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Entrepreneurs: Accouter Group of Companies has grand designs for residential projects

·4-min read
Alec Watt and Stella Gittins are the founders of the Accouter Group of Companies (Accouter Group of Companies)
Alec Watt and Stella Gittins are the founders of the Accouter Group of Companies (Accouter Group of Companies)

You wouldn’t expect to find much common ground between the neutral greige decor of a £500,000 Berkeley Homes show house in deepest suburbia and the flashy interiors of a £10 million Hyde Park pad.

But actually there’s a good chance both interiors were designed in the same building: the Fitzrovia headquarters of the Accouter Group of Companies. 55 staff work under eight brands to design and furnish flats and houses ranging from Belgravia townhouses and the apartments of the Royal Atlantis in Dubai, to buy-to-lets in Canary Wharf. The team have done 4000 so far.

Founders Stella Gittins, 41, and Alec Watt, 52, worked in operations and property respectively when they decided to launch their own residential interiors business. They called it Accouter. The super-rich now hand over upwards of £100 per square foot to furnish Mayfair, Belgravia and Hyde Park homes, from fitted kitchens and spas to toilet roll holders.

Today the brand is a member of luxury bible Walpole and a go-to name in the “home staging” industry — but their start-up journey wasn’t always as smooth as the marble slab islands Accouter installs in clients’ homes.

“Our first job was to furnish apartments in Wimbledon for a large French bank,” Gittins explains. “At that point our headquarters was my parents’ house in Hillingdon, and we were given 14 days from the date we received our cheque to fit out the show apartment.

“But the cheque didn’t arrive for ages, and then my mum told me it had got stuck to an AA flier, which she’d ripped in half by mistake. Luckily I managed to Sellotape it back together and somehow the HSBC payments machine accepted it and we could go shopping.”

Their work paid off and clients flocked via word-of-mouth recommendations. Watt and Gittins took on more designers and gave them autonomy to find niche opportunities.

“We’ve got eight brands now under the Accouter umbrella, all born from somebody in the business saying, ‘we’ve seen a gap in the market’. They put a business plan together and if we think it’ll work, we back them,” says Watt.

Those brands include: A.London, which works on “luxury staging” for buyers and renters who borrow furniture ahead of being put on the market; BoxNine7, which offers furnishing packages to buy-to-let investors; Bazaar, a décor website selling £21 candles dubbed “The Lingering Scent of Disappointment” and £6000 bars; and Knight Frank Interiors, a white- label arm working for the estate agency’s wealthy clients.

Turnover hit £7 million in the year to May, and the entrepreneurs are still reaping the rewards of their own initial £40,000 investment, having never pitched a begging bowl to backers.

Their own office is an Art Deco shared working space — so no home makeovers allowed — but a “Wow wheel” stands out. Top performers spin it each month to win prizes ranging from a day off to a piece of furniture from the warehouse.

Customers hail from around the globe. “I’ve boarded a flight to Jakarta to get a wallpaper sample signed off [by a client],” laughs Gittins. Pre-Covid, there were also regular trips to Hong Kong with developers to sell London flats.

“People come to buy an apartment like they’re just going on an afternoon shopping trip,” Watt adds.

The pair aim to fulfil their clients’ interior dreams — which have included a bath that fits 10 people and a sound-proof party room with DJ decks in a quiet Westminster street — but not everything is possible. One international customer asked the duo to commission Banksy for a piece of art. “Needless to say, this did not happen,” reports Gittins.

Covid saw consultations switch to Zoom and Teams, but “it actually made things faster,” says Watt. “Rather than waiting for clients to fly in, we could make plans more immediately, and luckily all the [furnishing and installation] work was allowed to carry on.”

In the coming years, the duo are keen to watch their fledgling brands grow up. “We’d like to give people the chance to spin off the brands via management buyouts,” says Watt, “but we want to grow the group of companies carefully — we’re not looking for growth for the sake of it.”

The pair artfully design plans for their company as well as their clients.

The Accouter Group of Companies

Founded: 2012

Staff: 55

Turnover: £7 million in year to May; £10 million forecast this year

Headquarters: Fitzrovia

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