Staking a bold claim in the competitive luxury real estate market, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts just provided Worth an exclusive look at images from their debut standalone private residences, 20 Grosvenor Square in London. The five-year project, designed with UK interior design firm Finchatton and architects Squire & Partners, reimagines the onetime headquarters of U.S. Naval Forces during World War II. The coveted address is now a super cosseted, urbane set of 37 homes, with Loro Piana cashmere-lined bookshelves, a Bisazza mosaic swimming pool and a courtyard of hand-sculpted trees.
Paul White, Four Seasons’ president of residential, spoke with us about what the project portends for the highest-end niche of residential development, how wellness is influencing the brand’s expansion and why he’s not worried about Brexit.
Q: How long was this project in development, and where does it fit into the larger strategy for residential properties within the Four Seasons?
A: It’s been in redevelopment since 2014. With the historic aspects of the building, it takes some time to pull off a miracle like this. It’s very special because it’s got so many layers of interest: It’s in London, it’s in Mayfair, and it’s in Grosvenor Square.
This is really our first entry into the standalone residential market. We have been laser-focused to not do brand extensions. Our residential program is going to allow the brand to really do some exciting and innovative things for people who want to live the ultimate aspirational lifestyle, with hotel-inspired amenities in a service-rich environment that’s tailor-made for residences, and how people want to live in those residences. Whether they’re full-time residences, or it’s a pied-à-terre, or international investors.
The Four Seasons has had residential components within its hotels since 1985. How is this different?
We started in Boston, added Houston a year or two later and have been doing it ever since. But in the last 10 to 15 years we’ve been doing it much more intentionally. We’re really excited because we see market opportunities and brand opportunities to do standalone residences.
With the expansion of global wealth, we’re seeing a clear market demand for mixed-use residences, and for what every other developer is trying to do: to get the best locations, with the best architectural design, and putting the right kind of service offering in place.
There is quite a lot of competition in high-end residential development. How does the Four Seasons differentiate itself?
We can attract the best developers and architects in the best locations, and we can do everything with our design standards, interior designs and floor plans. We can tailor-make a service offering for how we know residents live in our buildings.
There are a lot of other brands, like automotive brands and fashion houses, and everybody’s putting their brand on residences. Our differentiator is that our service and our culture really align extremely well.
Most of the other brands are using residential in a number of different ways, including being a financing vehicle to put hotel dots on the map. We’re one of the only brands, hospitality brands in particular, let alone fashion houses or automotive brands, where we are actually the property managers as well.
We’ve been doing it for so long, and also have a fully developed team that works with us globally to make sure that we’re designing the projects in the right way, that achieves the highest price point. So there are operational efficiencies, as well, once homeowners move in.
How many more Four Seasons residential properties do you envision?
It’s hard for me to give a number. We intend to be very, very selective in particular about the markets where we choose to do a standalone. They will represent the highest profile locations in the world, because these products are unique, and they exist separately from our hotels.
In 2020, we’re opening standalone projects in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Looking ahead, we’ll be opening in Washington, D.C.: the last, best, great place to live in Georgetown. It’s going to be designed by Sir David Adjaye.
What do you think your success says about the luxury real estate market? What are buyers looking for, and where do you see that niche market going?
Ultra high net worth individuals really want their lifestyle tailor-made. They want it curated. Maybe 10 or 20 years ago if you put the Four Seasons logo on something, it held its ground. In today’s world, because buyers are so much more savvy, discerning and sophisticated, you have to have everything right: the right location, the right architectural design, the right kind of service offerings in the market to align with that project and that development.
And the point about aspirational living is, for a lot of people, these aren’t their first homes. These are second, third, fourth, fifth homes, and they also don’t want any hassles or headaches.
We do all the property management, all the governance, we provide all of the services, so it’s fully integrated into the offering.
You use the word “aspirational.” What do you mean by that?
Twenty Grosvenor Square has 37 of the most elite residences on the planet. And the people that live in that building are going to get a level of attention, whether they’re in residence or whether they’re traveling, whether they’re staying in another one of our hotels, or whether they’re at another one of their residences around the globe. And that’s very important to us that we don’t commoditize the brand in any way.
In other cities, like Los Angeles, we have people rolling out of larger, single-family detached estate homes in Beverly Hills. They want to move into a location where everything’s going to be taken care of for them. They’ve been there, done that, as it relates to having to a staff and managing everything that goes into their landscaping, and housekeeping, and all that stuff for their individual residences. When they live with us, that’s all taken care of, and it also extends further than just the walls of their residence. Whether they’re staying with us in our hotels, whether they want their cars detailed, whether they want their jet catered, whether they want their dogs walked, we can really do some pretty incredible fun, exciting and newsworthy things for our residents.
You’ve talked about some of the amenities, and it looks like wellness is a big part of this. Is that a trend that you’re seeing more broadly in high-end residential developments?
Gym at 20 Grosvenor Square. Photo by Simon Upton
Absolutely. As a brand, we’ve partnered with some of the top fitness and wellness experts, everything from designing fitness, curating workouts, connecting the dots between sleeping, eating, fitness and the like. Wellness can be a term that’s overused, and a little bit misunderstood, but it really is the new luxury. Nice finishes and nice design, you can have anywhere. But when you are really linking those things to a lifestyle that helps people invest in themselves, feel and look better and be healthier, that’s a big part of our brand.
Treatment Room at 20 Grosvenor Square. Photo by Simon Upton
We’re not trying to be Miraval or Canyon Ranch, or anything like that. At 20 Grosvenor Square, the homeowner is not necessarily going to run down the street to Equinox or 24 Hour Fitness. What they’re going to do is have the top personal trainers, most likely in the world, work with them. And to be able to have these kinds of fitness facilities and have spa treatments and therapists come into the building as well, it’s a real competitive advantage for us. It also aligns well with what I think our guests and our homeowners expect.
You mentioned that Sir David Adjaye, who designed the National Museum of African American History, is building your Washington, D.C. residences. Are you going to have a different architect and/or architectural team for each property?
Yes, absolutely. We don’t want to be a franchise brand where no matter where you go, it always looks the same. We want to have a sense of place and uniqueness to each of the destinations, whether it’s a hotel or a residence.
It’s also accretive to the value of the project because the designers have cachet in their respective markets. Our Los Angeles building is designed by CallisonRTKL; San Francisco is designed by Handel Architects and Page & Turnbull.
So you start to layer those things on to a project and it creates meaningful value, not only for the homeowners, but also for the developers, in terms of driving price.
Will the Four Seasons’ other residential standalone properties be about the same size as Grosvenor Square, or is there going to be a range?
It can certainly range. In Los Angeles, there are about 59 units. In San Francisco, because it’s a 45-story tower, it’s going to be about 146 units. Washington, D.C., will probably be around 60 to 70 units. We will be smaller and bespoke, and we won’t see any 500-unit projects. If it gets to too small, candidly, you don’t quite have enough scale to make the economics work, and it becomes really too expensive to have amenities and facilities.
What are the price points?
Twenty Grosvenor Square starts at £17.5 million, or $23 million, for a four-bedroom residence. So you’re talking the stratosphere of price per square foot in a market like this, and part of that is making sure that the prestige in the development also includes newsworthy, noteworthy and functional amenities and facilities.
What are your favorite features of 20 Grosvenor?
Wine Room at 20 Grosvenor Square. Photo by Simon Upton
The garage facility reminds me of years ago I went to Monaco and saw the Prince’s car collection. It’s just stunning. You could have a dinner party in the garage. They’ve got a private wine cellar concealed behind a tropical fish aquarium that creates such an exciting visual feature when you walk down the grand staircase.
Pool at 20 Grosvenor Square. Photo by Simon Upton
The spa’s 25-meter swimming pool has an intricate stone carving of cherry blossoms in Italian limestone, designed by Finchatton, and it casts a great reflection on the water. They’ve got treatment suites with steam rooms and sauna, and a vitality pool. The fitness center is absolutely state of the art. It’s all been chromed out.
Cinema at 20 Grosvenor Square. Photo by Simon Upton
There’s a kid’s playroom and a games room and a beautiful cinema. There’s also a stunning library with an indoor/outdoor courtyard.
You’ve mentioned the building’s history as the former headquarters of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe. Do you have any personal favorite historical details?
There was a U.S. Navy emblem embedded in the floor, and Finchatton didn’t want it to be walked on, so they pulled it out and put it into a table that was built specifically for the lobby. It’s the centerpiece of the building, and everyone wants to have their picture taken there. This building is where General Dwight Eisenhower orchestrated the D-Day landings during World War II. Being an American, to have the connectivity to London in that way, it’s pretty interesting.
And then when you look at that in the context of Grosvenor Square in and of itself, it’s been home to royalty, prime ministers, actors, musicians and artists. It’s been featured in literary masterpieces by Austen and Dickens. There’s a romanticism and a pageantry to Grosvenor Square.
How many units are currently sold?
Around 75 percent of the units.
Predictions can be difficult, but what how do you think Brexit will affect the real estate market and do you anticipate that will change who your buyers are?
Well, the one thing that I do is I stay out of the business of politics and predictions.
When you get into election years, and when controversial things are on the ballot, it can send a lot of concerns through the real estate world. One of the things that I’ve noticed on our front, not only in London but across the globe, is because the projects that we have are ultra high net worth, it’s not that we don’t slow, because there are times when we do slow, but the people who have money are going to continue to have money, and they’re going to continue to want to live the way they want to live. And they tend to gravitate towards things that are stable, that they have a lot of confidence in, that there’s a lot of credibility in. And a brand like ours, I have seen that remain much more stable when there’s oversupply.
And we have seen the benefit of a durability, and a sense of sustainability, as these buyers are gravitating towards brands in these times of economic uncertainty and downturns. So I think that’s something that we’ll continue to see in London. We’re not in the business at all of lowering price. We’re partnering with developers that want to achieve the highest price and are disciplined. We’re not going to be lowering price just to generate a handful of sales like such-and-such tower did in Boston where you’re trying to find and sell a whole block to the Chinese just to cover while the economy’s slumping or perceived to be slumping.
London is a market like New York. It’s so international that there’s a durability to it.
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