Show homes are back with a bang in 2008 as developers reacquaint themselves with the art of selling to homemakers who want to buy houses to live in rather than properties to invest in. That the homebuyer is back in the driving seat, and being wooed by the builder, is a reflection of changed market conditions - or a return to "normal trading" after the property frenzy of recent times.
While some developers are using luxury bespoke apartments to tempt big-budget buyers, others are creating "everyday" show homes with more emphasis on the quality of the build to attract the first-time buyers. These flats are fitted out with affordable furniture, paints and materials from high-street chains and specialist local shops. Stockists' details are available, enabling buyers to "get the look".
Chelsea Wharf, a boutique scheme of 12 loft-style homes on the Chelsea waterfront, demonstrates the new thinking at the top end of the market. Two show flats called The Cheyne Apartments will be launched next week: one by royal designer David Linley, the other by Brigitta Spinocchia, former creative director of Candy & Candy (the thirtysomething brothers who are the talk of the capital's development market). Spinocchia is the ex-partner of Nick Candy and is the design inspiration behind Candyscape, the firm's £11 million yacht moored in Monaco.
Under wraps until the official launch, the Linley-designed apartment at Chelsea Wharf is described as "tasteful and restrained" whereas Spinocchia's is "quirky, edgy and challenging". It is centred on an Art Deco theme with, curiously, a Vivian Westwood room featuring handmade chain-metal curtains, a Flower Power room with Beatles' memorabilia, a replica Dalek in the entrance foyer and a Harrier jet ejector seat displayed in one corner of the dining room.
Television celebrity Anthea Turner commissioned the Spinocchia show flat. Turner's involvement stems from husband Grant Bovey, whose Imagine Homes is partnering developer Octagon at Chelsea Wharf. Together, Turner and Spinocchia came up with an "Iconic London" concept, which reveals itself in a retro look and one-off pieces, such as a copper-topped dining table in the shape of the River Thames.
Chelsea Wharf lies next to Lots Road power station, soon to be redeveloped into a complex of select flats, shops and offices. The newly built block faces the river and there is no public access to the waterfront, giving the building extra cachet and exclusivity. All 12 apartments are lateral and range from 1,625sq ft to 3,348sq ft, with up to three bedrooms. Prices start at £3 million and rise to £7 million. Call estate agent Knight Frank on 020 7173 4999..
Developers use show homes to give raw space a saleable identity but overly bold design can be a double-edged sword, admits Keith Scarratt, Imagine's marketing director. "It wouldn't surprise me if somebody is wowed by the Spinocchia interior and wants to buy it lock, stock and barrel. But some people may hate it. That's the risk you take." Imagine is soon to open a retail showroom located alongside the Hogarth Roundabout in Chiswick. It is billed as the first of its kind in the UK - a shop and design studio where buyers can not only purchase a home at one of several Imagine developments in the UK but also specify the interior of that home.
2008 design trends
Developers are more willing than ever to push design boundaries in order to capture the imagination of buyers. Londoners in particular are receptive to dazzling, even adventurous, design so why play it safe with inoffensive interiors and a traditional look? In the capital, clean, crisp lines with different textures, such as glass, stone, stainless steel, leather, laminates and wood, is the dominant design stamp. But "bling" will be a strong theme in 2008, according to George Bond, director of the British Interior Design Association. "This means metallic and crystal effects along with the decadent cabaret and burlesque styles of the Twenties. Also look out for the innovative use of recycled and re-formed materials such as linoleum and concrete," says Bond.
Spatial design is another welcome trend. Developers are employing interior design architects to plan the space and consider room layouts rather than merely "dress" the show homes with eyecatching fabrics and furniture. Take Sugar House apartments, part of Berkeley Homes's City Quarter development in Aldgate. The Victorian building was once a Co-operative Wholesale Society headquarters and warehouse. High ceilings, large arched windows and cast-iron columns survive the conversion.
To complement these features, designer Lisa Shell has used full-height internal doors, dropped bulk-head ceilings with downlighters and sheets of mirrored glass to accentuate the sense of space. Wide hallways have double-doors opening into an open-plan kitchen and reception area. A wired-in iPod docking station is a nice touch. Prices range from £425,000 to £2 million. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 3217 1000.
"Sadly, for many housebuilders the show flat is an afterthought," says Tara Bernerd, boss of design company Target Living. Her projects include penthouse apartments at the soon-to-be-launched Merchant Square development in Paddington, where prices go from £565,000 up to £1.45 million. Call estate agent DTZ on 020 7710 8116. Bernerd says that her inspiration often comes from the mood of the location. In Camden, for example, she is working with developer Londonewcastle on a scheme of canalside lofts called The Henson Building, named after Muppets creator Jim Henson, whose production studio was based there. Call estate agent Pilcher Hershman on 020 7399 8600.
Lavishly designed show home boutiques that look like a Bond Street fashion shop are another trend. The standard was set by developer Ballymore with its Pan Peninsular marketing suite in Canary Wharf, which doubles as a café and bar. In April, there will be a new, glitzier arrival at Bridges Wharf, Battersea, a joint development between Weston Homes and elite hotel chain Von Essen Group. The scheme incorporates the London Heliport and will have 246 flats alongside a deluxe hotel offering residents concierge services. Prices start at £340,000. Call 01279 873333.