Bespoke is beautiful and niche is even nicer

Buyers with families are benefiting from the credit crunch as developers turn away from major schemes to concentrate instead on building homes with innovative architecture on smaller plots of land
Old Mill Island in Cowley
From £450,000: Old Mill Island in Cowley. Contact Savills on 01344 295375
As bank finance dries up, builders are seeking out smaller plots of land where they can concentrate on creating homes with attractive living spaces and architectural interest. And both builders and buyers are enjoying this renaissance for "boutique" developments, where good design promotes a sense of community and neighbourliness.

These developers use words such as "bespoke" or "signature" to label small schemes, and say these homes have cachet and better resale values. These niche schemes, of up to 20 homes, are typically property conversions or infills on small plots for buyers who like the idea of being a bit exclusive.

Boutique buyers won't get "the lifestyle package" on offer at large schemes with their concierge services, gyms, spas, underground parking, on-site brasseries and bars in what becomes a form of mini-village. But small-is-beautiful buyers are looking for a more intimate environment.

Few presented as daunting a challenge as Old Mill Island, part of the former village of Cowley in west London.

For centuries, a mill and outbuildings had occupied the 10-acre site, framed by the River Frays and the Grand Union Canal. Developer and master carpenter Alan Driscoll, who has built himself a home on the site, discovered it in a derelict condition but was captivated by its charm and oasislike location, tucked away down a country lane and surrounded by water.

'Small-is-beautiful buyers are looking for a more intimate environment'

He set about a painstaking restoration of the listed buildings, grafting contemporary-design features such as fullheight glass walls on to the historic fabric.

Several generous-sized new homes have been built in the re-landscaped grounds, with contoured lawns and copses bordering the waterways.

The scheme has bags of character and comes with the added value that the passionate Driscoll, 52, has brought to the project — he is transforming the main mill house into a splendid home for himself.

Each of the 16 houses has a light-filled open-plan living and kitchen area and up to four bedrooms and bathrooms, plus lots of outdoor space — patio, decks and roof terraces, and communal areas.

"It's not like a classic gated community where gardens are fenced and owners get territorial about their private space," says Driscoll.

"It will be like living in a village, with a community spirit."

Homes also have top eco-ratings. Prices range from £450,000 to £775,000.

"It has been a surveyor's nightmare to value because there's nothing to compare it with," says Paul Clinch of Savills. Prices equate to about £400 per sq ft. Call 01344 295375.

Old Mill Island sits in the green belt amid nature reserves and yet remarkably is only two miles from Uxbridge town centre and six miles from Heathrow.

It was from nearby Cowley Lock that in 1821, passengers were first able to take the Paddington Packet Boat to central London.

Eight Rathbone Place in Fitzrovia
From £450pw: Eight Rathbone Place in Fitzrovia through LDG. Call 020 7580 1010

A slice of niche

Chislehurst in Kent has always been thought of as a well-mannered, middle-class community of people. With its ponds and common, villagey high street, well-regarded schools, riding stables, golf courses and 20-minute commute to London Bridge, it appeals to aspiring types ready to leave the city and succumb to community life.

The latest homes bring a touch of Belgravia to the suburbs. Dean Terrace is made up of 14 Georgian-style town houses by a developer that works with Grosvenor Estate.

Only a five-minute walk from the train station, the 3,800sq ft houses are set over five storeys, with two belowground levels connected to basement parking and a fully landscaped garden. They offer impressive family living space and are finished to a standard that raises the bar for the area.

They have brick façades, while wellplanned interiors have a master bedroom suite at the top, laundry room on the middle floor, a cinema room, handmade kitchens and joinery, stone, oak and marble surfaces.

Prices range from £1.4 million to £1.75 million. Contact Knight Frank on 01732 744 470.

Ten sleek, Scandinavian-inspired town houses with up to four bedrooms are part of the Zulu Mews gated development at Cabul Road, Battersea. Houses are "inverted", with bedrooms downstairs and a loft-like living area upstairs. Interior design is simple and restrained, with timber and whitecoloured finishes. And they have a garage and terrace.

Prices from £615,000. Call Hamptons International on 020 758 8478.

Moore Schoolhouse in Fulham
From £355,000: flats at Moore Schoolhouse in Fulham. Call 020 7751 3322
Eight Rathbone Place is a rare newbuild scheme of 11 apartments in the heart of Fitzrovia's media district — "cool and contemporary pads for local creatives", according to Laurence Glynne of estate agent LDG. Rents range from £450 to £950 per week. Call 020 7580 1010.

Moore Schoolhouse in Fulham is a conversion of an Edwardian college building where sculptor Henry Moore once taught art. "Art lofts" have been created — high-ceilinged spaces with exposed beams — plus there is a threebedroom detached lodge house with private garden.

Prices from £355,000. Call Jones Lang LaSalle on 020 7751 3322.

Coming soon to Marylebone is 17-20 Shillibeer Place — four new-build townhouses and a pair of restored Georgian properties. Prices from £2.5million. Call Savills on 020 7578 5100.

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