Roman Abramovich’s ownership of Chelsea Football Club has thrust international glare on the area. Financiers as well as footballers from around the globe want to be part of SW3, with its gilt-edged glamorous cachet, risqué, ritzy King’s Road, discreet residential squares, charming terraces and Thameside Cheyne Walk.
New homes are sprouting up to cater for the new wave of incomers — not all of whom are super-rich Russians and soccer celebrities.
A century ago, Chelsea was London’s main quarter for artists (as the abundance of blue plaque properties shows) and its bohemian character survives today alongside the gentrified town houses inhabited by merchant bankers.
For all its image as a moneyed enclave, Chelsea is surprisingly mixed, and so is its architecture — from handsome Georgians to modest, pastel-painted cottages, from red-brick mansion blocks to Sixties council flats. What Chelsea lacked but is now getting is bespoke purpose-built apartments — the sort of modern-design flats that a previous wave of buyers had to cross the river for, to developments such as Montevetro and Albion Riverside on the Battersea waterfront.
‘A distinctive contemporary presence has been missing from Chelsea for a while’
Chelsea Apartments is by Manhattan Loft Corportation, the developer that created “Clerkenwell cool” back in the Nineties. Harry Handelsman, its chief executive, says the scheme not only fills a gap in the market but marks an architectural revival worthy of Chelsea’s 500-year heritage. “It brings a distinctive contemporary presence — something that has been missing in Chelsea for a while,” he adds.
The scheme is also the first residential project of Royal Opera House designers Dixon Jones. Going up on the corner of Hortensia Road and Fulham Road, it is barely 200 yards from Stamford Bridge stadium. This is not “prime” Chelsea, but according to project architect Edward Jones the site is “positioned among a distinguished if eccentric group of listed buildings”.
The latter includes the lodge entrance to Brompton Cemetery, one of the earliest (1910) London County Council board schools and a Romanesque church. A low-rise Tesco Metro on the opposite corner is an uncherished recent addition. The building has 25 apartments and is set back from the street, where there used to be a school playground.
The curved façade has large rectangular windows, reminiscent of artists’ studios, and tiered, wrap-around terraces. At the top is a single penthouse spanning the width of the building. Prices range between £750,000 and £2 million, and the penthouse is £8 million. Completion is due in summer 2010. Call Savills on 020 7016 3700.
The real Chelsea heartland stretches between King’s Road and the river, taking in the patch by Christopher Wren’s majestic Royal Hospital and the quaint neighbourhood around Old Church Street. Conservation area status has prevented even small-scale development — hence the excitement generated by Chelsea Barracks, a 12.8-acre site located between Sloane Square and the Thames. When redeveloped, this will have a huge impact on the area.
Candy & Candy, which jointly owns the site with the Qatari government, says it intends to turn it into the 21st century equivalent of the great estates of Mayfair and Belgravia. Details are emerging of the £1 billion project, designed by architect Lord Rogers. Proposals to Westminster council outline a mix of 638 private and “affordable” homes, a boutique hotel, two restaurants, a spa, shops, a community hall and a sports centre with a 25-metre swimming pool. A public park and private gardens are also planned.
The prospect of such a select new address is already lifting the value of nearby homes that had been held back by the presence of the barracks. Refurbishments and infill schemes are spawning new homes.
Grosvenor Estate’s landholding extends to this part of town and it has created eight new houses at St Barnabas Mews, tucked away just behind the barracks and moments from boutiquey Pimlico Road. The houses are for rent, ranging from £800 to £2,000 per week. Call Grosvenor Lettings on 020 7312 6449.
Back in the Eighties, a fancy marina development called Chelsea Harbour breathed life into a neglected part of west Chelsea, blighted somewhat by busy roads and Lots Road power station. The latter, now redundant, is to become a riverside estate of several hundred homes and will include two skyscrapers, all built to a masterplan by architect Terry Farrell. Hutchison Whampoa, the developer, has started on site.
This riverside strip is perhaps best known for its houseboat community.
However, a new block of 12 swish apartments has been launched. Called Cheyne Apartments, it faces directly on to the river and there is no public access to the waterfront, giving the building extra exclusivity. Flats range in size from 1,625sq ft to 3,348sq ft. Two show homes, one designed by David Linley, are open for viewing. Prices start at £3 million. Call Imagine Homes on 020 7667 6882.
Chelsea footballers Frank Lampard and Joe Cole are among the players who live locally while England captain John Terry is a big investor in Chelsea property. Other sporting money wields influence here. Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone owns a mansion at Chelsea Square, just off King’s Road. In 2002 he acquired neighbouring Chelsea College of Art and Design at 21 Manresa Road, later selling out to the Candy brothers for a big profit.