Mayfair may have been erased from the new version of Monopoly, the world-famous board game, but the area is reclaiming its cachet as London’s rich quarter. Always an “old money” haunt — the hushed enclave of the shy wealthy — Mayfair is now also conspicuously fashionable, even blingy.
It has become the first-choice address for global movers and shakers and home-grown celebrities alike. Not for them the family-friendly areas of Notting Hill or Hampstead. Exclusive yet villagey, Mayfair is a far livelier neighbourhood than it was a decade ago. Swanky late-night hangouts such as Mahiki and an assortment of new boutiques and luxury retail brands have opened alongside reborn restaurants such as Scott’s.
“Victoria Beckham turned up unannounced at Balenciaga’s new shop in Mount Street the other day; unfortunately, a displeased young mother with pushchair was ushered out and the doors closed behind her,” says Peter Wetherell, a local estate agent and long-time resident. “Mayfair is a lot younger and far less fogeyish these days.”
The renaissance dates from the mid-Nineties, when temporary 50-year office leases granted after the Second World War came to an end. Since then at least 250 buildings have reverted back to residential use. Several grand mansions have been reinstated, while niche developers have created big lateral flats or transformed mews houses into spectacular one-off designer homes.
New apartments have been built above Cipriani restaurant in Davies Street and coming soon is the biggest residential scheme for a generation: 39 flats in a mixed-use redevelopment of Park House, opposite Selfridges.
Mayfair’s main draw is its location at the beating heart of London
The area is bounded by Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street and Park Lane. Yet moments away from these bustling thoroughfares are some remarkably quiet pockets.
Architecturally, Mayfair is diverse and full of quirks, with homes dating from every period since 1680 to the present. But though it is one of the few places in central London where the super-rich can find a grand town house with servants’ quarters, there are plenty of less opulent homes including mansion flats and mews cottages, even a few ex-council flats. Prices start at about £500,000 for a small pied-à-terre. Posh time-share apartments priced from £109,000 are for sale at 47 Park Street. For more information, call 020 7950 5528.
‘Over time it will become the most expensive part of town’
Insiders insist Mayfair is under-valued compared with its select near neighbours Belgravia and Knightsbridge. Developer Candy & Candy claims to have achieved a price record of £5,000 a square foot at One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge. Mayfair is less than half that figure but the value gap is set to narrow. Rag trade tycoon Richard Caring outbid a posse of speculators to clinch the US Naval headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square, snapping up the unmodernised building for £2,000 a square foot. He plans to convert the address into luxury apartments priced at twice that figure.
“A few off-market transactions have touched £3,000 a square foot,” says Paul Davies, a bespoke developer and interior designer who targeted Mayfair eight years ago.
“There’s such limited supply in Mayfair and a scramble every time a building comes up for sale. Over time it will become the most expensive part of town and that is what it should be.”
At present there are 77 properties only on the market in Mayfair. Davies, 42, has built up a portfolio of residential and commercial property in the area and is soon to open a “couture” apart-hotel to operate alongside his own-name brand lifestyle company. As a patron of the Royal College of Art, he has also set up a mentoring programme to spot young design talent.
His Mount Street office and studio is part of a new neighbourhood hub, which freeholder Grosvenor Estate has helped create by initiating streetscape improvements and pulling in an upmarket retail mix anchored by the Connaught Hotel, undergoing an £80 million refurbishment.
Grosvenor, the major landowner, has a wider strategy for Mayfair and is keen to acquire buildings that it sold off after the war. Flats in refurbished buildings are being let on assured shorthold tenancies.
Another pocket earmarked for neighbourhood improvements is the area around Brown Hart Gardens, near Duke Street. At the moment, this is one of Mayfair’s less salubrious parts, backing on to Oxford Street and with a collection of artisans’ dwellings (Peabody flats). Brown Hart Gardens itself is one of the capital’s secrets, a raised public space built above an electricity sub-station and “fenced” by classical stone pillars and listed domes. This is an area to watch, as it is currently one of the lowest-value in Mayfair.
‘Arguably, there couldn’t be a safer location in London’
As a generalisation, the further west you go in Mayfair, the quieter and smarter and more residential it becomes. Imposing Georgian buildings in Park Lane once again have sitting rooms rather than boardrooms. Morpheus Developments is building two 5,000 square foot duplexes above Avenfield House, Park Lane.
Such homes tend to be bought by international jetsetters rather than rooted locals. Grosvenor Square, dominated by the American embassy, is re-emerging as a top address.
Following 9/11, ugly makeshift barricades around the embassy sparked controversy. Residents complained that their neighbourhood had become a tacky fortress environment, patrolled by armed police, that made them a terrorist target. Permanent, more aesthetically pleasing security measures have been completed.
Blackburne’s Mews, a residential street behind the embassy, has been incorporated into the compound. Allegedly, a sale fell through when a prospective buyer pulled out after being ordered at gunpoint to produce identification.
“Arguably, there couldn’t be a safer location in London and values may increase more because of the extra security,” says Peter Wetherell.
For more information call Wetherell on 020 7529 5566, Paul Davies on 020 7518 0748, or Morpheus Developments on 020 7610 7170.