Janine Stone founded the eponymous practice in 1987 and since then the company has created truly distinctive homes around the world for the most discerning private clients. They are involved in a multi-disciplinary practice that comprises over 50 full-time professionals across Architecture, Interior Design & Construction Management.
Whether urban apartment or country estate, coastal villa or ski chalet, Janine Stone's creative and commercial teams are assiduous in their drive and desire to deliver beautiful homes that encapsulate their clients' tastes, needs and aspirations.
Dominic joined in 2008 and, as Director of the Private Office, he is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with the firm's top private clients and with its national and international network of contacts in the wealth advisory sectors. The Private Office also acts as the firm's outsourced development arm, assisting HNW clients who wish to become investor-developers using a single point of contact firm.
To date, Voltaire and Janine Stone have worked on a number of the projects together.
James Thomlinson (JT): Dominic please begin with an update on where the Janine Stone focus currently lies.
Dominic Parker (DP): The firm has always been focused on private client work. In our terminology, that means renovating and building homes that our clients themselves want to live in, either permanently or for part of the year. However, over the last year and a half we have seen a marked increase in interest in our Private Office from clients, generally but not always from overseas, who wish to take advantage of the relative security and capital growth potential of Prime London and Prime Country real estate by acting as developers, but by using us as the mechanism to do that.
Additionally we have begun to see a resurgence of commissions for private client work overseas after a lull of a few years during the heights of the financial crisis. Most recently, we have been involved in projects in France, Scandinavia, the Gulf and Hong Kong.
And we have also begun to see requests for proposals for the redevelopment of the boutique hotels and these include some very unusual and exciting projects.
JT: Are your clients currently primarily HNW individuals or property developers? On the private client side where are the properties located? Where do the end buyers for your development clients tend to come from?
DP: Our work has always been concentrated in the private client market and the majority of our clients are HNW individuals. This focus ensures that our staff has the depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise in understanding and creating the most extraordinary private residences. We believe that this is a different skill-set to those of a speculative developer, one that is multi-layered and delivers an holistic solution. The process of developing a project that is essentially a very personal venture for the client can be fraught with challenges along the journey. It requires a thorough knowledge of how international HNW families use their homes and want to live in the space. It involves a range of skills including a heightened sense of 'service' by delivering beyond expectation. This is coupled with a strong element of understanding a client's behavioural psychology. There is something quite profound about being involved at the very beginning of the process and completing part of the family picture.
This approach has been a boon to our Private Office business. The investor-developers that we act for regard our expertise in private residences as adding a fresh perspective on how a house should be planned and fitted-out to appeal to a sophisticated, international clientele with heightened expectations of what luxury actually means.
Where the properties are located seems to be similar for both private clients and developers, with the focus being the prime central London and the prime country markets, specifically around the Wentworth Estate and St. George's Hill in Surrey. In most cases, our work is for international clients, but our work for British families takes us deeper into the country, particularly out towards the Cotswolds, the Midlands and Cheshire.
When working for investor-developers, our clients tend to prefer projects that will appeal to buyers from their home countries, so currently we are developing in particular to appeal to Russia and the CIS, the Middle East and Southern Africa.
JT: Do you have any particularly special new projects on the horizon and are you exploring any new areas of focus for the business?
DP: In terms of geographical reach, we have offices in both Moscow and New York. We are seeing glimmers of interest in the US and we are delighted to be an expert advisor on architecture and interior design to Sotheby's International Realty's global partnership. We are also focusing on building our client portfolio in the Far East and sub-Saharan Africa.
We have also developed a new service in "The Portfolio Review" which is appealing to HNW individuals (and family offices) that have a number of properties sitting empty or which they believe do not offer them the best return on investment. This service involves our working with independent valuations experts to review each property and provide an opinion on what could be done to improve their value. In some cases this means leaving things as they are, but we might advise a client to consider obtaining planning permission and selling, to develop themselves (with our assistance) or to redecorate and furnish for an improved rental yield.
JT: What is the most original/unusual project you have ever been commissioned to undertake?
LW: Nearly every commission involves something unusual, but understanding the behavioural psychology of our client's means that we are never really surprised. We have been involved in building climbing walls and bowling alleys into homes, but that really just reflects a client's passion or interest. We love being able to solve problems that our clients face. For example, we built one home for a client in the US that centred around a courtyard. In that case, we installed a hypocaust system under the pathways that crossed it so that, in the freezing winters, our clients were still able to cross it without fear of slipping.
Perhaps my favourite design – although we were only ever asked to take it to the concept phase – was to create a contemporary lakeside hunting lodge in Canada where our client could fly in on their seaplane and get to their home quickly, warmly and effortlessly.
JT: How has the economy affected your work? Have you been required to adapt in any particular areas to continue to meet demand?
DP: It is a rare company that has not been affected in some way by the economic climate. Luckily, Prime London and the Prime Country have retained their place as a social and investment hub for the HNW community and real estate has been a driving force behind that, so our workflow never dropped dramatically. Our focus is on treating the current economic situation as "the new normal" and ensuring that our clients, whether private clients or investor-developers, work with us to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them.