Neighbourhood improvements spearheaded by landed estates, such as Grosvenor and Howard de Walden, and followed by the new commercial landlords, have included restoration of historic buildings, transformation of many public spaces and the arrival of exciting new retailers breaking up the monotony of the high street chains.
Getting the balance right is not always easy. In Soho, for example, many people complain that "commercial cleansing" risks driving out the very colour and culture that provides the area's identity.
However, much of what developers are doing really works. London has been undergoing its own version of what academics in the US call the "Great Inversion" — the return of people, swish housing and highly paid jobs to city centres.
Who is buying?
Often, home buyers work in the City or the creative sector, and want to live in homes with some design kudos, in smart postcodes far from the glass citadels of the east.
The trend continues for over-fifties to cash in on their big family houses around the commons in Wandsworth and Battersea, or in the suburbs, and move further in. The children have flown the nest and bought their own homes with help from the Bank of Mum and Dad, and these parents now have time for the theatre, art and culture and want a smaller, easier to care for, new — or newly converted —home.
"There's a definite demographic shift towards city living," says Jamie Gunning of property consultant CBRE. "London has become like Paris, Barcelona and Manhattan where people enjoy the buzz of a busy district around them. They want to be in the thick of it."
And buyers are more discerning than ever, he adds. "They are taking an interest in the interior design and are in talks with developers at a much earlier stage, discussing floorplans and finishes."
Boutique projects are spreading from the traditionally posh enclaves of Kensington, Belgravia and Mayfair to Westminster, Covent Garden, Holborn, the Square Mile and South Bank, where prices are not sky high — starting below £1 million. CBRE alone has several dozen schemes on its books, either on the market now or in the pipeline.
A "hideaway" conservation area between Strand and Victoria Embankment is being unlocked for such home buyers. The Royal Society of Arts has been in John Adam Street since 1774 and surrounding it are some delightful Georgian townhouses, converted into offices after the Blitz and now reverting to residential use.
Gatti House is a period gem, named after Victorian entrepreneur Sir John Gatti, founder of the Charing Cross and Strand Electricity Supply Company.
The listed building once housed the Adelphi Theatre restaurant, and the magnificent former dining rooms are being turned into four prestige apartments featuring ornate plasterwork and decorative metalwork, grand fireplaces and tall recessed casement windows. Prices from £2.95 million. Call 020 7420 3050.
At nearby Buckingham House, an impressive Art Deco corner building, new apartments have moveable walls allowing the living space to be opened for parties and entertaining. Marblelined bathrooms have recessed waterproof televisions and striking free-standing bathtubs. Prices from £2.2 million. Call 020 7420 3050.
Amazon, the developer, specialises in these niche projects. The Collingham Collection in South Kensington is a hotel conversion. Apartments have their own lift and look over a secluded garden square. Prices from £4.95 million. Call 020 7861 5195.
At Park Crescent a listed John Nash terrace in Marylebone, newly created flats have access to Regent's Park via a tunnel. Prices from £3.13 million. Call 020 7861 5195.
Another project with five apartments is under way at Maddox Street, Mayfair, call 020 7420 3050, while coming soon are flats above a new art gallery in Pall Mall, St James's. Call 0207 861 5195.
The Chilterns, in Marylebone, on the site of a former car park, claims to have the area's most luxurious newbuild homes. A chic lobby doubles as a gallery, with commissioned David Bailey photographs. There is also a private cinema, while penthouses have wine caves able to store 325 bottles. Prices from £4 milllion. Call Galliard Homes on 020 8418 1070.
History with flourish
Few parts of London have such a fascinating history, or are as well connected, as the City-fringe districts of Lincoln's Inn, Hatton Garden, Chancery Lane, Old Bailey, Smithfield, Temple and Fleet Street. They have been urban since the Middle Ages and have a rich mix of architectural styles. Traditionally they are business zones, and where legal guilds once flourished. Some of the oldest buildings in these areas are becoming luxury apartments.
Ancient and modern
Ancient Bart's Hospital, a short stroll from St Paul's Cathedral, is one of the area's bigger redevelopment sites. The relocation of the hospital has made way for Barts Square with 235 homes, but the rare collection of buildings set around a network of narrow lanes and cobbled passageways, hidden courtyards and cloisters, provides a sense of intimacy and heritage. The development will be enlivened with small-scale offices, restaurants and a new square.
"We are designing apartments for people with imagination," says architect Fiona Naylor. "Volume, light and space are the key." Loft-like open-plan interiors have a palette of textures and decorative finishes, or "pieces of architectural jewellery", including lace-pattern porcelain tiles, stained glass detailing and etched stainless steel shutters, taking inspiration from local church pew carvings and tracery.A timber gatehouse dating from Tudor times has become become a temporary marketing suite. Prices from £1,215,000. Call Savills on 020 7726 8995.