After Tamara’s lunch with property guru, Starck-partner and Caprice-dater John Hitchcox a few weeks back, the busiest man in property development agreed to have a chat with us about what his company, Yoo, is up to, what it’s like working with Philippe, and where he hangs out in New York – when he’s not building 650-acre Cotswolds quarry conversions, that is…
Tamara Hi John. It’s great to chat to someone so involved with contemporary design and development. You’ve got some very high-profile projects under your belt – among others, there’s the Jia hotels in Shanghai and Hong Kong, the Gramercy in New York, and now Yoo’s new Cotswolds village development, the Lakes – which have you enjoyed working on the most?
John All of them. I don’t have a particular favourite, I love all my projects because they are all different, diverse, creative and challenging in their own way. We have 30 projects on the including high rises such as a 72-storey building in Moscow that is about to get underway (I find vertical living intriguing), and then there’s the Lakes. All the projects are about building communities and it’s fascinating to discover how people live and how they recognise the value of their home.
Tamara 30 projects at once? It must be impossible to keep up with it all. Still, I suppose being business partners with someone like Philippe Starck must help. How would you describe your working relationship?
John It has evolved over time. We are very close friends. I only ever work with friends. There is no distinction for me between life and work and therefore I would much rather spend my life with now people I like. Every now and again that presents a problem and we deal with it. When we started we were in each other’s pockets – we went round the world three or four times a year together and after a while it was too much. We know everything about each other’s private lives but our roles are very distinct – there is no blurring. I find the project and put everything together and then he puts his flair and creativity into the design. Now we see each other every eight weeks. And when we see each other socially, we rarely talk about work.
Tamara To be involved in so many projects and to work in a way that’s so intimately tied up with design must take a lot of determination and creativity; who – or what – inspires you?
John I admire entrepreneurs in general. The most obvious is Nelson Mandela – the greatest man on the planet because he effected so much change through a mature and passive approach. On the design side, Frank Lloyd Wright was a great. I’ve become much warmer in my sense of design over time and I believe there’s a movement back to warmth – all the modern minimalism has been done.
Tamara We’re inclined to agree – clean lines are on the out, raggy edges are on the, er, in. At Mr & Mrs Smith, we’re definitely seeing a movement away from that kind of pristine sparsity – look at places like the Bowery, Blakes, or Gramercy Park, for starters. Anyhow, I don’t need to lecture you on design, your name is so closely associated with modern building developments, it’s hard to imagine the industry without you – however, if you weren’t an international property magnate, what would you be?
John A rock star – no, seriously – I play a lot of instruments and I have a lot of friends in the music industry. When I was a kid I wanted to be a lorry driver.
Tamara High hopes indeed. Well, music’s/long-distance haulage’s loss is property development’s gain. Leaving aside your own work for a moment, though – what’s your favourite hotel/guesthouse/B&B (that you haven’t worked on), and what makes it so great?
John My favourite hotel is owned by a friend of mine, André Balasz: The Mercer – I live there when I am in New York. I have a guitar, a bag and a bike they hold for me in the basement so they’re always there for me. I love the centre of Soho and my offices are round the corner. I love the hotel because it feels like a living room – every time I am there I bump into friends or I meet someone new and interesting.
Tamara We know what you mean – we’ve got a handful of Balasz hotels in the Mr & Mrs Smith collection (the Standard Hollywood, the Standard Downtown LA and the Standard Miami, since you ask), and they’re all fabulously stylish spots. So, what’s next on your holiday calendar?
John A villa holiday with friends.
Tamara Fantastic. I’m sure you’ll be checking out some of our top Smith & Friends self-catering stays, naturally – but who will you be taking with you? In a perfect world, who would be your ideal travel companion?
John My girlfriend Caprice.
To see more of John’s (and Philippe’s) work, and for a sneak peak at some of their exciting future projects, check out www.yoo.com.