A new generation of housebuilders is out to prove architecturally bold homes that are practical, low-maintence, hi-tech and eco-friendly can also be aspirational and glamorous without costing a fortune. At Queensbridge Quarter, near London Fields in Hackney, modern-design townhouses aimed at young couples trading up from flats start at £535,000.
Some developers are switching their focus from flats to houses — partly in response to a new planning policy backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson that seeks to promote affordable houses as a way of stopping the exodus of families from the capital.
As part of a Project Life research study, David Wilson Homes investigated family lifestyles and built a concept house with an open-plan ground-floor layout, dramatic high ceilings and extensive glazing, including a glass-floored landing, allowing natural light in while keeping outside noise out.
A laundry room is linked by a chute to floors above and the windows are self-cleaning, while countless other gadgets aid easy living.
Research has also been carried out by developer St James to discover buyers’ top priorities.
“This told us that buyers are desperate for storage and also, surprisingly, dressing areas within bedrooms, even at the expense of an en suite bathroom,” says the firm’s Sean Ellis. These are among the design ideas being built into its latest developments in Kingston, Putney, Surbiton and Roehampton.
Formal drawing rooms have been seen as a waste of space for some time now, with the relentless move into the family kitchen. Housebuilders are also importing North American ideas and designs, such as double-height atrium entrance halls that can also be used as family space.
Thinking inside the box
Big, open and flexible space is increasingly popular with young couples wanting high-quality finishes and clever, in-built design. Giles Underhill of niche developer Vision recognises this trend and has launched a scheme of nine striking houses bordering Shaftsbury Estate, a charming Victorian conservation area, in Battersea.
Called Page Mews it is on the site of a former play area, sold by Wandsworth council.Underhill, who knew the area well from his days as a Foxtons estate agent, outbid rival developers, knowing that new houses in this swathe of south-west London, though pricier than the second-hand period stock surrounding them, would strike a chord with “nappy valley” buyers.
“We didn’t want to play safe with pastiche Victorian architecture,” he says. “The result is better than we imagined. The homes are unusual for south of the river and the response has been fantastic — people love them.”
Set over three levels, the houses range from 1,710sq ft to 2,788sq ft and sit within a gated courtyard at the end of a no-through road.
Architectural detailing is modern throughout, down to the stainless steel and timber entrance gates and minimalist hard landscaping.
Exteriors have double-height glass bays, crisp white stucco and iroko cladding. The ground-floor layout is ideal for family living and entertaining — open-plan, with a kitchen and “hub” area, with a wall of glass doors opening on to a compact, low-maintenance garden.
Flexible interiors provide two reception rooms and up to four double bedrooms, each with an en suite bathroom or wet room. Two of the houses have roof terraces. Walnut staircases and floors work well against sleek, white kitchens, while limestone flooring continues through the ground-floor area to the high-walled patio garden, unifying the two spaces.
The homes are air conditioned and have office-standard, “future-proof” cabling allowing for easy technology upgrades.
Lighting, heating, audio-visual equipment and security are controllable through a smartphone or iPad. Curtains are motorised.
Bathrooms have heated floors and walls. Prices start at £1.15 million. Call 0845 230 4480.
As you like it
Modern townhouses may have less character than period homes but demand is strong because often they are more secure, require far less maintenance and fit the lock-up-and-leave lifestyle of owners.
“Victorian terraces dominate in many parts of London and often buyers are forced to undertake ambitious renovation projects to provide suitable space for family life — either by building an extension, digging out a basement or converting the attic,” says Carl Schmid of Islington estate agent Fyfe McDade.
At Queensbridge Quarter, in Hackney, architect Levitt Bernstein has come up with a fresh take on the traditional urban terrace house. Cube-like exteriors have dark blue brick, white render and vertical timber cladding, while railings enclose a paved area at the front of the house. Floor-to-ceiling windows at front and rear throw in light, and the interior is opened up by a double-height stairwell with skylight. Four-bedroom houses have 1,541sq ft of space. Prices from £535,000. Call 020 7613 4044.
A trip around the houses
Terrace Yard, Richmond, has three elegant townhouses, each with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and three river-view terraces, from £3.25 million. Call Hamptons (020 8940 2772).
Meanwhile, seven luxurious townhouses overlooking pretty Crabtree Fields in Fitzrovia, with a gated courtyard, have been built on the site of a former electricity sub station. Interiors verge on the minimalist. “Triplex” houses have a open ground-floor living space with a showpiece sculptural twisting staircase made of glass and polished concrete. Prices from £2.8 million. Call estate agent Hudsons on 020 7664 6644.
Three new townhouses at Essex Mews in Crystal Palace by developer Solidspace — a Royal Institute of British Architects award-winner — have 1,300sq ft of flowing space and feature mezzanine areas and sunken living rooms that open out to the rear garden. Prices from £575,000. Call 020 3597 4658.
Townhouses with integral garages in a parkland setting at Ridgemont, Mill Hill, cost from £485,000. Call Countryside Properties on 020 8343 0990. Napier at West 3, Acton, consists of 24 new townhouses that are part of a redevelopment of a former Ministry of Pensions building which has been turned into a residential complex.
“It’s rare to be able to buy a house with all the benefits usually associated with apartment living —such as good security, parking and a 24-hour concierge,” says Simon Barry of Knight Frank. Prices from £975,000. Call 020 8811 2336.
What the future may bring…
Technology in the home is going in two directions: clever gadgets are allowing householders to control heating, lighting, security and entertainment systems, often remotely, while other innovations promote green and health-conscious living.
“Whole-house” technology allows owners to control what is going on at home from their smartphone or iPad — everything from temperature levels to alarms and audio-visual systems.
Digital walls rather than mere screens will allow you to interact with computers to discover when food stocks are running low, when kitchen appliances need servicing or if any household bills need paying.
Control of the house will become more centralised. Car-like central locking, central vacuuming and waste disposal that goes direct to communal recycling through chutes and underground tunnels are on their way. For security, cameras outside the home will integrate with facial recognition software to identify visitors — and determine friend or foe.
Decorative and design technology will bring walls and fabrics that change colour.
Eco and “healthy” homes will deploy better insulation and smart appliances that communicate with energy companies. Each home may have its own power generation station, linked to the National Grid, so that it can export excess energy and reward householders accordingly.
Air-filtration systems will make life better for people with allergies.
Windows might tint automatically when the sun hits high noon to keep room temperatures constant.
The garage will become be a charging station for an electric car.