Celeb haunt Soho House is being sued by small firm in copyright claim

EXCLUSIVE: Celebrity hangout Soho House loved by Tom Cruise and Meghan Markle is being sued by small firm which claims the trendy members’ club ‘cynically’ breached its copyright by copying bar designs

  • **EXCLUSIVE** 
  • The claim is being brought by firm Cantilever at the High Court in central London
  • Boss of small company claims Soho House ‘substantially copied’ his bar designs
  • Soho House is ‘surprised’ by the claim and hopes to resolve the matter ‘amicably’

Trendy worldwide members’ club Soho House is being sued for ‘cynically’ breaching the copyright of a small firm which designed and built many of its bars, according to legal papers seen by MailOnline.

A High Court action against the company founded by restaurateur Nick Jones, 58, brought by Cantilever Bar Systems, claims Soho House ‘flagrantly’ copied its bar designs without permission so that other firms could build them.

Tom Cruise is among the many celebrities who are members of Soho House clubs and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is also believed to have been a member.

Cantilever’s boss John Dorrington Ward says in the legal document that he discovered Soho House planned to use ‘substantially copied’ versions of his firm’s designs at Mollies Motel and Diner at the old Granada Studios in Manchester, which was formerly part of the Soho House group.

Cantilever had previously been asked to submit bar designs for the same location but made clear that the only service they offered was to design, build and install bars.

Mr Dorrington Ward adds: ‘Soho House is a very substantially funded organisation which floated in 2021 on the New York Stock Exchange at a potential valuation of c. $2.5 billion [£2.1bn].

‘In contrast, Cantilever is a small enterprise. It is to be inferred that Soho House took a cynical step to infringe the copyright and design right of Cantilever believing tha the latter did not have the financial resources to litigate against Soho House’.

A High Court action against the company founded by restaurateur Nick Jones, 58, brought by Cantilever Bar Systems, claims Soho House ‘flagrantly’ copied its bar designs without permission so that other firms could build them. (Pictured left to right: Paloma Faith, Daniel Bruhl, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Felicitas Rombold, Richard Jones and Meghan Markle attend the launch of Soho House Istanbul on April 18, 2015)

Tom Cruise is among the many celebrities who are members of Soho House clubs and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is also believed to have been a member (Pictured: Soho House London)

The bitter David-and-Goliath lawsuit comes after the two companies enjoyed an eight-year relationship between 2006 and 2014 with Cantilever designing, building and installing bespoke bars for Soho House clubhouses including Shoreditch, Café Boheme, Little House, New York and Berlin.

Cantilever’s high-end bars have also featured in Hilton Hotels, the Royal Opera House, the Playboy Club and Sophie’s Steakhouse.

But according to the 20-page particulars of claim, lodged at the court last month, Soho House asked Cantilever in 2019 to prepare an internal document to encapsulate a set of agreed standards for the design of bars in Soho House clubhouses.

Mr Dorrington Ward says in the papers: ‘As a gesture of good faith, Cantilever did not charge for the creation of the Cantilever Bar Brand Standards Documents believing that such would cement the relationship between [the two firms]. Soho House betrayed that trust…’

Two years later Cantilever bosses say they were sent a ‘SH Bar Brand Standards Document’ along with bar designs for Mollies Motel and Diner. The package came from ARJ, a main contractor on the project, though it is not clear why it was sent to Cantilever.

Mr Dorrington Ward added: ‘Cantilever immediately recognised that the SH Bar Brand Standard Document and Mollies Design Drawings were, respectively, a substantial reproduction of Cantilever Bar Brand Standards Document and Cantilever’s…. drawings and that such had been copied and sent to ARJ without the consent of Cantilever for the intention of ARJ building the same without the consent or permission of Cantilever.’

The bitter David-and-Goliath lawsuit comes after the two companies enjoyed an eight-year relationship between 2006 and 2014 with Cantilever designing, building and installing bespoke bars for Soho House clubhouses including Shoreditch, Café Boheme, Little House, New York and Berlin. (Pictured: Bar in Soho House Berlin) 

Mollies is no longer part of the Soho House Group.

The document said Cantilever believes Soho House ‘will do the same for other bars to be built for Soho House clubhouses or other buildings that Soho House intends to build.’

Cantilever seeks damages, legal costs and an injunction to restrain Soho House from infringing Cantilever’s copyright and for all copies of Cantilever designs to be returned to them.

Soho House, originally aimed at those in the arts, politics and media, launched above a restaurant in Central London in 1995. Restaurateur founder Mr Jones is married to TV presenter Kirsty Young.

Soho House now has 36 ‘houses’ across Europe, North America and Asia, with four more to open soon in Miami, Copenhagen, Stockholm… and next week Balham, south London.

Its 120,000-plus members pay £1,100 for access to one branch or £2,500 for access to them all – but only half that amount for members aged under 27.

Despite its expansion, Soho House has yet to make a profit. Its parent company Membership Collective Group (MCG), which launched last year as it went public, lost more than $265 million (£220m) last year and lost nearly $42 million (£35m)in the fourth quarter alone.

Cantilever seeks damages, legal costs and an injunction to restrain Soho House from infringing Cantilever’s copyright and for all copies of Cantilever designs to be returned to them. (Pictured: Bar at Cafe Boheme, designed by Cantilever for Soho House) 

Soho House has a long waiting list for membership and is notoriously selective. Membership committees supposedly pick and choose ‘the coolest’ applicants.

A former membership director Tim Geary told the Hollywood Reporter that Kim Kardashian, the Real Housewives, lawyers and hedge fund managers would all fail to make the cut.

The Soho House website explains: ‘Unlike other members’ clubs, which often focus on wealth and status, we aim to assemble communities of members that have something in common: namely, a creative soul.’

Members are forbidden from identifying fellow members on social media. (They’re not even allowed to describe Soho House events on social media.)

Nevertheless, Soho House has had its share of bad publicity.

In 2002 Jude Law’s two-year-old daughter Irish was rushed to hospital after accidentally eating part of an ecstacy tablet she found on the floor of its London branch at a child’s birthday party.

In 2010, US swimsuit designer Sylvie Cachay was found murdered in a bedroom of the Manhanttan clubhouse in New York City.

Soho House, originally aimed at those in the arts, politics and media, launched above a restaurant in Central London in 1995. Restaurateur founder Mr Jones is married to TV presenter Kirsty Young (Pictured: Soho House’s Dean Street HQ)

And in 2021, Italian fashion house Bottega Veneta was criticised for holding star-studded maskless indoor dance parties at Soho House, Berlin, which led to a police investigation.

Applicants to the swanky club chain are now asked if they identify as LGBTQIA2S+, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual, two-spirit and other, the Mail on Sunday reported recently.

Two years ago, Soho House used only the acronym LGBTQ+ on its website. That was later extended to LGBTQIA+ but it has now added the lesser-known 2S – or two-spirit – which is a term for indigenous North Americans who show both masculine and feminine traits.

A spokesperson for Soho House said: ‘Design integrity is extremely important to us.

‘We are surprised by this claim as we have had a long-standing and strong working relationship with Cantilever. 

‘We hope to resolve this matter amicably and continue to work together.’

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