In conversation with

Emma Mansell

Marketing Director at The Modern House

Emma Mansell The Modern House

Introduction

Introduction

As a nation obsessed with property – whether it’s buying or renting – we are endless dreamers, wistfully flicking through interiors magazines, curiously scrolling through celebrity renovation feeds or surreptitiously bookmarking houses that are way out of our budget.

It’s likely that in this endless scroll, you’ve come across The Modern House. Blurring the boundaries between lifestyle brand and luxury estate agent, The Modern House is equal parts editorial and visual, feeding our design obsession with immaculately captured homes in the city, by the coast and nestled in nature.

We visited their (impeccably designed) offices to talk with Marketing Director, Emma Mansell. From overseeing new editorial projects – a new book with Penguin Life and a biannual magazine on the way – to striking the right balance when promoting new homes, Emma is tasked with setting the tone for the brand, one which she describes as “more timber, than concrete.”

Question and Answer

The Modern House is famous for taking an editorial approach to estate agency and disrupting quite a stagnant sector. Why does it work?

The Modern House’s founders, Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill, both came from editorial backgrounds before they started the company – writing for World of Interiors and Wallpaper respectively – so it’s something that has been at the core of the business from the outset.

Imagine feeling like you were browsing an interiors magazine and choosing your next home from its pages; I think that’s why it works – you know that everything you’re looking at has a certain calibre, and as an experience it’s a far cry from trawling endless repetitive listings on Rightmove. For people who are looking for a beautiful home, The Modern House provides a ready-made design filter.

We often talk about how our approach is more aligned with the art market, than with typical estate agencies. Like with the art market, our clients are looking to invest in good design, rather than property. We look at each home in terms of its history, provenance, aesthetic references, curation, and we use editorial quality images and copy to try to bring out the story behind them.

The Modern House

How did you go about creating a solid tone of voice for such a visual brand?

It’s tricky; as you say, everything we do is visually driven. When I first joined the company four years ago, I always used to try and imagine our tone of voice as a material – at that point we were definitely concrete! Our tone of voice was very straight to the point, quite serious, Modernist with a capital M.

I think now we’re probably more timber than concrete. Over the last few years we’ve started to focus more on the principles behind modern architecture – space, light, and a truth to materials – which can be found in any home which has been designed with a certain way of living in mind, not just in early 20th-century masterpieces. We deal with anything from mid-century townhouses or thoughtful period conversions, to ex-council flats with beautiful interiors, and we wanted our tone of voice to reflect our guiding design principles, but also to feel more accessible and a bit softer.

It’s also so important that everything we do, write and say is honest and transparent, in an industry which is perceived to represent the antithesis to that.

Today, do you see TMH primarily as a lifestyle brand and editorial platform or a premium ‘estate agent’? How do you strike the balance?

I think we’re both, equally. We exist to sell houses and to provide the best possible experience we can for people when doing that. (I do wish there was another term for estate agency that didn’t carry such negative connotations, though …)

But we’re also a group of people – internally with our team, and externally with our clients and wider audience – who are united by a love of good design, and a love of talking about it and living with it. Everything we do – selling homes and all of the additional things that surround it – come out of that.

We have an editorial team in house now, who produce amazing content for our online magazine, and later in the year we’ll be producing the first version of it in print. We’ve recently launched a podcast, we run an events series, and we’re soon to launch an online shop – there’s lots going on at the moment!

“We look at each home in terms of its history, provenance, aesthetic references, curation, and we use editorial quality images and copy to try to bring out the story behind them. ”

Where do you begin when it comes to telling stories around a house? With design, history or structure? And do you have any specific favourites?

It varies – usually it’s our Appraisers who are tasked with getting to the bottom of this. Generally they are the first people who will visit the homes we represent, they’ll meet the owners, have a tour, and try to uncover what it is that’s special about each space. It might be that it was built by a well-known architect, or that the interiors are done impeccably, but it might be something more intangible like the way the light comes through a window in the morning, or the way the wildflower garden changes throughout the year. Once we’ve identified that, it becomes the focus for the photographer and the appraiser to capture in the listing.

Do I have favourites? I think if you asked anyone in the office, Klein House would be up there at the top of their list. We sold it in 2017, and it remains the most popular house that has ever been on our site. It’s a masterpiece by Peter Womersley from 1957, built for the textile designer Bernat Klein. It’s just impeccable.

Closer to home, I adore the craftsmanship in the interiors of this house in Hackney and the light and space in this apartment in Clapham.

What is the thinking behind The Modern House Journal?

It started as an extension of our sales listings, to look at homes in more detail and to talk about other things that inspired us as a team – things we’d seen or read. It’s really developed over the last few years as a way to foreground our belief that a well-designed home can improve your happiness and wellbeing, so everything on there stems from that.

How would you describe the internal culture at TMH? Any common values that bind you?

Absolutely. My favourite thing about The Modern House is the people I work with. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded everyday by a group of people who have such strong shared interests, and a genuine belief in what they’re doing. The team has grown a lot in the time I’ve been with the company – I was the eighth member of staff and we’re up to 30+ now, and the company culture has remained exceptionally strong. It’s a creative company, with creative staff, providing a service for creative people, and I think that works from all sides.

"It’s a creative company, with creative staff, providing a service for creative people, and I think that works from all sides."

What are the three things you always have top of mind when creating a marketing campaign?

– Who is it for, and why should they care?

– How can we get the message across as efficiently, cleverly and beautifully as possible?

– How will we know if it’s done what we hoped?

The Storylist

Emma's Storylist

Books

  1. Independent People by Halldor Laxness
  2. How To Be Both by Ali Smith
  3. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Magazines

  1. Delayed Gratification
  2. Dirty Furniture
  3. The New Yorker

Newsletters

  1. Courier Weekly
  2. The Hustle
  3. Katie Moffat's Digital Snapshot

Podcasts

  1. The Guilty Feminist
  2. 99% Invisible
  3. Serial
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