What prompted you to co-found The Modern House?
A: In 2004, in my role as Architecture & Design Editor at Wallpaper magazine, I went to Florida to write a piece on a real-estate agency specialising in the sale of mid-century modern homes. It sparked an idea and upon my return, I phoned Matt, a Senior Editor at The World of Interiors magazine and a good friend, and proposed the idea of a design-led estate agency in the UK. The following year, we won our inaugural instruction: Six Pillars in Dulwich, designed by Valentine Harding, a partner at Tecton. It happened to be one of the finest early Modern Movement houses in Britain. The home received unprecedented press coverage all over the world, and the phone started to ring. This year we turned fifteen. We are fortunate to have become a team of 31 permanent members of staff, plus many more freelance photographers, viewings coordinators and researchers.
Why do you think that delicate blend of editorial, lifestyle and commerce work so well?
M: Beyond the sales listings, we spend a huge amount of time trying to inspire people, as we believe that a well-designed home can add a tremendous amount of value to life and improve wellbeing and health. Our Journal, Instagram account, podcast and YouTube channel are all about inspiring people outside the period of a transaction – after all, most of us don’t move home that often. While we earn our living from sales, our passion is good design, and this is what we want to share with people. Another key is that we set the company up in a way that was familiar to us. Coming from editorial backgrounds, we asked our friends, who were photographers, to shoot the houses in a beautiful way. We would then go to the library to do some historical research on the home and architect, giving the listing a bit more of a provenance. A home is usually someone’s biggest financial asset, so it should be represented in the right light.
How do you think your business has shaken up the world of estate agency?
A: When we began, a lot of people would say, ‘I really love this house but it’s just a little bit too risky for me to drop my life savings into; I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to sell it again.’ That’s completely changed now. Well-designed places always rise to the top.
M: The traditional model for an estate agency is to open a branch on a high street and dominate that area. Our model is different. We focus on well-designed homes in all locations and price ranges. It’s not a typology that’s geographically specific. If you’re looking for a house in a precise postcode, you can find that easily on other platforms, but if you’re more flexible about your location requirements and you want to be inspired by your living space, it’s actually much harder to find the right tool – and that’s where we come in.
What do you think the concept of ‘home’ means to us today?
A: To quote John Turner, “housing is not a noun, housing is a verb.” We like to treat houses as continually evolving, constantly changing in terms of people and experiences. It’s not so much about the fabric of the building, but the way it’s inhabited, the way that someone curates their possessions within that space, the way they entertain inside it.
M: Buying a house is a hugely emotional decision. It might be the way that the kitchen opens seamlessly onto the garden, prompting visions of endless summer barbecues or the placement of an Eames lounge chair in front of an open fire. It might be the idea of winter nights spent hunkering down with a sheepskin. It’s the promise of a new way of living – a way that places human experience at the centre of everything. It’s about the positive impact of design on wellbeing.
What kind of buildings especially appeal to you, and why?
A: The Barbican Estate, just because we’ll never see anything like it again. The sheer scale and virtuosity of it, the purity of vision, the ambition and execution combined with where it’s located is just remarkable. Each time I go there, it blows me away.
M: If I look back at the houses I have lived in over the years, there has been a huge contrast. We’ve lived in a Georgian townhouse in Canonbury, a 1960s home in Highgate and now a much more traditional Victorian building. The most important thing for me is that a home displays the five timeless elements of good design: space, light, materials, nature and curation. We’ve just signed a book deal with Penguin Life to publish our “rules for living” – a book about the joy of a well-designed home, which explored these five principles. We even have a print magazine in the pipeline. We don’t like to stand still, so we are always working on something new.
Words by Emma J Page