South Kensington is getting itself spruced up for spring. The historic neighbourhood, with its world-famous museums, the Lycée, French Quarter and elegant garden squares, now has the glamour of a new boutique shopping district at The Brompton Quarter.
Meanwhile, streetscape improvements around two key points - South Kensington Tube station and Exhibition Road - are making it even more pedestrian-friendly.
In January this year, Prince's Gardens, with its grand stucco townhouses, reopened after a £160 million revamp by Imperial College, which has built seven halls of residence and a sports centre, adding to the upbeat and youthful feel.
The makeover has not gone unnoticed by the new wave of bonus-happy, chequebook-waggling City bankers, and property prices have rebounded strongly. "Judging by the calls we started to get after Christmas, the bonus buyer is back," says Tim Wright, of Knight Frank's Kensington office. Most enquiries appear to be coming from people who want to upgrade by buying a better, bigger house in London rather than splitting the money up into investment and country property.
An address to impress
Kensington heaves with seriously wealthy people - the long list of Blue Plaques proves it has been the address of choice for the rich and powerful since Georgian times. Yet it has a mix of properties that have always catered for those in transit: businessmen, creatives, students from around the globe and singles enjoying central London before settling down. All of whom have appreciated the mix of mansion block apartments, mews houses, purpose-built Sixties freehold homes and leases short and long to suit every kind of budget.
With much of the district listed, where eagle-eyed conservation groups keep guard, opportunities to squeeze in new homes are rare. Yet resourceful developers manage to find some each year.
Three houses have been built on the site of the former Coys Of Kensington classic car showroom, tucked away in cobbled Queen's Gate Mews. Ranging in size from 2,000 sq ft to 3,400 sq ft, the homes overcome the restrictions - narrow reception rooms and poor natural light - of traditional mews houses. Integral garages have been made extra-wide to accommodate larger, high-end cars, such as a Bentley. Prices start at £4.25 million. Call Jackson-Stops & Staff on 020 7581 5881.
The conversion of a house in Coleherne Road has spawned three flats, priced from £675,000 to about £2 million, which are already receiving offers. For more information, call 020 7589 1234.
Mainstream properties in Kensington equate to roughly £1,200 a square foot, though the best homes can cost twice this figure. Typical is a refurbished two-bedroom apartment (947sq ft plus terrace) at the top of a substantial town house in Queen's Gate, which is on the market for £1.15 million. Call Hamptons on 020 7584 2044.
Five luxury apartments have been created at 3 Queen's Gate Place (above left), a leafy garden terrace behind the Cromwell Road museums. These homes have "classic-contemporary" interiors, with modern finishes such as black-gloss kitchens set against restored architectural details, and come with air conditioning, audiovisual system and programmable mood lighting. Prices range from £1.95 million to £4.95 million. Call Farleys on 020 7589 1234.
Stylish living and designer shopping
The tract between Old Brompton Road and Fulham Road is the residential heart of South Kensington, with Thurloe Square, Pelham Crescent and Onslow Gardens among the prestige addresses. Most of this patch used to be owned by The Henry Smith Charity, landowners since the 17th century, but in the Nineties the estate was sold to Wellcome Trust.
Since then, there have been a number of disposals, allowing local small estate companies to consolidate their property portfolios. One of these is Brompton Estates, which is focusing on a micro-neighbourhood between Beauchamp Place and Thurloe Place, opposite the impressive bulk of Brompton Oratory.
This prized chunk of freehold bricks and mortar has more than 100 retail units with mansion flats above. When Brompton Estates acquired the land five years ago, it was a grimey, unfashionable strip, strangely at odds with the glamorous shopping experience available at Harrods, only a stone's throw away.
Today, it is called Brompton Quarter, an upmarket retail destination, specialising in homewares (Divertimenti, Smallbone, SieMatic, Skandium, Boffi, B&B Italia). In neighbourhood terms it has filled the gap between swanky Knightsbridge and the ultra-smart cluster of shops and restaurants around the wonderful Art Nouveau Michelin Building on Fulham Road. A rolling programme of refurbishment is bringing new flats to the market. Visit www.bromptonquarter.com.
South Kensington Estates, another local company, has about 100 properties in the area and is renovating two buildings with 14 flats, including a penthouse, on Egerton Gardens. Properties are let on annual leases by WA Ellis, with rents ranging from £495 a week. A refurbished mews house with a Danish design theme is available for £875 a week. Call 020 7306 1600.
As in Marylebone, where high-quality retail has been nurtured by The Howard de Walden Estate, South Kensington residents will benefit from better amenities on their doorstep and a price boost to their homes.
* All properties and prices quoted are correct at time of publication (27 January 2010).