This month we sit with Andrew Paulson, Partner at Lees Associates, one of London's premium boutique architecture and interior design firms. Andrew specialises in prime listed, refurbishment and new-build residential projects, both in London and further afield. Today he tells us a little bit more about his practice, gives us his top tips for working with an architect and tells us what it is like working in London in some of its most exclusive residences.
Let’s start from the very beginning, tell us a little bit about yourself and Lees Associates?
The practice was established by John Lees in 1981 as a high-end-specialist firm of Architects. From its inception the practice has specialised in the high-end market across a range of sectors including hospitality, retail and commercial, but our primary focus has always been on residential. I myself joined the team in 2003 as a fresh-faced graduate and 20 years later I am still here! I became an Associate in 2006 and, when the eponymous Mr. Lees retired in 2011, I bought him out. Since then, working alongside my business partner, Kathryn Archer, we have continued to build on the foundations laid over the previous decades to create one of London’s premium design and delivery practices.
How do you define your architectural approach?
Our approach is tailored to every project. In the prime and super-prime London market in which we operate, no two clients and no two projects are alike. We pride ourselves on adapting our services to suit the client’s specific needs for their project, working in harmony with any other consultants and advisors that they might have already employed. We have never had a ‘house-style’. While the nature of many of our projects being prime central London listed properties inevitably results in a more traditional approach, we are equally comfortable working in a contemporary style, such as at a new-build development we are currently overseeing in Jersey, which aims to set a new benchmark in quality and luxury for the island.
Fundamentally, we take the time to get to know our clients and how they live. Only then can we respond to their project brief and design and deliver a home tailored to their needs. Most of our clients are extremely time-poor, so our approach focuses on extracting as much detail and value from our time with them as possible. We provide a very personal service and we can be trusted to follow through on our promises. If there is one thing more than anything else we do to earn that trust, I would say it is simply our responsiveness: we are always there for our clients and we always respond promptly, if not immediately.
What type of projects does Lees Associates specialise in? What type of services do you offer to your clients?
If we have a particular specialism, it is simply Prime Central London. Right now, that means a wide variety of mainly residential projects: renovating, restoring, extending, developing and optimising existing buildings. While the value of the contracts we work on are often very high, the value they add to the properties is always higher, often a lot higher! Whether a client is looking to develop and resell immediately or live in it for the next 15 years, they understandably always want to know they will see a good return on their investment and ultimately that is our principal responsibility.
Some clients are very experienced in developing or renovating property – in this case we fit our services to what they already know they need. For other clients it is an entirely new experience – in these cases we adopt a more comprehensive approach, helping to guide the client through the process and building a team of top-rate specialists to design and deliver it for them alongside us.
What would you recommend to customers who want to work with an architect to build or renovate their home?
It always helps us at the start of a project if the client already has a good idea of what they want to achieve from the project. So as detailed a brief as possible is a great start! That doesn’t have to be a conventional brief; a series of defined objectives is often even better. Once we have an understanding of what the client wants to achieve we can start to advise on its feasibility in relation to matters like planning and listed building consent, licences to alter, buildability and budget. From that we can develop a strategy for the project that takes it from design concept, through construction to completion, in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible.
The other really useful tool for us is a Pinterest board full of examples of things they like (and don’t like). There is no simpler way for us to get under their skin and really understand what pushes their buttons. It always speeds up the process, particularly during the early concept stages.
Tell us a little but more about your new surveying service, how did it come about?
This is something we’re really excited about. We launched LA Surveys three years ago as a reaction to the frequent difficulties we were having with measured surveys from third parties. Every successful construction project relies on an accurate initial measured survey; without one the project is doomed from the start! Our mission is to provide fast, reliable 3D measured surveys, carried out with the rigour and expertise that only Architects can provide. And that’s what makes us unique: all of our surveys are carried out by members of our team with at least a post-graduate degree in architecture. They understand buildings and construction and they know what an Architect needs from a survey. And as a result we have been appointed on a huge range of amazing survey projects by colleagues from other areas of the industry who need a survey they know they can absolutely rely on. And what’s more, if we are appointed as the Architect on a project that we have surveyed, we refund the cost of building the 3D ‘BIM’ model, so valuable is it to us to know from the outset that we can rely on it implicitly. It really is a win-win! We recently launched its dedicated website and brochure and have been overwhelmed with the positive feedback.
So much of your work is based in London. Architecturally, what emotions does the city stir in you?
It is a genuine privilege to practise architecture in London, one we have never taken for granted. The wealth of spectacular properties, both historic and contemporary, that London benefits from is incredible and I genuinely believe positions it as the best city in the world to live and work in. As a result, it attracts some of the brightest and wealthiest talent in the world to both live and invest in it – and these are the people who keep us in business! No matter what the economic climate, there are always people wanting to invest in premium London property, in the knowledge that there are few safer places to do so. We have ridden through a number of global recessions in our over 40 years in business, always coming out stronger. This is what makes London so special: a beautiful global city with a rich heritage and an exciting future. Where else would anybody want to be?!
Which of your previous projects has been a career highlight so far?
To have personally worked on two of the four penthouses at One Hyde Park has been a particular highlight for me. To be entrusted with the responsibility to oversee the delivery of some of the most valuable real estate in the world is a real privilege that I will never take for granted.
At the moment, we are working on a spectacular home in Chelsea, new-build developments in Jersey and Surrey, and we are on-site with various listed renovations including in Belgravia, Shad Thames and a fairy-tale home in Little Venice, not to mention a project in Harrods, for whom we have worked for 18 years now.
What do you have in the pipeline for this year?
More of the same! We always have a steady supply of Prime Central London renovation projects, referred to us by long-term collaborators who know we can be trusted to deliver each and every time. Aside from that, another new-build house in Surrey looks like it’s going to be an interesting and rewarding one, and a listed commercial refurbishment opposite our office has got us rather excited too!