The brothers took luxury to a new level and the magic dust they sprinkled trickled down the market. Builders big and small latched onto the luxury label, creating new sub categories such as “bespoke luxury” and “premium luxury” – even “affordable luxury” – for buyers with different budgets and different tastes.
Luxury has come to mean much more than opulent interior design, though that remains a characteristic of top-end homes, with ever-more exotic finishes sourced from far-flung places. One Mayfair project boasts walls covered in seashells from the coastal waters of the Philippines province of Capiz, while a desk is clad in stingray skin from Indonesia.
High-end developers continue to push the envelope, not just with design but with technological innovation and highly personalised lifestyle services – everything from valet parking to dog walking to personal trainers.
Some developers employ art galleries to curate precious works of art that are available to buy as an accessory. Luxury homes have gender-specific (“his-and-her”) dressing areas with mirrors linked to cameras enabling the body to be seen from all angles; bathrooms double as salons, with special basins and equipment that can be used by visiting stylists and hairdressers. Internal glass walls can become opaque for privacy at the flick of a switch. There might be a panic room, or strong room for precious possessions, and perhaps a room for private medical consultations.
Luxury is about aspiration and exclusivity as much as comfort and sensory pleasure. The cachet of a coveted address still counts for a lot. And demand is rising.
In central London, the luxury homes market broadly applies to properties worth more than £3,000 per sq ft (against a London-wide average of about £500 per sq ft). Data from Savills shows there were 237 sales above £5m in the first six months of 2021, 61 per cent higher then the same period in 2019 (pre-pandemic).
Traditionally, Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Kensington, Mayfair, St James’ and Belgravia formed the luxury homes heartland. In recent years, St John’s Wood, Regent’s Park and Notting Hill became part of the fold. And now, Bayswater is poised to join them.
For decades, upper-crust estate agents dismissed Bayswater as the “wrong side of the park”. Hyde Park, that is. According to Knight Frank, there is remarkable disparity in values between neighbourhoods ringing the park. Despite its grand architecture and splendidly central position, Bayswater is the most undervalued, by up to 70 per cent.
This is due to Bayswater’s decline in the 20th-century and what author Peter Ackroyd described as its “bewildering cosmopolitanism”. The area was laid out in the mid 1800s when grand squares and cream stuccoed terraces started to fill the acres between Paddington Station and Hyde Park. Even then Bayswater had a reputation for street walkers and nocturnal socialising. Later, the influx of railway travellers triggered conversion of the houses into bedsits and B&Bs. The area retains some shabby tourist hotels but gentrification has been spreading with the launch of boutique hotels and niche apartment blocks.
A swanky project called The Lancasters was a game-changer. This redevelopment of former Thistle Hotel fronting Hyde Park brought 76 sumptuous apartments with multi-million-pound price tags.
Now, a cluster of projects and public realm improvements is bringing a major upgrade to Queensway, the area’s “town centre”. The regeneration is spearheaded by Westminster City Council, and includes a redevelopment of listed Whiteley’s department store into a homes, shops and leisure hub plus a new retail parade and plaza. Tellingly, the Sultan of Brunei is one of the area’s investors. First up is Park Modern, a new block of 57 apartments priced from £2m to £60m. This scheme faces onto Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and sits opposite a new gateway to the Royal Park.
The fluid modern architecture has a wave-like façade and a covered driveway leading to a wow-factor double-height entrance lobby with a marble floor, stone and bronze columns, custom designed concierge desk, lounge area and library. A subterranean spa boasts a glass walled gym plus treatment rooms and pool and a 16-seat cinema.
Due for completion next year, off-plan purchases have reached £5,000 per sq ft, says James Van Den Heule, of developer Fenton Whelan. Call 020 7629 2669.
Kensington Palace Gardens has been called “London’s most exclusive address”. Notable for its embassies and security lodges at both ends, this tree-lined avenue connects Kensington High Street and Bayswater Road. A mega mansion with carriage driveway at the Kensington end called One Palace Green, previously owned by Crown Estate, has been snapped up by a Monaco-based developer for conversion into luxury lateral apartments.
The security credentials of the address are likely to be a big draw. The armed police checkpoints are guarded by armed Diplomatic Protection Group offices and have crash barriers as well as wrought iron gates. This brings the bonus of extremely low traffic volumes, though pedestrians normally have access. Call REDD on 020 8016 4350.
More thoughtful, old-fashioned luxury
With one-bedroom apartments costing between £4.25m and £5.35m, Mayfair Park Residences proves that even small luxurious spaces (typical 827 sq ft) are ultra expensive.
This project is a resourceful redevelopment of listed Georgian townhouses and former modern offices fronting Stanhope Gate and Curzon Street. Prices reach £24.5m for the penthouse with a stunning roof terrace. Call Clivedale on 020 3705 8425.
Sumptuous health club facilities are provided by 45 Park Lane, an adjacent luxury hotel which was once the Playboy Club. Residents’ amenities extend to gourmet private dining, floristry and sommelier services.
The elegant and restrained apartment interiors designed by Parisian duo Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku are a sign of times.
Estate agents report a backlash against “anything-money-can-buy” bling and a move towards more thoughtful, old-fashioned luxury. People want tasteful but understated design and they like British brands and craftsmen because of the integrity that goes with the products.
Berkeley Group, which resists the tag “volume house builder”, has made a conscious decision to use British design talent and has opened a “luxury collection” showroom in Mayfair allowing buyers to view specification details and room layouts when choosing a home from the London portfolio. This includes The Dumont, a tower on Albert Embankment where the Alta Collection of top-floor, triple-aspect apartments that enjoy arguably the best views in London starts at £7.8m. Call 020 8003 6636.
The lurch to ultra luxury has raised expectations down the ladder
Royal designer David Linley started as a bespoke furniture maker but his firm has evolved into designer for top-end residential developments, including 1 Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster.
This project is part of a quiet enclave bordering Birdcage Walk that boasts some of London’s most prized historic houses, most dating back to the 18th century. Of the 30 houses on the street, 26 are Grade I-listed.
As such, it is one of the capital’s most-scrutinised conservation quarters, with eagle-eyed locals keeping insensitive developers at bay.
1 Queen Anne’s Gate is a remarkable amalgamation of 12 different plots and buildings, with 39 homes created behind restored facades and meticulously-designed new ones.
David Linley’s interiors have trademark bespoke joinery and cabinetry – dark timber doors with metal inlay, herringbone veneer cupboard fronts and custom-made wardrobes. He also designed the luxurious entrance lobby and club lounge, plus there is a gym, sauna, therapy rooms and private dining space.
Prices start at £1.865m. Savills says rentals are also available. Call 020 7409 8756.
While reflecting the demands of the current market, this may be the way luxury homes in London are going. High transaction fees, including stamp duty and other tax hikes, have made top homes much more expensive to buy. Renting also gives buyers more flexibility.
A listed seven-storey mansion at 7 St James Square raises the stakes. Undergoing a £40m refurbishment, it has 12 bedrooms, cinema, gym, eight-car garage and not just staff accommodation but staff too. It would probably cost £150m to buy, but developer CPI Group has chosen to put it on the rental market for £100,000 a week, a record for the UK. Interior design is by Martin Kemp Design, whose one-off projects range from super yachts to Manhattan penthouses.
The lurch to ultra luxury has raised buyers’ expectations lower down the property ladder, meaning luxury in some shape or form inhabits the mainstream market, too.
Just as it used to be only top-of-the-range cars that had built-in satnav, now it is standard. Kitchens come with steam ovens, hot taps and champagne fridges, while integrated “smart home” systems give control of heating and lighting, security and audio-visual creature comforts.
The march of the luxury market in the Covid era may focus more on health and wellbeing than material comfort and convenience.Internet Explorer Channel Network