With more than 1,000 members from Boston to Singapore, CWH is creating a new kind of community in cities where we don’t yet have a property. Emma Bartley asks the team how it works
Dominique Bellas, group project director
One way to understand Cities Without Houses is that Soho House is dating 21 cities to see if we like each other. The way it works is that people who live in a city like Tokyo or Tel Aviv, where there isn’t a physical House, ca
n still join our community and visit us when they travel. We also have a committee in each city and hold quarterly events for them.
CWH was Nick Jones’s idea originally. We’d offered overseas membership before but never gone into cities, understood them and built up a community of members. Being asked to run it was a huge opportunity for me. I’d been here for five years as a PA and project manager so I had a good overview of the business, had worked on events like the launches of Soho House Istanbul and The Ned, and knew Nick’s way of doing things. Even so, the first six months were a challenge as we set up practicalities like how to take payment in different places. The team had to be adaptable but in only a year we’ve gone into cities where a lot of people hadn’t even heard of Soho House, held some amazing events and built a community of more than 1,000 members.
What’s lovely to see at CWH events is that our members have such a personal connection with the team. It’s the same connection we’ve always had with our members, but it’s nice to know you can still get the same feeling without a beautifully designed House and an Eastern Standard in your hand.
I also get a kick out of seeing our members at the Houses. Having members who come from far and wide means that you can be at the bar next to a member from Mexico on one side and Tokyo on the next. It all adds to the diversity of our community.
Chris Glass, membership director, Lisbon & Milan
I’ve been with Soho House since 2009 as membership manager for Soho House Berlin, and then as the European membership director, working on the openings of Istanbul and Barcelona. Last year I began looking after seven cities as part of Cities Without Houses. This year, I’m focused on Milan and Lisbon and looking forward to going a bit deeper in both – building relationships and getting to know people.
The first thing I try to do is understand how the city relates to us. What are the creative industries? Is there an art scene, a music scene? Then we put together a committee that represents those industries and the people who run things. I try not to focus on the obvious people because they’re going to find us anyway. So in Milan, instead of hitting the fashion or design scene, we sought out people from the emerging tech scene, advertising, theatre… Discovering the sectors that people might not expect is more work sometimes but those people are just as relevant to us as any others. Lisbon is interesting: things are changing there but it’s still a relatively insular city and we have to respect that culture.
Cities Without Houses has helped me to understand that it doesn’t take a building to create a community. People come together because of shared interests.
Tanya Watia, membership director, Asia
I have lived in and out of Asia my entire life, growing up between Tokyo, Seoul, Alaska and Idaho. Now I live in Singapore and look after Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, China and Thailand for CWH. We’re actually finding that membership is growing organically as people recommend us to each other.
The creatives in Asia are fascinating. I loved talking to the amazing artisans of Tokyo when we held a small gathering at Higashiyama, a beautiful restaurant in the city.
I can’t wait to introduce more of them to each other, especially when we get more physical space with the openings of Mumbai and Hong Kong. And it’s great to be making connections of my own. At our second event in Singapore, I realised my next-door neighbour of four years was a founding member of Shoreditch House: until then I didn’t know his last name.
Jennifer Pauline, membership manager, US West Coast
I’ve spent the past year building our membership in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Atlanta and Santa Barbara – all different cities, but what I’ve found they have in common is that people are craving to meet and connect with one another, whether it’s a highly produced experience or a group workout.
We’ve hosted events celebrating creativity in technology with Mr Porter in San Francisco and Women’s History Month with Naomi Pomeroy in Portland. Kristen Hard, an Atlanta member and one of the only female chocolatiers in the world, hosted a chocolate-making class where she talked about her adventures in the Mexican jungle.
As a team we’ve had to be entrepreneurial, working a lot out through trial and error, but but the reward is connecting people both in their home city and around the world.
Andrea Tumani, membership manager, Latin America
Cities Without Houses came up at a great time for me because I’d left my job as a project manager at the Soho Beach House to move to Mexico City. I love it here – it’s vibrant and there’s always something to do.
It took me a while to figure out who membership would work for, but the city is big on movie production so a lot of our members work in that industry, travelling back and forth to LA.
I got a lucky break when I contacted a very influential architect in Mexico City who knew Soho House and gets the concept. He became my connector, helping me to pull our committee together, and now we have a really nice crowd. It helps that I’m local and present, and now I’m going to start venturing off to Toluca, Cancun and other cities that look promising.
Markus Anderson, Every House director
A big bonus of Cities Without Houses is that we have the chance to spend time in different cities before deciding whether to open a House there. And CWH members travel enough for this kind of membership to make sense. If you look at Sydney, which is one of the cities I look after, it’s a 15-hour flight away from the nearest House – but if you’re in film and spend two months of the year in LA, you can have all your meetings at Soho House West Hollywood while you’re there.
In the 16 years since I started as a waiter I’ve had a lot of jobs with Soho House but now I support all the membership teams including CWH and Dom. I’m based in Toronto but spend a lot of my time travelling and extending our networks.
I know pretty quickly who’s a potential member; you can spot people who just want a membership card. What I love is when someone who doesn’t know much about us realises that membership makes sense and you see them in the clubs all the time.
Some of my highlights from the past year have been CWH events. For the Mexico City pop-up we wanted to bring some of our international creative members to celebrate with us, so I invited 20 members from different Houses who I knew would be amazing. Now they’re all friends and working on projects together.
It’s not just about finding members, it’s about finding the community – if we were to open a House in Sydney right now, I’d have a pretty good idea of the founder membership base. Next up I’d like to do something for our Sydney members, which might be a bit of a mission logistically but would make them feel great.
Alicia Gutierrez, membership manager, Central US
I describe Cities Without Houses as a membership tailored to creatives who live in cities where we don’t currently have a site. Joining means that you can travel with Every House membership, while enjoying local quarterly event programming and perks.
Before doing this I’d worked as U27 membership manager for Soho House Chicago and on the opening of Ludlow House, and I really liked the idea of the brand existing in an abstract form. The amazing thing about Soho House is that it creates a member experience that’s in perfect synchronicity with each city, from the design to the drinks. But in building a CWH community we have none of that, so we have to embody Soho House ourselves.
My highlight so far (aside from eating a fried-bologna sandwich in a Nashville honky tonk) was our kick-off party for the Austin City Limits music festival. We had Spencer Ludwig performing, Tricia Thomas killed it with the production, Chris Hudnall helped everyone to get perfectly boozy with our House cocktails… It was a really magical night.
It’s also been great to see new members checking out the Houses and integrating into our culture. People from the South (Nashville, Austin and New Orleans) really know how to bring the party.
Amelia Levitan, East Coast membership manager
I first started at Soho House New York, becoming U27 manager, worked at the Soho Beach House in Miami and then opened Ludlow House. Now as the East Coast membership manager for CWH I’m focusing mainly on Boston and Washington DC and it has been great to explore both cities.
This membership really makes sense for people who travel regularly to our cities and are looking for a home away from home. They can also connect locally at events like the wine tasting we held at All Too Human, a concept store owned by a committee member in Boston. Jess Glick (membership director in New York) and our wine expert Laura Carlisi came along to support, the members really enjoyed meeting one another, and we got further applications from guests who attended. I can’t wait to see how the community continues to grow across all our cities this year.
Philippine Darblay, membership manager, Paris and Stockholm
I’m new to the company and have just started looking after memberships for Stockholm and my home city of Paris.
Before this I worked for Noma in Denmark, and I’m also a presenter for a French TV show, reporting on food markets.
It will be great to activate a network of interesting people in both cities. Parisians don’t communicate as easily as the British and by contrast with London, where there are lots of clubs and events, it’s not always easy for us to connect. Stockholm is also full of interesting creative people, but so far it doesn’t seem there is a club offering that’s anywhere close to Soho House.
Brand awareness should be good, so I’ll start by focusing on people who already know about the spirit of Soho House and bringing in a strong committee. We’ll hold small gatherings and of course if you see from House Seven that something you love is happening in a London House, it’s easy to take a train from Paris.