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While our latest OUTLOOK shoot takes us inside the recently completed Invisible House, LN-CC had to showcase the mind behind it, while touring his first ultra-modern, self-designed home. Dressed in his pick of new season brands, Steve makes us feel welcome inside the ethereal concrete space that he calls home. Below is a conversation that details how he has been influenced by The Face, New York nightlife, self-taught Japanese architects and hearing the world no.
Hey Steve, how are you?
I’m great but this is a new realm, a new world for me. I tend to work in the shadows but this shoot has been a fun experience.
In the few profiles on the Ghost House, I’ve seen you referred to as a nightclub owner and a maverick entrepreneur, but how do you introduce yourself?
Oh well just to give you a very potted, brief background. I grew up in the 80s in Coventry and The Face was the be-all and end-all for me, an opportunity to peer into a different world of style. Jerry Dammers was on the cover of the launch issue and, years later, he played at my club.
Amazing! The worlds of style and music are so closely aligned, particularly during the time of your youth, when nightlife and subcultures were being documented and celebrated by a new generation of fashion titles; The Face, i-D and then Dazed and beyond.
I remember being featured in i-D and The Face after opening my first club and that acknowledgment that we were on the map was special. My interest in that space developed at a time when Ian Schrager was doing his stuff in New York with these amazing boutique hotels and cool clubs with beautiful Philippe Starck designed spaces. When the lads were going on their Spanish holiday for 10 days, I’d go to New York for two days and stay in a Schrager hotel because that’s all I could afford. I was captivated by what they were doing in pushing those design elements and everything I’ve done since opening my first club has been design-led. When we opened what was then called Sugar in 1999, it was the first boutique, a design-led club in the UK. On the opening night, I tracked down one of the original resident Studio 54 DJs Nicky Siano and he played. In those early years, I was flying DJs in from all over the world and it was mad, but that culture has changed a little.
I missed opening night, but Sugar and your other roster of clubs got me through university. I didn’t expect a town like Leamington Spa to have so many options.
I’ve never needed to go to a city. How many clubs last 25 years? Very few, but we’re still busy. When we opened Sugar, there were two other clubs, Rio’s and Evolve, and I ended up buying both of them. But it was those early days and the influence of i-D, The Face, and Wallpaper that I fell in love with design, interiors, and architecture. I have no formal training whatsoever, but in running venues, I became more confident in articulating what I wanted to create.
Working on those venues developed your understanding of interior space and movement, alongside your evolving aesthetic language.
Being the client helped! I remember working on the scheme for Moo with wallpaper using real sex adverts from telephone boxes and furniture on the ceiling. That probably wouldn't have been signed off and we got in so much trouble for the wallpaper. There was a petition, the police came out, the University was trying to boycott. But the paper was based on real adverts, so my argument was you can’t censor history. I like to be provocative.
There’s a great quote that opens a Telegraph article about the Ghost House, "I don’t like normal. I’ve always pushed the boundaries."
I think by doing that, you end up achieving more. You don't always get it right. Looking back, Smack was a reaction to a county pub that I had tried to do. At the time, the gastro pub movement was massive in Warwickshire. There was a well-used formula of successful operations taking over an old pub and there was a fairly standardised design to them. I sold my Banksy collection to fund the renovation of a 200-year-old pub and it failed massively. When I changed its name from The Leopard to The Revolver, the local press reported that I had disrespected its history and it only lasted a week. So when I redid Sugar, I wanted to give people something to get upset about so I renamed it Smack. It was about pushing people’s buttons. But also, clubs would often have these grand names but be absolute shit holes but I did the complete opposite, giving it a dirty, gritty street name but it was stunning inside. If you haven’t seen it, watch the video of the downstairs LED Room. That was something we worked out ourselves and it just blew up. So I do enjoy pushing people’s buttons, but I’m not controversial for the sake of being controversial, it’s as much to do with driving innovation. I’m not as involved with the venues and now I’ve built these two houses.
Celebrated by RIBA as well.
You look back and think, but the local authorities still said it wasn't a strong enough design. Then all of the plaudits came when it was finished. When we were having it valued, one of the agents asked about the plot of land in front and said it didn't add any value to the Ghost House as it wouldn’t be used as a front garden, so for no other reason beyond my mischievous nature, I thought I'm going to apply for another one. I didn't honestly think I had a hope in hell of getting it but we put a scheme together, which was turned down by the local authority again, before the appeal said it absolutely is exceptional, so we were granted it. We only finished building the Invisible House two weeks ago.
That's amazing, we’re honoured that you agreed to let us shoot OUTLOOK here. Given the rejections, what do you think gave you the power of conviction to carry on and to trust in what you were creating?
It's a tricky one to answer because I don't I honestly couldn't tell you where, it’s quite an innate thing, just just a feeling. It's the same with the bars and the clubs. I read a lot and when I’m interested in a subject, I research it thoroughly but ideas come from everywhere. I could tell you why one day, when I was driving to work, I had the idea to put furniture on the ceiling and turn fluorescent lighting into seating.
When The Modern House shared their shots of the Invisible House, we just knew we had to use it as a location.So we're really pleased that you are receptive to the idea. But it's really interesting to see how the styled models interact with the amazing space you’ve created and how the mood evolves from day to night.
I don't think I could have found a better partner. I love how the OUTLOOK demonstrates how the space engages with its environment, and documents that shift when it gets dark.
To what extent did both the Ghost House and the Invisible House evolve from their original ideas.
For the Invisible House, I had a feeling of what it could look like, but I didn’t know for sure. Actually, the mirrored panels were originally going to be highly polished stainless steel, but it wasn’t meant to be, and thankfully so! A sculptor that specialises in working with stainless steel since told me that highly polished steel would have reflected well close but the image would disintegrate the further back you moved. Oh, and such a thin piece would have buckled during the hot summer too. The thin glazing reflects the environment better than I had originally imagined.
Wow... Ultimately, what would you hope people take away from the shoot and your story?
I honestly don't think there's anything special or interesting really about my story... The shoot speaks for itself, it’s dramatic and powerful. You've got fashion, you've got design, and you've got nature, and you guys were brought here because of this piece of architecture.
Finally, what advice would you give anyone that's thinking about designing their own house?
Not to be put off by people that say no, and to push it to pursue it, as far as you can. When I finished the Ghost House it was one of the first paragraph 55 houses, I'm actually the only person in the UK to have two of them, next door to each other. There are two many obstacles in the way when you’re building a house. The starting point should be yes. People should be encouraged to build great personal designs because it enriches the area, So my advice is to believe in your design and, if it’s exceptional, it will convince the naysayers eventually.