The New Rich Living
Sat 01 Mar 2014
The 'nice to have' standards in prime London properties are now dizzyingly high-end. Caroline Kamp reports on the new normal.
Space is one of the general luxuries, "notes interior designer Karen Howes, of Taylor Howes, "but it's how people are using it that's changed."
Where once people were allocating space to a master bedroom and dressing rooms, were now seeing 3,000 sq ft master suites with his n hers dressing rooms and bath room which are almost like living spaces in themselves.
Howes, has recently completed a bathroom for a female client which has a fireplace, a sofa, two armoires with special leather and felt-lined trays for jewellery, separate summer and winter dressing rooms, a fridge for perfume, controlled air temperature storage for fur coats, and of course, plenty of dedicated space for shoes and handbags.
People dont realise the detail we go into. There is a space for everything. We can make each thing bespoke so we get the perfect scale and proportion in that interior.
At the top end of the market, owning a 30-40m home can be like living in a boutique hotel, with secure underground parking (which allows you to walk straight into the property) and glass-fronted lifts as standard. The quality of craftsmanship has never been better, and buyers standards have never been higher. Candy and Candy have set the bar so people expect more, says Howes.
At one north London house Howes was involved with, 4,000 sq ft has been allocated for a spa with an ice room, three treatment rooms, relaxation area, hammam, changing rooms, an Olympic-sized pool, bar and TV area. At a mews house in Knightsbridge, her client is putting a car lift in, with a glass floor. Shes also lined the walls of another clients Chelsea garage in leather so that the car doors dont get scotched.
Certainly in mews houses where space is at a premium theyll put in a glass wall between the garage and a reception room, says Keith Gorny, head of prime sales at Marsh & Parsons, and park their Ferrari. Hes seen three houses in the last few months with diving pools in the basement; youve got to dig a pretty deep pool for a spring board. The high net worth wants things to be individual says Gorny, their preference is to come in with a team of designers and architects and modify properties to their specific requirements.
When it comes to this sort of luxury living, bigger doesnt always mean better. Mark Pollack of Aston Chase recalls on of the most impressive garages hes seen recently in St Johns Wood, which has a hydraulic lift down into a void area beneath the front drive and parking for eight vehicles. Another property has a sushi bar adjacent to its wine cellar and wine tasting area, but Pollack is doubtful about how much some of these kinds of wow features are actually used by property owners. Its a matter of coming up with ideas to fill spaces, he says. Were seeing some resistance to that these homes are occupied for a limited period of time and [some of these features] are surplus to requirements. If people arent actually getting the return on square footage, then beyond a certain price point, people arent going to pay to be in that location.
Whereas having the biggest boat is a status symbol, a house always needs to be a more practical and safer investment. As Pollack puts it: You can be more indulgent with a toy; a house locked up doesnt have the same sex appeal.
Hes got a point. Some of the ultra high net worth individuals only visits their London properties for a fortnight at a time, and when they arrive with full entourage, they want convenient living. The obsession with the price per square footage of properties has led to developers building the biggest they possibly could. And in doing so, they were building spaces they then had to use.
You never knew whether people needed them or were just expecting them, agrees Mayfair property consultant Simon Barnes. By building bigger spaces they had to fill them so you had hair salons, spas and casinos. The truth in his opinion is that most of them arent used.
Its about how you live day to day; if youre there for a short time you want it as contained as possible with as much space as you can get on one floor. In order of importance Barnes ranks its location, how its laid out, quality of workmanship and last, but not quite least, the add-ons and gadgetry. People used to think it was fundamental to have a system which ran your bath, but it always goes wrong at the most inconvenient time, he says. There was a level that was necessary; nice; and frankly a pain in the arse.
Its debatable whether bespoke safes and built in watch-winders are enough to get attention of the high net worth crew. Pollack notes that not every property agent and developer is quite as wrapped up in James Bond-like gadgetry for the interiors realm as some might think. The vast majority of what we do, he says, is more normal. Then again, that depends on your definition of normal, doesnt it?