Haxted Thinking is a new monthly newsletter for anyone interested in how buildings are designed, made and used.
What is: Haxted Thinking?
Hello, I’m Carlo Navato, the founder of Haxted. In Haxted Thinking I’ll cover things from the whole end-to-end game of property development right from conceptual ideas to flexible end-use. I'll focus on the spaces where we live, work and relax.

I’ve been working in property since 1988. My development company Haxted is all about carefully designed, and well-crafted buildings. We create spaces with soul. Mainly homes but also workspaces.  There’s more about Haxted later but for now let’s dive right in.
I have strong views on the future of the industry and what's up. But these views are loosely held and when things change, our strategies and tactics change. Right now things are changing faster than ever. I'll share insights into what all of this might mean. If you invest in property, either in a business or personal capacity, this will be useful. 
At Haxted we are always on the lookout for how to improve the spaces we make. That means keeping a keen eye out for where change is occurring.  We create our strategies by synthesising all sorts of ideas from both conventional and unconventional places. I’ve found that the best way to do this successfully is to build agile teams of super committed and free-thinking people. We don't follow the herd. Being prepared to try new things now is more likely than ever to pay dividends. So I’ll share valuable frontline experience as we navigate this turbulent world of the future of property. 
At a time like this it’s all too easy to retreat as levels of anxiety and uncertainty increase. But I think there’s never been a greater opportunity to get on the front foot and re-imagine how we live and work. And to benefit from a new era of innovation. At Haxted we’re being imaginative about what’s ahead and how to tackle it profitably.
Covid-19 – Chaos and Opportunity 
 The global financial crisis of 2008 had the most dramatic effect on real estate markets and the built environment since the Second Word War. However the transformative changes being brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic looks like overshadowing that. The use of mass transit systems, the functionality of urban centres, and how and where we work, are all under review. Without any warning historically thriving industries are collapsing. Unemployment is climbing fast and will accelerate when furlough schemes and government support measures end. How we use space to live and work is changing. Maybe forever. 
We are living at a time of wild unpredictability and significant threat. But the knock-on effect of that is that we are also living at an inflection point where massive opportunity exists.  Only focusing in on one of those two outlooks leads to an abundant future. At this moment there has never been a better time to re-imagine the way real estate is done.  Value is being rapidly eroded across certain property sectors. In the retail, hospitality and office space many owners and occupiers are already in a severely weakened state. Others are understandably stepping back. Others still will not survive. 
When seismic shifts like this occur, and portfolio values decline as a result, someone else is afforded an opportunity to capitalise. But to do so requires all-in creativity. Creativity that is a marriage of intelligence - knowing what is, and imagination - knowing what could be. The early creative movers will gain momentum. And momentum is critical. Those choosing to stay long on cash may miss out.  The movers that do well will be those who are courageous and combine fertile creativity with disciplined strategy. Those that really thrive will combine early momentum and boundless imagination, with clear sighted, intelligent strategic discipline. It will require a whole new playbook. What worked before will not work this time. Covid is accelerating and intensifying trends that were already underway, whether that is changing patterns of commuting, the nature of office use or how flexible and adaptable we want our homes to be. 
The future is very uncertain but with clear vision and boldness, there is abundant opportunity to improve how we live and work.
Croydon, Clerkenwell or Cornwall?
I grew up in suburbia. As a kid in the early 1970’s it felt like the best of all worlds. We were surrounded by woods and parks, and the estate where I lived was full of adventurers. We built camps and climbed fragile roofed garage blocks and lived in and out of each others’ flats and houses. Beano’s – the legendary second-hand record store, was just 15 minutes away in Croydon. We had ready access to the bus into London and yet Brighton was only an hour away on a Sunday when Mum and Dad declared we were ‘going for a drive.’ 
Into the 1990’s and my twenties, suburbia started to seem like the worst of all worlds. Neither in the country with its unique natural attractions, clean air and wildness, nor in the city with its intoxicating energy and sensory brew of young people, culture and architecture. “In the city there's a thousand faces all shining bright / And those golden faces are under 25” so said a nineteen year-old Paul Weller in The Jam’s debut single. He was right. I yearned for the city but never made it. 
From the 1990’s onwards there has been a steady increase in city centre living globally across the age demographic. With galloping urban regeneration re-shaping city centres, younger people in particular have flocked to cities. In search of work, education, and new experiences in culture, the arts, and sex, the pull of the city seemed inexorable. Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, Hoxton, all attracted new fans. The compromise of a small flat and little if any external space was exchanged for a spot bang in the centre of where the action was. Is that about to change? Is spatial compromise now so easy to accept? Lockdown precipitated a huge flight out of urban centres as offices shut, and Covid has heightened the distinctions between life in the city and out of it. 
My hunch is that Covid will precipitate a change in the way cities function. The compromise of cramped space and a lack of fresh air and somewhere to sit out, is not so easy now. Some are predicting the death of cities. But the lure and power of cities is incredibly strong and I don’t see their imminent collapse. Cities have withstood and thrived in the aftermath of viral pandemics throughout history. From the Athens plague of 430BC, through the Black Death in the Middle Ages to the cholera outbreak in London in the 1850’s that claimed 10,000 lives, pandemics have ravaged and re-shaped European cities. But they’ve always emerged again re-invigorated. 
At the same time however, the relative ease with which businesses were able to rapidly re-mobilise their troops as city lockdowns were imposed, has put paid to the myth that working from home is only for freelancers. So cities are under renewed pressure.

Allied to this is the changing nature of the role of the office. Facebook and Google for example are not insisting on staff returning to offices before July 2021 and Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey has offered all staff a permanent work from home option. Barry Sternlicht, billionaire founder of Starwood Capital, recently told Bloomberg that New York office stock could lose 40% of its long-term value and a third of hotels could go bust. Bearish maybe but Barry knows a thing or two about real estate. And New York is one of the most resilient cities of them all. 
What’s clear is that service, experience, a clear focus on occupier wellbeing, and ultra-flexible lease terms will be the new differentiators for office success. The workplace is no longer a binary choice between the office or home. Hybrid modes of work are not only possible, but for many, preferable. There is an entirely new interplay happening as workplaces constitute an office and home. Offices will always be vital for employee collaboration and training and effective team building. It is impossible to gain these serendipitious and unplanned exchanges benefits in a work from home only scenario. Or from behind a computer screen. But anyone assuming business-as-usual is just around the corner are surely mistaken. The office of the future? For me less a space for administration and task processing, and more a creative hub for social interaction and culture building. 
Great cities will survive Covid. But there is a wasteland ahead for many urban centres that don’t have unique and compelling advantages. One potential upside I see is for artists and those engaged in creative work. The dramatic erosion of affordable studio and creative spaces due to gentrification since the 1980’s could well be reversed as rents and capital values fall in the longer term due to the economic fallout from the virus. London, New York and San Francisco in particular, have all become very much blander as they have become unaffordable for ordinary folk. Cheaper property means a more interesting cocktail of people in urban centres. With gentrification comes a reduction in textures and flavours of the city. A reverse of this effect would be excellent.
Cities will need to function in a different way in the future. Urban re-planning will have to dramatically reduce traffic congestion and high levels of pollution and improve unsanitary public transit systems. Mass testing, digital contact tracing and robust health systems to deal with future pandemic threats will be expected. Streets and public spaces must be better designed to reflect new expectations around social distancing. Restaurant and retail quality offerings will have to be top notch. Or they’ll die.
For all the inevitable turmoil around future cities, what of the suburbs? The suburbs grew up with the need to house city-based workers within a reasonable commuting distance of their workplaces. They also offered the prospect of a garden, greater living space, and a place to park as cars became ubiquitous. They have done the job effectively. I suspect we’ll see more regional workspaces and satellite office centres. Recent research from real estate consultant Knight Frank suggests renewed interest in larger suburban homes with better outside space and gardens. But suburban high streets are under existential threat as retailers suffer from a tsunami of online competition. And only the best-connected suburban places will thrive. Everything is up for grabs.
Perhaps the key question is ‘where do I want to be if there’s another lockdown?’ This is a new question and one that hasn’t been asked before. For me personally the answer lies away from the city. My work allows for that. My gut feeling for some time has been that the extended commute was becoming viable for more and more previously city-based workers. The revolution in technology and online connectivity that was well underway pre-Covid, is now at warp speed. Who knew Zoom or Teams meetings could be successful, let alone a first choice? Being out of office for more days a week or month, than in, is now eminently possible. So the maximum commute distance that might have been an hour is now much longer. Add in the ease and cost effectiveness with which AirBnB has made short term urban stayovers a thing, and all the ingredients exist for further de-population from cities. The Covid experience just intensifies all of this. 
The extended (occasional) commute and the full rural option is now very possible. More enlightened retail entrepreneurs in already popular rural towns and villages are being offered a new opportunity to grow their business offerings. Who says you have to be in Shoreditch to have artisan bread, beard grooming and a red-hot tattoo parlour? It’s already available in Penzance anyway and at half the price. Rural renaissance based on lifestyle drivers? I think so.
So Croydon, Clerkenwell or Cornwall? Well I see more available options for many than at any time before. Of course perhaps the ultimate ‘all-in’ move is to go full nomad and simply dare to roam between the places that provide for your specific needs at any given time. 
One Man, a Fazioli piano, and an Empty Space
“The words I have written over the years are just a veneer. There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words... truths that rise up without warning, like the humps of a sea monster and then disappear. What performance and song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface, to create a space, where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us. This shimmering space, where imagination and reality intersect... ...this is where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live"
Nick Cave, the writer of these words, is the creative boss. I’ve been hopelessly addicted to his music since his Murder Ballads album in 1996. From a performance perspective the persona he inhabits live is incomparable. His occupation of stage space is so total, and his connection to an audience so intimate, that to witness him and his band the Bad Seeds live, is to be transported to another world. It turns out his writing is almost as rewarding as his music. His Red Hand Files,  where he responds to random questions from fans and readers, provide an extraordinarily rich seam of inspiration and comfort. And his films - 20,000 Days on Earth and One More Time With Feeling - are daring and searingly honest. 
So imagine my delight when it was announced that he was performing a live streamed solo concert from the Alexandra Palace a few weeks ago. This one-off performance of a man sat at a gorgeous Fazioli grand piano, situated in a space splendid in its emptiness, was sublime. ‘Idiot Prayer – Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace’ was the perfect evocation of how a space doesn’t need to be filled with paraphernalia to be complete. In western philosophy we tend to see emptiness in space as lacking something. Eastern aesthetic philosophy, on the other hand, sees emptiness in space as being full of possibility, full of potential. Here’s the trailer.
Who is Haxted? 
Haxted is a real estate development company passionate about creating beautiful homes and workspaces at a fair price. Our business is grounded in the visceral belief that well-designed and crafted buildings can massively enhance the quality of peoples’ lives. Haxted came into existence during the 2008 global financial crisis, a time of great turmoil.  Our thinking was that property needed less business-as-usual and more imagination. Less stuff and more soul. A little less conversation, a whole lot more action.  It felt like the tectonic plates of how to do development were shifting. We needed to be nimble and ready to change shape at short notice. 
The next few years are going to test us all. The choices that we make about the buildings we choose to live and work in have never been more important. If you think Haxted could help with your real estate decision making please email me at

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Haxted · Unit 2 Charnwood Edge Business Park · Cossington , Leicestershire LE7 4UZ · United Kingdom

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