WORDS OF WISDOM FROM BARRY BREED
Mark: Tell us about your background and when you started Decorum?
Barry: Decorum is the result of a long career in the super-prime construction sector which began over 30 years ago with Laing Group in their special projects business, Holloway White Allom (HWA). I began as a carpenter and worked my way up through the ranks, eventually becoming a Board Director with responsibility for looking after our most important private client relationships and new business opportunities.
After 15 years with Laing, changes in the marketplace made it ripe for a new entrant. I co-founded SizeBreed with another former HWA Director, Darren Size, and we built a hugely successful main contracting business specialising in the most special of super-prime residential projects. We quickly became the go-to builders for a select group of internationally-recognisable ultra-high net worth families and constructed, refitted and went on to maintain their residences in London, the Home Counties, the Alps and the Côte d’Azur.
In 2019, I sold my share of the business to Darren, who has continued to take it from strength to strength, and founded Decorum as the go-to client representatives in this small niche of the construction sector.
M: What areas have become your expertise, now that you’re more independent?
B: Working client-side felt like a natural development for me. As the client-facing co-owner at SizeBreed, I have long-standing relationships that, in some cases, transcend multiple generations of the same family. With fashions changing, and with ever-increasing pressures on the sector, the market continues to develop with new people and businesses each doing amazing new things.
Working directly with the clients, we work to ensure that we have exactly the right team around them for their projects, with suitable expertise, experience and, most importantly, client fit. In a sense, it’s a bit like matchmaking – choosing the team that is most likely to set these huge and significant projects up for success (while the smallest start is at around £500,000, many run into the tens of millions of pounds).
This journey often starts with helping the client source the right property, then putting forward a “beauty parade” of the most suitable architects, heritage/planning consultants, interior designers and specialist consultants (from Quantity Surveyors to Mechanical and Electrical, to lighting, Audio Visual and engineering).
As their desires, designs and concepts take shape, we then make early introductions to potential tenderers for their works, so that the spirit of collaboration and partnership between us, the client and the delivery team begins at the earliest possible stage.
M: How would you describe a typical client?
B: Our clients are so varied and their requirements so diverse, it is hard to describe a “typical” one. They tend to be very busy people, with exacting timelines, high standards, and sophisticated tastes. Above all, however, most have had high-level experience of top-tier construction projects – they recognise the need to get a strong team on board and leave the details to that team in order to get the most favourable result and manage the inherent risks in construction as best possible.
M: You’ve had 30 years of experience, which stands for itself, but why do clients come back to you?
B: We treat all of our clients as relationships. This means that we are open, honest and looking to partner with them and their families for the long-haul. Above all, they need to be happy with the end result. To our clients, we are only as good as our last project, so we move heaven and earth to ensure that they are delighted with the outcome.
M: From an age range point of view…if you’re dealing with the next generation versus older family members: is the next gen just ready to go? Do they want fast-moving new and fresh versus older members of the family wanting to go through more of a process?
B: It would be a mistake, in my view, to fall into the trap of believing that new or young wealth holders are impatient or prone to rushing. In our experience, they are often very sophisticated clients. They do tend to have different needs, and things can change very quickly for them (during the course of a project, for example, their family might grow) – helping them to manage these changes and make important decisions about how best to complete their projects is a real value-add we can provide.
M: Do you want to speak a little more to how you’re collaborating with Somerset and where you see upcoming opportunities?
B: Somerset shares our values of excellence and client care – I see a real overlap in our ethos and approach. What I also love about them is the personal and attentive care clients get – Philippa and David are always at the end of the phone, so the clients get to speak with the decision makers quickly and directly.
P: The more we’ve grown, the more we have needed to add to our supply chain, and Barry has been really helpful with introductions, as we prefer to only work with businesses with a proven track record at the highest levels of care and personal attention.
M: You spoke to your core values: honesty, transparency, and reputation. Are there any others that you consider to be integral to the way that you operate as a team?
B: Value for money is a big one. This often doesn’t mean “low cost”, but value for money is a concept that pervades even the most salubrious passion projects. What matters most, therefore, is the quality, attention to detail, service and fun (yes, fun!) that the clients receive. Often, these residences are “forever” homes; celebrating personal successes and growing families – the process should be enjoyable, and it’s our job to do our best to make sure that is the case. The service and the delivery need to be perfect.
M: Where do you see the key area for growth or nurturing together?
B: Following a difficult couple of years for London, it is so reassuring to see the transactions at the highest end of the market setting global records for prices achieved. London is open for business and, with anxieties over the post-Brexit landscape fading fast, presents a particularly attractive proposition to the global elite. The volume of transactions in the real estate market today serves as a brilliant proxy for the construction sector pipeline in 2-3 years, as these trophy acquisitions will come to be renovated, refitted and maintained thereafter.
M: What are some of your favourite brands and companies to work with? AV, technical, interior design… who is really moving and shaking at the moment?
B: There are far too many to list – the quality in the sector today is truly better, in my view, than it has ever been. In the design world, we love working with Elicyon, Charlton Brown Architects and SP3. For AV, there are some real front-runners in the space – CSS, Tillman Domotics, Nucleus and Cornflake. Of course, there’s Ideaworks, they’re one of the leaders in the luxury residential and marine space.
M: Talking a bit about how the market is developing: where do you see the biggest challenges in the UK property market at the moment, particularly the high end?
B: It’s harder to find quality labour for the subcontractors: we’ve lost a lot of the Eastern European labour. There’s only 10% of the apprenticeships available, so a real lack of professionals progressing in the industry. Material costs are increasing percentage-wise on steel, timber and concrete. Even getting hold of certain items is proving difficult.
M: Philippa – anything you’re noticing around current trends and challenges in the marketplace?
P: There has been such a demand in the luxury rental space, particularly in London for properties being firstly available and secondly meeting UHNW client standards.
Earlier in the year, like many professionals in construction and property we faced delays getting hold of and importing certain goods into the country such as handcrafted parisian leather wallpaper and parts for fan coil units. But I’m a firm believer there’s always a solution to a problem! Our service is continuously thinking outside the box, problem-solving and always delivering a high level of personal attention to each client.
M: And any changes in terms of clients’ preferences for service? In terms of communications, is it direct contact or through representatives?
B: I find that clients like to be copied in themselves, because sometimes the house staff won’t understand certain issues on the same level as the homeowners. Particularly if there are variations to a contract that will result in extra cost or a potential increase to the programme. And this is equally true of a change of £500 or £50,000. Clients like knowing and being able to monitor these things.
M: Where do you see the significant areas of development in London, aside from the ones we already know? Is it your typical Nine Elms and areas such as the ones expanding through Battersea? Where else is going to be hot?
B: Elephant and Castle is probably one of the last that’s catching up and being developed, but that’s not where the super high net worth people are: they’re in the Peninsula; the new units at the top end of Park Lane; the houses that are derelict that need refurbishing in Mayfair, Holland Park and Belgravia; the air spaces; the ones that desire 10/20,000 sq ft apartments without gardens because they do not want the maintenance of a garden.
M: Philippa, how is that comparing to new business and where you’re seeing areas of growth?
P: Our portfolio includes beautiful properties in Belgravia, Eaton Place, Mayfair and Surrey. There is so much demand for luxury rental properties at the moment and management of vacant properties that are being brought back to life following the lift of international travel. Despite the new restrictions, London is still in a really positive place.