Words Kirk Truman
Photography Joseph Lynn
“What was really needed next was somebody to nurture the art of the Houses…”
Kate Bryan and I are walking around a familiar setting… except it has been turned a little on its head. We’re passing through the library in the reception area up into the newly revived Soho House, Greek Street, on its opening day. As you approach the familiar oval bar, you find yourself trying to figure out where in the former building you are. How much of this is the old Greek Street site we once knew, and how much the Kettner’s Townhouse we didn’t? There’s a real elegance about the place: every wall, installation and artwork tells a new story, one which connects the past of the Soho House brand with its future. That’s where Kate Bryan comes in, as Head of Collections at Soho House & Co.
Soho House is about feeling perfectly at home when you’re away from home. Let me give you the quick backstory, which most Sohoites will already be familiar with. Back in the 1990s, founder Nick Jones opened a new private members club at 40 Greek Street. This marked the birth of Soho House, and the eventual expansion and franchising of the brand across London, and on into the US and across Europe. 23 years since the first Soho House opened its doors, entrepreneur Jones has expanded the brand to cover lifestyle, design, interiors and even the creation of an in-house publication, House Notes. The brand has evolved over the years but remains true to its essence. Walk through the recently reopened doors of 40 Greek Street and you realise that the DNA is the same, it’s just that the details – the walls, the bars, the corridors have changed – sometimes (in a good way) beyond recognition.
The new 40 Greek Street sees Kettner’s next door and the original Soho House meet in the middle. Kate Bryan has a confession to make as we begin talking: “I was always a Groucho girl really,” she laughs. She spends time both at The Groucho Club and the two neighbourhood Soho Houses, and is equally fond of both clubs. Kate writes and talks about art; she has presented programmes for Sky Arts, Sky Arte Italia and contributed to episodes of BBC2’s Culture Show. In October 2016, she was appointed Head of Collections at Soho House. The role is unusual, exciting and, in some respects, unknown territory.
“Before I arrived here 18 months ago, the art curation was always done by a brilliant external curator, Francesca Gavin,” says Kate. “It was an organic thing; there was never any intention to build this enormous art collection at Soho House. It’s happened slowly and evolved organically. What started out as an experiment in having work on our walls has exploded into the collection which we have today. Ultimately, the collections were becoming victims of their own success. Somebody would come in to curate a space, and then leave it be. Eventually, what was really needed was somebody to nurture the art of the Houses, that’s how my permanent role came about. There was nobody really in the company who was focused on art until I came in; there was nobody to be its custodian. When I first met Nick Jones, it became clear quite quickly that we were going to have to start again and think about the responsibility and curation of art across all Houses. My role is an opportunity to acquire art globally and future-proof the already outstanding collection of work while enhancing the art strategy and identity of Soho House.”
With the reopening and reimagining of 40 Greek Street, Kate faced the challenge of bringing new life (and art) to the walls and interiors of the enhanced Soho House. “In the case of the last few Houses which have opened, the art has been factored into the interiors in an entirely new way. In the example of Malibu Beach, it is more grown-up and there is more colour,” she says. “With 40 Greek Street, I’ve worked closely to help curate the art alongside the interiors and architectural teams. The decisions around where the art must go and what it would be had to be made way in advance so that the spaces could respond and react to each and every art piece.”
There are a number of collections on the walls of 40 Greek Street which you may not know the backstory of from the relationship with Soho’s characters and supporting young artists in London. While walking the corridors of the newly opened house, Kate tells me about ‘Walk the Line’, a series of 20 drawings made by a series of notable artists without removing their pencil from the page. However, some of them did try to cheat! “It was how they broke the rules which fascinated me,” laughs Kate. Another collection, perhaps my favourite, is the 40/40/40 collection: 40 pieces of work, by 40 artists, all under the age of 40. “The art at 40 Greek Street is a cultural conversation and a homage to the story of Soho. All of our design decisions and activities are done internally, so each building requires a plan of action for the walls and the stories we want to tell within the space. We are in constant collaboration in order to give the artists we work with the best spaces and platforms for their work,” she explains.
Today, Soho House has accumulated a large art collection, in excess of 3,000 pieces, across its many Houses worldwide. Kate’s role now takes her around the globe, and each House will benefit from her expert eye and instinct for matching the art to the location. So, next time you wander about your own House, wherever in the world it might be, look a little closer at what’s on the walls, and think about the stories it tells. Behind these stories is Kate Bryan.
To read more about Soho House, Greek Street visit their website