Search for something different: new homes with a twist

Seize the chance to buy a historic central London home as fine old commercial buildings gain permission for conversion
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With the UK economy still weak and demand for new housing unsatisfied, buildings with a history of commercial use are being snapped up and transformed into swish homes for people who want to live much closer to the action.

Not since the Nineties wave of factory and warehouse redevelopments have so many conversion candidates appeared on the market.

With the Government's austerity package triggering more property disposals, there are others to come — ranging from former ministry buildings to small period offices in the Square Mile.

If anything, the properties available today are quirkier than in the past, and include former fashion boutiques, restaurants and pubs, workshops, hotels and galleries.

Many have already been split into homes by developers and are for sale, others are ripe for conversion into fabulous one-off pads.

There are also opportunities to become a "do-it-yourself developer" — buying a building with planning permission for several flats, with one for you paid for out of the profit you make. Depending on the economic cycle, developers switch from office to residential use, though planners can throw a spanner in the works.

With less take-up from business occupiers, commercial property values have fallen more heavily during the credit crunch — up to 45 per cent against 22 per cent for residential, according to property consultant CBRE.

Currently the arithmetic works much better for residential, which in many areas can command £700 a sq ft compared to £100 per sq ft for commercial.

"When the downturn hit in 2008, there was a sharp increase in changeof-use planning applications," says Nick Vaughan, land and new homes director of estate agent Hamptons International.

"Last year, Westminster borough alone had a 72 per cent jump in commercial-to-residential applications. These buildings will start to come to the market over the next 12 months.

The former Gilbey’s Gin factory, near Primrose Hill
£1.8million: a two-storey penthouse at the former Gilbey’s Gin factory, near Primrose Hill. Sandfords (020 7723 9988)
More often they are in business districts rather than traditional neighbourhoods, but even so, 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 — between the City and the West End — is one such transforming area. Mayfair, too, is returning to its residential roots.

At least 250 buildings 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.

Number 68 Mount Street was one of the area's landmark mansions when it was built in 1896. The handsome corner building is now back on the market after decades in office use, and has planning consent for six large apartments.

Mount Street is Mayfair's most fashionable new hub, with boutiques such as Balenciaga's and Scott's restaurant attracting a celebrity crowd.

Of course, the address comes at a price. The £11.5million asking price for number 68 means each home will end up costing at least £2m. Call Wetherell on 020 7493 6935.

Flats at Arthaus, London Fields
From £280,000: flats at Arthaus, London Fields, due for completion next spring. Call 0800 043 2523

Close to the city

City-fringe addresses are popular, especially with the walk-to-work commuters. Sugar House in Aldgate was the original HQ of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Here, 42 homes have been created behind a Victorian façade of red brick, granite and Portland stone.

Each apartment is different in terms of layout, size and architectural detail. A spectacular penthouse occupies the Co-op's former double-height boardroom, which has ornate ceiling plasterwork and a huge domed roof light.

Crisp white-coloured walls and white leather sofas enhance the open plan interior design, while a grand piano in one corner demonstrates the scale of the 1,853 sq ft space.

The listed building has a distinctive clock tower, a quarter-sized version of Big Ben, and a grand entrance lobby with sweeping staircase.

There is also a 24-hour concierge and underground parking. Prices at Sugar House range from £424,950 to £2.2 million. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 3217 1000.

Arthaus, between London Fields and the City, was an art gallery and remains a base for Momart, a leading art storage company. Redevelopment has spawned 45 flats, three town houses and studio space for artists.

Behind the retained Victorian façade will be a full-height atrium with a hotel lobby-style café. Apartments are accessed via open balconies that run around this central core at each level of the building.

Warehouse apartments at Mandeville Courtyard in Battersea
£349,950: warehouse apartments at Mandeville Courtyard in Battersea. Cluttons (020 7408 1010)
Completion is due in March next year. Prices from £280,000. Call Union Developments on 0800 043 2523.

Café Matthiae was once a notable French-run café and bakery in Richmond. The listed Art Deco building has a deep blue-and-silver façade and is now 15 apartments.

Prices start from £305,000 for a one-bedroom flat. Call estate agent Featherstone Leigh on 020 8940 1575.

Old Chapel Studios in Hampstead was used for film production by director Anthony Minghella before his death in 2008. The converted chapel is on the market for £1,750,000. Call Foxtons on 020 7793 2020.

Mandeville Courtyard in Battersea is a former soap factory turned into classic warehouse apartments with exposed brick, beams and wooden floors. Prices from £349,950. Call Cluttons on 020 7408 1010.

A commercial premises on Alexander Street, Notting Hill, was previously a hangout for locals. The building has 4,500 sq ft of space, and is ripe for conversion. The asking price is £5,250,000. Call Chesterton on 020 7298 5900.

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