Throughout the 20th century, from apartment blocks in New York to Hong Kong, the concept of a concierge essentially involved a uniformed someone being on hand to take parcels and messages while owners were out of the building. This centurys boom of the super richand their penchant for acquiring boltholes around the globehas led to something of a reinvention of the concept.
The demand for an army of people to look after their every whim in a pressurised environment has unleashed a flurry of bar-raising in the property world with projects in super-prime markets busy up-speccing their developments in order to keep ahead of the competition. Not only is close attention being paid to build details, but a new market has been created where buyers are being catered for needs they never realised they had.
London-based Quintessentially was one of the first to offer membership to a lifestyle club that offered services from holding copies of members house keys to contesting parking tickets and ensuring fridges are stocked with fresh milk when clients return home from abroad. Lucy Russell, head of Quintessentiallys property arm, puts the growth in supply and demand for such services down to the fact that time is now the greatest luxury. The typical 9am to 5pm office hours have been replaced with both international meetings and longer hours, giving our clients less time for their personal life.
The days of arriving home and expecting the front door to be opened has been replaced with clients expecting the concierge to book dinner, organise a babysitter and arrange a facial.
In many instances, the concierge services offered by the most expensive end of the property spectrum are akin to what you might expect from a five-star hotel only served at your own home. One assumes that the buyers of these properties travel so much and in such style that they slip seamlessly between the two. Although the idea of replacing porters with all-purpose concierges is firmly American, London has been busy playing catch-up and the city now littered with properties offering first-class services.
Alex Michelin, the co-founder of Finchatton, which is developing 63, Eaton Square, a townhouse to be marketed later this year at £30 million, believes that the Grosvenor concierges are one of the squares best-kept secrets and another reason why Eaton Square is Londons most prestigious address. Those who have been pampered by others might quibble, as the services dont extend much beyond helping with shopping bags and buying weekend papers.
Others are prepared to go a country mile to accommodate the requests of their clients. Brahm is known primarily for its interior-design projects, but for its clients, it offers an exclusive lifestyle-management service, including booking restaurants, sourcing art, antiques and rare vintages, and anything as long as it falls into the companys ethos of connoisseurs of exceptional taste. Lucy Powles, head of Brahm, has the attitude that, for her clients, everything is possible. Weve had requests from buying an entire London wardrobe for one client to being told by another that they plan to turn up at their new house with a toothbrush, and could we look after the rest. They expect a high level of service and, really, for them theres no such word as no.
The Candy brothers have honed their concierge services, and some expect those arranged (by the Mandarin Oriental for the owners of apartments in One Hyde Park) to be the best in London. Until, one presumes, the Chelsea Barracks development trumps them all.
The list of concierge services on hand at Mayfairs 47 Park Street is exceptional. Londons first premium-end fractional ownership club, which has attracted nearly 300 members, offers 21 nights a year from £106,000 (plus £5,000 annual maintenance fee). The staff ratio is 1:1, room service is 24-hour, theres an in-house florist, a private entrance to Le Gavroche (plus insuite catering for intimate dinner parties) and premium access to partner businesses, including the exclusive business club, Pasley-Tylers 42 Berkeley Square.
Meanwhile, throughout the US, from Knight Franks new apartment building in LA The Century to Mayfair International Realtys Residences at the Ritz Carlton, Sarasota, nowadays it seems that no one considers a premium development without a concierge service element included.
James Price, partner of Knight Franks International Residential division, elaborates: Buyers of new-build developments expect a standard of service. Premium values are generated when the services are branded by a well-known hotel operator.
The company has a number of properties to launch early this summer, including one- and two-bedroom apartments in the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, as well as Kerzner Internationals (who own the One&Only brand) new residential project in Morocco, Mazagan. But I think the highest standard of concierge services will be available at a Bahamas project that were about to launch, says Mr Price. The Albany is a beach and golf resort whose clubhouse will strike a chord with fans of the last Bond move, Casino Royale; its where Daniel Craig was filmed stepping out of the water in those trunks.
Meanwhile, Savills insist their Altamer beach residences on the island of Anguilla offer the best concierge services of anywhere weve ever sold. They should know: theyve already catered for some pretty picky celebrity tastes. David Vaughan of Savills elaborates: On hand is a personal butler, chef, masseuse and beauty therapist, and anything can be organised from a party for 100 people, a Japanese banquet or an Argentine asado.
Owners of the Richard Hywell Evans-designed villas in the Seychelles are ferried to their homes from Mahé International Airport in an air-conditioned helicopterone of only a dozen in the world. And those who buy one of the $5 million-plus Soneva Kiri villas in Thailand have automatic access to the resorts private eight-seater Cessna for the hour transfer from Bangkok, as well as their own Man Friday on hand and in attendance during their stay.
Of course, none of this comes without a super-sized price tag: annual maintenance fees can range from £5,000 to £15,000. Others are charged on a pay-as-you- go basis. In this whirlwind game of kiss-chase, with concierges struggling to pre-empt their clients every desire, who knows where this could end? Already, the six-star concierge services in the new Barratt development in Londons Bishops Avenue are rumoured to be in the region of a stonking £36,000.
Requests from Never-Never Land
● £80,000 Cinderella Pumpkin bed
● Vaulted panic room for a security conscious Russian
● 800m indoor karting track in the basement of a country house
● Secret Batmans cage-style office behind library
● R2-D2 movie projector (£2,500) installation
● Lift to deliver car to door of New York penthouse
● Bejewelled doorknobs at £257 (Swarovski crystals) and £20,000 (diamonds)
● Room converted into a chessboard with life-size playing pieces
● In the market to find a private island where mosquitoes didnt breed
Source: Quintessentially Estates
Owners of the Soneva Kiri Villas in Thailand are ferried to Koh Kood in the resort’s own 8-seater Cessna where they are met by their Man Friday
Savills say the concierge services on hand at Altamer in Anguilla are some of the best of anywhere they’ve ever sold
Knight Frank are selling apartments in The Century LA where owners have the opportunity to use the on-site screening room to entertain guests
Knight Frank International 0207629 8171; www.knightfrank.co.uk/international
Savills International 0207016 3740; www.savills.co.uk/abroad
Mayfair International Realty 0870 112 7099; www.mayfairinternationalrealty.com
47, Park Street 020 7491 7282; www.youraddressinlondon.com
Quintessentially Estates 0845 224 3658; www.quintessentiallyestates.com
Brahm 0207235 3333; www.brahmproperty.com
Finchatton 0207591 2700; www.finchatton.co.uk
This article is published in Country Life International Summer 2008 out on May 21 and available to buy online