Oliver Burns is the company behind some of the finest homes in London. Co-founder Joe Burns explains how it all comes down to thoughtful luxury
WORDS Mark Kebble
Talk about putting money where your mouth is. ‘The development we are most well-known for is Walpole Mayfair, but when we were buying that site some people called it a rat run for taxis, located on a terrible street, in an awful office building,’ smiles Joe Burns. ‘Everything that a developer would look at and say “no, no, no”, it’s a really difficult development behind a listed façade. However, we saw the potential.’
Located next to The Ritz, the Oliver Burns team transformed the home of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, into five super-prime apartments that showcased their signature blend of quintessentially British style with the ultimate in modern living, selling them all for record breaking prices. ‘That was 300% return on investment,’ Burns points out. Potential, indeed.
Today Oliver Burns – the company my interviewee co-founded with his wife, Sharon Lilywhite, 13 years ago – creates high profile residential developments in exclusive locations, as well as opulent private homes. The practice prides itself on being a trusted advisor to its clients, providing them with a bespoke turnkey service – but it wasn’t always like this.
‘When Oliver Burns was first started back in St Albans, we were a simple interior design and retail outfit,’ Burns explains, in between a cough (he’s suffering from that terrible affliction, man flu). ‘The development side of our business was kept separate from Oliver Burns.’
If we are talking about potential, however, then Oliver Burns’ first project showed a glimpse of a bright future, when they renovated a dilapidated Grade II-listed mansion into what became known as Dalton House.
‘That was my most personal development,’ Burns says, ‘I did it purely for love. I retained that property for ten years and we didn’t need it after four! As a trader of property, you shouldn’t be holding stock unless you really need to, but that gives you an indication of what it meant to me. Good friends would come to visit me in St Albans and visualised us doing what we do today, which is design and build.
‘However, we visualised ourselves as being a Hertfordshire-based retail business with a little bit of interior design thrown in. It probably took us six years to catch up with the perception of our company, and that was six years of real pain! Luckily we weren’t wholly dependent on that business at that point – if we would have been, we would have been in serious trouble. But we grew up and became the company we should have been from day one.’
It’s an honest assessment of his company’s evolution and it’s easy to see why Oliver Burns’ clients have stayed loyal to them for over a decade. Burns is intelligent company who knows his stuff – despite his apologies about the aforementioned flu, he spends nigh on ten minutes without so much of a pause explaining the ins and outs of investing in Mayfair and St James’s. When they moved the business to London, their turnover doubled in the first six months and their team doubled in size alongside that.
As Oliver Burns has grown in stature, so too it seems have their projects. The latest, Beau House on Jermyn Street, is case in point. ‘We are working with another developer, Dukelease, and it’s no expense spared,’ Burns says on the project. What exactly does that mean?
‘With Beau House, we set some very high budgets and we knew we could work within those, no matter what came in or out. For example, it might be something like a bathtub. The budget for that is £5,000, then all of a sudden a bathtub comes to the market that’s £35,000 and we feel it’s unique, so we go for that. If we can have the end user walk into a home and go “wow” or “I haven’t seen that before”, then that’s added value. You are dealing with high net worth clients that have pretty much seen everything, so to deliver something unique is difficult. We are trying to go that extra mile.’
Visit the Oliver Burns website and they sum up their approach as ‘thoughtful luxury’, which my interviewee says is a simple way to explain what they do. ‘We thoughtfully design, we thoughtfully build, and we thoughtfully finish,’ he rounds off. ‘We can only deliver that because we have close relationships with the end user, we understand their lifestyle, and we understand what they expect.’ And, ultimately, it helps to put money where your mouth is. ‘We are investing our own money,’ Burns adds. ‘When you are putting your own money into anything, it keeps you very sharp and on the ball. This is my son’s future on the line here…’
Find out more information about the company and their work at oliverburns.com