London's family homes reinvented:Blackheath's Kidbrooke Village launches new-look 'urban houses' with rooftop gardens and flexible floorplans

Space-efficient, budget-friendly family homes are the innovation London has been waiting for as a growing number of young families across the capital search for traditional houses rather than skyscraper apartments.

City planners keen to build to a higher density are pushing London developers to be ever more creative, with fresh architectural ideas for  intelligently designed houses that buyers would welcome at the right price. 

Skyscraper apartments with gym, concierge and shared communal spaces may suit singles and childless couples — but young families are still craving “traditional” houses in rooted communities. 

So, is it possible to bring good-looking, space-efficient, environmentally friendly new homes into the city? Developer Berkeley believes it has a solution. 

After five years on the drawing board, a new property type — the “urban house” — has been launched at  Kidbrooke Village, a 5,000-home neighbourhood being built close to  Blackheath in south-east London.

This is a reinvention of the much-loved Victorian terrace. Instead of land-eating semis and detached houses, the four-storey urban houses, 22 of them in this phase with many more to come, are arranged back to back and have impressive  360-degree sunlit roof terraces instead of ground-level gardens.

The homes impressed Dr Jason Palmer, director of Cambridge Architectural Research, with their handsome streetscape and efficient use of land. Palmer is one of the many academics, architects and town planners from across the globe who have visited the project. 

Remarkably, the design allows for 48 houses per acre of land, double the density of conventional terrace housing. It is even more land-efficient than a four-storey apartment block with communal corridors and the same number of homes. 

Crucially, the urban houses look good, are built with high-quality, interesting materials and have a flexible floorplan that can be adapted to a family’s changing needs. For example, a self-contained studio flat for a son, a daughter or an elderly relative can be created within the house.

Practical glamour: the "urban house" at Kidbrooke Village, SE3

A penthouse vibe

“One of the main design challenges was getting natural light into properties that are built back to back,” explains Karl Whiteman, Berkeley director. “The solution was to use floor-to-ceiling glass at the entrance doorways and internal skylights.”

Priced from £800,000, the houses range up to 1,442sq ft and have either three or four bedrooms. Each home has a front drive with an electric car-charging socket and a concealed storage area for three bikes and three rubbish bins.

The ground floor is a higher-than-normal open-plan kitchen and living space with combined cloakroom and laundry. The first and second floors have bedrooms with en suite bathrooms opening on to sun terraces linked by an external steel staircase to the 300sq ft open-air roof terrace, which has service points for electricity and water and is designed not to be overlooked.

“People love the house, but it’s the roof garden that really excites,” says Tamara Simon, sales assistant at the show home. “It’s practical and glamorous and feels like a penthouse.” And young families welcome the open space. 

As well as being “green” and low-maintenance, service charges for these urban houses are a third of those for an equivalent-size flat. This is because house owners do not have to pay for some communal amenities such as a gym, but they can still use and enjoy all the facilities. The service charge they pay covers the cost of estate management and landscaping.

Spanning 276 acres, Kidbrooke Village might be described as a new- generation “garden suburb”. Though high density, it has 136 acres of open space with walking trails, picnic areas, lakes and wetlands and is bordered by Sutcliffe Park nature reserve. It also has its own train station providing a 15-minute commute to London Bridge. 

Though near Blackheath it has shops, a school and a health centre, while more bars and eateries are to come. Apartments, priced from £407,500, are also for sale. Call 020 8150 5151.

Berkeley has advanced plans to roll out more urban houses at other sites in London and the home counties. The next project is in Reading. The company is also moving to “modular” production, with components delivered direct to sites from a factory in the Midlands. As well as enhancing quality control, this cuts the on-site construction time to 10 weeks and, in theory at least, reduces the price paid by the home buyer.

Family rooms

Forward-thinking developers have been challenging the traditional idea of the house as a rigidly defined space. Modern lifestyles demand versatile interiors and fresh design solutions, not least a free-flowing multi-use downstairs family space — for living, dining and relaxing — that dovetails neatly with a garden or patio.

A lot of younger families want a house with the hallmarks of a designer loft: open, dramatic, exciting and flexible space, with ample storage, high-quality finishes and up-to-date cabling, says veteran developer Colin Serlin, whose latest project, The Villas, is a mews of eight freehold houses on a former builder’s yard off Harrow Road in W9. Bespoke metal entrance gates are a sign of the architectural attention to detail that lies behind, from the tastefully landscaped courtyard to the handsome Danish brick frontages, floor-to-ceiling glass and contemporary interiors.

The three-bedroom houses have underfloor and solar heating plus a clean-air ventilation system and a basement with an engine room-cum-utility area. Each house is cabled for CCTV and entertainment systems, and also has a terrace and private parking. Prices from £1,475,000. Call Aston Chase on 020 7724 4724. 

Charles Baker Place is a new scheme of nine houses in Wandsworth’s Bellevue conservation area, a neat neighbourhood of pretty cottages and flat-fronted terrace houses, with a parade boasting boutiques and Michelin-star restaurant Chez Bruce.

Characterful loft houses have been created within an original 19th-century church hall. There are also refurbished mews cottages and new contemporary-design houses of up to 3,070sq ft, each with a light-filled basement and garden studio. Secure private parking in a gated courtyard is another bonus. Prices from £1,175,000 to £2.95 million. Call estate agent Rymer Irens on 020 8767 2222.

A new terrace of townhouses offering vertical living over six storeys brings something fresh to Shoreditch, known for its lateral lofts. Inspired by the live-work atelier houses of Antwerp, the 1,560sq ft homes in Dereham Place are tall and narrow, but thoughtfully designed, with a ground-floor workshop or garage, a basement cinema room, and bedrooms and living spaces on the upper floors.

The homes have rooftop terraces and the interiors feature full-height glass, natural ventilation and poured white resin floors. There is an all-singing-and-dancing home automation system that controls lighting, climate, security and audiovisual entertainment via a hand-held or Apple device. Prices from £1.45 million. Call 020 7600 7000.

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