The central London property market may be becalmed, but it appears that a home close to Buckingham Palace is seen as a safe haven.
Last week a buyer paid £20 million for a flat at No 1 Palace Street, the Northacre development with views over the Queen’s gardens. This scheme will not be finished until 2018. The proximity to the royal residence also appears to be one of the attractions of Clarges Mayfair, which is rising up on Piccadilly.
Owners at this upscale apartment building, due for completion in 2017, will be able to gaze out at Green Park, which lies just outside the gates of the palace. The Clarges block, a British Land development, is a piece of urban regeneration, albeit in the swish surroundings of Mayfair. When the company bought the site in 2012, it was occupied by shabby offices put up in the 1960s. Previously, as James Taylor, of British Land, observes, it was thought fit for nothing better than a car park, which shows that the present dip in property values in the centre of the capital may be but a blip compared with past downturn periods.
British Land has sold £259 million worth of homes in the block, with an average price per square foot of £4,750, although some of the flats — from one to five bedrooms — have changed hands for £5,000 per sq ft, a record for Mayfair. A penthouse may have fetched as much as £25 million. Only 12 flats out of a total of 34 remain, with demand for these homes depending on the willingness of the wealthy British and international househunters to overlook two successive increases in stamp duty. The success to date, however, highlights the features that the rich want.
This will not be a glass and steel block because tastes in this sector have changed since the Noughties. The affluent now want plenty of wall space on which to display their carefully curated art collections, and British Land will be providing this. The ten-storey Clarges block , with its Portland stone façade and bronze balconies, will have an art deco look, mirroring some of the surrounding buildings on Piccadilly. Yet, because it will not be a slavish imitation of 1930s style, it’s likely that only those with finely tuned architectural sensibilities may notice. The centrepiece of the interior will be a grand artwork spiral staircase ascending to the top floor. Movie-buff residents may be reminded of a set in a Busby Berkeley musical.
Elsewhere in the block, Taylor says, there has been a conscious effort to concentrate on craftmanship and avoid ostentation; he has limited the types of marble used in the bathrooms, for example. In other developments, there can be an overabundance of metamorphic rock varieties. The Clarges logo, another carefully planned detail, has an art deco feel reflecting the block’s design, but, again, subtlety is the keynote. Bling, it seems, expired with the financial crisis.
The bathrooms and kitchens in the block are smart but not oppressively so; there are more opulent examples in more modestly priced developments. A luxe scheme must have some swagger, though. When you come through the gates and up to the entrance of the block, the design of the drive is contrived to make you feel as though you are approaching a stately home.
In the luxe sector, details count; buyers expect a spa, a pool and a gym, but this facility must have enough room for personal Pilates sessions, for example. The lift that takes your car into the underground garage will be sturdy enough to transport a Rolls-Royce Phantom. There are also subtle aesthetic touches, such as the pattern on the metalwork on the façade of the building. This will have the filigree look of a 17th-century piccadill lace collar, the accessory from which the name Piccadilly is derived. Every upscale development has its own expensively bound book, crammed with pictures extolling the benefits of the neighbourhood.
Clarges has tried a lot harder, producing a guidebook — The Essence of Mayfair — that lists the location’s retail and restaurant highlights and the best coffee, from Taylor St Baristas in Brook’s Mews. The marketing suite has its own version of a Bond Street boutique: a room with glass-fronted cabinets containing the various options bathroom and kitchen fittings, sockets and light switches.
The affordable homes
London developers will often make a cash contribution to the local council, rather than provide affordable homes, either on-site or at some other address in the borough. British Land will be building 11 affordable homes on site as part of the Clarges development, which will also include an office building. There are about 1,000 social housing tenants in Mayfair, despite the area’s image as a zone for the super-rich only.