Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Last night I met a Frenchman. He’s called Philippe Derville. He has a special machine for cutting paper thin charcuterie, a charming wife called Valérie and an exciting business that hails straight from St Tropez.
Philippe is the brains and panache behind a brand new company that goes by the name of Lovely Days, just like the Bill Withers song but without the ‘s’. The company has nothing to do with rock and roll – instead it’s all about luxury rentals for people with money and taste. Already established in Paris and the Côte d’Azur, it’s now spreading its net to London.
Here’s how it works. The world, Philippe tells me, is full of globetrotting rich people who find five star hotels a little triste. They like being pampered (don’t we all?) but they get a bit down in the dumps if they have to endure more than two days at Claridges or the Ritz. Why? Because for all their swagger and sex appeal, five star hotels don’t have a homey atmosphere. And even if you’ve got more shoes than Imelda Marcos and more money than Roman Abramovic, at the end of the day there’s no place quite like home.
Especially if that home is enviably lovely and comes with a 24-hour concierge service, just like a hotel does. We’re not just talking room service with its heavenly trolleys and crisply-starched tablecloths but a hit parade of chefs, chauffeurs, florists and masseurs all available at the drop of a hat. So – just imagine! – you stagger off a long flight from Beijing, LA or Sydney, and a chauffeur spirits you to somebody else’s elegant (and empty) house in Belgravia or Primrose Hill, where the Veuve Clicquot is already on ice, the sushi has just been rolled and a Shiatsu masseur is waiting to smooth away your jet lag. Oh, and should you require tickets for the Wimbledon final, Philippe probably knows somebody who can get them for you.
And irrelevant to most of us, surely? Well, not if we own the kind of London flat or house that Philippe might want to rent out and are frequently away (divorcés, self-employed people, Transatlantic lovers and multiple home owners read on). Judging by the properties on Philippe’s books it needs to be rather snazzy and located in a desirable neighbourhood like Chelsea or Notting Hill. If your house or flat happens to meet Philippe’s criteria (he conducts a thorough inspection and vets everybody, including the renters) it’s a chance to make a bit of serious lolly whenever you go away while doing absolutely nothing. You don’t even have to be there when the guests arrive.
Over a cosy and very sympa dinner in his Chelsea house cooked by an Asia-inspired Spanish chef from La Belle Assiette, Philippe explained to me that he might typically charge people renting a house in SW3 £700 a night, of which 50% goes to the owner. Lovely Days does all the housework – the dusting, the Hoovering, the scrubbing, you name it. All the back-breaking slog of preparing for the arrival of tenants is done for you. Philippe’s hotel-trained team sweeps in and makes up all the beds with mattress protectors and White Company bedlinen. They fill your bathrooms with fluffy white towels and delicious Penhaligon’s toiletries.
So who are these mysterious people looking to stay in the private homes of Londoners but without leaving their five star comfort zone? I’m told there are no French on Philippe’s rental books (‘too poor,’ he says) and strictly no Saudis (they make very bad guests, apparently). Instead there are lots of Americans (from New York, LA and San Francisco), Australians, Brits and New Zealanders, as well as a sprinkling of Chinese. Eighty per cent of his clients are repeat business. And right now Philippe is looking for luxurious London properties to rent out.
A revenue stream that’s a pipe dream for most of us? Perhaps. But I’m hoping that the enterprising Philippe launches a sideline in ‘appealingly boho’ properties in London. Essentials must include: crumbling sash windows, peeling paintwork, squeaky floorboards and the odd mouse sighting. Local colour must include mad people, traffic jams and men in hard hats.
In that case, my flat might be just the ticket. Bring on those lovely days!