Monday, 27 September 2021

Guaranteed to have a good day at the office

AN auditorium that into a catwalk, lift doors that look like a Tube carriage and a meeting room wrapped in

AN auditorium that into a catwalk, lift doors that look like a Tube carriage and a meeting room wrapped in a 100kg ribbon.

These are just some of the quirky features installed in the offices of retailers and media companies in Britain that were by a project management business in Henley.

Matt Watts Associates in Market Place specialises in office space planning, design, refurbishment and relocation.

The 10 staff have carried out office refurbishments for high-profile clients including Jimmy Choo, Agent Provocateur, Nike, Net-a-Porter, Vice and the Food Network.

A budget can be anything from £10,000 to £10 million.

Matt Watts, 44, set up MWA 12 years ago using his experience from working in quantity surveying, project management and the serviced office industry.

His favourite contract was refurbishing the head office of online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter at the Westfield shopping centre in London.

Mr Watts says: “It has been voted one of the world’s five coolest work places. It’s at the top of Westfield, which was earmarked for a swimming complex so it is 8m from floor to ceiling, which made the project quite challenging.“

The 90,000 sq ft premises includes an auditorium that can be turned into a catwalk, photographic studios and glass-walled meeting rooms.

“That seems to be the benchmark for lots of companies,“ says Mr Watts.

“When we first met Net-a-Porter they had about 140 staff. We are currently just doing an expansion of their head office to take them to 1,500 and by the time it’s finished at Easter they will have already outgrown it.

“This is our 12th project with them in four years. All our work tends to be word of mouth and ideally a company grows and we can carry out more work with them.“

The offices were described as a “fresh, beautiful virtual empire“ by American Vogue.

MWA manages the whole process of a client’s office fit-out, including relocation if required.

Mr Watts says: “Once we have been appointed, we do a feasibility study to make sure that the client fits with the offices they are looking at.

“There will be a budget that needs to be looked at and agreed, then we will develop specification and drawings, go out to tender to contractors, appoint contractors and then manage the whole process on site, from the move until completion.

“We have got to give them what they want but we make suggestions while trying to meet a budget.

“It can be a very big financial commitment by a company so it needs to be right.“

For lingerie retailer Agent Provocateur, the MWA team project managed the updating of an office to mimick the style of its stores, in London’s Clerkenwell Road.

Mr Watts recalls an “interesting“ interview with founder Joe Corre, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren.

“I wasn’t quite sure whether I should wear a suit for that one,“ he laughs. “He was an interesting character.“ Corre said of the space: “With immense time pressures the project was pulled out of the bag, creating a fantastic working environment while being totally on brand.“

Jimmy Choo’s head office in Howick Place, London, was refurbished in 12 weeks to include a feature reception area, showroom and design studios.

Mr Watts says: “The reception was designed to look like one of their shops with metal polished ceilings and granite floors.

“Quite often they want to mimic their stores because it reinforces the brand.“

Online gift business Not On The High Street’s office has themed meeting rooms at its office in Kew Road, Richmond.

Mr Watts explains: “Their motto is ’Choose a life less ordinary’ so they have really funky themed meeting rooms, one of which is covered in brown paper with a 100kg ribbon so it looks like a present.“

Scripps Networks International in Buckingham Palace Road is decorated with everything from red post boxes and telephone boxes to digital wallpaper that makes lift doors look like the doors of a Tube carriage or No 10 Downing Street.

Mr Watts said there were “exciting projects in the pipeline“ with sports giant Nike.

He grew up in Henley and attended St Edward’s School in Oxford and The Henley College.

He studied for a degree in quantity surveying and building management at Nottingham Trent University before an early career in quantity surveying. This led him to become interested in project management roles. He spent five years as global project and facilities manager at the Executive Offices Group before leaving to launch MWA.

Mr Watts recalls: “There was a bit of a crash in the market and people were being made redundant. I asked if I could be one of those people and they said ’no’.

“I started putting money away to get ready for going out on my own and approached them a year later and they agreed to a retainer for six months.“

After university, he lived in Brighton and then London before moving back to Henley, where he now lives with his wife Sue in Paradise Road.

The couple have two daughters, Ellie, 15, who attends Arts Educational Schools in London, and 13-year-old Claudia, who goes to Queen Anne’s School in Caversham.

Mr Watts says: “I’ve always wanted to work for myself.

“When I had a one- and three-year-old I came home one day and said, ’I’ve left and I’m setting up on my own’.

“My wife was a little bit shocked but very supportive and put a lot of trust in me.

“I think other people thought I was a bit mad but if you believe in your own capability you can do it.“

Now the best part of his job is seeing a finished office makeover done by his staff.

“It’s a full-on job,“ he says. “We are the middle man but we get there in the end.

“It’s very exciting seeing a project develop from what can be a concrete shell into something that’s functional and looks fantastic.“

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