Nick Jones casts a brief, searching eye around the room. We’re on the top floor of the new Soho House on Dean Street, and he’s paused for the first time in our conversation to try and illustrate a point by way of an object in the room. He leans back into his spot on a sofa, wearing jeans and trainers that bely his mogul-like status in the hospitality industry. He seems to have mastered a unique way of being, perfectly suited to the surroundings he both industriously masterminds and languorously inhabits. He is all at once both jovial and abrupt, relaxed and to the point.
The building is the latest addition to the Soho House & Co's London ‘houses’, a now-global collective of members’ clubs and hotels that Nick brought into this world with the opening of his very first club, a mere stone’s throw away on the corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street. That original location - all unexpected nooks, artfully utilised crannies - is currently being renovated, and for now at least this new spot at 76 Dean Street fulfils the role of flagship house majestically. An altogether slicker proposition, it nevertheless retains the idiosyncratic stylings and thoughtful, friendly attention to detail that has seen Jones’ vision become so beloved by the arts and creative industry crowds drawn to each of the seventeen houses opened worldwide to date. It is a success story that shows no signs of slowing down - “we feel we have the capacity to open two or three new houses a year,” Nick says matter of factly.
In this moment though, he is concentrating not on the profiles and arresting buildings of the next international city his team have scoped out for expansion, but on this one room. It is in an attempt to somehow convey just how that personal vision is tangibly executed across such disparate locations; across a wealth of different concepts, from the re-energised former US embassy of Soho House Istanbul to the hyper-bucolic pleasures intrinsic to Soho Farmhouse, his reimagining of a traditional English holiday camp. ”All of our design is done in-house,” he says. “We have a group of really fascinating, talented designers but you know, I love getting involved… In fact I get involved with it all.” Finally his eyes settle on a beautifully preserved chair immediately to the side of where we’re sitting: a typically refined mid-century affair that shouldn’t in theory work in tandem with the decadently bohemian oversized couch we’re currently occupying. Of course it’s testament to Nick’s single-mindedness how well it does: all the more so when you consider it has been upholstered in a not exactly ‘safe’ shade of mustard yellow fabric. “That chair, it wouldn’t have been ordered without a nod from myself,” he says with visible satisfaction. There is little doubt that ‘the nod’ would also have to have been given to any number of other elements in the room, from the choice of rich, dark wood for the bar to the uniforms that the staff wear - at once somehow formal and relaxed all at once - to the eye-catching, eclectic artworks that occupy so much of the wall space in every room.
Nick says he always felt the urge to be more expansively creative, which perhaps explains the way he attacked with such conviction the opportunity to open the very first Soho House some 21 years ago. He went into catering at a young age - a move that surprised pretty much everyone around him, who told him it was “a shit job.” However he persevered until one day, whilst running a restaurant in the heart of Soho, “the landlord phoned me up and said ‘would you like to take the space above?’” The obvious follow up question is -but why a members club, specifically? Was there something about that moment in time, about members clubs in London or beyond that made you want to shake things up? Nick, in typical style shrugs and smiles wryly at any attempts to suggest there is a more grandiose narrative at play. “I mean, it only had a small door. I just thought, well you can’t do a big public restaurant with a small door. I know people do it now, but 21 years ago people weren’t doing it.”
That ‘small door’ acted as a gateway for Nick to entertain all of his most creative impulses on an ever-increasing scale. Every new venture however is tied to a few fundamental foundations: chiefly that the houses should remain hubs in which to bring creative minds together; that their approach to private membership should be one that fosters a sense of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. They haven’t always got it right, concedes Nick with reference to their New York house becoming at one point overstuffed with slick corporate types from the financial district. Always though, Nick tries to keep an idealised version of his ‘favourite’ Soho House member in mind: “the struggling scriptwriter who might be having a tap water in the corner.” This might sound trite or hollow coming from any other supremely successful businessman, were it not for the fact that Nick appears to have built his empire by appealing exactly to those souls trying to channel the same things he does in some form or another. “I’m always looking for ideas but that’s my hobby,” he says at one point. “My hobby is creating ideas, and design, and food, and drink… They’re perfectly legitimate hobbies to have, I just managed to turn my hobbies into a job.”
It is this sentiment that is left hanging in the air as our conversation comes to an end. Nick raises himself from the deep cushions of the sofa and by way of big smiles and hearty handshakes abruptly vanishes himself from the room. We’re left to linger here in one of the many miniature worlds he has created along the way, whilst he presumably heads off to continue tinkering with a brand new one. Sinking down in another perfectly chosen piece of furniture, conversing with a cheery bartender employed to be anything but a faceless drone, marvelling at the way an archaic fireplace is surrounded by edgy modern artworks to achieve the most unexpectedly perfect balance… Suddenly you begin to see how a man as undoubtedly busy as Nick Jones still manages to think in terms of hobbies rather than jobs.
By James Darton for Semaine.