You can’t step out of the door these days without tripping over a Warner Village advertisement boasting half a dozen screens plus whatever today’s equivalent of an Aberdeen Steak House is, so it is great news that one of the UK’s oldest picture houses, the Electric, built in 1911 on London’s Portobello Road, is re-opening at the end of the month, having stood derelict for seven years.
Soho House, the exclusive private members’ club, is behind the re-launch. Its owner Nick Jones, whose ever-expanding portfolio includes Babington House and, as of next year, a property in New York’s meat-packing district, has taken over the Electric and the building next door, transforming it into a plush, 100-seat cinema, a traditional brasserie and two-floor private member’s club, Electric House.
Architect Gebler Tooth, which began revamping the Electric two years ago, and Michaelis Boyd, who worked on Babington House for Jones, have teamed up to give the building the slick look of a Soho House property.
The exterior of the domed cinema remains intact, as do its original mosaic floors and gold-gilded baroque interior.
The latter detail, like many others, came from Ilse Crawford, Jones’ design consultant, who describes the new Electric as ‘William Morris on Jimi Hendrix on Portobello on present day’. She worked closely with Jones to create the fantasy home-from-home feel for which Soho House is best known, a place where ’emotional values’, ie how it feels as much as how it looks, are paramount.
In the cinema, conventional seating has been replaced with deep red leather sofas and armchairs by Lyndon Design. Each has a footstool and a side-table with built-in wine cooler. Since the original screen could not be tampered with, a high-tech, expanding version has been installed over the top, doubling the overall screen area to allow for widened format films. There is a bar at the back of the room and usherettes will serve pack lunch-style pub food in cartons.
The Electric Brasserie will serve a classical English and French menu. It has a black and white colour scheme, un-polished utilitarian wood floors, low lighting and an Italian crystal chandelier from Westbourne Grove furniture shop Le Paul Bert.
Electric House is styled like a New York loft apartment. Its kitchen, which will serve New York Italian food, is the focal point of the first floor. Members can perch on Harry Bertoia and Michael Young barstools at the kitchen counter, sit at a beechwood kitchen table or among clusters of low leather chesterfield sofas and chairs by Pierre Paulin and Arne Jacobsen. On the walls hang an assortment of mirrors (‘media luvvies do like to look at themselves,’ says Crawford).
The top floor houses two meeting rooms with screening facilities, decked out with Peche and B&B Italia chairs, multi-coloured Paul Smith carpets and electric blue walls; one will double as a small private dining room.
Soho House will be hard pushed not to make a success of this latest project. Jones knows what the media crowd want and it is certainly all there at the Electric House. But with the opening of the Electric Cinema and Brasserie, it seems the movie-going public may well get a look-in on the good life as well.
The Electric Cinema House and Brasserie are due to open at the end of April at 191 Portobello Road, London W11