Designing for Cultural Differences

By Oliver Burns

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August 4, 2014|

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  • he continual influx of international buyers has helped shaped prime central London’s property market over the last few decades. Earlier this year London was named as the city with the best real estate investment opportunities for foreign investors*, so international buyers are certainly here to stay. Whether buyers are purchasing a property as a second home, as a rental investment or for children aspiring to study in London, with each nationality comes a unique set of cultural requirements, religious beliefs and lifestyle preferences.   When it comes to creating homes for these discerning buyers, it is the designer and developer’s responsibility to anticipate and understand their client’s cultural platform. Although many wealthy clients are largely ‘international’ in their tastes – favouring outstanding quality, stunning craftsmanship and bespoke, one-off pieces, they still have a set of individual needs that need to be met. Some of the world’s best hotels such as Claridges demonstrate the importance of this beautifully when they adapt room suites and occasionally entire floors to meet the wishes of a particular client. The necessity to cater for cultural differences and individual desires is even more pertinent when it comes to designing homes, because it’s a highly personal and emotional experience for the client.
Image via Oliver Burns

Our clients’ needs are varied and often complex – from rituals of Vaastu Shastra to working to the principles of Feng Shui or religious law. However, the common thread that unites them is that they are often constrained by a busy international schedule. We manage their requirements and time limitations by gaining an in depth understanding of their needs and lifestyles upfront and being highly intuitive in our designs. Our multilingual team have designed homes for a plethora of different nationalities and this helps us identify the thoughtful details and touches that make the difference between meeting a client’s expectations and going above and beyond the brief.One of the greatest influences on a client is their family. A high level of involvement is usually present for British and Indian clients and this impacts the design requirements for each project. We are currently working on an Italian villa, Country Estate and Soho loft for different members of a British family, with each project being overseen by the father. An Indian client we are working with has, over time, purchased upwards and downwards in the building where he originally owned just one apartment. Now he owns the entire building, allowing him to have his family close by when they stay in London. Each family member will also have input into the design of each of the apartments.

The style of the property that the client has grown up with or is most familiar with will usually dictate their preferences when it comes to investing in a new home. International buyers are essentially looking to create a home from home, wherever their property is located in the world.

Image via Oliver Burns

Whether we are designing the interiors of a client’s home or working on a new development, we almost always find that the nationalities who most desire period detailing are British, Indian and Russian clients. They look to buy their homes in traditional golden postcodes such as Mayfair, St James’s and Knightsbridge where there are more period buildings than locations such as Canary Wharf. Russians are particularly attracted to traditional buildings for their grand proportions such as high ceilings and striking facades, although internally the building may be more contemporary in its layout.

Middle Eastern clients also prefer older style properties and a traditional luxury feel is conveyed throughout their homes where they favour luxurious textures such as marble, stone, velvet and silk. Carpets or rugs on most of the floors are also important, as they like to walk barefoot inside the house.

Chinese and Malaysian clients on the other hand, tend to prefer a clean, minimalist style, both in the appearance of the building and for the interiors. Familiar with buying apartments in modern blocks, often off plan, it is something they are used to in their home country and as such defines how they buy their homes abroad.

Image via Oliver Burns

Cultural, religious and personal beliefs almost always influence space plans and with the surge of Chinese investors in Britain, Feng Shui is set to become a more widespread requirement in homes here. Affecting everything about a property, from the front door through to the colours of the room, their orientation and importance within the house contributes to a home’s positive energy. Chinese clients frequently have their own Feng Shui experts who screen properties and communicate requirements on behalf of their clients from the outset.

For Middle Eastern clients, a separate room for prayer may be required or gender specific sitting rooms for socialising. Bathrooms may need an additional sink for washing feet before prayer. Islamic religion prohibits Muslims from facing the direction of prayer when using the lavatory, so when we are working on homes for Muslim clients or developments that are likely to attract a large proportion of Middle Eastern clients, we ensure that toilets do not face the East.

Some requirements are not just defined by religious and cultural values but also down to individual preferences and lifestyles; for example, many clients require his and her bedroom suites in their homes.

Image via Oliver Burns

Alongside design specifics, our clients also view security and added value services as vital components of their homes. For apartments, clients expect 24/7 concierge services, as they would have if they were staying in a hotel. These services and facilities feature very highly on the list of requirements for Middle Eastern buyers, especially for those where the UK is not their primary residence.

Understanding and anticipating cultural differences is a huge part of gaining a true insight into a client. Only when these are fully understood, can a home be created to exceed all their aspirations. Every house and apartment we design and build is a reflection of that client’s needs based on their religious beliefs, personal values and individual lifestyles, and it’s designing for these subtle nuances and details that make it a truly unique home.


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