Meet Radhika Seth, the CEO designing dream homes for the one per cent
PUBLISHED: 18:00 10 August 2017
Meet the woman bringing the wildest interior design and lifestyle architecture dreams of the world's wealthiest people to life
Pinning Radhika Seth down is tricky. When you’re CEO of a company catering to the design needs of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) you have to be prepared to move fast and adapt your schedule.
“They’re getting richer, they’re getting busier, and time is a luxury for everybody,” she tells me. “Being able to fit clients in at short notice when they’re here for just the day is why they pay such a premium.”
Her clients are the globetrotting elite – “literally, it’s like a Forbes Rich List” – and her company caters to their interior design and lifestyle architecture needs. Seth has lived and breathed the luxury industry for two decades now. She started working for the family business, NARR International, in 1994, sourcing decorative accessories, art and antiques for the global elite. In 2007 she branched out with a luxury interior design, and again in 2014 when she added project management as well as art and lifestyle services.
Consolidating the various businesses under one umbrella she chose the name SEQUOIA, after the giant redwood trees, evergreens that live for well over a thousand years. These behemoths grow fast and far, reaching up to over 300 ft with roots spreading down almost another 30 ft. It’s a fitting name for a far reaching company that sprouted from a family business.
“It has the thickest bark of any tree,” explains Seth. “When you deal with UHNWIs you need thick skin. You have to be focused and get on with it. I liked the idea that [the tree] protects itself by being thick skinned.”
Seth’s clients are some of the most demanding in the world. After all, you don’t become a billionaire without breaking a few eggs. But the rewards are rich, and not just financially. “Working with these people is amazing. They travel a lot, their friends are vey wealthy, they’re surrounded by luxury all the time. They’re clever, they bring us new things all the time,” she says.
“They’re very good at saying to their friends ‘Call Radhika up, we had a great experience with her and her team’. As much money as I can spend marketing and PR on, someone giving a personal recommendation is the best business development model.”
When a new client comes on board Seth and her team put together an incredibly detailed profile of their lifestyle in order to anticipate their every need when it comes to designing their home. Once they’ve worked on one property, they often get called in to do others.
“A lot of clients now will have multiple homes. They spend 90 days or less in each for different reasons, so they have four or five main residences,” Seth explains. “Sometimes we’ll do up a house for them in London and they’ll call and say ‘I’ve just bought a house in Dubai, can you just do that because you know me and my taste?’ or, ‘We’ve bought a penthouse in Manhattan, can you sort that out for us?’”
Always adaptable, SEQUOIA can work anywhere in the world, offering lifestyle architecture, interior design, and sourcing furniture from their network of over 2,000 hand picked suppliers. London, ever the alpha city, is always the hub, and here they can offer the full turnkey package, from finding a property through to the completed home.
“London is the centre of the universe for most of our clients,” she says. “They always travel through here so it’s very convenient for them.” Seth has worked on homes in Hampstead and up on the Bishops Avenue and Winnington Road, as well as the prime central areas such as St John’s Wood, Mayfair and Belgravia.
Once a client is with SEQUOIA they rarely leave. Seth has up to three generations of the same family employing her services at the same time, from a 90 year old grandfather to his newly married granddaughter.
Trust is important. Seth has been admitted into the inner circle of some of the wealthiest and most private people on the planet. You’re not going to see their homes splashed across magazine pages. Security plays a big part in this; when you have so much wealth the last thing you want is your floor plan available on the internet. Seth’s clients are often intensely private.
“Their public lives are so public that when they come home that front door is like their barrier,” she explains. “Whether they’re a celebrity, a royal, or a UHNWI, every time they walk out their front door they’re pretty much fair game for everybody.” More frivolously, they also don’t want anyone imitating their style. “The big thing amongst the UHNW is they don’t want their house to look like everybody else’s, they don’t want anyone else’s to look like theirs. It’s all about exclusiveness.”
This often means confidentiality and non disclosure agreements that stretch to dozens of pages, sometimes with clauses that confirm all the clichés about eccentric billionaires. One north London client was so keen to ensure that no photos existed of his home that no camera equipment was allowed onsite. “When we went for client meetings every member of our team had to check their phones in at the security office outside the main house,” Seth says. “It was like going into the FBI headquarters.”
Discretion is vital, but Seth does disclose a few eye popping anecdotes about the VIP packages she’s produced that would make an oligarch blush. There was the client that insisted on a 1,200 sq ft cellar being built into the house, only to reveal on completion that he had no wine collection, or even drank wine himself, but wanted it for his guests. Seth sprang into action.
“I like wine but I’m not a connoisseur, so we went out and found one of the best sommeliers and said, ‘okay, very strange request…’,” she laughs. “We documented the entire cellar so he could know when he was supposed to drink it, store it, what kind of food to serve it with. The client was extremely happy. He knew which ones he could gift, which ones he could serve to A, B or C List clients.”
There was a client with a vast and priceless luxury watch collection. “He asked us to create rotating watch winders, so that all of his watches would keep ticking. He only spent about a month in each of his homes.”
But surely the most lavish request was a custom dinner set with the client’s initials monogrammed in 24-karat gold on each piece, and the serving plates inlaid with real diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
Jewel-encrusted tableware aside, most of the requests are to do with optimising design for their lifestyle. “The key factor all UHNWI want in their home is functionality, mixed with luxury. It has to be the perfect balance,” Seth explains.
When you’re incredibly wealthy, you can fix the niggles that most people have to work around in their everyday lives. Take for example the recent trend for requesting separate master suites, with his ‘n’ hers bedrooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms and an office.
At first Seth assumed that some marriages were particularly rocky. But when she dug a little deeper she found that the high earning partner, unfortunately still usually the husband, was frustrated at having to try not to wake their spouse when leaving for work. You don’t get insanely wealthy without putting in long hours at the office, and often they’re leaving before their spouse wakes up, only arriving home again after they’ve gone to bed. “They say to me ‘I own a home worth £40 million and I earn X amount of money, and I’m tiptoeing around in the dark to find a sock.’”
Separate suites solve the problem when you can afford the space. Similarly, if you’ve ever been bemused by the ostentatious formality of the reception rooms of very expensive homes in estate agent photos, it’s because a lot of UHNWIs entertain their most important clients at home. Their family areas, reserved for relaxing with their children and more intimate acquaintances will be sequestered on a separate floor.
There’s been a lot of buzz in the luxury industry recently about the hot new trend for hotel style interiors. Personally I can’t imagine wanting my home to imitate a Hilton but, as Seth explains to me, the jetsetting elite find a lot of their interiors inspiration from their five star accommodation, and they’re comforted by their familiarity. “The funny thing with UHNWI is that once they find a hotel they like they will only ever stay at that hotel again,” she says. Often they’ll Whatsapp her a picture of a table or a ceiling design they want incorporated into one of their homes.
Increasingly they run their homes like hotels too. Onsite spas are de rigueur, and nowadays meditation rooms and massage tables are a must. Mindfulness is popular with the uber rich, and they all have massage therapists on speed dial. They require the room service experience at home, so rooms are wired up to summon staff for a cup of tea with the touch of a button.
“For some of the very wealthy ones who have larger spaces we’ve been putting in beauty bars and hair salons. You’ll have a barber chair for the man where he can get his shave and his hair trimmed at home. The wife will have a manicure and pedicure station,” Seth tells me.
“A lot of the very private wealthy people want people to come to their homes rather than going out. They’ll have their hairdresser come over before they hold a dinner party. It’s about the ease and use of time.”
Being very rich in 2017 sounds like a peripatetic lifestyle enacted within a luxurious fortified bubble. With so much wealth sloshing around in such an intimate setting, I wonder if it helps or hinders Seth to be a woman CEO.
“On the interior design side they completely expect you to be a woman. Especially the wife, if she’s tired you can sit in her bedroom and talk,” she explains. “On the property development/ project management side I’ve noticed more of a gender gap. If I walk into a room of ten men where they’re talking about the investment and they ask an opinion because it’s design related or about the development cost I will occasionally get an eye roll. I have to prove myself much more in that room, I have to show that I deserve to be there.”
Seth found it lonely, and was surprised that female entrepreneurs rarely helped one another. “It was always men that gave me advice. I think a lot of women are scared to promote themselves. They think if they put their head down and get on with it that’s the way to do it. Whereas men sing their own praises.” Determined to rectify this, Seth mentors and is the co-chair of Tie Women Entrepreneurs, the woman focused division of the world’s largest entrepreneur network, as well as writing on the subject for outlets such as the Huffington Post.
“I really hope that more women entrepreneurs will come forward and talk about the great things they’re doing, and mentor the next generation of women to encourage them to step up to the plate and believe that they can actually do it,” she says.
“When you meet other female entrepreneurs it creates a network. They open up doors, they have your back, and they support you. It’s almost like the old boys’ club. We should call it the new girls’ club.”