High Priestess of Holidays:
Everyone knows that girl – curator, mixer, fixer – the one that just gets it. Effortlessly cool, apparently great company, honest, raw enough to have authenticity, private enough to have a sense of enigma. Annabel Brooks of boutique luxury property company AVENUE is that woman.
Annabel has built a business by knowing what people need before they need it – remote, technology free holiday homes for the burnt out Insta-generation; the Enid Blyton book family experience for the executive couple who need the perfect family holiday for a couple of weeks, even if back in the city their real lives hurtle faster than a freight train and they see their kids for less than 10 hours during the week; and the sexy glamorous Ibiza party pad for the now exhausted stay at home mummy who occasionally hankers for her fabulous pre-kids executive life just for a weekend, for her 40th birthday.
She’s been to the cool parties, she’s chilled in the country house, she’s shake’d it off in Ibiza and, I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing she’s probably ommed in India. She’s a surefire better port of call for how to spend your annual holiday budget than a 25 year old with a good telephone voice. Holidays are expensive and with our day to day lives getting increasingly stressful we are looking for a greater return. We want nourishment, to fix relationships, to fix ourselves, to relax, to go ‘cray’ (I am actually quoting Obama quoting Kayne, forgive me) to come back more interesting, to feel like the hassle of leaving home was worth it. Essentially you need the mind of a therapist, with the eye of an interior designer, the culinary appreciation of a food critic, the organisational skill of a PA and the contacts book of someone more connected than you.
Successfully running a bespoke holiday home company is a bit like running a dating agency for high rollers. Listening, percolating and vetting are necessary skills. Annabel has clients who have taken the same property for years, referring to the house as their summer home, benefitting from the familiarity without the year-long running costs. Her team regularly visits every home on its books and makes sure they know the owners well and that their staff are going to deliver on everything the guest has asked for. On average they will send and receive about 40 emails covering the most miniscule details of a guest’s stay.
Deciding if a house is right for her 30-country portfolio of properties is a team affair.
“Visually, we have to love the aesthetics and whether the house is grand or small, we have to love the décor. ‘Simply elegant’ is a favourite term,” she says.
“The flow of the house has to work well for properties that are chosen for big family get togethers or celebrations and the kitchens have to be able to cater for large numbers.” She says that although people always ask for a chef, they don’t have to have catering kitchens.
Annabel says location is everything. “We have to love the position of the house. It could have beautiful countryside, be right by the beach or have amazing views.
When it comes to personal belongings being left on show, Annabel, who also rents her own properties, says she has changed her outlook.
“We never used to tell people that it was my house, now I want people to know. I want people to enjoy my house if I am not there. I am lucky to have it and want to share how I live there, so every house has a list of ’things to do’ and I write every guest a personal letter, saying vegetables and eggs will be brought in from the garden, every day. We have a cinema and huge movie collection, so I always tell them what new movies we have, where my favourite walks are and favourite, not obvious local places to eat and we have even this year made a personal, little, vegetable garden, for a small little boy and taught him how to garden.” Annabel says she encourages this attitude among all her owners. “It’s the principle of One Fine Stay (who she is partnered with). People have a much more intimate experience living in someone’s home in the city/country / by the sea than if they were just another anonymous guest in a hotel or a ‘professional rental property’.”
Her clients tend to have sophisticated taste and be well travelled and very discerning. “I have noticed some people in their 40s who live in London and have made a lot of money don’t necessarily buy a country house, but rent instead and take more holidays than if they were tied to owning a second home.”
These cashed up townies are also keen on the big country house party, with demand climbing for venues for 40ths, 50ths and 60ths. It is a matter of finding the dream property with the right infrastructure.
“Cornbury Park, which hosts Wilderness, is an amazing venue. It suits big parties and is very well equipped. Hampshire Estate is also great for parties. It has excellent grounds, bedrooms are similar sizes and it is just one hour from London. Sibton Hall is, again, well equipped for big groups and has lots of extra guest accommodation in cottages on the grounds. Mangerton is lovely for family get togethers and great for kids. If you are planning a lavish dinner but don’t require so many bedrooms, Ashby Park is perfect.”
Offshore, for families with a ‘touch of party’, Annabel recommends Italy and France and Ibiza.
“Torre del Falco, near Rome consists of three houses, suiting groups, set in lovely grounds with a great pool – Chateau Englain, very well set up for events dining hall for 80, pool, lots of land, 40mins from Toulouse. Chateau Bourlie has lots of extra accommodation on site and, suiting glampers, has deluxe tents in the grounds, which are 5km from Bergerac Airport.”
If you have the appetite and the cash to accompany it, you can rent the homes of the rich and famous. Annabel represents:
Mick Jagger in Mustique
Mel Gibson house in Costa Rica
Andre Balaz in New York State
Arki Busson in Harbour Island
Bryan Adams in Mustique
Chris Blackwell in Jamaica
Francis Ford Coppola in Italy and Belize
Plus many more whose well-known owners would prefer to remain anonymous
We asked Annabel for her favourite choice for a family holiday with a budget of £10,000. It can accommodate two families.
This farmhouse is great for families, swimming pool, sea views, good outdoor space and near the village and beach.