Beguiling Would-be Buyers With The Showroom

The New York Times

September, 2016

It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when buyers of new properties had only bare walls, a brief list of specifications and imagination to help them make their choice. No more. Now there is the showroom. Expensively decorated and fully equipped, including the kitchen sink, the beds, wine glasses, books and even bathroom lotions, it proclaims: This is your taste, these are your aspirations, this is the home for you.

Peter Morley, a public relations and marketing expert in London, explains: “The show house arrived during the U.K. property boom of the 1980s and with the growth in buying off-plan, with only a layout to go on.

“When the market went global and appealed to wealthy foreigners buying their multimillion-pound homes in London, the volume builders also started selling off-plan. They quickly realized that they, too, needed show homes to improve their marketing and were prepared to spend thousands of pounds on interior designers.”

What contrivances are conjured up to appeal to a specific market? And what about the buyers who pay lock, stock and Jo Malone lotions for the entire contents on display?

The kitchen of 67 Chester Square in London is fitted with Gaggenau appliances because, it is said, they are the choice of the professional chef.

It’s that same whiff of quality that greets the visitor to 67 Chester Square, an imposing terraced house in the Belgravia district of London, which is on the market at 33 million pounds, or $43.8 million.

“We use Jo Malone products, partly because people can relate to it,” said Benjamin Samuels, who runs the London-based property company Wilben with his twin brother, William. “It is a quintessentially English brand unlike, say, Acqua di Parma, which might be stronger and more expensive but comes bottled in bold, modern colors and would not look right here.”

Everything about Chester Square reflects the fact that it is a quintessentially English address — former prime minister Margaret Thatcher lived at No.73 — and because it is of historic and architectural value the developers have had to decorate it in a way that chimes in with the original 19th-century cornices, architraves, banisters and fireplaces.

“Buyers do not want a place like this to look brand new with lots of bling and glass,” said Benjamin Samuels, who with his brother relies on his own style skills rather than using an interior designer. “That’s why we have opted for paneling in dark wood and used Italian craftsmanship and various types of marble.”

In the living room, where a £10,000 chandelier glitters above sofas with chic piping and cushions that cost £8,000 to £9,000, volumes of Dickens (again) complement modish books on Dior and Vogue. The kitchen has Gaggenau ranges rather than perfectly serviceable brands such as Smeg or Siemens, because, says Mr. Samuels, they are the choice of the professional chef.

Benjamin Samuels is confident that the buyer will be happy to spend about £300,000 to snap up everything on display, right down to the bathroom towels, the gold-rimmed plates and the bronze stork candle sticks.

67 Chester Square, Belgravia - bedroom

And that litmus test, the lotion? Gardenia and White Peach by Pecksniff’s, a midmarket brand that is “not so flashy that buyers will think the property is unobtainable.”

As Mr. Morley, the marketing expert, said: “Show homes do help create an image and can reach out to a particular target market. Many of them appeal to people who have acquired lots of money quickly and don’t have the time to furnish a place themselves.

“Maybe, too, some don’t have the taste to go with the money.”

View the article on the New York Times website

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