RedBook: your architect and interior design matchmakers

Words by
Flora Drummond-Smith

10th April 2018

When renovating a house, RedBook will partner you with the right experts to help you launch your project at speed and turn your home into your perfect palace

Whether it’s a sky-high London penthouse or a country manor house with all its quirks, how do you make the house you always wanted into your dream home? Without a team of architects, interior designers, project managers or planning consultants to hand, chances are your vision may not materialise as you wish, or even at all. So how do you find that perfect team to make your dreams a reality?

To steer you through this potential minefield, there is a guru on hand in the form of Sandy Mitchell, whose specialist consultancy RedBook takes the guesswork and risk out of finding the right people for your project.

“Property owners with projects in London and in the country face so many challenges,” says Mitchell, who set up the agency in 2011, a few years after facing his own challenges while restoring and renovating his derelict 13th-century, Grade II-listed manor house in Berkshire. Aside from well-meaning advice and recommendations from friends, he realised there was nothing that allowed him to judge how one suggestion compared to another, or which professional might better suit his needs.

“That was when I realised there needs to be a real expert helping people launch their projects with the best possible team,” says Mitchell, whose own design credentials were honed during his time as a deputy editor of Country Life, editor on The Telegraph newspaper and design-show television presenter.

With the aim of helping people get their projects off the ground in an expeditious, knowledgeable and transparent way, Mitchell set about compiling a definitive portfolio of the best architects, interior designers and landscape designers. Each has been scrutinised by RedBook’s advisory board – which comprises leading authorities in architecture, interior design, garden design, conservation architecture and listed buildings – before being rigorously interviewed and assessed by Mitchell and his team. Matching clients with the right professional for a project is not simply a case of picking the obvious contenders, but is a much more nuanced process, says Mitchell. Each candidate for a project is individually scored and analysed according to key criteria, such as the type of property, the clients’ stylistic preferences and what sort of refurbishment they want. “It gets quite geeky,” he confesses. “We do it all on spreadsheets in order to be really precise and take risk out of the equation.

London loft renovation

However, the factor that makes the difference between someone creating their own vision and enjoying the whole process, and having an unhappy project with an uncertain outcome is chemistry, Mitchell explains. “Chemistry is hugely important,” he says. “You need someone who is intuitively empathetic with a client and project.”

Chemistry is important. You need someone who is intuitively empathetic with a project

To ensure they find the right person for the job, Mitchell and his team meet clients at their homes for a detailed conversation about what they actually want to achieve. “We find out all about them: how they really like to live, if they have a family, what the house will be used for and, importantly, what sort of people they enjoy working with. For example, we had one younger client who wanted their new house to be built by an architect at the end of their career, as they felt they would give it more passion. All these criteria go into the mix before we identify who is most appropriate for the job,” says Mitchell.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of any refurbishment, though, is abiding by the rules, particularly for listed buildings. But with luminaries on the advisory board including Dr Simon Thurley — who ran English Heritage for 13 years — RedBook’s clients are able to get swift feedback on whether a design is feasible. With London property, in particular, being measured in value both in square footage and in the quality of its finish, knowing how to work the listing rules is quite a trick to have in the book.

It was this particular service that ensured the smooth running of a recent refurbishment, which saw a client renovate a listed artist’s studio that had once belonged to a famous sculptor. “The client had a big art collection and wanted to create a funky home to show art in a contemporary and exciting way, but without contravening listing laws. So, on a technical point, they needed a team with  huge experience of listed-buildings, which we could provide,” Mitchell explains.

Although higher stamp duties coupled with the hefty cost of moving — as well as the uncertainty caused by Brexit — have driven the trend for refurbishing properties in London, it has also extended to the countryside, where the demand for refurbishing work on high-end homes has also rocketed. “People are thinking about how they can add value to their existing homes,” adds Mitchell. “They are looking at how their homes can be revamped to suit them better.”

“We also hear a lot from clients who have inherited houses that they love to bits, but want, above all, to make them dramatically different from how their parents had them,” he continues. “They are often really adventurous and are looking to make these houses come alive for the way they live now.”

Enabling modern ways of living is a big factor in RedBook’s recent refurbishment projects, with clients looking at ways to improve the flow and functionality of their homes. Often this extends to dissolving barriers and opening up spaces to create a more harmonious home. “There is a general increase in the comfort and style in which we now live,” says Mitchell. “That’s partly down to how much we now travel. Our experiences of hotels, in particular, set expectations of how our homes should function and feel.”

Some projects, however, have had rather more individual requests. One client requested an outdoor meditation suite, while another tasked RedBook with finding the right team to create a winery in their grounds, and another wanted their entire basement to be a ballroom, dining room and cellar.

“We have helped clients do some amazing things, such as create natural swimming pools that are filtered by reed beds, with giant carp and goldfish in to swim among,” says Mitchell.

“When you have the right team in place, you’re going to enjoy the project and get exactly what you want from it.”