West Eleven founder Will Herrmann explains how collaboration and innovation have been key in overcoming the risks it has faced
The View: a residential and commercial tower overlooking Battersea Park
2018 proved to be a year of uncertainty and challenging times still lie ahead, particularly for a property industry that has been plagued by slow growth and middling returns for much of the past three years.
At the Clapham offices of West Eleven, however, the outlook is less ominous. The evolving development firm – founded in 2011 by Will Herrmann – recently broke ground on not one, but two new projects: The View – a residential and commercial tower overlooking Battersea Park – and Caley House, the former home of late English art critic Brian Sewell. Part conservation and part conversion, the latter will involve adapting the 1920s arts and crafts-style home into a collection of six apartments and mews houses, while adding a further three mews to the extensive grounds. This unique focus on residential-led restoration and new build schemes has become a defining characteristic of West Eleven, and allowed for the kind of imagination and innovation that inspires both buyers and investors.
Not one for waste, the company made the decision to forgo a physical show home when launching The View, opting instead for a free-to-download augmented reality application. Providing interested buyers with the ability to explore all the development’s 31 apartment configurations – including its three multi-level penthouses – the mobile application was the first of its kind available on the App Store and a pioneering use of the technology in property development that turned heads. Still, the taking of educated risks isn’t new territory for West Eleven. In 2016, the company chose to launch its first conversion project, Bakery Place, the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union; the development went on to win numerous awards and sold all 12 units within 12 months – a defiant success.
Herrmann, the firm’s gregarious managing director, got into property development in the late 1990s, flipping student housing during his days at the University of Bristol. Now a veteran of the industry, he remains resolute in the face of Brexit, an attitude attributable to the strength and flexibility of West Eleven’s portfolio – the company’s pipeline is currently valued at more than £100m – and the partnerships it has forged with leaders across the industry, including Jo Cowen Architects and property PR specialist YOU Agency.
“We’ve chosen our partners not just for their skill, but also their vision, their ability to adjust, adapt and innovate. Collaboration is such a large part of what we do; it requires an innate trust and strong mutual knowledge that is rare”
Bakery Place: West Eleven’s first conversion project. Image: David Butler
“In order to deliver a creative vision, you need to work with people who take the time to understand and then execute,” explains Herrmann. “As a company, we’ve chosen our partners not just for their skill, but also their vision and their ability to adjust, adapt and innovate. Collaboration is a such a large part of what we do; it requires an innate trust and strong mutual knowledge that is rare. We’re incredibly lucky to share this kind of personal understanding with those we work with.”
With the support of these partners, West Eleven has been able to deliver far beyond the standard white-box home, championing bold design and community improvement.
Herrmann acknowledges that the company’s remit is increasingly about placemaking – integrating lifestyle elements that cater to the wants and needs of buyers – while development manager Annika Prince notes that in the current climate, buyers are increasingly conscious of how a development will work for them in the long term: “This notion of the starter home, which was already uncommon in the prime property market, has largely disappeared in the face of Brexit. Property has become much more of an investment, even for the affluent buyer. As developers, the onus is on us to both deliver noteworthy homes that evoke an emotional connection from buyers and unlock equity for our investors.”
While West Eleven’s early successes came from focusing the majority of its resources on producing homes peripheral to central London, the firm has begun to extend its influence outside the capital, acquiring a farmstead in Cornwall in 2018.
Plans for the property – which dates to the 17th century – include an 80-bedroom boutique hotel and adjoining distillery. Operating under the moniker Porthilly Spirit, the distillery will produce premium spirits from local ingredients, while the wider site will initially open to the public this May for a 3,500-attendee food and music festival of the same name. The move, driven by the changing economic landscape, is set to diversify the company’s portfolio and afford it greater protection against the increasingly stagnant build-to-sell market.
Fittingly, West Eleven’s partner on the Cornish venture is Jo Cowen Architects, which co-owns the site. This builds on the pair’s already award-winning relationship, as the two firms have grown up together, with the renowned architectural practice working on all the company’s developments.
If their prior successes are anything to go on, this latest partnership is all but guaranteed to deliver yet another creative and cutting-edge project.
Find out more