Smart moves news: heritage building conversions; Brixton Square; Buckingham Palace; squatters in Chelsea

David Spittles has the latest on new homes in the capital and abroad
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The Galleries: 131 new heritage homes in Brentwood

Classic good looks are irresistible, which is why the conversion of a heritage building always attracts attention. Ask first-time buyer Emma Rudgeley, 26, for example. She has moved into a two-bedroom apartment with 13ft-high ceilings and tall windows at a former Victorian pile in the well-connected commuter town of Brentwood, Essex.

"I adored its character and all the architectural detailing, and knew I must live in something so special," she says. "For the first time I wanted to leave home."

Most new-build properties come with 8ft ceiling heights. Properties with the most generous "volumetric" space tend to be conversions and refurbishments of old mansions, institutional and industrial buildings, such as schools and
hospitals, churches and chapels, banks and barns, warehouses and workshops.

At The Galleries, where Emma lives, 131 homes have been created, many looking on to cloistered courtyards. The fabric of the listed building — once an asylum — has been painstakingly restored. This includes decorative stonework, gothic arches, cast-iron columns, timber beams, oak staircases, mouldings and fireplaces that over the years had been covered up or damaged. The building's dark corridors (in Victorian times they were known as "galleries of communication") have been opened up and now form part of the converted residential space. Even the deconsecrated chapel has been transformed into a spectacular triple-height, 2,500sq ft home. And another triplex has been carved from the original clocktower.

No two of the homes are the same — some one-bedroom apartments extend to more than 900 square feet. "Buyers love such homes because they've got genuine wow factor," says Mandy Soames of developer City & Country.

The Victorians built architecturally stunning asylums, often on elevated sites (like Italian hill towns) which allowed views over the high boundary walls to the open countryside beyond. And the hospitals were deliberately built close to a railway station — which is now a boon for the new generation of residents, including Emma, who works for an energy company.

The views are indeed impressive as The Galleries sits on one of the highest points in Essex. Prices from £199,500. Call 01277 202122.

Brixton Village in Electric Avenue is winning Brixton new fans
© Rebecca Reid
Brixton Village in Electric Avenue is winning the area new fans

Brixton is back in the game

A century ago Brixton was a highly fashionable place to live and shop, with smart department stores attracting people from across south London.

The riots of the Eighties turned it into something of a no-go residential zone for many but a renaissance is under way, with town-centre improvements and cemented by a new generation of young and more affluent buyers adding to the cosmopolitan mix.

One of the new attractions is Brixton Village — a lively arcade-style market in Electric Avenue winning plaudits for its diverse range of highquality food outlets. Brixton Square in nearby Coldharbour Lane is a 107-home scheme being built by Barratt. Prices from £265,000.

Vivo, Stepeny Green
From £240,000: Vivo in Stepney Green (020 7531 2512)

Green's new neighbourhood

Design creep is spreading from Shoreditch to unlock new homes in east London. Vivo is part of a "new" neighbourhood at Setpney Green. Developer First Base is sponsoring an East London Design Collective to support young local designers, who have helped to create the quirky show flat. Prices start at £240,000. Call Savills on 020 7531 2512.

Live next door to the Queen

A ministry building opposite Buckingham Palace is to become a luxury apartment complex. Number 1 Buckingham Gate has a listed façade and direct views of the royal residence and its gardens. Developer Delek Global had planned a new office scheme but the lure of highend residential in the prized SW1 postcode has won the day.

Crafty squatters find a way

The Cross Keys pub in Chelsea and former BT offices in Holborn both have unwanted guests: they are occupied by squatters. Since it became a criminal offence to squat in domestic property some quick-thinking groups have moved house — taking up residence in commercial premises where landlords must continue to rely on civil, rather than criminal court, remedies to get rid of them, a process which continues to be slow, expensive and inconsistent. Ironically, both the pub and the BT building have been earmarked for redevelopment into residential use.

Homebuyers pay record prices for new-build homes

New-build homes are so popular that buyers are paying record price premiums, typically 30 per cent more than they would for a secondhand property.

Premiums apply in 27 of London's 33 boroughs, according to research based on Land Registry figures by property consultant CBRE. The biggest premium is in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (55.46 per cent, or £1.28 million), followed by City of Westminster (48.85 per cent), City of London (44.84 per cent) and Hammersmith & Fulham (43.35 per cent).

Camden, Hounslow, Southwark, Hillingdon, Barking & Dagenham and Kingston upon Thames (22.02 per cent) make up the the remainer of the premium-for-new top 10. Traditionally, new homes have cost about 15 per cent more than older properties, to reflect the fact that they come with structural warranties and lower running costs. However, it seems developers are now able to command higher prices by offering a complete package — glamorous contemporary interiors, better security, audiovisual creature comforts, underground parking and the "lifestyle" extras inspired by hotels.

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