Christel and Alex Barron-Hough are behind STIL salon in London’s Notting Hill… but are now embarking on salon number two in Chelsea. Follow that journey exclusively with the couple… Part two: the fight to get inside to start the work…
The Exterior of the space before work began
We sat down with our architect and flushed out how we could make the space work for a us and a salon; we had never taken on or worked on something to this scale before. The store was previously a Stella McCartney retail store, but to be able to make the numbers work we needed substantial layout changes to maximise our revenue, and ultimately allow to us to pay the rent.
Previously Stella McCartney had used the basement for a small amount of retail, but mainly storage and office space. We needed it to feel as premium as the ground floor; we needed an additional eight stations and three backwash units downstairs. To make this space feel luxurious and premium we wanted to increase the ceiling heights, which required us digging down into the basement slab and foundations, removing a concrete staircase and recasting another staircase at the rear. Lots to do – but we were confident it could all be done and we’d be open by November. How hard could it be? Hmm, let’s see…
We thought we’d be starting works, but we didn’t realise the constant fight we would have on our hands. This was due to our plans consisting of some substantial structural changes to the iconic building.
Our landlord is the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, and initially the lease was delayed due to the amount of red tape and standard back and forth. The real hold up was the application of the ‘License to Alter’. This is a legal document that outlines what we would be doing to the building. Within the license there were some significant structural reports that our surveyor had to supply to ensure that the structural integrity of the building would remain intact. There are six levels of residential apartments above the store; so rightly so we needed to ensure that safety was paramount. This report alone was nearly 45 pages deep!
The trial pits being dug
Sadly we learned another lesson here. In order for our engineer to pull together the required calculations we needed to gain access and dig three trial pits into the basement slab. We requested that the landlord allow our main contractor access so that they could spend three days digging and carrying out exploratory works. The legal teams fought back and forth for almost a solid month to simply allow access.
For our team to gain that access we had to provide reams of paperwork, insurances, risk-assessments, method statements etc. We were also liable that should there be any reason that we either couldn’t or didn’t want to proceed, we needed to pay to get the unit back to its original state.
Time once again was running away with us, but we had access. The good news was that after the exploratory work our team was confident that we could proceed – if only the landlord would agree…
At this stage needed a full report from our structural surveyor that included detailed calculations and drawings to what we proposed would be the new footprint of our unit. But it wasn’t as easy as just submitting these plans the landlord needed further details from our architect which would all be submitted for review by an independent checking engineer.
There were lots of lengthy conversations between the engineers and at this stage we didn’t think that the project was going to go ahead, and we thought we would have to pay to fill in the three huge trial pits now in the basement. Financially we had spent an already fairly large sum of money on architects, surveyors, contractors, lawyers and it was looking like a non-starter with constant headaches and dead ends in front of us.
The inside of the space before work began
We were still in the same position with no clarity if this project was actually going to happen! We had lost our main contractor – he couldn’t keep waiting on us, we originally appointed him to start works in March. This put a lot of stress on us to find suitable replacement teams that would fit the budget. And by now the price of materials and labour had sky-rocketed due to Brexit, Covid-19 and general shortage of trades. Not only did we have the stress of this, we then had huge financial commitments to start replaying loans that we had taken out personally, as within our original business plan we would be open and trading in December 2021.
We decided with our solicitor to give an ultimatum. If we didn’t have an answer and definitive completion date including a sign off on the License to Alter, we would have no choice but to pull out. And it worked! Everyone started to wake up finally. But little did we know that this would still take us another six weeks with constant back and forth. It also included a sharp learning curve – we now discovered we had to pay stamp duty on this lease, yet another crippling blow to us and the budget. This was a real surprise to us as we haven’t paid this before on any commercial leases.
When we thought everything was done and dusted we were informed that to proceed, we had to agree to use the landlord’s chosen build control, even though we had already appointed our own building control team. If we didn’t accept this the landlord was not prepared to sign the lease…
We continued with daily calls to commercial agents, legal teams, surveyors and architects. There were certainly times that we thought this would never end because the fight was just too great and communication too fraught. But we were confident that the location was just too good to give up for STIL Chelsea. We finally completed on 17 November 2021!
If you want something badly enough then never give up; even when the odds are stacked against you!
Next time: Turning the plan into a reality