Diplomatic Mission

Over the last 20 years, SHH has built a reputation as the go-to practice for the ultimate in residential projects for private clients

London based architectural practice SHH has built up a considerable reputation for its high-end residential projects since the company was founded in 1992. While the practice works on a wide range of projects, including two new restaurants at the Barbican and a recently completed leisure centre at Olympia in London, its private residential commissions now account for about 70% of its revenue. High end residential projects are some of the most demanding architectural work and despite a possibly popular misconception, not for lightweights. Often architects on these projects never get to speak to the client, let alone meet them; budgets and programmes can change at the drop of a hat, and outlandish requests can be the order of the day.

It takes a certain kind of professional to take this in their stride and the three partners in SHH combine their skills effectively to make sure their clients are satisfied. Founding partner Graham Harris and Neil Hogan met as students at Birmingham and Harris then met David Spence while working at architects SBT. The practice now has a staff of 50, 30 of whom have, amazingly, been recruited over the last 12 months including rehiring some staff who had previously been with SHH. “We’re bigger than we’ve ever been,” says Harris. “Because of the recession we cut back from 40 to 20 but we are now at 55.Our staff are absolutely marvellous.” The staff are divided into three areas of expertise – architecture, interior architecture and FF&E. “We like to think we have created a one-stop shop. That’s really our USP,” asserts Harris. “Our style is very mixed and we prefer where possible not to work with external interior designers.”

Even after 20 years, SHH is still discovering new areas of architecture to explore. “We are working on a couple of private country estates, some with 40-plus acres,” continues Harris. “It’s something we were wanting to do and it’s good to add this to our skillset. At one stage we were known as the Mews Kings of Knightsbridge and we could have split off into doing multiples for developer clients, but we suddenly found ourselves doing bigger and bigger projects, going from10,000 sq ft to 30,000ft. These are enormous projects, and up in that stratosphere very few companies do it well. You have to work very closely with the client. If they drop something into a conversation and you miss it, you could be fired on a whim, but luckily this has never happened to us. It’s certainly not for the squeamish.”

Harris’s confidence is based on years of experience working in a sector that has evolved at an astonishing rate over that time. SHH has developed a network of contacts which gives them access to this high level of clients, including the top-flight estate agents, client representatives and site-finders. Fifty percent of their work comes from these clients and 50% from leads from articles and word-of- mouth. SHH is often asked for advice about projects which frequently converts into an actual commission. “My understanding of high end residential is that it’s all about managing expectations for the clients, and interpreting what they want,” says Harris. “It’s great when they say ‘I’m in your hands’. You have to make them understand the process but once they’re committed they stay committed and you often come out the other side as friends.”

This article was first published in idfx Magazine.

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