Nick Candy, London’s pre-eminent luxury developers. Their flagship project, the under-construction 1 Hyde Park, set a world record last year when a penthouse was sold for more than £100m.
It’s been a rocky recession for the Candys. They lost £5m on their NoHo Square project in Fitzrovia, plans to redevelop Chelsea Barracks came up against opposition from residents, and a venture in Berverly Hills ran into trouble when a partner, Icelandic bank Kaupthing, went bust.
But large-scale developing isn’t all they do. While that’s on the slow-burn, Candy & Candy, the brothers’ interior design and management practise, continues converting the homes – and yachts, and even jets – of clients including film stars, oligarchs, tycoons and financiers into palaces of unbelievable wonder. Instead of buying and selling, the rich are decking out their homes anew. Which is why I find myself with my shoes off in Belgravia, tip-toeing round a bachelor pad worth something north of £20m, to see just what this level of design extravagance can bring you.
The apartment is part of a small Candy development at Chesham Place, Belgravia, in a building designed by Lord Foster. It’s stuffed with art by Dali, Picasso and Hockney amongst others, loaned by a gallery which brings clients here to view works in situ. But it’s as a demonstration of the extremes to which you can push design – if you have the wedge – that the place is really interesting. Every fixture, fitting and feature drips sleek, sumptuous quality. Floors are gleaming marble, doors are wrapped in thick, dark leather, and lavish fur quilts adorn the gigantic, custom-made beds. “It’s not just any fur,” says Kemp, seriously. “It’s very rare rabbit fur, from Tibet.”
Indulgence on this level has little interest in anything as niggardly as ethical sourcing (unless it’s a stipulation of the client, of course). Kemp travels the world finding the most hard-to-find, elite and downright extravagant materials, before having each textile and furniture piece made for specific projects and clients. In the living room of the Belgravia pad, the low, spacious sofas and seats are separated from the dining area by a screen made of three plasma TVs standing in a row on swivelling poles. Each is encased in futuristic cracked metal, and a specially-commissioned piece of video art plays on them. I am wowed.
Then Kemp says: “We’d done all this, but we decided the place still needed some wow factor.”
Oh. Wow factor, like car prestige, is clearly relative, and I’m about to find out just how. We clamber into a lift – leather-lined, of course – and descend to a mezzanine housing a gym that would shame the smartest hotels. I barely notice it, though, for its floor-to-ceiling window looks out on a massive underground swimming pool. It’s gloriously absurd – a lothario’s lair, a bat cave of decadence, with colossal marble walls, a catwalk running through the middle of the pebble-floored pool and spa zones arranged round it. And the far wall is an enormous cinema projection screen. It’s not what you expect to lurk beneath Belgravia’s elegant streets.
This is slick, garish opulence for a slick and garish bloke, probably with garages full of both Lamborghinis and Bugattis all over the world. Upstairs there’s a no less lavish, but much more refined and graceful flat decked out in art deco sumptuousness for a more mature kind of client. Kemp says it isn’t about designing within a prescribed style or fashion, so much as making the fantasies of the rich come true with as much class and panache as possible. It must be a fun job.
“I’m very humble about it – they employ us and as a result we can employ talented artisans to make these beautiful things. You can call something bad taste, but then you could see it as just having fun – we’re delivering dreams, and if that means purple walls with green spots, it would be a very elegant purple with a perfect spot.”