Meet Mr. Made to Measure
Newly-appointed Director and Head of the Bespoke division at Octagon, Laurence Holder is no stranger to the whacky and the wonderful in the property world, overseeing Octagon’s made-to-measure property service.
Working with individual clients from the concept and planning stages, through to handing over the keys, Octagon Bespoke offers the opportunity to build the home of your dreams, with the support and experience of the very best developer in the luxury market.
We sat down with Laurence to discuss his career to date, including the 21 years he has spent at this pioneering luxury housebuilder.
What sort of training or education did you have that helped channel a path to the building industry?
Fresh out of school in Newport Pagnell, close to my home village of North Crawley I had little idea of what career path I should be taking, but common sense led me to the local college where I qualified as a joiner. Then I had a brief spell at a local estate agency as a Sales Negotiator before starting at Crest Nicholson, in their land buying department. This was a good move, and I have to thank the then MD Stephen Stone for taking me under his wing and ensuring I got a thorough training. I stayed for 5 years before stopping briefly at Barratts, where I had no sooner received my site kit, than I had an approach from Octagon to join their new North London division.
How long ago did you join Octagon and what was your position at the time?
I will never forget my start date – it was on the first working day of the millennium January 2000. I joined as a development manager, helping to expand the North London operation. As part of a small team, we set up offices in Mill Hill.
“Communication is a key ingredient for a successful Bespoke project.”
The name Octagon was not so well-known in that area at the time, but we quickly established a good rapport with local buyers wanting a one-off ‘trophy’ house. We used to drive them across to Surrey to see what we do and more often than not afterwards they would commit to a property we were building speculatively. Some of our earliest clients were from the sports world, Premier League managers and players, and the odd professional golfer. We also started building some flagship developments, comprising townhouses, apartments, and larger family homes, and the Octagon name went from strength to strength. From Hampstead, Highgate, and Mill Hill we moved beyond London into select parts of Hertfordshire.
How did you move into the Bespoke division?
After being promoted to Land Director in 2008, I started to get involved with individual clients looking for particular areas to live in, often wanting to customise an Octagon design to fit their own needs and aspirations.
From 2015 I gradually increased my involvement in the newly set up Bespoke division, working closely with Octagon’s former Build Director John Pope at the company’s headquarter offices. During John’s last full year with the company in 2020 I was invited to join the Octagon Board and then in April this year, officially became the new Head of Bespoke, a position I intend to cherish for many a year to come.
What makes Octagon Bespoke so special?
It is incredibly rare to be able to sit down with a developer and think through what you’d like in your dream home, and then see that dream come to fruition! Thanks to the immense experience of our in-house team, we can really cater to any type of property, whether that’s a manor house in our signature neo-Georgian style, or a contemporary glass box.
That flexibility extends to the process too – clients can bring us on board at any stage of the process. Sometimes it is right in the early stages, where clients need our support to find a plot and navigate through the planning process. On other occasions, clients already have architectural plans and they bring us on board to build their home.
How is the Bespoke business now?
The growth in Bespoke has been unprecedented during the last four years, with the number of live projects multiplying month on month. We are currently overseeing 17 builds ranging from medium to large sized detached homes and mansions, to an elaborate extension to an existing Octagon home, a Grade II restoration project, and two apartment blocks for another returning Octagon client.
What do you put all this rapid growth down to?
The great thing about Octagon is their forty plus years of striving to lead in luxury housebuilding is really paying off now and deservedly so. During my two decades with the company some of the original Directors like David James and Colin Tutt showed me why all this continuous effort was so necessary.
How are you going to keep the momentum going?
Today the Octagon name and track record puts us in the frontline with individuals and property investors looking for a trustworthy partner to deliver their dream home, or is now the case, multiple homes. I believe our Bespoke service is now one of the best in the UK, and it is no surprise the majority of our new projects are as a result of a recommendation by a Bespoke customer or indeed via one of our suppliers or consultants. This doesn’t mean we think it can’t get any better, just like the other sectors in the Octagon Group, we continually assess and upgrade, that’s the only way to maintain our position.
Are there any recent bespoke projects that stand out to you?
One particular favourite of mine is a house we built overlooking the River Thames in southwest London. Behind its relatively traditional façade is an extraordinary, contemporary house, which we built in partnership with Exedra Architects. The ground floor features clever undulating levels, opening up to an elevated decked terrace, beyond which rolling lawns lead to the floating pontoon on the river. The lower ground floor is another highlight, featuring a gym of gargantuan proportions, kitted out to professional standards. Then there is the playroom with full size pool table, cinema screen wall, and long 90-degree angle cocktail bar in beaten metal, facing enough sumptuous high stools for a dozen or so house guests.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
One of the benefits of my job is meeting the client for the first time, understanding what they want, and starting a relationship, as communication is a key ingredient for a successful Bespoke project. Of course we encounter challenges along the way, but our professional team’s experience and transparency helps to reassure any client they have chosen the right company, and by the time of completion, we have usually made a lifelong friend. So much so that many a Bespoke client has returned to invite us to deliver a second or even third dream home for another family member.
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