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Langtry House

Locksmith – Clippings and Musings – Helen Duval

With all of us now able to invest in better hi-tech security, it does make me wonder about how those who need substantial protection from thieves look to protect themselves. It must cost an absolute fortune for the rich and famous, who with natural paranoia, will look to improve their personal security. Given their cashflow, they do tend to be a step ahead. With recent high profile burglaries, such as that of John Terry earlier this year, which was caused after he posted photos from his holiday on his social media account, it does show weaknesses in our security methods. Everyone seems to have their five minutes of fame these days in their own personal, social media realm, and with that comes some potential security hazards. Evaluating high-tech security would now seem more important than ever.

Through ground breaking technology, burglary is no longer the easy job it used to be, thanks to new security products such as face-recognition cameras. For the rich, famous and infamous they are now prepared to go to exceptional lengths when considering how to protect their properties. No doubt the rest of us will follow suit (in much more modest ways), depending on budgets.

One recent viral video demonstrated the changing dynamic of the London property market however, with a humorous sketch denoting how new buyers of prime locations around the Capital, are pricing local people out of the housing market. Sold in with the benefits of stunning views, cinema rooms and private spas “… that will never be used”, these ‘superior benefits’ wouldn’t even scratch the surface for a super-rich buyer with serious intent to invest. Today, security is possibly the biggest category for consideration after the cost, with some buyers checking out neighbours and ease of access for helicopter evacuation, before making any further commitments.

According to another article Russian oligarchs, Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern Royals make incredible demands in order to protect their properties before making any commitments, beginning with the complete dismissal of an English Country pile that has a public footpath running through it, as it is too accessible to the general public and of course, attack.

Biometric locking systems, internal surveillance cameras and programmable keys that have a time limit and can restrict access to different areas, are all basic components for those with a limitless budget. In a world where social media dominates and properties consequently become targets, secure privacy has become an indulgence everyone wants to afford.

‘Invisible’ homes are becoming increasingly popular for those with very deep pockets and architects are picking up the baton in novel ways, to create new levels of protection. With open displays of wealth in executive toys such as Bentleys or Aston Martins becoming more unpopular, due to people being followed, monitored and targeted, the super wealthy are becoming more discerning about when, where and how they spend their cash. A property that can be hidden from online searches is far more appealing than grand statements of opulence when it comes to the outside world.

Privacy and security for architects, on high end properties, is now becoming big business, with many new concepts being produced that will conceal entire buildings. Putting something underground is the easiest way to eliminate public attention and grand designs are beginning to emerge under the surface of British cities.

Going Underground

Langtry House

Architects Joas Souza achieved this with Langtry House near Hampstead Heath where a modern three bedroom house, complete with three bathrooms and a cinema room has been built underneath what was a row of lock-up garages that sat behind a mansion block.

The Barclay Brothers, (owners of The Ritz amongst other things) years before, went to great lengths to secure their privacy on the island of Brecqhou, which belongs in part to the island of Sark and part to the Bailwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Security was paramount for the twins who began to build their gothic castle on the island which was designed by Barclay favourite, Terry Quinlan. Fort Brecqhou is the largest ‘house’ built in Britain in the last 200 years. It comes complete with circular turrets and features giant twisted chimneys. Originally bought by the twins in 1993 for £2.3 million, the build cost comes in at approximately £90 million and is complete with its own helipad. Of course, being veiled in secrecy during its development has made this the subject of much speculation and unwanted curiosity, however breaking in to this castle is another matter and would be nigh on impossible.

Fort Brecqhou

Zaha Hadid won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and is internationally renowned for her stunning creations. Cited as collaborating with artists, designers and engineers the company now readily practices diversity, incorporating modern technologies into complex architectural designs that keep clients safe.

Roughly translated, according to a recent article in the FT, around five per cent of the development cost that is designed by Zaha Hadid, will go on safety-related features.

Fort Brecqhou

Today, wealthy buyers have caught up and with new threats developing all the time owners are now aiming to keep both animate and inanimate objects safe. Vinyl polymer coatings make windows blast-resistant while security shutters that react at what appears to be the speed of light, can secure key rooms in the event of a break in. Most recently, investors have looked to create ‘safe rooms’ which are installed before buyers move in. Owners will choose a room and reinforce it with strengthened walls and steel doors with a view to preventing kidnappings. Surveillance cameras are big business for these super-safe structures with anything upwards of £20,000 being spent on deceptively hidden technology that has live links to the local constabulary. Many new British estate owners use AI as a major part of security refurbishment, with complex technology that has been trained to evaluate thermal imaging and video footage. This takes surveillance to a whole new level and enables systems to then distinguish between animals and human movement – leaving occupants to sleep soundly in their very own tailored fortresses.

Paris-based Netatmo, has developed technology that can screen the identity of regular visitors, capturing visuals such as jaw-lines and shapes of noses to distinguish different people. Anyone not recognised is instantly reported to the homeowner via a ‘smart-link’ and the identity of any burglars can then be quickly passed on to the Police.

Prized possessions can now have DNA solutions applied to them which ensures they can be identified as stolen at any auction house.

Those determined to break in however, will do it! Making it hard for them once they have done that is then the key. For the rich this must be a nightmare as criminals will take their time if the prize is worth it. Monitoring movements and following Social Media accounts can lead to vulnerable attacks once they have their target. Couple that with cybercrime and this could literally wipe someone and their finances out.

According to one article, a PwC Board member was put in his place when the company’s security team hacked into his personal security to show how simple it was to break in. His entrance door and safe combinations were his wedding date. Coupled with details on a recent planning application, his CCTV wiring layout was grabbed and duplicated. A further delve into his social media profile regarding a company engagement and a little surveillance on his wife and children’s regular school routine, enabled the team to break in one day, before he’d returned from the office. A bleak thought for many an entrepreneur and business professional.

So it would seem, the wealthy are becoming much more discreet, preferring gated communities to distinctive chateaux that are visible to the world – their opulent lifestyles saved for the seas or private islands they own. As for us mere mortals, we are not actually that far behind, with many now ploughing heaps more money into home security systems than ever before.

Helen Duval
August 2017

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