Clerkenwell, the home of loft living in London, has become synonymous with cool urban design and has the highest concentration of creative-sector businesses of anywhere in the world. These companies can be found in discreet offices tucked into historic buildings, from ancient priories to church courtyards.
There are more than 100 architect firms, designer furniture showrooms and homeware stores, new media agencies, graphic and interactive design studios sitting alongside fashionable clubs and bars and some of London's trendiest restaurants. And its internationally acclaimed annual design festival, which opens next week, will bring all these elements together, giving visitors to the area the chance to savour the atmosphere and check out the opportunities to live in this vibrant and youthful hub.
'Clerkenwell is tipped to be a big Crossrail winner because of its proximity to Farringdon station'
With so many affluent creatives working in the area, there is no shortage of people looking to buy an apartment — ownership there is a lifestyle choice and a badge of success. And being a City-fringe location, Clerkenwell attracts young bachelor bankers and lawyers who want to throw off the shackles of a city-suited life in a designer pad.
Two-thirds of buyers pay cash, which together with a supply shortage underpins the market, according to David Salvi of estate agent Hurford Salvi Carr. "Prices nudged up four per cent in the first quarter of 2012," he says.
It is extraordinary to think that Clerkenwell was a drab industrial district barely 20 years ago. Around 1990, most of the capital's 29,000 printers worked in EC1, alongside metalworkers, clockmakers and jewellers. Then loft living arrived as technology changed and redundant warehouses and factories were converted into homes.
The real point about Clerkenwell is its history. It has been urban since the Middle Ages and continues to deliver the sort of homes (and neighbourhood) modern metropolitan types want.
Boutique apartment schemes are a Clerkenwell staple and almost always pack a design punch. The latest smallscale conversion project is 242 St John Street — seven apartments with classic warehouse features, including exposed brickwork, timber floors and large metal-frame Crittall windows. Prices from £430,000. Call 020 7250 1012.
With 170 apartments, Central Square is the area's biggest project in a decade, and one of the fastest-selling in the capital (an average of four homes per week, says developer Mount Anvil).
Crisp-looking apartment blocks with ground floor commercial premises are grouped around open courtyard gardens. Apartments have decent-size terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows and white gloss kitchens. Prices start at £350,000, rising to £2 million for a penthouse. Call Savills on 0845 177 1711.
The main homeware shopping patch is where Clerkenwell Road meets Goswell Road (furniture retailers Vitra and Knoll plus kitchen brand Bulthaup and tile and stone supplier Domus are here) but there are many studios, workshops, pop-up stores and galleries tucked away in backstreets.
Look above the shops and you will see the lofts carved from former industrial buildings. Remarkably, a Second World War bombsite on the edge of a small medical campus belonging to St Bartholomew's Hospital had escaped the clutches of developers. Only recently was it transformed into a 124-home courtyard complex with retail space.
Called Charterhouse — The Square, the scheme takes its name from Charterhouse School for Boys, which was founded here in 1611 before later moving to Goldalming, in Surrey.
The courtyard is a public space which includes a new cancer and cardiac unit for Barts. It backs on to an ancient abbey, while the Barbican Centre is moments away. Prices from £450,000. Call Stirling Ackroyd on 020 7549 0606.
Arguably this historic pocket is Clerkenwell's most charming, with bistros and bars in cobbled alleys, listed medieval buildings and the splendid Victorian edifice of Smithfield market. Clerkenwell is tipped to be a big Crossrail winner because of its proximity to Farringdon station.
Currently one of London's quieter mainline stations, by 2017 it will be Britain's busiest, with a sevenfold increase in commuters and 140 trains per hour passing through it. Farringdon will be the single London terminus with integrated north-south (of the river) and east-west routes; the only one allowing passengers to board Crossrail, Thameslink (also being upgraded) and Tube trains. It will provide direct links to Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and London City airports as well as Eurostar services at St Pancras and Brighton on the south coast.
The coming transport bonus is triggering corporate relocations to Farringdon — among them Merill Lynch — while the Crossrail catalyst is expected to spur the long-delayed redevelopment of nearby Smithfield Market, where a new station entrance is planned. The site has scope for a giant mixed-use scheme, including hundreds of new homes.