St George PLC has been developing in and around London for over 25 years. They were the first company to proactively involve the community in their plans for creating places where people can live, work and play. Luxury Topping interviewed the Chairman of St George, Greg Fry, for an insight into the company.
From the very start, you put everyone who came into contact with St George at the very heart of your business. What impact did this have?
We wanted to create places where people would enjoy living, working and relaxing. Looking back, this was an innovative way to look at development. We talked to the community and arranged regular tours for planners and anyone who had an interest in what was happening in their neighbourhood. We wanted to attract the best commercial operators to the development and so we had to understand mixed tenure and how residential purchasers could exist alongside commercial operators who needed to attract customers.
In The Tower at St George Wharf, St George created one of London’s tallest residential buildings. Despite a number of critics from the architectural world, The Tower was a best seller with the buyers. Why do you think that was?
Architecture is always subjective. When we developed the Tower at St George Wharf nobody had built a 50 storey residential tower in London. We started with a blank canvas. The first thing we did was to look at the profile of our customers and what they wanted in a home. We discovered that they wanted something akin to hotel living with a spa, swimming pool, library, business club lounge, and most importantly, impeccable services with a concierge and valet parking. We were one of the first to offer these services for our earlier schemes and took this to a new level at The Tower. The Tower had impeccable panoramic views down the river and uninterrupted views of Parliament and beyond. Buyers loved it.
St George has always tried to give purchasers something different. Can you elaborate on the unique features included in your developments?
We wanted to redefine the concept of 21st Century Living. We worked out what could be done to give our apartments the edge and produced schemes that were elegant with timeless designs.
We wanted to generate true mixed tenure developments that were vibrant communities in their own right. Because of this, we became the innovators of on-site facilities, including wine bars, cafes and offices in our developments. As an example, our Putney Wharf scheme had a Mediterranean-style food courtyard with brands such as Carluccio’s.
You have never cut corners with your selection of interior designers and the specification given to them. Do you think it is important to use the very best?
Cutting edge property development needs the same level of sophisticated thinking as fashion to create a lifestyle which is not only sustainable but also liveable. We wanted special interior designers with flair and an understanding of our customer profile, which is why we have used designers such as Karen Howes and Tara Bernerd. It is Tara’s cross fertilisation across a wide variety of property types such as hotels and international residences, which adds the extra ‘zing’ to our developments. Keith Hobbs of United Designers sums up the St George ethos, “when you get the classical proportions of space right it will stand the test of time”. Trends in interior design will come and go, but architecture has to be timeless.
Most of our purchasers are well travelled; they see and experience different ways of life. We create homes with exceptionally high levels of dedicated services through our concierge and management services, designed to help people to enjoy London’s fast pace whilst offering sanctuary and security in their homes.
Outside Space has always been part of the St George signature. Some of your apartments have the biggest balconies and terraces going. Why is this so important for St George?
At Imperial Wharf we produced a 10-acre sensory riverside public park, the first to be completed in London for many years. We planted 109 trees and over 35,000 plants. This is what is needed to give a scheme longevity and to transform it into a true community where people want to live and work. We continue to use award-winning designers at Chelsea Creek to design and implement gardens that enhance our developments. We also like to commission sculptures so our gardens have a focal point for the community. We provide fully landscaped terraces for our penthouses because people love outdoor space. Many of the penthouses are designed to have a seamless flow from the interior to exterior areas.
Recently a number of our top British brands visited your Fulham Reach scheme and were astounded by the amenities included in your development. Why did you decide to include a large wine room for residents?
We identified a growing interest in fine wine among our residents, so that’s something we looked to provide for. So – along with a golf simulator, cinema and spa, we now have a wine room. The concept is a great success. We also included a private wine room in one of the penthouses, which ended up being sold to a family that doesn’t drink wine. We did offer to take it out, but they wanted to keep it for the re-sale value.
Finally, you have built some of the most expensive and beautiful apartments in London, which could easily be transported to New York, Hong Kong or Sydney. But, you have also made it possible for average Londoners to share the St George experience, offering help for people climbing the housing ladder. What assistance do you provide?
Our developments are mixed use and mixed tenure so we provide a number of homes for first or second time buyers in addition to statutory affordable housing. In terms of assistance, we have offered Help to Buy and also our Discount Market Sale initiative where homes are sold to local people at significant discounts to local values enabling them to get on the housing ladder. As you can imagine, this package is extremely popular.