Modern family houses with versatile and glamorous interiors are the number one choice of many young couples moving out of flats once they have children. Growing families, too, are bypassing gentrified Victorian terraces in favour of wow-factor houses that have exciting design, better security, gardens or terraces and off-street parking.
Such houses in the capital, though, are scarce and often expensive (despite recent price falls, it is staggering how many houses are still in the £1million-plus bracket). Change is in the air, however, and the supply of new houses, particularly affordable middle-market ones, is likely to be considerably higher during the next 10 years compared with the past decade.
Already developers are switching their focus from flats to houses in response to the collapse of the new-build buy-to-let market. Moreover, local authority planners and Mayor Boris Johnson want to promote family friendly housing as a way of stopping the exodus of middle-class families from the capital. During the property boom, about 95 per cent of new homes built in London were apartments.
'Docklands, with its waterside setting and array of amenities, can be a fantastic place for sporty teenagers and their families'
Well-designed town houses do not have to cost a fortune and they can help boost regeneration in run-down areas by making neighbourhoods more attractive to families.
Serving up cheaper modern houses in inner-city areas where young families want to live is perhaps the biggest challenge for developers.
Docklands, for example, holds little appeal for families, even when the breadwinner is a high-flyer at Canary Wharf. Estate agents say the dearth of good local schools is the main reason. Yet the dramatic waterside setting, with its array of amenities, can be a fantastic place for sporty teenagers.
Contemporary-design town houses tend to be easier to find in north and west London where demand is driven by creatives who want the "loft look" — glass-and-steel finishes and open-plan interiors. But in some boroughs, such as Camden, planners are not keen on gated developments and private parking, which is a disincentive for families.
Most family buyers want a private garden or courtyard, where toddlers are safe, plus a space for the family car.
Modern mews developments can tick all the boxes. Bevans Mews in Shepherd's Bush fills a gap in the market by offering characterful freehold town houses at a reasonable price.
The eight two- and three-bedroom houses form a terrace in a landscaped cul-de-sac off Percy Road, W12. Spread over two levels, the houses are compact (1,200sq ft), unfussy but well-designed. The ground floor comprises a combined openplan kitchen, lounge and dining area. Full-width concertina doors open on to a small patio garden.
The first floor extends into the roof space providing extra height and light, underfloor heating frees up wall space, and there is an audio-visual system and Lutron mood lighting.
The scheme sits behind electric security gates and is monitored by 24-hour CCTV. Each house gets two parking spaces. Prices from £625,000 (down from £700,000). Call Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward on 020 8222 7200.
'Couples want family homes with some of the seductive qualities of modern apartments'
Couples trading up to a house often prefer the area in which they already live. Queensbridge Quarter, bordering London Fields in Hackney, is a redevelopment of the former Holly Road council estate into a mix of new homes, including 28 houses with up to four bedrooms.
Architect Levitt Bernstein has come up with a fresh take on the traditional urban terrace. Cube-like exteriors have dark-blue brick, white render and vertical timber cladding, while railings enclose a paved area at the front of the house. Floor-to-ceiling windows at the front and rear throw in light, and the smallish interior —1,089sq ft — is opened up by a double-height stairwell with skylight. Prices from £550,000. Call estate agent Fyfe McDade on 020 7613 4044.
Sometimes buyers in new developments in London are childless couples or downsizers whose children have flown the nest. At Cromwell Place, Clerkenwell, 16 town houses have been built alongside Victorian-conversion apartments.
"Clerkenwell is where creative meets City and media meets corporate and it's not unusual for singles to buy houses — they like to own a freehold and consider it a good investment," says Nick Davies of estate agent Thomson Currie.
Cromwell Place even includes a bijou one-bedroom house of only 613sq ft; the largest is 1,200sq ft. All have a garden and up to three balconies. Prices range from £449,950 to £785,000. Call 020 7354 5224.
Developers are realising the popularity of houses with the seductive qualities of modern apartment living: eye-catching design, discreet security, parking and lock-up-and-leave convenience.
Eight houses, an exclusive tennis court and one enchanted forest
Woodland Terrace in Muswell Hill ticked all the boxes for Maree and Stuart Macfarlane. The couple, originally from Australia, wanted a traditional house with a modern interior in a leafy, secure setting for their tennis-loving children.
© Graham Hussey
The discreet development of eight detached and semi-detached houses has a private wood and a new tennis court, exclusively for residents. The houses are wide-fronted with bay windows, red brick facades and dormer windows. They range up to 3,500 sq ft with a big ground-floor family room opening onto a sizeable garden, plus underfloor heating and parking for two cars.
The Macfarlanes’s house backs onto the wood, accessible through a secret door.
“The children call it their enchanted forest,” says Maree, 42, a pilates instructor who works in a home studio. It is a safe place for their son and daughter, 10 and eight, to build a treehouse or set up camp.
The family moved from an older home nearby because they could not face the upheaval of renovating.
“We love the ground floor area, which is the real hub of the house,” explains Maree.
Prices from £1.6 million. Call Acorn Homes on 020 8341 2222.