Brothers William and Benjamin Samuels went into business together when they were 15-year-old schoolboys, and started the property development company Wilben seven years later in 2009. Now 29, they have exchanged property sales for investors totalling over £60 million, with Ben working on the finance and acquisition side of the business and Will focusing on design and luxury interiors. Here, they talk exclusively to Beyond Bespoke about their biggest project to date, a 8,055 sq ft, seven-storey £29.5 million townhouse in Chester Square, Belgravia.
What was the brief for this project?
Our client had bought a 19th century townhouse on Chester Square in the heart of Belgravia. The house hadn’t been lived in for eight years and was being used as part office part storage, and was completely rundown. Originally the client wanted us to develop it as a home for him and his family, with a mix of formal and informal living and staff quarters in the basement; however, shortly after we started the client changed his mind and decided to develop it for private sale, so we amended our designs to appeal more to the open market. This included incorporating some fantastic luxury elements such as a home cinema, yoga studio and treatment room in the basement and amending the design of the upper floors and bedrooms.
We retained the formal/informal living element, rebuilding the mews house at the back as the informal family space, flowing through to the grand main house. We then constructed an atrium through the centre with a green planted wall to flood light into the deepest part of the house.
Can you describe the property?
I think it’s fair to say that the house is a good as it gets in terms of classic British sophistication, style and elegance. It has a perfect mix of contemporary, classic and heritage and epitomises the very top end of British interior design. The house includes interior detail such as the silk wallpaper, the art, the crystal chandelier in the living room, which was commissioned from Italy, and the restored original features such as the cornices, the fireplaces and staircase. It also has some amazing custom design and architectural features, such as the atrium with green planted wall (below) and an overflowing bath in the master suite.
What was the biggest challenge?
The sheer size of the project, as it was more than twice the size of anything we had worked on previously and working across seven floors is a challenge in itself. We had also never worked on that scale with a listed building, which required a great deal of sensitivity. We hired a specialist from France to restore the staircase and banister which were not permitted to alter in any way. The restoration side was a big thing for us as a whole; trying to incorporate the listed elements into a new build scheme and adapt the new designs to fit in with these features.
What are you most pleased with?
The project has been an achievement in so many ways; incorporating the modern design with the traditional elements as well as the atrium with green planted wall and the amount of light we have managed to get right down to the basement.
We are also pleased with the transition from formal to informal living. We rebuilt the original mews and excavated the basement making three levels; a double garage accessed from the rear, a bespoke Italian kitchen with professional chef’s appliances, a carved Italian marble breakfast bar and family dining area on the ground floor, and above a family media room with a fold back glass wall leading out onto a patio garden and across to the formal living room in the main house.
Anything you would change with hindsight?
Having finally designed the house for the open market, we are delighted with the end product and have had really great feedback. We are actually really happy the brief changed when it did, as it was soon enough for us the rework the designs and get the most out of the new brief; as well as giving us complete control over the design side of the project.
In addition some of the elements that we retained from the original brief enhanced the end result; for example our client wanted to transform the bathroom in the master suite into a wet room with an overflowing bath and five different thermostats to run different showers and jets at different temperatures. This was previously unheard of to us and is something that we will look at for future projects.
Client involvement: hands-on or hands-off?
When the client was proposing to live in the property we had lots of meetings to thrash out the designs, but once he changed his mind, he put his trust in us completely. I think this suited both parties perfectly as we were given free rein within the budget to design and develop the property as we saw fit for the open market and he was happy to let us do that.
How does your product differ from your competitors?
Our design is very luxurious but at the same time practical which means it works as a home. People can see themselves relaxing and living in the spaces we create. We also pride ourselves on our spatial planning and internal architecture, creating open plan, flowing living space that is perfectly suited to daily life.
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline for 2016?
Yes, we have a lot going on. We have a house in the Little Boltons, which is a full refurbishment with rear extension. We’re working on a large lateral flat in Pont Street. We have a project on Clareville Street, which is an interesting modern split-level new build with an internal winter garden with retractable glass sliding roof. We’re also developing two adjoining houses on Albert Bridge Road, to a Knightsbridge standard similar the Chester Square which hasn’t been done before in that area. As you can see there is a lot of diversity in terms of the projects we are working on at the moment, which makes this a very exciting year for us!