Few property barons come bigger than multi-millionaire Sean Mulryan. He owns more land in London than the Duke of Westminster, not bad for the 56-year-old, one of seven children born into a farming family and rural poverty in western Ireland.
© Tom Campbell
He left school at 17 to become a bricklayer, bought his first plot of land at 19 and set up the Ballymore company at 26. Now he is one of Ireland's richest men and says his land bank could accommodate 20,000 homes. This is the man who will be launching the Linear Park phase of Embassy Gardens at Nine Elms in Vauxhall this week, reportedly the fastest-selling London residential project of the year with 400 of the 620 phase-one flats sold in just six months.
It is part of the revitalisation of the South Bank from Vauxhall to Battersea. The open-plan warehouse apartments — an average of £950 a square foot — will be characterised by open-brick interiors, higher ceilings and the illusion of more space making 1,000sq ft feel much bigger.
London buyers demand interiors that reflect their lifestyle, adds Mulryan, saying: "Take the Ferrari: an example of great design improving all the time — that's what we're trying to achieve."
And Mulryan likes to make sure everything is just so. He is living in his Canary Wharf apartment to oversee Embassy Gardens. His heart is in his Ardenode stud farm on his estate in County Kildare, where he lives in a mansion with his wife Bernadine.
After he was swept along in the financial meltdown of 2008 he went back to working a 90-hour week. "Property is a tough game, and it's easier to get it wrong than right." But the media-shy builder must be getting something right — in the first nine months of this year he has seen the best results in 30 years. Getting it right is becoming a habit.
"I get involved down to the style of the door handles. People have no idea how much time you have to put into something to make it 10 per cent better than anything else," says Mulryan.
As well as the apartments, Embassy Gardens will include a private residents' club, shops, restaurants and bars, which have already attracted buy-in from Waitrose and the entrepreneurs behind Bunga Bunga in Battersea, in 394,000sq ft of commercial and retail space.
The Battersea Power Station redevelopment will be another huge boost. Mulryan says: "I have looked at the social make-up of Vauxhall carefully and a huge number of people living there work in central London. I have no concerns at all."
Ballymore owns land in nearly every corner of the capital. Though when he is eyeing up sites, Mulryan says he tends to focus on water and areas with good public transport or where transport is coming on stream. Knowing where to buy is his major strength.
Ballymore was in the vanguard when Mulryan started to build in east London in 1994. He says: "It was a lonely place. But all the evidence told me London was on the cusp of becoming a world city. By the time it was where everyone wanted to be we were established."
He was right. "We have got planning permission for more than 7,000 residential units since January," Mulryan says, adding that London remains one of the best places in the world to be developing. "London will stay robust for the next 10 years. Residential supply has been low for a decade so the demand is there. Most people in the world want to own a bit of this city."
Emily Wright is Features Editor of Estates Gazette, where the full version of this article first appeared