Once billed as elite communities, membership clubs were places favoured by the bohemian and rich, where someone like Damien Hirst would spend the afternoon day-drinking and the night, entertaining his conquests. The idea of these clubs may as well be the modern-day equivalent of secret societies. However, the exclusive appeal may seem antiquated with the burgeoning of private membership clubs all around the world, reducing the clubs to the mainstream.
For over two decades, SOHO House, founded by Nick Jones in 1995, continues to grow from a single club on Greek Street in London to a global empire. SOHO House has opened 25 houses worldwide in diverse locations, including Barcelona, Malibu, Istanbul, Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Mumbai. As Peter York, co-author of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, which documents the life of upper-class Londoners in the ’80s, said to The Guardian in 2016, “The whole point of private members’ clubs is that exclusivity, that they are where the magic people will all gather.” But SOHO House has never been about exclusivity. The foundation of SOHO House was built upon inclusivity, in providing a home for the young and creative. It is perhaps a sign of the times that SOHO House is in the midst of something more relevant than ever as they continue to extend their legs into other parts of the world.
Founder and CEO Nick Jones.
Jones’s recent opening of SOHO House Hong Kong is a case in point, with its waiting list far exceeding its membership quota. “We wanted to make sure there’s a creative soul and like-mindedness of the people in the city,” shares Jones during this interview with T Singapore. Occupying a 28-storey building, which took a total of 10 years to plan and two years to build from the ground up, this tower, located in Sheung Wan, sits between the central business district and the Victoria Harbour. The new space is well thought out to a T, while keeping in mind the ethos of the SOHO branding: to create a comfortable home away from home.
Outwardly, a nondescript skyscraper in a city populated with buildings, SOHO House Hong Kong is a club full of flavour within. Like its other Asian counterpart, the Mumbai House that launched in 2018, the interiors for the Hong Kong house is an artistic interpretation of the city culture. “It’s more Asian than anything else,” Jones shares, “you can’t really pinpoint what Hong Kong design is, but I wanted to create a place with atmosphere rather than glamour.” Walking through the House Brasserie or the Drawing Room, one cannot help but to stiffen the upper lip and stand to the posture of Maggie Cheung from the iconic Wong Kar Wai film, “In the Mood for Love”.
Featuring ceiling-to-floor windows, the drawing room is consciously refined, lighthearted and elegant.
The active gym room spans three levels featuring areas for workout, boxing activities, dance and spa.
The colour palette and fabric used around the house creates a mood that is luxurious without being distant. Across all floors, including the pool room, gym, dining and work areas, a collection of over 100 artworks from local Hong Kong artists — a mixture of emerging artists and famous artists like Lee Kit and Tsang Kin Wah — sits on display as a celebration of the local art scene. To Jones, there is certainly a parallel between art and architectural design. And it is properties like these that welcome the “passionate, deskless strivers”, who, ultimately, are the heart of every SOHO House. “The appeal is always in the people,” reveals Jones. “You come here and you meet people you relate to; we want our members to interact with each other, help each other and work together.” While the demographic seems infinitely large for one to join SOHO House as a member, Jones gave insight to their strict procedure in picking the people they eventually admit as members. “It’s all in the spirit,” he says, instead of the price point, which was supposedly the draw of membership clubs in the past.
The brasserie of SOHO House.
Locally inspired food and drinks gives traditional dishes a contemporary spin.
With that said, Jones describes the unique characteristic of SOHO House to be something non-tangible: a feeling. “I think if you walk into any of our houses blindfolded, without looking at the décor, you’d know that you’re in a SOHO House. It’s the DNA and the spirit,” he says. Which absolutely explains how each SOHO House, wherever they are located around the world, heavily taps into its own local culture but still manages to remain unmistakably SOHO.
Today, despite the rise and fall of trends in membership clubs, SOHO House has kept its feet on the ground with an ever-expanding portfolio. “I don’t take note of trends,” Jones says, “we just want to expand our houses globally, so it feels like you have a home in every part of the world.”
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