Harry Harris is the Managing Director of SUSD, the co-founder, developer and investor behind the newly opened luxury project The Curtain, a hotel, restaurant, live music venue and members’ club in London’s creative Shoreditch neighbourhood and, in the financial district of the City of London, the Devonshire Club, a private members’ club with bars, lounges, a brasserie, gardens, a wellness centre and 68 bedrooms that opened in 2016. With over 25 years’ experience delivering multi-million-pound hotel schemes and complex real estate projects in and around London, Mr. Harris has developed a systematic, locally-sensitive and financially-sound approach that has seen his projects through from initial design to successful launch and management. As a champion of convergence and hybrid properties, Harry is passionate about the growth in co-working and co-living spaces within the luxury hospitality market.
Inspirationist caught up with the man at the forefront of the hybrid between boutique hotels and private members’ clubs in order to discover more about his unusual, multifaceted role as a dealmaker, owner and architect/design professional.
INSPIRATIONIST: Where are you from and where do you live now?
Harry Harris: I grew up in the Sussex countryside by the sea, but I’ve lived in Notting Hill in West London for 30 years now and I love it.
I: What’s your background?
H.H.: I came from a working-class family: my father was a merchant navy seaman and my mother was a hairdresser from Glasgow. When my father wasn’t at sea, he was renovating old properties. I used to help him in my early teens and I think this is what inspired me to study architecture.
I: How did you fall in love with architecture?
H.H.: I left school at 16 with no qualifications but a passion for technical drawing. I started working in an architect’s office doing just this and enjoyed it so much that I went to night school and studied for the qualifications necessary to enrol in the Polytechnic of Central London’s architecture course.
I: When and why did you decide to explore the link between architecture and development?
H.H.: Immediately after graduating, I designed and built two bars for friends and realised that I could bring property development and architecture together under one company.
These new generation hybrids are bringing an exciting component to the architectural and design scene as co-living and working spaces with a lively cultural life.
I: What do hybrids between boutique hotels and private members’ clubs like The Curtain and the Devonshire Club bring new to the existing architectural scene? Why the association?
H.H.: Private members’ clubs that offer guestrooms to their members are not new. Historically, traditional clubs in central London offered their members a cost-effective way to stay in the city during the working week, away from their provincial homes. As the new generations of workers and entrepreneurs become more and more mobile, this service is growing in popularity, giving us greater scope to play with the existing model and providing members with something new.
With both Devonshire Club and The Curtain, we wanted to curate spaces and services that would foster a community, feel relevant to their immediate locations and provide members with everything that they needed – from rooms, restaurants, bars, gyms and spas, to co-working spaces and cultural programmes – under one roof. These new generation hybrids are bringing an exciting component to the architectural and design scene as co-living and working spaces with a lively cultural life. They are creating new hubs with the power to revitalise buildings and sites that might not stack up as a standalone hotel, restaurant or office space.
I: Where do you spend most of your time, and what does a typical day for you entail?
H.H.: I spend a good deal of time zipping around London on my classic Vespa PX, visiting projects and meeting with funders; it brings a sense of joy to what would otherwise be a lot of dull commuting. When I’m not dashing between meetings, I’m in the office reviewing designs, working on planning applications and solving construction issues on any of the many projects under management.
I: How do you combine and manage your unusual, multifaceted roles as a dealmaker, owner and architect/design professional?
H.H.: SUSD takes on a number of different roles on all of our projects from gaining planning permission and sourcing funding to acting as lead architect and providing on-site project management. My architectural training gives me a very strong foundation from which to manage construction projects whilst my many years of acting as principal on multi-million-pound development projects mean that I have a wealth of experience in structuring funding and managing budgets for complex construction projects. As finance management and design information represent the greatest risks on any development project, my knowledge of both means that we are very well placed to support our clients and achieve project goals.
There’s something wonderful about watching a design being executed well on-site by skilled craftspeople who take pride in what they’re doing.
I: What is your favourite part of your job?
H.H.: It’s actually the construction process that I enjoy the most. There’s something wonderful about watching a design being executed well on-site by skilled craftspeople who take pride in what they’re doing. As I tend to be involved from the very start of a project, there is a huge sense of accomplishment and joy when I am able to hand these completed buildings over.
My job is really only about one thing – communication.
I: Can you describe an evolution in your work from when you began until today?
H.H.: My job is really only about one thing – communication. Drawings and designs communicate our ideas; specifications communicate quality and performance; and communicating budget performance to investors is a skill that is critical to our success. My job, as I see it, therefore hasn’t changed, however my methods have evolved and, as I’ve gained experience, I’ve become a better communicator.
I: Which of your projects is your personal favourite and why?
H.H.: I would probably have to say the Devonshire Club. For me, it represents the coming together of many ideas that we had been working on for a long time and shows what the SUSD team is capable of achieving.
I: How do you unwind?
H.H.: I grew up next to the sea and the love of it has never left me. I still surf (badly) and I take my family to the beach whenever I get the chance.
I: What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?
H.H.: I’m a raver at heart and sadly love a good dance to any old school funk!
I: What is your favourite colour?
H.H.: Purple or gold.