Join the club: How to create members’ club interiors at home
- Credit: Archant
How should we go about adding members’ club chic to our homes? Richard Burton found out how to get the London look.
Two weeks before lockdown the bespoke tailor Jeremy Hackett took me on a tour of his new premises, 14 Savile Row, one of the most prestigious addresses in one of the capital’s most iconic streets.
Long before even Sir Hardy Amies bought it in 1946 and it became synonymous with menswear, it was someone’s home. The stone-flagged floors, the sober drawing room and grand staircase were enjoyed by a family - albeit a wealthy one.
It was a maze of rooms, some lavish, some small and discreet, others almost hidden behind doors that suddenly appeared behind panelled walls. There was even a lavatory installed by Sir Hardy for Queen Elizabeth II’s exclusive use. I can confirm it’s not any more though, having spent a florin there myself.
But it was the Clubroom at the back of the building that caught my eye. Lavish panelled walls, painted by Farrow & Ball in a delicate green mix perfect for the 18th century, bookcases, a cocktail bar and sofas that swallow you up.
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“Feel free to make use,” he said. “Just let us know you’re coming.”
And I would have too, had London not closed its doors. It was a stone’s throw from the Royal Academy where I’d meet contacts in the airy first floor coffee bar and across the road from a couple of Mayfair galleries that had been a rich source of stories over many years of wine, chatter and air kisses.
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An hour after leaving the Row, I was at Home House, the masterpiece of a private club on Portman Square. My usual spot: Bison Bar by the fireplace persuading a GQ writer to pen a piece for one of my magazines at a slightly lower fee than he gets from Conde Nast.
I say usual spot as if I’m a member, which I’m not. Neither do I, for example, pay fees to the Groucho in Dean Street or the Cuckoo off Regent Street. Or for that matter, the Reform on Pall Mall or the neighbouring RAC, all in which I’ve been making myself at home for years, some of which I’m even known to staff who imagine I’m a member.
It’s just that for more than a decade, most of the people who hired me, fired me, wanted to take me in to their confidence, reveal, disclose, or just plain sell me something, have usually tended be.
But all this living above my status did teach me one thing about the way the club scene has changed and what would once have been seen as the stuffy preserve of men in bowler hats is now rich, vibrant and often highly individual.
I was tempted once by a flatteringly special offer from the English Speaking Union, partly on the basis that I’d just landed a high-profile job on the Telegraph but also because of affiliations with a scholarship scheme run jointly by the British Council and the Foreign Office. A former ambassador showed me around the wonderfully traditional grade II listed Mayfair townhouse that is Dartmouth House and I probably would have said yes had it not had a tendency to close too early for someone whose work would take him into the night.
I’d have preferred the Oxford and Cambridge in Pall Mall where I had many a meal with a rugby star’s lunch gang and loved all the leather chairs and books you needed ladders to access. But thanks to a less than prestigious alma mater I didn’t qualify so I had to make do with recreating the look at home with MDF and some clever colour-effect techniques.
It was interesting talking to an architect in Cologne last year who told me of a project at a European castle which was to embrace the English “club style” and spoke of mahogany, rich upholstery, dim lighting, smatterings of taxidermy and gallery-size paintings of men in tunics carrying swords.
Throw in an ottoman topped in Racing Green and a Persian rug, I thought, and you’ve probably gone as colonial as it gets. But I felt that was missing the point.
Take Electric House in Portobello Road. Yes, it may well be dark woods, antique clocks, shelves of books and liqueurs and chopped logs next to brick fireplaces, but the furniture is chintzy and the pictures modern.
And take The Conduit in Mayfair: white walls, lots of pastels, polished floors and colourful rugs, just the sort of environment to attract its target audience of “exceptional individuals – entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and activists”.
More and more these places are attracting younger, more diverse members and terms such as “home away from home” feature regularly in their marketing. And they’re not just after-work haunts either. Occasionally, I’ve seen more laptops that a WeWork space.
Twice between lockdowns I was due to visit Home Grown, sister to Home House, and dedicated to attracting start-ups, youngish entrepreneurs looking to network with business angel types.
That’s why it’s been designed to ooze energy and excitement along with the sort of empathy and optimism you’d associate with shaking hands on a few thousand in seed-funding.
Walls of light blues and peaches, loads of brightly coloured low-backed chairs – not the sort you could snooze off the beef wellington and jam roly-poly – and small wooden tables that allow plenty of space.
Soho House really did become a second home in the mid-to-late 2000s. Countless launches and private briefings were held in the three storeys at the top on a narrow staircase accessed by a fairly anonymous front door in Dean Street. I even watched England beat Argentina in the 2002 World Cup on the roof during a barbeque-come-tech launch there, then slipped downstairs for a glass of wine with execs from a law firm.
But it was designed with energy and enterprise in mind after all. And they did target media types who’d appreciate all the leather, velvet and brassy touches, not to mention the eclectic array of pictures.
That was a place that didn’t mind being bold and statementy. Like the movie people you’d often find in there. But its effect on domestic design was profound, even spawning a brand of its own in Soho Home, which includes everything from furniture to lighting to fabrics and fragrances.
So it’s all about meeting the expectations of those you’d want to attract, defining the space for purpose.
All of which poses a dilemma for interior designers when given the brief: we’d like the room club-style. Clubland these days can be as much about vibrant colours and space as it was once about heavy ticking clocks and studded winged chairs.
That’s why I set aside these home interior shots and matched them to the sort of club to which they’d be suited.
These days, it’s about creating a space as individual as the members who frequent them. Rather like the homes in which we live in fact.