Alex Michelinco-founded the London-based real estate developer Finchatton in 2001. Since then, the company has designed, managed and financed more than 60 major development projects all over the world and 75 private commissions, with locations spanning the U.K., France, the U.S., Switzerland, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
Mr. Michelin, 44, has a hand in both the development side and interior design of the company’s projects. Finchatton’s latest flagship development was Twenty Grosvenor Square, the world’s first standalone Four Seasons Private Residences, built on the site of the former U.S. Naval Headquarters in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.
Up next is the £1.5 billion (US$1.97 billion) redevelopment of the former Whiteleys shopping center in West London, which was London’s first department store. Designed by Foster + Partners, the project, expected to be completed in 2023, will include 153 high-end homes; London’s first Six Senses hotel with 110 rooms; 20 new stores and restaurants; and a series of large-scale public spaces.
We caught up with Mr. Michelin to discuss the long-term appeal of cities like London and New York, amenities of the future, and more.
Mansion Global: Where have you been spending quarantine?
Alex Michelin: I’ve been very fortunate to rent a little cottage in the Surrey Hills. We’ve got views of the rolling hills. I’ve been going back to London regularly, though.
MG: How has Covid affected business thus far?
AM: There was a temporary slowdown, and people not out shopping for things they don’t really need. Especially luxury. Since we’re a luxury good, there’s been a slight reduction in demand. Fewer people are traveling to London, so that’s had an impact on demand.
But it’s by no means completely stopped.
We saw £56 million in sales in the six weeks after lockdown. There was this pent-up demand. Yes, it’s lower in terms of viewing numbers out there and people buying, but business has not stopped and eventually this will pass. If you look at the Spanish Flu or Ebola, these things pass, and we learn how to deal with them. I supposed that’s why the stock market has rebounded. Real estate is still a strong long-term investment.
MG: Do you think people will put a greater value on their homes in a post-Coronavirus world?
AM: One of the Twenty Grosvenor Square buyers bought there because he had been in another London flat, and it didn’t have the amenities—the garden, the pool, servicing by Four Seasons. Those are things The Whiteley will also have. At Grosvenor Square, the gym is fully sanitized, the pool is limited to one person at a time. Most of the flights have terraces. I actually think we’re going to see huge shifts in demand for real estate, and especially for real estate with amenities.
MG: Do you expect it to have long-lasting effects on people’s design tastes, what they’re looking for in a home?
AM: Outside space has become absolutely imperative. People want gyms. That’s a trend that’s been there for about a decade, but now people want spaces in their homes to work out or do yoga. Also the fact that people are commuting less means you don’t need as small an apartment in the city center. Instead you may want a larger one a little further out.
I don’t think cities are going to decline as some people say. It will have an impact, sure, but there’s a new equilibrium.
MG: Do you expect fewer international buyers in London?
AM: I think they will return. When someone makes £100 million a year, they want a home in London. As their wealth grows, people want to have homes in fantastic cities like New York and London. There are restaurants, theaters, business opportunities, schooling. The fundamentals don’t change. London will continue to be one of the top cities in the world.
We’re not seeing people put their for-sale signs up, but sure, in the short term it’s taking longer to sell homes in the city. In medium to long-term London and New York will survive and thrive.
MG: Describe your dream property.
AM: As a residential developer, my dream property is having everything in the house perfect for me. That’s how we’ve tried to define luxury in our properties. I’m a lefty, so making sure my bedside light is on the right side and fits me is a luxury. My kitchen counter is the right height for me.
It’s obviously about the best materials, finest quality aesthetics, et cetera, but what makes it luxury is that it’s made for you. You choose the firmness of the mattress, that the pillow is right. You’re sleeping and eating the way you want to.
MG: What does the word “luxury” mean to you in terms of real estate?
AM: It gives you a lifestyle that’s better than average. Best leathers, the best timber, best marble.
But even more so, for me, now, it’s about service. Getting a massage downstairs, going to a private gym, parking your car in complete security in your building, calling a concierge and asking them to drop off your dry cleaning. In today’s hectic world, the true luxury is time. So anything in your house and home that can give you back time and peace, that’s a real luxury.
MG: How do you pull off a modern feel for homes that are heritage, the way many are in London?
AM: We’re blessed in London because we have such fabulous architecture, but the flip side of it is we can’t just knock down buildings. But it’s something we at Finchatton pride ourselves on.
You take the best elements of that historical facade, and then you remove what’s not fit for use—floors that are rotten, joists that are worn. We take out the old, inefficient plumbing that has a high carbon footprint, and then you get the best of both worlds—the best broadband, Wi-Fi, the best kitchen.
MG: Which amenities are most popular now, and which do you expect to grow in terms of demand?
AM: Outdoor space, gyms and home offices are all very important.
At The Whiteley we’re making sure you have the fastest broadband available in the U.K.
But we also think your wellness is important—beyond the gym, The Whiteley will have spa and massage rooms, a meditation room, music room.
And we’re also planning to focus on childcare. At The Whiteley, there’s a huge soft-play area. It gives children a place to go and play. We really want to attract families, so we’ve made that front and center.