I came to New York in 1997 with dreams of becoming the next Gordon Gekko. Investment banking would be my ticket out of academic failure. But I hated it. Soon my only dream was being hit by a bus to avoid work. Eventually, they fired me for being useless. I needed a new career. I just didn’t know what. Growing up as the son of a successful developer in Northern England, I was surrounded by building plans, construction sites, and contractors.
I vividly remember sitting on the big bench seat in the back of my Dad’s Rolls Royce — the smell of leather, wool carpets, and cigars, with the warmth of Simon and Garfunkel on the radio. It was a womb-like experience, which defined my belief underpinning great design: comfort. My parents divorced when I was 11. My security evaporated. Dad cut off my mother financially, throwing us from opulence into poverty. He eventually lost all his money and drank himself to death. Just before he died, I was expelled from school. I escaped to explore the world and find myself. It was 18 months of one-way tickets, the circumnavigation of the globe, and fun odd jobs — hairdresser, gemologist, dive instructor, bartender, and a stint in a meatpacking factory. Continued below...
Returning at 19, I got my first real job. It was instrumental in shaping my client care approach. I visited a catering agency in London seeking part-time work. There was a pay rate sheet on the wall. Busboy paid the least. Waiter was in the middle. The top pay was butler. When the interviewer asked what I did, I declared, “I’m a butler.” Surprised and skeptical, he said, “Okay, I need to test you.” On the spot, he tested my napkin folds, place settings, and even which side to serve from (waiters serve from the right, butlers from the left). I passed perfectly! But how? Turns out I have an uncommon ability: a photographic memory combined with another rare trait — “spacial visualization.” (This means I can 2D and 3D model in my head.)
I passed the butler test because as a child (before we went broke), I loved setting lavish tables for 20 people and 9-course meals — and I remembered everything! Placed in butler service for The Royal Family, 10 Downing Street, and Sir James Ogilvy, I acquired a white glove level of client care. A year later, I jumped ship to work on racing yachts in Carribean and became a member of a high-performing team where passion, excellence, and winning were expected. Two years later, I was selected as Captain and my boss gave me advice that I have shared with others many times. “Stay passionate, James. You’ll live a fulfilled life.” After racing, the owner put me to work as Jr. Engineer on his beautifully appointed mega yacht, and my education in contracting began.
I learned refrigeration, air conditioning, electrical, carpentry, and millwork. Almost a foreshadowing, I worked with specialists worldwide to make the boat’s complex systems perform perfectly. I also absorbed the practical, comfortable, yet luxurious design of the yacht. And after that, I tried to be Gordon Gekko. Following my Wall Street firing, I bought an apartment in the West Village, NY, for $325k and spent $50k on it. I designed it, gutted it, built it, and lived in it. I loved the creative process of building my home. I knew that security, comfort, and beauty made me feel good; it made me feel safe — and I knew my calling. When I wanted to sell it two years later for $500k, a real estate broker suggested, “List it for a million.” One week later, in 2001, it sold for a million cash (far exceeding the other prices on the block). West Village GC was born. I was the first customer. Six months later, I landed a $56k job. It went great. From there, we got recommended for other jobs. Since then, we’ve built over 600 apartments in New York City, one of the world’s most complex real estate markets. We've been featured in The New York Times, Robb Report, and Elle Decor as one of the leading construction brands. But I'm unlike what most people expect their builder to be.
My posh English accent is different. I’ve been called “James Bond on the construction site,” a “Sophisticated Contractor,” and even a “weird anomaly.” I understand that I’m hard to get. It's an odd combination — 20+ years as an NYC builder, a high school dropout, Royal Family butler, professional sailor, motorcycle racer, and son of a developer from Northern England. It’s been a winding road, and what I’m most proud of would also make my Dad proud: Our projects don’t have punch lists. Everything is on-time and on budget. We never have callbacks. We operate from a simple standard: Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, for the price you said you were going to do it for. Call that sophisticated, a weird anomaly, or whatever you like. It’s simply the West Village GC way.
Each is unique. Each an intricate blend of experiences had and experiences desired. What you like. What you love. What you want. A dream is unlike anything else. It’s singular. It’s yours and no one else’s.