In 2016, we talked to former Soho House Design Director Vicky Charles about her career and her role in developing Soho Home.
Vicky Charles, Soho House Design Director
I’ve worked for Soho House for almost 20 years. I’d just finished university and was waiting tables in Café Boheme, and Babington House had just opened. I moved to London, worked on film festivals and events, then moved to New York and opened Soho House New York. I’ve been running design for about 8 to 10 years.
The first design project I worked on solely was the Soho Beach House Miami bedrooms. We collaborated with Martin Brudnizki on the public spaces - James [Waterworth, Head of Creative] worked for Martin at the time in our office in New York, and we did the bedrooms and public spaces together. So that was the first one, and Soho House West Hollywood. Waldo [Fernandez] was the initial designer who started it and I finished it. I've worked on all the American Houses.
Every project has different deadlines and deliverables, so you focus on one at a time, you get absorbed in that, then you move on. We have 86 people in design and development and I spend time with them all. The three biggest projects we’re working on are Soho House Barcelona, which is opening very soon; we’re renovating the Berlin apartment for September; and in the US, we’re starting to look at Cecconi’s in Brooklyn – that’s a big one. And we’re doing a lot of private homes, which is what more of my time is spent on.
Private homes are incredibly different. The clients come to us because they want the Soho House aesthetic, but you have to make it right for that family or whoever lives there in their space, so it’s not a cookie cutter thing. Someone’s home is so much more personal. There’s the obvious stuff of not worrying about mini bars, but there's also a different level of comfort – it’s fascinating. Most of the homes we’ve worked on have been total gut renovations – everything from coat hangers to pots and pans, curtains, paint colours and bathroom tiles. Of course, there’s personal bits here and there and that’s important because it makes the home theirs.
Each project always starts with the building or the space. Whether it’s a new build or a building that we’re renovating, a lot of time is spent looking at the light and the finishes. We document things that are already there so we get to know the bones of the building. Then you’re thinking about who’s using the space. If it’s a family, you want as much information from them as possible about their lifestyle and how they want it to feel when it’s finished. If it’s a club or a restaurant you’re still thinking about the customer, what kind of experience you want them to have. Are they going to be using it all day, is it comfortable? If it’s a restaurant, what kind of food is it – is it more of a café or a fine-dining experience?
From there we use mood boards to get the initial look and feel. Then we focus on the finishes and that’s done digitally. We use Pinterest, a lot of Tumblr blogs and we have a big image bank that we trawl through. With Berlin, we’ve been looking at fabrics for inspiration – a lot of 1970s colours. In Ludlow, we found some amazing 1940s Chinese deco rugs and those colours were really the inspiration for one of the rooms. It can come from anywhere and then you start to build what that is with mood boards, to really plan the room.
I think [the Soho House style] is evolving currently. We’ve always mixed ‘the grit and the glamour’, worn but comfortable, like velvet and brick – that’s kind of our look. But we’ve just done two properties – Ludlow and Malibu – where the buildings have been so different to what we’ve done before that we’ve had to really look at the design and do something a bit different. I work with really young talented designers who are always trying to push out the box and do something a bit different, which is inspiring, because nobody wants to do the same thing all the time. But there is that recognisable ‘home from home’ feel whichever House you’re in – I think it’s because the same people have been doing it for 20 years, so subconsciously we’re all doing it together. And Nick of course, who’s using it, who’s the client.