January 14, 2011 10:05 pm

Happiness is a handsome new HQ

The simple reason for upping sticks is that after five years, we’ve outgrown our building – and perhaps the immediate neighbourhood

Happiness is returning to the office after a three-week absence (two weeks holiday and one week working) but knowing you’ll soon be vacating the space – for good. Worry not, I didn’t have a new year epiphany on the return flight from Seoul that would put me on a potentially life-changing career path – despite my reservations about London, I’m not relocating. And while I do find my rent extortionately high, I haven’t been evicted for being tardy with payments. The simple reason for upping sticks is that after five years, we’ve outgrown our building – and perhaps the immediate neighbourhood.

The original plan called for me and my colleagues to be installed in our new building on January 4 but, this being Britain, it was already clear back in early November that there was no way we were going to hit that deadline. It would be easy to take a swipe at the contractors for delays – but the timeline was already under stress due to the snail’s pace of the whole legal process. Having done property deals in many different countries, I’m amazed how long it takes to rent or buy a property in the UK and the general lack of urgency that surrounds the painful process. Nevertheless, in late November I was able to sign for our new building in the heart of Marylebone and set my colleagues Nicoletta and Jun loose on the renovation.

Within 24 hours Nicoletta had contacted our trusty carpenters in Appenzell and had them booked on a flight from Zürich to London, while Jun was already talking to plumbers about the possibilities of fitting the whole building with Japanese Washlet toilets. Architects in Sweden and Switzerland had already been assigned to work on plans for various floors (there are five of them), so weeks earlier we had been able to embark on the delightful process of specifying the furniture and systems we’d need.

Our brief was not an easy one for the gentleman tasked with doing the property search. As we’d grown used to having our own front door in our building beside Marylebone Station, we wanted the same with our next home. It was also crucial that the building had good cross-ventilation and natural light, outdoor space for entertaining, room for sizeable events, desk space for just over 100 staff and a communal dining room. What we ended up with some months later is substantially better.

Standing alongside a quaint little park that’s loved by locals walking their dogs, the mid-century building was about to become a satellite campus for a French private school before local residents decided they didn’t want a playground of petits enfants next door and, following a petition by the residents, the building went back on the market.

A solid red-brick affair, it might originally have been planned as an adult education centre or a local council administrative building (I’m still tracking its provenance as I write). At ground level there’s outdoor parking for 15 or so cars (soon to be turned into flower beds and shady reading areas) and plenty of room for a sturdy bicycle garage.

Inside there’s a reception area for speed meetings (reserved for people selling printers, water coolers and IT systems) and a suite of radio studios and control rooms (stay tuned). There is also a large room that will function as dining room, speakers’ venue, dancefloor and exhibition space. On one floor will be the editorial offices of Monocle; on the second, the offices of my design agency Winkreative, and on the third will be conference rooms, finance, publishing, PR and my office. Perhaps the best feature of the lot is that all floors have terraces overlooking the park – the one off the first floor is ideal for hosting cocktails for 150 and the upper floors are perfect for a sneaky cigarette, animated phone conversation or grabbing a bit of morning sun.

In the run-up to the Christmas break I did a first inspection of the building in its semi-demolished state and was relieved to find that it had healthier bones than we’d first anticipated. Already handsome on the outside, it must have been quite a looker in its early days before various tenants added drop ceilings and ugly carpet tiles.

Although the requirements of technology do not permit us to reinstall the original herringbone parquet floors, we are laying new ones and doing as much as possible to restore the structure to what it looked like when it made its debut on the western edge of Marylebone Village: walls will be kept white, air conditioning/heating will be added where necessary and “life improvers” such as a proper shower room, good coffee machines and an industrial kitchen will be added to the mix.

On my return to London mid-week, I did an inspection with colleagues and there was a giddy sense of excitement as floorplans were wielded with names assigned to desks, walls were already fixed and lighting grids were put into place. The most extraordinary bit of news, however, was that the whole project was running to time (and almost to budget). There’ll be more scribblings from Midori House when we throw open the doors four weeks from now.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle

tyler.brule@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/brule

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