London leads the way when it comes to the imaginative re-use of historic buildings. Over the past three decades architects have honed their skills as thousands of new homes have been created in period properties, ranging from Georgian warehouses through to Victorian hospitals and redundant Fifties factories.
Grade I-listed properties, the top heritage rating, are rare, with only 589 in London, or about three per cent, of the 18,835 listed buildings. Of these only 54 are in residential use, including Buckingham Palace. Most are so cherished that conversions are forbidden by planners or too expensive or daunting for developers to tackle.
St Pancras Chambers, the former Midland Grand Hotel at King’s Cross, is one of the few Grade I-listed residential conversions, with 67 apartments, while Isokon Building, an interwar modernist masterpiece in Camden, is a purpose-built block of 34 flats.
Following a painstaking restoration, 24 apartments are to be released this weekend at converted Roehampton House, which English Heritage describes as “among the capital’s most historically important residential buildings”. A rare Palladian mansion, built in 1712 and enlarged in 1910 by acclaimed architect Edwin Lutyens, it sits in two acres of private listed grounds. The property served as a hospital for most of the 20th century and much of the interior had been damaged or neglected, while some key features had been covered up or ripped out.
“Refurbishment and reinstatement was four times more expensive than a conventional new-build project; it was a 300-year old jigsaw puzzle that we had to put together again,” says Sean Ellis, chairman of developer St James. Sections of unique wood panelling had to be numbered, removed, restored and reassembled, and intricate plasterwork replicated.
English Heritage will not accept “false history”, so anything that is reinstated has to be as true to the original as possible. Apartments are priced from £900,000 to £1.9 million.
Despite the extra costs associated with refurbishment, developers are switching from commercial to residential because demand is strong and buyers are willing to pay more for something special. Prestige homes in Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea and Kensington, where most of London’s listed buildings are concentrated, often sell for between £3,000 to £4,000 a square foot.
In 2009 Joe Burns bought Walpole Mayfair, which was the home of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister. The listed Georgian “blue plaque” townhouse on Arlington Street, SW1, had been offices, but Burns chose to ditch the existing planning consent for 12 homes. Instead he obtained permission for five bigger, ultra-luxurious apartments in the 25,000sq ft mansion alongside The Ritz hotel. The aim was to reinstate architectural features and complement the spirit of the original residence.
The apartments are opulent, airy spaces that combine old-world stateliness, the finest contemporary finishes and wrap-around comfort. The meticulous attention to detail involved sourcing 20 different marbles from Italian quarries, reproducing ornate plaster mouldings with gold and silver leaf accents, and making bespoke oak doors with aluminium inlays, and handcrafted filigree balustrades. Prices from £11.5 million. Call Knight Frank on 020 7499 1012.
Off to the Tower
The stunning porticoed mansion at 10 Trinity Square used to be the headquarters of the Port of London Authority. It is a Beaux Arts gem overlooking the ancient Tower of London, which is lit up at night, providing a fairytale setting. Planning permission has been granted to convert the building into a deluxe hotel and residential complex for City buyers, to open in 2014.
The building’s central grand rotunda was destroyed during the Blitz and replaced in 1976 with a nine-story pentagonal extension. Architect Woods Bagot’s new design will restore the original plan, lost during World War II, to create a dynamic courtyard space which will serve as the new public heart of the hotel.
This new-build element creates extra space and allows the original fabric to remain intact. Beyond the imposing entrance reception are a magnificent staircase, ballroom and oak-panelled drawing rooms. The refurbishment will bring 41 apartments, soon to be released by CBRE. Call 020 7182 2477.
The Home of heroes
The Battle of Britain was won from Bentley Priory on the outskirts of north-west London. On sale from May 2012 are the first of a small number of new homes being created out of the converted 18th-century mansion.
When Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding set up Fighter Command headquarters at the start of World War Two, he picked Bentley Priory because of its elevated position offering sweeping views of the capital. From here in 1940, Fighter Command co-ordinated the efforts of the 3,000 pilots who defeated the Luftwaffe.
Today, the location is still strategic, at least for commuters, being in Stanmore, which is at the end of the Jubilee line and one of 20 “super-suburbs” ringing London, according to estate agent Savills.
The house is a significant British landmark with huge historical importance and a list of famous visitors, from Lord Nelson to Queen Victoria to General Eisenhower, while celebrated architect Sir John Soane did much of the design.
Twelve grand apartments have been created in the mansion plus five houses and seven apartments in a listed annexe. Mansion apartments range up to 2,500 sq ft, have mezzanines, double-height reception rooms, tall windows and roof terraces.
In the grounds, Barratt is building 89 new homes with luxurious interiors to match the impressive surroundings of the estate. One home has been created in a clock tower while an external glass lift maximises the vista towards majestic St Paul’s Cathedral. Prices from £550,000. Call City & Country on 01279 817882 or Barratt on 020 8950 5079.