The Candy Brothers: Real Estate Gurus Develop Their Own Paradise in Monaco

The Candy brothers, also known as Nick (36) and Christian (35), are the founders of Candy & Candy Ltd, a London-based interior design company. One would think, in the midst of a worldwide recession and a housing slump in London, a company such as this one would be in a quiet, though temporary, slumber. But, in fact, Candy & Candy are wide awake.

The British-born brothers live together in Monaco in a 17,500-square-foot, 30-room duplex penthouse that was recently valued at €192 million. With a new yacht called Candyscape II and the impressive Monaco property, the brothers are doing pretty well for themselves.

The Candys consider the yacht and apartment as showcases for the style and elegance that they can provide their billionaire clients. Born into a middle-class suburban family, the brothers started off developing and designing high-end London homes. They took advantage of a property boom that saw prices rise in the city. But then came the crash.

The FTSE All-Share Real Estate Index fell 67 per cent at the end of 2006, while the UK’s largest homebuilder’s shares dropped 80 per cent. Following the sinking of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, almost no homes in London were sold on the super-prime market, where houses start at £10 million.

And, though you certainly wouldn’t suspect it from the yacht (interior above), the apartment and the lifestyle in Monaco, the Candy brothers weren’t completely spared. They had to back out of a plan to build a development in London called NoHo Square that would have included 244 flats. Another project, with 552 apartments to go up on a 13-acre site called Chelsea Barracks, also went awry.

Because of these miscalculations, the crux of the Candy’s future is a project called One Hyde Park, a development of 86 apartments in Knightsbridge. Located about 300 metres from Harrods department store, the address is targeted at the world’s richest homebuyers. Half of the units have been sold with one of the penthouses purchased for “considerably more than £100 million,” according to Nick Candy.

In the decades since it was founded, Candy & Candy has designed London homes for a variety of high-end clients, those that could be classified as the uber-rich. Among these is American actress Gwyneth Paltrow, exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Australian pop star Kylie Minogue (above).

According to the Candys, they can afford to wait for the property market to revive. One reason, they say, is that they cashed out of a joint venture that was formed in 2006 to buy two Kensington hotels for £69 million. They planned to replace the space with 97 apartments. That is, until they were offered £320 million by investors from Abu Dhabi. The deal closed in March 2008 and the Candys pocketed about half of the £251 million profit.

Among the brothers’ other assets are five homes in Monaco and London, which have been valued at £324 million, plus two yachts, a speedboat, a helicopter, two Maybachs, two Rolls Royces, two Bentleys and two Ferraris.

Despite all this opulence, the Candys were not born into such a world. They grew up in Surrey, outside London, as the children of a Greek mother and an English entrepreneur father who owned a small advertising production agency. According to Chris, money was so tight that their maternal grandmother, who co-owned a restaurant, had to help out by paying the fees at their private secondary school, Epsom College.

Chris went out to earn a degree in business management at King’s College in London and then spent two years at a corporate finance firm before he went into business for himself. Meanwhile, Nick majored in geography at the University of Reading. He failed his first-year accounting exams as a trainee at KPMG before switching into advertising at J. Walter Thompson Co. and Dentsu Inc.

The brothers’ first real estate investment was in 1995, when the Candy family paid £122,000 for a fifth-floor walk-up in London’s Earls Court district, where the brothers lived while Chris finished university. Their grandmother loaned them the £6,000 down payment while their father covered the mortgage payments.

Because Britain’s housing boom was just beginning, the Candys earned 50,000 pounds when they sold the apartment after 18 months. They followed that up with another apartment for £236,000 , selling it seven months later for £345,000. In 1998, they left their jobs to focus on the real estate market and, by 1999, had bought a handful of flats in high-priced Belgravia, funded by lenders.

Though some have reported that the Candys can sometimes raise their voices with each other, they also say that the brothers make every single major decision together. At home in Monaco they share a study with facing desks. Even though they are very close – often talking 20 times a day over the phone when they are not together – the brothers live very separate lives. But in Monaco, both brothers live much like their super-rich clients. In their home they are served by a butler, a chef and three maids. A directory lists 25 phone numbers for various parts of the penthouse, including a massage room, a bar and a games room.

Their success can be attributed to the rise of a new global elite who were willing to pay a high price for luxury. During the decade between 1998 and 2008 the brothers slipped comfortably into, what they call, “a complete age of decadence.”

The Candys renovated flats with plasma screens in every room, toilets that flushed with the wave of a hand and master bedrooms the size of hotel suites. For those who were security conscious, they even installed bomb-proof windows and retina scanners.

By 2002, the brothers were making millions of pounds a year buying and refurbishing individual homes. This was when they started to notice that larger developments offered an even richer payoff. Their first was a 16-unit project on Manresa Road in London’s Chelsea district.

Perhaps the brothers most lucrative relationship was with al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar, began in 2003, raising the brothers from niche players to major developers. At the time, al-Thani was foreign minister. Nick was introduced to the future prime minister by a banker friend. He then pitched a development in Belgravia at 21 Chesam Place, as well as the One Hyde development. The former would be the first building that the Candys created from the ground up.

Meanwhile, One Hyde Park is scheduled for completion in November 2010. It is a joint venture that saw al-Thani pay £150 million for the site in 2004, using a £100 million loan from Bank of Scotland. This summer, the building was half-built, but there are signs already of the opulent apartments that will fill the space. Underground parking spots that are 6.17 metres long and a private cinema are among the amenities.

According to Nick, half of the apartments have been sold already at about £5,520 per square foot. This amounts to £750 million, which covers the construction costs. Typically, UK developers require a 10 per cent deposit, while the Candys demand 40 per cent.

With cash to invest the brothers are looking at properties around the world and say they eventually hope to replicate One Hyde Park in Monaco, Hong Kong and New York. In the meantime, the brothers are beginning to look past real estate. Chris recently paid £11.5 million this year to buy 44 per cent of Metals Exploration Plc, a London-based mining company whose principal asset is a goldmine in the Philippines.

It was only two years ago, Nick recalls, that they paid £1.5 million as a down payment on two flats priced at 30.5 million pounds in a building under construction in Knightsbridge. It sold months later, before the building was even completed, for £54 million.

The brothers acknowledge that the past few years were an amazing era, one that will not be back too soon. However, with an eye for growth in the real estate market and their own remarkable residence in the south of France, the Candys will be creating developments around the work for years to come.