Tag Archives: London property

Property trends 2016

Last year’s housing market was shaped by optimism – house prices rose by 5.6 per cent nationally (10.6 in London), and above the 2007 peak for the first time, to reach new record levels (£186,350 nationally, and £503,431 in London), encouraging developers to build more homes and councils to approve record levels of new developments.

 

Helios Top View

But it was also one of despair for many, as record numbers of potential buyers and middle-class families gave up on their dream of owning a home. New research from the Bank of England revealed that half of families who don’t own a home never think that they will – that’s some 4.5million households. The rate of home ownership has fallen from 73 per cent in 2007 to 65 per cent today.

And next year? Recognising the crisis, the government used its Autumn Statement to announce a raft of new measures to try and increase the amount of new homes being built, and to help first-time buyers even more. But the pressure on supply is still likely to keep pushing up prices – at least until interest rates start to rise and push up mortgage costs, which is predicted to happen by the end of the year. So if you have a home, sort out your five-year fixed-rate deal now, and if you’re thinking of buying, get in before those rates rise.

New hot spots to watch out for

Agents are tipping Victoria as a new ‘prime’ location thanks to its proximity to landmarks like Buckingham Palace.

Likewise, The Lancasters in Bayswater redefined W2, doubling values achieved north of Hyde Park for the first time in 2015.

“At the moment, a similar sort of thing is happening in Marylebone with The Chilterns development – upcoming luxury schemes in Nine Elms and Liverpool Street look set to have the same effect in other parts of the capital,” says Charlie Willis, Head of London Residential at Strutt & Parker

Other areas of growth will be in Fitzrovia and Kings Cross ,which are rapidly changing out of all recognition, tips Andrew Ellinas, Director at Sandfords.

“In terms of potential hotspots for 2016, we predict that outer London areas will continue to rise more rapidly than prime markets as buyers continue to look for value and investors for better yields. Areas such as East London, Canary Wharf, Camden, Islington, and new markets like Croydon will all outperform prime. Additionally, overlooked parts of the capital, such as Tooting and Streatham in south London, are expected to become more popular,” suggests Camilla Dell, Managing Partner at property buying agency, Black Brick.

Last year Walthan Forest and Lewisham were London’s best performing boroughs for rising prices, because they were comparatively so affordable to start with – we expect first-time buyers to continue to look further out in zones three and four for better value, as well as areas on the edge of zone one that offer better value, such as Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall, and Pimlico.

The Crossrail effect will also start to kick in – places you’ve never heard of, like Shenfield and Abbey Wood, will suddenly be worth considering once the high-speed rail connection becomes a reality.

 

Developments to watch for 2016

 

The Stage – A new Shakespeare museum, his original theatre dug our from the mud, and new homes and the first designer shops in Shoreditch, this development will mark Shoreditch’s coming of age.

 Dusk View

Television Centre – Stanhope’s development of the iconic BBC Television Centre in White City will launch in April 2016, reviving a huge area of west London.

 

Chelsea Barracks – the first phase of this long-awaited £3billion super-prime development on Chelsea Bridge Road launches this year, with apartments and a café designed by Squire and Partners.

 

Old Oak Park – if you’ve ever been to Car Giant in London, you’ll know it’s vast. Now try to picture it without all of the cars… The canalside site will be transformed into hundreds of new homes, restaurants, shops and even a new tube station, with Crossrail nearby.

 

Chelsea Waterfont – this vast new development centred around a Victorian power station will link up the hinterland between the Kings Road and Chelsea Wharf and includes residential, retail, restaurants and new parks.

 

Greenwich Peninsula – There’s been plenty of hype about Nine Elms, but not much chatter about Greenwich Peninsula, which will offer almost as many homes (15,000), waterfront bars, restaurants and shops, and a mini Southbank for south-east London, all just one tube stop from Canary Wharf.

Chelsea Waterfront CGI

GOING UP

Mortgage rates – the Fed has put up the interest rate in the US for the first time since the crisis, will the Bank of England follow suit? We think so.

House prices – in 2015 average house prices in London broke through the £500,000 barrier for the first time. We can’t see demand fading, although prices are reaching unsustainable levels, which will reduce the amount of potential buyers, causing the rate of growth to slow – especially if interest rates rise.

The study – thanks to the internet more of us are working from home, so a dedicated work space is now a must, developers are only just waking up to the fact that everyone has a computer, printer and scanner, and we need a space for them.

First-time buyers – The government has introduced even more new measures to try and help new buyers into the ladder – a 20 per cent discount for first-timers buying below £450,000 in London; doubling the value of Help to Buy to a 40 per cent equity loan in the capital; increasing shared ownership, and a new Help to Buy ISA, plus and increase in the amount of 95 per cent mortgages will all help to get more new buyers into their own homes this year. 

Garden and outdoor rooms – Any outdoor space is a precious commodity and more of us are turning our gardens into “outdoor rooms” with elaborate kitchens and furniture, and installing posh sheds and studios to extend our homes outwards without the cost of moving or building an extension.

Rented, reinvented – The PRS – or private rental sector – is one of the fastest growing new-build areas as developers realize that young people who cannot buy will pay for quality, new-build, long-term rental properties. The developer not only gets the capital gain of the property, but a steady rental income, while tenants can expect a higher standard and quality of contract, including integrated broadband and Sky TV, longer tenancies, and concierges to manage buildings, maintenance and collect those ASOS packages while you’re out.

Broken plan – think nooks for teenagers to sit with their iPads in, while the rest of the family watch TV, and break-out spaces for toys or work.

Swimming pools – going up in every sense! Swimming at altitude looks set to become a new London trend with rooftop pools, panoramic 24th floor pools, and even a suspended swimming pool bridge all being built into new schemes.

 

GOING DOWN

The dining room – admit it, in real life you eat your supper on your lap watching Masterchef.

Open plan – so you really want to eat curry in the same room as you dry your washing or to try and focus on work at the table while your other half watches the footy?

Buy to let – new rules on stamp duty and tax relief from George Osborne have been designed to make it less appealing, which could be good news for first-time buyers, who are often beaten to affordable homes buy investors.

Grey – There’s a certain developer look to new build homes – gloss kitchens, grey walls, white bathrooms and metro tiles – that’s getting a bit tired. Buyer are bored of bland and searching for something more personal and localised, expect a rise of British interiors, craftsmanship, and homes and interiors inspired by their surroundings and the history of the site or area.

Technology – super whizzy, remote-controlled properties that are all bling and completely confusing are seeing a backlash from buyers, who’d rather install their own tech systems or enjoy a more simplified home. Too many switches and controls add up to high maintenance and ‘messy’ walls cluttered with control panels.

Luxury buyers – almost all agents agree that the top of the housing market could falter in 2016 as new changes to stamp duty will make people think twice about buying in the £2-5million bracket.

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 13.23.38

 

ALISON TYLER

 

 

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Manhattan meets East London

A raft of new sky-piercing towers is springing up at Canary Wharf – allowing new residents to live the high life, in more ways than one

South Quay Plaza
South Quay Plaza

Berkeley Homes has built a reputation on being a bit special, as their managing director Harry Lewis says “we don’t do any ‘standard’ products, each development is bespoke and hand-picked. We pick our projects very carefully – it keeps us honest and it makes what we do different and full of character. We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach.”

And there is certainly nothing cookie-cutter about their latest project. It is extraordinary: a gleaming, slimline glass tower designed by Foster + Partners sitting at the crossroads of two docks, right opposite South Quay DLR and on a direct path (once they’ve built a bridge across the dock) to the Jubilee line and Crossrail station.

It wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Manhattan or Hong Kong and in an instant it has made the rest of Canary Wharf look dated and clunky – which is no mean feat.

South Quay Plaza will be surrounded by "pocket" parks
South Quay Plaza will be surrounded by “pocket” parks

It is brave and bold and startlingly tall, soaring to 68 storeys, making it the UK’s tallest residential scheme (ahead of the Shard, whose penthouse sits on the 64th and 65th floors). Around the base of the two diamond-shaped towers, angled to make the most of the sunlight and dual-aspect position on the dock, there will be 10,000 square feet of retail and dining space as well as a public park and gardens for the apartments – in fact 1.6 acres of the three-acre site will be given over to the gardens and space around the buildings. “It will be really something unique for this neighbourhood where most sites occupy more than 90 per cent of the site that they are on, it will give something back to the area by offering space and public gardens, which will bring life into the area, too, so there will be a really buzzy atmosphere,” explains architect and master-planner Grant Brooker a senior partner at Foster + Partners. “Tall buildings are the right answer for this area, but you have to generate life around them and set the buildings in a ‘place’ – high rise is all about getting the design right and about what you give back, there has to be a trade-off.”

South Quay Plaza's retail and social space
South Quay Plaza’s retail and social space

And the glass towers certainly have the “wow” factor – they will be little wider than two average-sized houses once built, but the sheets of glass, with lots of angles cut in to bring even more light through the building, feel airy and transparent so that despite the height, it is incredibly elegant and unobtrusive. “I knew I wanted something really spectacular,” explains Lewis, “so we sent out the tender to six of the very best architecture firms, but the Foster + Partners’ plan was so brilliant, they had us at ‘hello’.”

It seems the Tower Hamlets planners were equally enamoured as the plans went through without any significant changes at all, bar a reduction in height by five storeys (“they were worried that planes might not see it,” says Brooker), which is virtually unheard of.

There will 888 homes at South Quay Plaza, from suites to three-beds and penthouses, but Lewis doesn’t look worried about selling them, the workforce in Canary Wharf is predicted to double by 2025 and average earnings here are the highest in the country, while property prices are expected to grow by 37 per cent over the next four years, compare to a London average of 29.4 per cent.

“This is the start of a new era for Canary Wharf,” Brooker tells me. “First came the office phase, and more recently is has been all about embracing retail and the emergence of entertainment and dining spaces. Now it is time for the residential story to develop – it’s the natural next step.”

A new bridge between the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf and Marsh Wall will drive footfall through the space, creating a vibrant destination
A new bridge between the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf and Marsh Wall will drive footfall through the space, creating a vibrant destination

The floor-to-ceiling windows, interiors also designed by Foster + Partners, and the inclusion of residents’ facilities such as a vast wellness centre with a pool and gym, and a club occupying the entire 56th floor with an outdoor terrace that will feature two bars, a lounge, screening room, dining rooms and meeting rooms, even a homework room for children and a crèche, all make this a building to live in, not just a trophy home.

And where Berkeley lead, the well-heeled, and other developers, follow. They are the Waitrose of the building world. So you can expect a small forest of shiny new residential towers to spring up in South Quay Plaza’s wake – in fact by 2020 there will be more than 5,000 residential homes here, that’s a whole new town. Get ready Canary Wharf, things are about to get a whole lot more lively.

South Quay Plaza launches on 14 July with suites starting from £490,000, www.southquayplaza.london

 

Towering in the East –  new developments reaching for the skies in Docklands

10 Park Drive
10 Park Drive
10 Park Drive
10 Park Drive

10 Park Drive

The current site of Wood Wharf will become a new mixed-use district of offices, retail, parks, a hotel, school and more than 3,000 apartments, filling a currently languishing site on the east side of the Canary Wharf Estate – incredibly these residential homes are the first ever to be built on the Canary Wharf estate in its 30-year history.

Numerous big name architects will be involved from Herzog & de Meuron to Grid, Make and Stanton Williams, who are responsible for 10 Park Drive, the first tower of some 30 buildings that will be constructed here. There are 345 studio, one and two-bed apartments with a residents’ roof terrace in the 13-storey tower that will adjoin another, 42-storey tower. Residents will also have membership to a health and fitness club. The apartments launch on 9 July with prices from £395,000, www.canarywharf.com/residential.

Harbour Central
Harbour Central

Harbour Central

Comprising five residential buildings, a leisure complex and park, Galliard Homes’ Harbour Central sits moments from South Quay DLR. Its flagship Art-Deco-style tower, Maine Tower, will be 42 storeys high and has been conceived as a “vertical village” with social spaces on various levels, from a library and cinema to a gym, spa and residents’ club. The interiors have been designed by Nicola Fontanella of Argent Design, bringing Miami glamour to Docklands.

The 297 studios, one, two and three bedroom apartments at Maine Tower, launched at the weekend, with prices from £350,000, www.harbourcentral.com

Dollar Bay
Dollar Bay
Dollar Bay
Dollar Bay

Dollar Bay

A little further down South Dock from South Quay Plaza, and sitting opposite the Wood Wharf site, developer Mount Anvil is constructing Dollar Bay, 111 apartments from studios to three bedrooms, with a winter garden for every apartment, a residents’-only garden, gym and lounge. The glossy, glass tower has been created by Ian Simpson Architects and will have unrivalled views over the river to Greenwich. Register an interest ahead of their launch at www.mountanvil.com

Newfoundland-2014-1-1024x576-741x417

Newfoundland Tower
Newfoundland Tower

Newfoundland Tower

On the western side of the Canary Wharf Estate, dubbed the diamond building because of its diamond-like supporting frame (rather like the Gherkin), Newfoundland Tower will be 58 storeys tall, housing 566 apartments, when it completes in 2017. www.canarywharf.com/residential

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A new Wimbledon ace

For Catherine Beagley, the sales and marketing director at Berkeley Homes (West London), the restoration and conversion of the former Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, couldn’t have come soon enough.

showMedia

 

A Wimbledon girl all her life, she can remember the days when this was a working neurosurgical hospital and the many years that it has been closed and neglected since the last patient was treated in 2003.

Some of that neglect is evident as we work our way around the Victorian building – graffiti on the walls, remnants of fires and teenage vandalism that come with a derelict building, can be seen. You’d never imagine that this was once one of the world’s most advanced brain surgery centres.

But when Beagley and the team of architects and developers first walked around the site they could instantly see the potential “As soon as we walked the site we were buzzing with ideas about what we could do with it, where you could instantly see an incredible duplex apartment with a mezzanine and a vaulted ceiling, or how you could convert the chapel into its own self-contained apartment complete with the stained glass windows and wood panelling. Seeing inside the building, it just made sense.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 14.47.11

She’s not the only one who is excited to see the transformation of what is a landmark local building. “Local people are really excited about the historic project and the level of interest is really high – people are clawing at the door to get in,” says Beagley of the highly anticipated launch of the apartments in the hospital building. “If you live locally, you cannot fail to want to see this building restored to its former glory. Working on this project, it’s one of those sites that you just know you’re going to be really proud of when it’s finished.”

The development of the historic space, which opened in 1869, has not been easy – in some places, around the soaring double-height bay windows there are cracks large enough to put your hand through, in others the beautiful curved brick ceilings are being protected and supported by a form of spray-on concrete that will hold them in place so that the detailing can be retained.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 14.47.39

It will be worth it though as period buildings, with their characterful features and interesting spaces, are a real draw for buyers who want the charm and personality. But most modern buyers also want the security of a new-home guarantee, of double-glazing and efficient heating. Character conversions such as this are the ideal compromise.

“Everyone loves a conversion,” says Beagley. “There’s a status thing to live in a grand building, but you get the best of both worlds as you don’t have the upkeep and maintenance that comes with an old building.”

It doesn’t get much more grand than the penthouse triplex apartment, which will even come with its own turret and Victorian wrought-iron railings – and a glorious south-facing view over formal gardens, and then landscaped mature parkland, followed by open playing fields – you almost can’t see another house around.

wimbledon hill 7-718x475w

One of the most exciting things about working with an old building like this is that the architects have top work with what already exists, so you get some really unique spaces – the duplex apartments in the wings of the hospital will have double aspect windows and mezzanine floors to make the most of the extraordinarily high ceiling heights.

Under the building there will be parking with a lift, while the development will also house a gym, concierge and a business lounge with wifi and a meeting room. And as part of the redevelopment of the site, Berkeley Homes is refurbishing Morley Park spots pavilion, which will provide sports facilities for the pupils at Ursuline High School which neighbours the parkland. As a former Ursuline girl herself, it’s no wonder Beagley feels proud of the project. “This site has got everything,” she says, “it’s a dream to work on.”

And for a very lucky few, it will be a dream to live in, too.

Wellington Row, the centrepiece historic hospital conversion at The Wimbledon Collection, launches this September. Two bedroom apartments at the development start at £1.15 million.  Find out more at www.berkeleygroup.co.uk or to register an interest call 0208 003 6139 or email sales@wimbledonhillpark.co.uk.

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Highly-developed interiors

Step away from the magnolia paint. The latest property developments are teaming up with star interior designers to give their homes the wow factor

Tom Dixon's Design Research Studio is behind the lofts at Upper Riverside, Greenwich Peninsula
Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio is behind the lofts at Upper Riverside, Greenwich Peninsula

Showhomes can be a bit like churches – beautiful to look at but once you’ve seen a few they all merge into one. The trouble is that they’ve become so neutral, with palettes of dove grey, café latte and cream, and their ubiquitous “luxury hotel” look that buyers struggle to distinguish one gloss white open-plan kitchen diner from the next.

If last decade has been all about the big-name starchitect building, the next will be about the interiors, too, as some brave developers are enlisting the help of the biggest names in interior design and styling.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central

“The public is demanding more interesting spaces; social media such as Pinterest is making people increasingly aware and excited by architecture and design so the more pedestrian, beige look just isn’t cutting it anymore,” says Albert Hill, director of the Modern House, an estate agency that specialises in architecturally interesting homes.

“I also think that developers themselves enjoy working with more interesting designers rather than churning out the same old product – they are trying to stand out from the crowd,” suggests Hill.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central

One development that will definitely stand out from its neighbours is Maine Tower, part of the flagship new Galliard Homes’ Harbour Central development of 901 homes, retail, commercial and leisure facilities that is about to launch in Canary Wharf. Stephen Conway, CEO of Galliard, which is London’s second largest residential developer, has called upon Madonna’s interiors style maven Nicola Fontanella of Argent Design to create an opulent Art Deco look that will bring the Manhattan glamour of the Great Gatsby era to Docklands. It’s a collaboration that came about by chance, when the two met on holiday and got chatting– but the results are far from your ordinary new-build specification flat.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central

Planned as a ‘vertical village’ the 41-storey tower will have pockets of social space woven into the different levels, from a gym and spa, to a private cinema, cocktail bar and club lounge, and a library. All will have the trademark Fontanella stamp on them – expanses of glass, bronze-effect panels and polished plaster and stone walls, softened by deep sculptural sofas and glamorous soft furnishings.

The apartments add a touch of Miami Glamour, with blues, turquoise and splashes of gold and bronze, while the rich stone kitchen worktop and warm wooden floors make a contemporary update to the gloss kitchen and stripped floors of most new-builds. Studios will start from £350,000 and Harbour Central launches this Thursday [25 JUNE], www.galliardhomes.com.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central - a studio apartment
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central – a studio apartment

It’s a move that will surely have cost the Conway far more time, effort and expense, but one that he hopes will pay off. As Hill explains, “Developers are trying to move the public perception of developments from just being purely money-making vehicles to something with a little more vitality and integrity. And buyers are ready for that.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 21.05.26

Over the water at Greenwich Peninsula, the former creative director of Habitat, product designer and head of his own Design Research Studio, Tom Dixon is responsible for the interiors of the Loft Collection, a limited edition release of 35 apartments at Upper Riverside (lofts from £720,000, www.themodernhouse.net). Featuring his signature use copper and with a strong industrial edge and a nod and a wink to British design heritage (think green enamel metro-style tiles reminiscent of a Victorian pub or tube station), the playful, bold scheme has had hipsters flocking to the area to get a slice of his residential style.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 21.04.57

Expect bright jewel–hued sofas, emerald green kitchen splash-backs, metallic tables and surfaces, industrial steel beams in the bathroom and incredible iridescent glass shower screens that refract the light like a rainbow. “The colours work to connect you either to the ground or the sky,” says Dixon. “They are strong and bright – they seem very modern and fresh but in fact they inspired by old painting of the area, the sunsets and the surrounding nature.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 21.04.33

Even if you don’t manage to bag one of the remaining lofts, Dixon will have a hand in designing the public areas covering everything from street lamps to gardens, pavilions and he has already created the interiors for Craft, a sleek restaurant and bar on the peninsula. It’s all part of a wider “place-making” scheme, designed to attract a creative crowd of artists, theatre companies and designer-makers. Having a big-draw name on the design team, not only sets the style, it sets the tone that the master developer, Knight Dragon, is trying to achieve.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 21.06.22

“Tom Dixon is such a rare talent and such a bold designer that we knew he would create an alternative to the usual bland vanilla apartments so often found in new developments,” says Kerri Sibson, sales and marketing director for Knight Dragon. “We are creating a vibrant new destination with stunning modern architecture, and amenities including a skyline pool, so with Tom’s interiors we knew we would attract the sort of design-savvy crowd who would enjoy this. We intend to work with other such world-renowned designers in the future to continue to offer something different and exceptional.”

The Heals interiors at The Corner House
The Heals interiors at The Corner House

In Fitzrovia, developer Derwent London has collaborated with designer furniture store Heal’s on the homeware brand’s first residential development in its 200-year history, which will breathe new life into a converted office building – the vast amounts of glazing and industrial hangover from the property’s former life will lend themselves perfectly to the understated, pared back aesthetic of the Heal’s style.

“Curating the look and feel of the apartments of The Corner House has been a great experience,” explains Heal’s creative director Carmel Allen. “Both Derwent and Heal’s believe in creating personal spaces rather than over-stylised designs so each room has a very liveable feel. Sometimes show flats are just that, all ‘show’, but we believe that giving a space a relaxed, modern feel is the right direction.”

The Heals interiors at The Corner House
The Heals interiors at The Corner House

What’s more, residents will be able to use a Heal’s stylist to help design their own bespoke interior to complement their apartment, and as part of the collaboration, they will be entitled to a home consultation from a stylist and a 10 per cent discount on and purchases, as well as invites to design events, previews and workshops at the store, which is handily, just across the street on Tottenham Court Road.

The first six apartments have just been pre-released ahead of the remaining five, but et in quick as a new home on Charlotte Street won’t hang around long. Two-bedroom apartments from £1.75 million, www.cornerhousew1.com.

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The invisible house

Can you build a contemporary home in a conservation area sensitively? Here’s one that succeeded, against the odds…

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Ken Martin is a man who drinks a lot of coffee, 4,200 cups in the last two years to be precise, according to his intelligent Gaggenau coffee machine that takes pride of place in the high-tech modern kitchen that he designed himself – but then, having self-built a daring black glass box of a house, in the middle of a Conservation Area in London, the retired lawyer has probably needed the caffeine.

But far from the drained, husks of people that you often see on the likes of Grand Designs after a self-build project, Ken is still brimming with enthusiasm two years on from completing his epic build.

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Despite its bold lines, from the outside the black glass house has an incredibly calm quality, reflecting the trees and sky and the Victorian houses opposite. In one corner the yew trees almost melt into the house, like a vertical pool shimmering the tree back upon itself.

Yet sitting inside this incredible stealth house – I call it that because, like the planes, in certain light, it literally recedes into the surrounding trees so that you almost don’t notice it is there ­– is like being inside a Scandinavian cabin in the middle of the woods. It is utterly tranquil, quiet and cosseting, like being hugged by the trees around us. No wonder he hasn’t bothered with curtains, with views like this, nor would I. And while the exterior is all glass, steel with clean, sharp lines, inside it manages to feel homely and warm – you don’t feel like you’re sitting inside a stark glass box.

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This is thanks in part to Ken’s own interior style. “This is my family home and that is how I planned it, so there’s a mixture of our things – we didn’t go an buy all new stuff to create a showhouse, it needed to feel comfortable and like our home.”

So there’s a range of furniture from Mid-Century Ercol sofas (one of which Ken rescued from a south London skip) and String shelving, a 1920s oak chair from Heals, an 1870s early Arts and Crafts cabinet, a contemporary floral Pinch sofa, and a thoroughly modern Dutch suspended central fireplace, which is never needed because the house is just so darn energy efficient.

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The warm iroko wooden window frames and blonde wood floor add to the almost tactile atmosphere.

But turn the other way and behind double pocket doors (that slide into the walls), the all-white, minimal kitchen, dominated by a vast square Corian island, is revealed, giving a new perspective to the home.

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Because, for all you could forget your surroundings when sitting inside looking out, this house is a highly engineered, and expertly designed modern build.

Ken has lived in 11 homes since buying his first place in 1986, and each time he’s wanted to do a little bit more, from replacing kitchens, to renovating, remodelling, and eventually adding a Mansard floor to his previous home in Dulwich. That gave him the bug to go further and build his own home, so he began to search for an opportunity.

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In 2007, he, his wife and daughter, moved into the neighbouring house in Forest Hill – a beautiful 19th-century cottage that came with a good 500-square-metre plot that had planning permission granted on it many years earlier. It wasn’t the easiest site, a sloping plot sitting at the end of a private, gravel track road that fades into Albion Millenium Green, a wild and overgrown dingly dell that supports wildlife and acts as an almost rural backdrop.

He invited his friend the architect Ian McChesney, who is as known for his sculptures as his properties, and who had created the pavilion for Avenham Park in Preston along similar lines, to come down and have a look. “He’s as mad as a fish but a visionary about how things should look,” says Ken. “I just let him have a think about how we could exploit the space – I knew I wanted to do something modern and appropriate for the location, but beyond that my only brief was that it should be less tall, less deep and less wide than any of the other homes on the street. I didn’t want it to be over-developed or to feel greedy. I think that would have been taking the piss – you should always ask for what you want and then stick with that.”

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When the plans went in to Lewisham Council in 2008 there were 68 objections, despite the fact only a handful of houses are even near to the plot, but Ken, who’s passion for the project is still infectious today, personally spoke at the heated council planning meeting to defend his plans and make the case for his future family home.

“I don’t think the fact that it was a conservation area made it that much harder – what was important was that the building enhanced the area around it, but that is as important to me as it was to the planners and objectors. One thing that did help was that I had a great planning officer who understood what I wanted to achieve, and the fact that the houses on the road are so different, from a Fifties council block to 1920s and Victorian houses, also helped the argument that this building should be of its time.”

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It took until 2009 before plan was approved and a further three before work began, but once it did, Ken didn’t waste any time. He began in February 2012 and the house was up by the October, though not without a few nerve-racking moments.

Ken project managed the whole build and was there everyday coordinating everything from the 28 metal piles that the wooden frame of the house simply sits on, to the aluminium shell that wraps around that, and finally, the black glass – made and imported from Façade Concepts in Germany – and iroko wood frames that complete the build.

“I was like the Ringmaster gathering all of the different people together to work on the project at the same time and trying to get the best from them.”

One of the hairiest moments was the delivery of the glass panels down the very narrow lane, “one of them broke,” says Ken. “We had to wait two months for another panel to be made and then brought over Germany, and then it had to be literally man-handled in by the Albanian crew because they could get the lorry down.

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Ken sourced virtually everything from the internet, whether it was the Swedish firm Scandia Hus who supplied the wooden frame to learning to use Google Sketch Up to create his own designs or coming up with the kitchen himself, which he based on a Baulthap design but created himself for a fraction of the cost – “anyone could get these huge drawers made if they wanted to, you just create them from MDF and then get them sprayed, any good car garage could do it,” he says casually as if it’s nothing extraordinary.

“Without the internet this wouldn’t have been possible, I couldn’t have researched it otherwise. Everyone is motivated by watching Grand Designs, but not many people realise that you can do it with a reasonable eye and determination. Using the internet I have managed to combine the uniqueness of something bespoke but with the security of a manufactured house.”

Ken describes himself as a “serial mover” rather than a developer – “there’s no way you’d build a house like this if you just wanted to sell it, you have to feel it and be doing it with a passion, rather than an economic vision” – but now he’s been bitten by the building bug he’s ready to do it again, just as soon as he finds the right opportunity.

“I don’t think we could ever live in an ordinary place again after living here, it’s just marvellous.”

The Tree House is for sale for £1,595,000 with www.themodernhouse.net

Ken’s top 10 tips for self-building:

Buy the best location you can find, and afford, – the build will cost the same wherever it is but the location will make all the difference.

Use an architect and put faith in them – they think about things in an odd way and can visualise the way stuff will be in a space; most people can’t do that.

That said, it is important to also know what you want and to be able to explain that to your architect, learn to talk their language.

Decide what it is you want to do and be confident about it – if you have a good scheme and a good ‘story’ about the building and what it is going to do, you will win planning permission.

Be visionary. The more you compromise and dilute your ideas the less successful the build will be.

Don’t scrimp and save on the materials, they’ll only be around 40 per cent of your final cost anyway, so it’s worth getting them right.

Don’t get carried away with kitchen designs, you’ve got to live with it – and cleaning is a big deal.

Learn to use software like Sketch Up so that you can try out designs for yourself.

If you can be on site during the build, you should. You will not get what you want if you are not there.

Don’t change your mind – stick with your plan, I drew all mine on Google Sketch Up.

 

The rise of stealth homes

Eidolon House in Highgate has been clad with mirrors
Eidolon House in Highgate has been clad with mirrors

With the government’s news that all of us will get the “right to build” in the new housing bill – obliging councils must do more to support self-builders, helping them to find suitable plots and making land available – there could be a new wave of innovative developments in the capital.

One of the biggest issues in London is trying to create housing in Conservation Areas and on awkward plots sensitively. The answer is hidden and disguised homes that don’t compromise the existing land- or streetscape, like the Tree House has done.

Zaha Hadid's Investcorp building at Oxford University
Zaha Hadid’s Investcorp building at Oxford University

Sitting opposite Highgate Cemetry and in a Conservation Area, Eidolon House, completed last year by Dominic McKenzie Architects, is thought to be the first mirror-clad house in London. Using polished stainless steel to clad the building and reflect the tree opposite, the building changes its hue with the seasons and time of day.

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At the University of Oxford Zaha Hadid’s new Middle East Centre was conceived by the architect as a reflective tunnel suspended in space – the glass front reflects the existing Victorian buildings while the curved mirrored stainless steel sides reflect the sky, spires and trees that surround it. The result is bold and strikingly modern, yet recessive at the same time.

Trinity Crescent in Tooting Bec
Trinity Crescent in Tooting Bec

In Tooting Bec, Trinity Crescent is a new development of two homes that are hidden from view so that you wouldn’t even know they exist, despite each one offering more than 3,000 square feet of luxury living space. They are on the market from £2.25 million with www.featerstoneleigh.co.uk.

ALISON TYLER

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This Brutalist Sixties development (which actually wasn’t finally completed until 1982) has come full-circle, as a new appreciation for the raw, bush-hammered concrete walls, industrial-chic Crittall doors and Mad Men-style architecture is back in vogue, and large-scale community-led developments have finally been recognised as the building model to strive for. As resident and architect Dave King says, “The Barbican’s architecture is ageless, generous and robust. But what you appreciate when you live here is how peaceful it is, even though you are in a crowded city.”

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He’s right; as I visited on a sunny day last week, one resident was running the organic food shop on site, another gave us a friendly hello as he held open the garden gate, and several people were quietly enjoying the gardens, while others were actively getting their hands dirty in the wildlife garden. A flyer advertises a garden tour and talk by one of the estate’s oldest residents coming up soon. “If you want it, there is a really thriving community here that you can be part of,” says Tina Evans, group director at Frank Harris estate agent, who has been based on the Barbican estate for 16 years. With a community of 4,000 people, the Barbican is practically an urban village within the City of London.

“Some residents have been here since the beginning, and others move around trading up and down as there is such a diverse mix of housing here,” explains Evans. “Once people move in, they rarely move out, which is why the new flats are so exciting.”

The bespoke designed kitchens by Conran + Partners
The bespoke designed kitchens by Conran + Partners

The flats she’s talking about are in Blake Tower, the only tower that is not yet a residential building. The former YMCA building on Fann Street has been empty since the last students moved out in 2012, but now developer Redrow is in the process of gutting the insides of the 17-storey block to carve out 74 contemporary, art-inspired studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The original 1960s architects were the internationally renowned Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, and today it is being sensitively restored and refurbished by Harper Downie, while the interiors will be reworked by another iconic architecture and interior design studio Conran and Partners. “We’ve been inspired by the historical, architectural and cultural characteristics of the Barbican to create a fresh, exciting and crafted design that has a modern heritage,” says Simon Kincaid, project director at Conran and Partners.

The terrazo bathroom at Blake Tower
The terrazo bathroom at Blake Tower

The design is all about celebrating and complementing the existing structure and the innovative, modernist original design from the Sixties. The dramatic spaces will be showcased with clean minimalist lines and delicate brass detailing, such as the screen that will divide the living room and the curved brass door handles. “We wanted to soften the Brutalism so that it feels warm, rich and soft,” says Brook Lloyd of Conran and Partners.

“Restoring an existing building presents its own challenges,” says Neil Ventin, the Health and Safety and Public Relations manager for McAleer Rushe, who are working on the tower. “For instance, we are completely demolishing the lift shaft piece-by-piece, then it will have to be redesigned and rebuilt to modern standards and to meet modern technology.” They are currently clearing the former student digs to make way for the open plan apartments that will replace them, and while the floors, internal walls and the windows will be replaced, much of the fabric of the building is protected and will remain.

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“We are saving and restoring the original balustrades, Crittall doors and glass screens in the communal hallways, and the original concrete will be restored and revealed where it was painted over or damaged over the years,” explains Ventin.

However, working with a building of such character also brings excitement, explains Redrow’s Managing Director, “Of course it is challenging but it’s not formulaic in the way that a new-build might be. It means we can be more creative and work more with the area around us.”

That inspiration is embodying in some of the apartments’ finer details, such as bathroom basins designed to match the curve of the Barbican buildings’ balustrades, and the same terrazzo and brass elements that are used within the Barbican Arts Centre.

It has also made for much larger apartments than usual, with some one-bed flats covering 87 square metres, compared to a typical 50 metres for a regular new build.

With such care and attention it’s clear that this legendary London landmark will live on for at least another half-century, while Conran will breathe new life into the apartments without turning them into bland “new-build” show homes. It’s a rare chance to buy a piece of Britain’s architectural and design legacy – and one that comes with a whole neighbourhood and cultural playground in place, too. It’s hard to imagine a less sterile antidote to your average new-build city pad. I’m sure Chamberlain, Powell and Bon would approve.

Prices from £650,000, www.blaketower.com

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