New London penthouses

Penthouses are the ultimate lair and some of the most affordable get the best views
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Strata penthouse
£1.65 million: Strata, a lipstick-shaped building, south of the river at Elephant and Castle, has several penthouses for sale with some of the best panoramic views (020 7016 3865)
London has started to glisten with glass towers as the fashion for penthouses soars. Nowhere does London sell itself better than from a fabulous high-rise terrace, as the sun sets over the city’s treasures - a board game of twinkling lights picking out the famously historic and dramatically new. You can’t beat penthouses for space and drama, either, making them the ultimate London lair.

What price is a view?

Penthouses can command 70 per cent more on a pounds-per-sq-foot basis. As a rule of thumb, the closer to Harrods, the higher the price. But beyond this exclusive halo there is plenty of choice for buyers with "normal", even fairly modest, budgets. A penthouse with Thames and park views at Greenwich Creekside costs £570,000. Shared-ownership penthouses are for sale, too, with entry prices below £200,000. Call 0844 406 9800.

Loving the high life

Women like penthouses for their uplifting sense of light and, of course, the view. Men like them because they are a show-off property, a badge of success. Rarely do families buy them and nor do investors. Purchasers are normally single men, single women or couples. And rarely are penthouses bought "off-plan". Buyers want fully "dressed" rather than naked penthouses, with bespoke interior design and - at the top end - commissioned artworks.

For developers, the penthouse represents the highest risk and the greatest profit. Risky because so much of the value of each development is tied up in the penthouse units. But the satisfaction is that they come to the market last and the price brings pure profit.

Shard of glass penthouse
From £4,000 a sq ft: homes at the Shard of Glass, now rising above London Bridge, are expected to smash price records for the South Bank
Some developers and agents describe top-floor flats as penthouses. Which they aren’t. A true penthouse should stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the block, have direct lift access and a genuine wow-factor. Ironically, unless they come with views across a Royal Park, prime central London penthouses (in Mayfair, for example) tend to disappoint, they have a second-rate vista across a messy roofscape of television aerials and ventilation shafts.

Arguably the most spectacular penthouses are in new glass-clad riverbank towers, which offer sweeping 180- to 360-degree views along the winding Thames, big colour-changing skies and shimmering reflections off the water.

South-of-the-river skyscraper penthouses have particularly splendid views (plus the northern light favoured by artists). Strata, a new 43-storey tower at Elephant & Castle, is an awesome example.

While posh people stick to the safe prestige of a traditional address, places like Bankside, Bermondsey and Vauxhall are top of the list for a younger breed of entrepreneurs and celebrities, fashion, theatre and media executives. East London is also a magnet, with sparkling penthouses coming to Shoreditch and close to the Olympic Park in Stratford, while Canary Wharf penthouses continue to pull in bankers who want to throw off the shackles of a suit.

Giddy heights

Perhaps the ultimate penthouse prize is Shard of Glass, Europe’s tallest tower, nearing completion at London Bridge. Homes at this 87-storey structure, three times the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, are expected to smash price records for the South Bank when released in a year’s time (insiders speak of £4,000 plus per sq ft). Floors 53 to 65 are earmarked for residential (a level higher than the Gherkin). Sellar Group, the developer, says the exact number and size of apartments has yet to be finalised, but homes will have their own lift from street level and include duplexes with winter gardens.

Central St Giles
£5.5 million: views at the 2,246sq ft penthouses at Central St Giles take in ancient landmarks including Wren spires (020 7240 2255)
Clad in vibrant red, orange and green, Central St Giles on the Covent Garden/Soho border is a head turner. Designed by "star-architect" Renzo Piano, this new scheme has 56 private apartments as well as offices and restaurants overlooking a continental-style piazza, which has greatly improved the public realm around the Centre Point area.

Upper-level apartments, held back until completion of the scheme, have been released, priced from £3 million. While lower-floor apartments sold for an average of £1,400 per sq ft, the 2,246sq ft penthouse costs more than £2,400 per sq ft (or £5.5 million). Most of the extra price is to do with the view - dramatic, intimate and beguiling - which takes in ancient landmarks including Wren spires, the Eye and other recent additions to the skyline, and even includes a rare glimpse of Nelson’s Column. Call EA Shaw on 020 7240 2255.

Some penthouses have stepped terraces that cantilever out like the prow of an ocean liner; others have curvy wraparound balconies or conservatory-style winter gardens which form an extension to the main living space - great during summer months but designed for year-round use, too. Five glass-facade towers - or "pavilions" - rising to 24 storeys and containing 229 apartments with winter gardens are nearing completion next to Tate Modern. NEO Bankside’s five angular blocks get higher as they step back from the river. Spectacular duplex penthouses will be for sale nearer to the project’s completion in 2012. One 2,676sq ft "sub-penthouse" is for sale at £4.95 million. Call 020 7998 1888.

The Bear Pit, a scheme of 24 apartments next to Bankside’s Globe Theatre, has a 1,237sq ft penthouse for sale at £1.4 million. Call Jackson-Stops & Staff on 020 7664 6649.

Putney Square penthouse
£1.25 million: travel out from central London to get the best views. Flats at Putney Square prove the point (0844 5566166)
At Elephant & Castle, Metro Central Heights has a 2,422sq ft, two-bedroom duplex penthouse, in the listed 1960s former ministry building, on sale at £975,000 (less than £350 a sq ft). Call Cluttons on 020 7407 3669.

While Strata has several penthouses in a lipstick-shaped building with panoramic views, with prices from £1.65 million. Call Savills on 020 7016 3865.

A 2,472sq ft penthouse at the top of 99 Park Lane, a listed Georgian mansion overlooking Hyde Park, is for sale at £7.95 million. Call Wetherell on 020 7493 6935.

Penthouses in a new Barratt development south of the river, Putney Square, are priced from £1.25 million. Call 0844 5566166.

At 1 West India Quay, Canary Wharf, a blow-you-away duplex penthouse with full-height glass walls is priced at £2.25 million. Call Chesterton Humberts on 020 7510 8300.

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