But this is the year to put Marylebone on the global map. André Balazs, the man behind US hotels The Mercer and Chateau Marmont, has brought NYC Meatpacking District glam to Chiltern Street with his new boutique hotel, Chiltern Firehouse, which opened last week. Models Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne and singer Lily Allen have already been to private parties there.
In April, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the team behind The Wolseley, Delaunay and Brasserie Zédel, are opening a new restaurant, Fischer's - "evocative of early 20th-century Vienna" - at 50 Marylebone High Street, and cult Parisian cake shop La Pâtisserie des Rêves has just arrived at No 43.
Chiltern Firehouse is Balazs's first European hotel. Quite a coup for Marylebone. "It will bring in an international clientele who might normally choose Mayfair or Kensington," says Martin Bikhit, managing director of property agency, Kay & Co, in Marylebone's Paddington Street.
Taking over Chiltern Street's disused Grade II-listed Victorian fire station, the 26-suite hotel has a 200-cover restaurant with a large open kitchen, led by Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes, of Viajante fame.
The building is regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of pre-war Gothic architecture.Balazs discovered it over five years ago with friend and London property developer Harry Handelsman, who saved the St Pancras station hotel, Sir Gilbert Scott's masterpiece.
Gothic stunner: the Grade II-listed former Chiltern Street fire station is now Chiltern Firehouse, London's latest boutique hotel
Many of the fire station's original architectural features have been retained and lost details revealed, including the façade's carved Portland stone arches and original brickwork, "You feel like you're staying at someone's very stylish Victorian villa rather than a five-star hotel," says London guide to the A-list, Paddy Renouf. "It's for discerning, refined people who want to be off the main strip and love craft and handmade things rather than the big brands."
Renouf, who works mostly out of The Savoy and the Corinthia Hotel, says he is looking forward to introducing his clients such as NBC and American Express to the area. "It will be a fresh experience for many of them, informal but sophisticated."
The Firehouse is the jewel in the crown for The Portman Estate which owns 110 acres of Marylebone including Chiltern Street. The estate bought the Victorian red-brick street in 2009 and has invested £700,000, transforming it into a cosmopolitan shopping destination, named London's coolest street by Condé Nast Traveller.
In the 1880s the street was full of artisan retailers and today you'll find jeweller Kohatu and Petros, lifestyle brand Mouki, beauty guru Bharti Vyas, Monacle café and menswear labels Archer Adams and Trunk Clothiers, as well as music shops from the Sixties.
Halfway down the street, new luxury housing development, The Chilterns, is being built by Galliard with a swimming pool and its own cinema. The prices for 44 private flats start from £3million and include an original framed photograph of Marylebone by David Bailey, each worth about £20,000.
It may look organic, but Marylebone's repositioning has been strategic. The area is owned by three landlords, The Portman Estate, Howard De Walden Estates and the Church Commissioners, who own property west of Edgware Road.
They have been working together to improve the public realm to attract shoppers and office workers as well as foreign investors. "The reason they have been able to build so much is because they have control over 80 per cent of the high street," says Bikhit.
The balance is right
The Portman Estate has spent £12 million regenerating Portman Village, the area tucked behind Oxford Street which runs from New Quebec Street to Seymour Place.
It has refurbished Georgian buildings, renewed pavements with Yorkstone and introduced traffic-calming raised brick islands.
Here you'll find cool independent retailers such a Israeli fashion designer Ronen Chen, couture brand Suzannah - who dressed Pippa Middleton for the royal christening - and cult perfume shop Les Senteurs.
A benevolent landlord means key community services such as newsagents, fresh food retailers and dry cleaners are encouraged alongside fashion retailers paying competitive West End rents. "The Chiltern Firehouse were keen on the fact there is a newsagent directly opposite for guests," says Philip Norris of The Portman Estate.
Money is sometimes less important than a tenant's suitability. "We work very hard to create a unique and exciting mix of longstanding and newly introduced independent boutiques and traders at Portman Village and Chiltern Street," says Norris.
Marylebone's repositioning has been strategic: The area is owned by three landlords, The Portman Estate, Howard De Walden Estates and the Church Commissioners who have been working together to improve the public realm. (Photos by Sabera Bham)
He's keen for the area to become a foodie destination, pointing out Basque kitchen Donostia and new Australian health café Daisy Green. Actor Eddie Redmayne was recently spotted in boutique hotel The Grazing Goat.
Shopping and eating is what Marylebone is all about. But no one wants to turn the area into a mini Oxford Street. Keeping a balance between independent boutiques and the bigger chains is like a game of chess, says Simon Baynham, property director at Howard de Walden Estates, which owns much of Marylebone High Street and 92 surrounding acres.
Baynham is expert in negotiating "land-use swaps", consolidating offices in one building and residential in another, without upsetting the planners. Another clever trick has been in lateral conversions, joining two adjoining residential buildings, eliminating a core and creating larger flats.
"A balanced community-led high street with a good mix of uses creates a better residential and business location, so our priority is to keep this balance," he insists. "Commercially we believe it is more than recovered in the uplift in residential and office rents."
Cool for foodies
Marylebone Lane, which follows the line of the River Tyburn, is being improved with wide pavements, so the street becomes the official cut-through to the new Bond Street Tube station. Cool restaurant 28-50, and fashion stores Huntergather and Oliver Bonas have key sites on the lane.
Shopping and eating: in independent boutiques and restaurants is what Marylebone is all about
Moxon Street, just off the High Street, is becoming a foodie quarter, with Rococo Chocolates, La Fromagerie and artisan butcher, The Ginger Pig. When Westminster sells the car park as a property development, Baynham is keen to bring in more gourmet outlets and retain the farmers' market. Fifteen years ago a third of shops on the High Street were vacant, but the estate brought in The Conran Shop, Designers Guild, Skandium and smaller independent shops.
"When I moved to Marylebone in 1988 you could fire a cannon down the High Street on a Saturday, and you wouldn't hit anyone," says Helen Ward who has lived and worked locally for 26 years.
"It was just charity shops and ironmongers. You could buy a one-bedroom flat for £60,000. But that flat is probably worth £900,000 now."
Baynham knows the value of Daunt Books, which drives footfall to the area. "My concern is that the street will be too dominated by ladies fashion unless we are careful." The approach has paid off. The estate's rent roll in 1996 was £17 million and at the end of last month it stood at £91.3 million.
"Marylebone has certainly become younger in terms of profile, and far more family-friendly. There's a nice mix between Europeans and Americans, plus some Middle Eastern buyers. It's very vibrant and cosmopolitan," says Bikhit.
Abuzz... with integrity
Jon Ward of building services company Marylebone Interiors says: "It's exciting because there's such diversity, but you also get this mixture of old and new. Alongside the latest actor or singer, there are people who have lived here for 40-50 years.
"And newcomers have to pay respect to the integrity and character of Marylebone. Just because you have money doesn't mean you can have everything you want. Local residents take a keen interest in local planning issues via the Marylebone Association."
There's a good Tube service from Baker Street to Canary Wharf but you can live in the area without having to travel outside it.
However, the influx of new residents means pressure on local schools. Wetherby School, whose former pupils include Princes William and Harry, will open a private secondary school in Marylebone Lane to meet demand from wealthy parents, while St James's Church in George Street is being taken over by Regent's College.
The Marylebone School is a multi-faith school for girls aged 11 to 18 that gets excellent results, and Marylebone Boys' School, a new free school for 120 pupils in Year 7, opens this year. New French school, L'École Internationale Franco-Anglaise, is in Portman Square.
This is not banker land. There are no gated communities for the super-rich. But it is tipping towards unaffordable.
"Starting prices are around £1,200 per square foot and prices for certain developments are pushing on the £3,000 mark now," says Bikhit. A two-bedroom top-floor flat in a Georgian building overlooking Bryanston Square will set you back £3 million. A one-bedroom flat on Bickenhall Street near Baker Street is on the market for £1.1 million, and a four-bedroom townhouse in Beaumont Street is £3,495,000. But Kay & Co also has studio flats and one-bedroom rentals for £400-£500 a week.
So Marylebone is giving Mayfair and Soho a run for its money. Helen Ward, who runs her music recruitment business, The Music Market, from Nottingham Place, says record company chiefs enjoy doing business and then strolling around an eclectic, vibrant village. And with its imposing Gothic mysteriousness, Chiltern Firehouse looks set to become London's hippest hotel. Reuse content