After a new homes drought in Soho lasting decades, the tap has suddenly been turned on. Neighbourhood improvements and the regenerating impact of the Crossrail station project at Tottenham Court Road have sparked a long-awaited residential revival bringing prestige lofts, apartments and designer crashpads, including boutique flats in Soho Square financed by the Stobart family (of road haulage fame).
All the construction activity marks a turning point for Soho, which in recent years has thrown off its sex-and-sleaze image and become a lively spot for fashionistas and the media crowd. Rude, edgy and exciting, it has always appealed to people as a compelling place to work and hang out — but for many, buying was a step too far. Not any more.
With an entry price of £450,000 people are moving in from Mayfair and Marylebone, Bloomsbury and Covent Garden. Rob Hill, director of estate agent GLP says: "Among the newcomers are City bankers who like the contrast after a day at work." Soho has about 2,000 permanent residents — a surprising mix that includes public sector key workers, actors, advertising executives, film-makers, theatre-land staff and even a few families.
Living above the shops
Often homes are inconspicuous, tucked away in the area's maze of narrow streets, some next to neon-signed fleshpots or above bars and bistros. But the new crop of properties is being carved from some of Soho's larger buildings. Some clever architecture is going into developments being squeezed on to long-derelict sites, such as Ham Yard, where a project by hotel group Firmdale includes 22 glamorous apartments and a new public square linking the scheme to surrounding streets.
The biggest change is happening in Soho's northern section — between Carnaby Street, Charing Cross Road and Golden Square. This was never as sleazy as the southern side, and today it enjoys a boutique shopping quarter (complementing the nearby Liberty department store) plus destination restaurants such as Michelin-starred Yauatcha.
A scheme of 37 loft-style apartments has raised the bar. Called The Regent, the name steals cachet from the Crown Estate's prestigious Regent Street retail and office quarter, moments away on Soho's western boundary. The marketing brochure picks up on the West End's more select side, with pictures of Nash terraces, Savile Row shopfronts, delightful Burlington Arcade and Albemarle Street art galleries.
Designed by architect Munkenbeck and Partners, the scheme is contemporary luxurious with big warehouse-style windows and generous-size apartments — lateral, duplex and triplex spaces, up to 2,800sq ft, with roof gardens and terraces. Minimalist open-plan interiors have wide-plank Douglas fir flooring, high-gloss white kitchens and white marble bathrooms. Prices rise to £2.4 million for the wow-factor penthouse. Call Jones Lang LaSalle on 020 7993 7395.
"Crown Estate's makeover of Regent Street is having a huge impact on the area," says JLL's Tim Wright. New office occupiers are bringing corporate wealth to Soho and the scruffier pockets are smartening up fast.
Berwick Street, which has one of London's liveliest markets, is also getting a facelift. Developer PMB Holdings has acquired 12 premises and reached agreement with Westminster council to rejuvenate the run-down street.
Trenchard House, a former police accommodation block on the corner of Berwick Street and Broadwick Street, is being remodelled into 78 flats by developers Barratt and United House. To register, call 0845 4606011.
In Victorian times, Henry Heath was one of London's best known hatters and his customers used to visit the shop via the stately Beaver Building on Oxford Street. The workshops were to the rear in Hollen Street and these surviving buildings, renamed The Hat Factory, have been converted into eight warehouse-style apartments, including a fabulous penthouse with open-plan interior and vaulted ceiling. Prices from £925,000 to £2.95 million.
The Stobart family's Soho Square scheme comprises five lateral, double-height apartments in a listed building. Sizes are from 1,646 sq ft to 1,937 sq ft. Call EA Shaw (020 7420 3050).
The Crossrail station due to open in 2017 at Tottenham Court Road and the preceding upgrade in surrounding public areas, included improved pedestrian access into Soho, will transform the scruffy patch around listed Centre Point, whose new owner, Almacantar, is seeking change of use from commercial to residential, with 82 luxury flats.
The creative sector, particularly film and music, is the lifeblood of Soho. It is a 24-hour district that never closes. Yet there are quiet corners too and Soho has a genuine village-community atmosphere with a network of small shopkeepers, traders and entrepreneurs.
Flats dominate; there are only a few freehold houses — check out the early 18th-century gems on Meard Street. Gardens are scarce, meaning roof terraces add greatly to value.
Even ex-local authority homes are in demand. A one-bedroom flat at Ingestre Court is on the market for £449,950 through GLP. Call 020 7734 4062. Soho Lofts, part of a redevelopment of the former Marquee Club on Wardour Street, is popular with the area's creatives. EA Shaw is selling a 909sq ft loft for £1.2 million.
The new homes tap will keep running for some time yet. Property ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few freeholders and they are seizing what opportunities there are to create new homes as part of the area's upgrade.