London still leads the way when it comes to the imaginative re-use of old buildings. A weak economy and a lack of demand for commercial space offers an opportunity for new-homes builders to move in and use these valuable sites knowing that sales for private homes remain buoyant, especially when the buildings are in the heart of the capital and have some serious history and character.
Buildings chosen for redevelopment these days are even more interesting than those that have previously ebbed and flowed from offices to homes and back. With the closure of pubs, of which there were many in central London, the breweries have offloaded many a fine building.
'In central and inner London, almost anything that can be converted gets converted'
As congregations fall, churches and chapels have come on to the market. So have small workshops, missions, working men's clubs and stable blocks - all of which represent an interesting social indicator of how we live today.
Now, with the Government's austerity package come public property disposals - barracks, hospitals, ministry buildings, police stations and Royal Mail sorting offices. "In central and inner London, almost anything that can be converted gets converted, including public toilets," says Professor Chris Hamnett, of King's College London.
"If the raw material is there and planning permission can be obtained, conversions are still very profitable. The boom has pushed outwards into east and south London, though many of the best-located buildings have already been done."
If the peak period for factory and warehouse conversions was the Nineties, the past decade was marked by an office-to-residential boom, according to property consultancy H2SO.
About four million sq ft of central London office space alone was converted to other uses, mainly residential. Currently, 1.8 million sq ft of unused office space is awaiting planning consent for change of use to homes. An estimated 17 per cent of all offices in the South East commuter belt are lying vacant.
Prestige homes in central London continue to soar in price, making conversion appealing despite the costs. Designer homes in Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea and Kensington often sell for between £3,000 to £4,000 a sq ft, far more than the value of a building's worth as office space.
Often, conversions are in business districts rather than traditional neighbourhoods but the areas usually have good transport links and amenities. As with the loft-living enclaves of Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, former commercial districts can quickly become established residential areas. Midtown - which takes in Holborn and the former Fleet Street newspaper district, between the West End and City - is one such transforming area.
Bloomsbury, Mayfair and Marylebone
These areas are, to good effect, returning to their residential roots. At least 250 buildings in Mayfair have reverted to residential, a renaissance dating back to the mid-Nineties when 50-year office leases granted after the Second World War came to an end. The conversion trend has accelerated in recent months.
A 7,345sq ft Victorian mansion on Green Street that for years was the Icelandic embassy is on the market for £14.95 million and comes with planning permission for a basement spa. Call Wetherell on 020 7493 6935.
Handsome conversions are on offer for buyers with much lower budgets. A light industrial premises tucked away off Tilton Road, Fulham, has been turned into a 2,562sq ft loft space, priced at £1.69 million, equivalent to £660 a sq ft. It has exposed steel girders, glass walls, a courtyard garden and private parking. Call Strutt & Parker on 020 7731 7100.
Double-height apartments in a former printworks at Nettlefold Place, West Norwood, are priced from £309,950. Call Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward on 020 8761 0900. Mulberry House, a Victorian school in Cable Street, east London, was the setting for the Sixties film To Sir, With Love, starring Sidney Poitier. It has been converted into 34 apartments, priced from £357,000. Call Felicity J Lord on 020 7481 8811.
Paynes and Borthwick Wharves in Deptford occupy a dramatic position on a bend of the Thames but have been inaccessible to the public for decades. Part of the building - constructed in 1860 for the manufacture of marine boilers, which were loaded on to ships through magnificent Italianate arches - is listed, featuring a striking façade.
It is to become a new "cultural destination" of 257 flats, gallery and exhibition space, live-work units, design studios, café-restaurant and riverside promenade, with the first homes ready in autumn 2013. To register, contact developer United House on 01322 665522.
City-fringe addresses are popular, especially with walk-to-work commuters. Number 75 Leman Street, in Aldgate, was built in 1904 as a headquarters for the Co-operative Wholesale Society, later occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland. The listed red-brick, granite and Portland stone building has a distinctive clock tower, a quarter-size version of Big Ben, and a grand entrance lobby with sweeping stair-case. A total of 42 homes have been created and there is a 24-hour concierge and underground parking. Prices from £720,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 3217 1000.
Number 35 Great Peter Street is a period gem moments from the Palace of Westminster. Built in 1928 as the headquarters of a Christian charity, it has a handsome stone-and-brick façade with leaded windows, behind which have been created nine contemporary-design apartments, including a duplex penthouse.
Interiors have glass "feature" walls, white Corian kitchens, oak floors and brushed steel sections, plus underfloor heating and air conditioning. One apartment is more like a house, with its own auspicious entrance at street level and a glazed inner courtyard. Prices are from £1.75million to £5.25 million. Call Montague Evans on 020 7312 7412.
For the past 80 years, Loxford House in Highbury was the headquarters of the charity Action for Children. The handsome Victorian building is being split into apartments, with a terrace of townhouses priced from £1.3 million built alongside. The development is called Highbury Park. Contact Thomson Currie, on 020 7226 0000.
Officers' Mess is a collection of 11 restored listed houses at former Shoebury Garrison in Essex, a 180-acre coastal site with its own nature reserves and protected wetlands.
Once a weapons testing centre and barracks, it was occupied by hundreds of military personnel and their families - a self-contained community with its own hospital, chapel, cricket pitch and parade ground.
Today it is an upmarket housing estate, with 50 Victorian buildings alongside new-build cottages and strikingly modern waterside apartments. The estate's architecture and layout remain largely as originally designed. Buildings are well spread out, there are wide tree-lined roads, open spaces and sea views.
Houses are tastefully refurbished, with vaulted ceilings, tall sash windows, oak panelling and decorative plasterwork. Prices are from £925,000. For more information, call estate agent Fine on 01702 826037.