Small is beautiful — again.
Boutique housing is back in fashion after a decades-long infatuation with giant developments. Sprouting up across London and the commuter belt are niche projects, typically conversions and infill projects, attracting style-conscious buyers who want individuality and exclusivity.
Builders are scrambling for smaller sites and using architectural flair to make homes stand out. They use words such as "bespoke" or "signature" to label small schemes, and say design-led developments have cachet and better resale values.
Such housing is in stark contrast to the so-called "masterplanned communities" and big regeneration zones that have found favour with planners and politicians in recent years, such as Imperial Wharf on the Fulham waterfront, which has more than 2,000 homes and is a neighbourhood in its own right, patrolled by private security guards.
By definition, niche homes are more intimate and strike a chord with buyers who want to feel part of a special situation and live alongside like-minded people.
Few homes are more niche than a pair of houses being built alongside the Thames in Richmond. Each splendid 4,000sq ft home has coveted private access to the river plus a boat mooring, while lush gardens sloping down to the water have terraced areas for outdoor cooking and dining.
Richmond is blessed with a unique setting. Bounded by the Thames and boasting a vast, open, 2,500-acre deer-dotted "country" park, it also has a waterfront promenade and a superb vista from its Hill, an aspect protected by an Act of Parliament no less, and famously celebrated by artists Turner and Reynolds.
Remarkably the two houses are also just a three-minute walk from the town centre and come with an integral garage, a prized commodity in Richmond. Nomad, the developer, spotted the potential of the plot, formerly occupied by three modest bungalows that were accommodation for local boatyard workers. It then set about building heritage-style exteriors behind which are interiors for modern lifestyles, highlighted by a fabulous kitchen and family hub space with floor-to-ceiling glazing that opens on to the garden.
Due for completion next year, the houses, known as Richmond Riverside, are priced from £4.75 million. Call 020 3488 7302.
Like Richmond, Chelsea’s enduring charm is partly to do with the legacy of aristocratic retreat. These days it is wealthier than ever (hedge fund managers rather than dukes) and while not quite the bohemian hangout it once was, a handsome redevelopment of the Everyman Cinema in King’s Road revives the spirit of the Swinging Sixties.
Essoldo House is a new local landmark bringing 11 tasteful apartments plus a new "art house" cinema, street-level bars and eateries.
Initially rejected by a planning inspector because of the lack of affordable housing, the curtain has finally gone up after a successful appeal by property developer Howard Raymond, son of the late famous Soho porn and property tycoon, Paul Raymond.
The building boasts a distinctive curved façade of handmade Danish bricks and bronze, while most of the apartments have outside space - one has a vast 1,063sq ft terrace - and three are duplexes. A showpiece three-bedroom apartment at the top of the building has a spectacular rotunda with an oval-shaped glass roof. Prices from £2.25 million to £5.5 million. Underground car parking spaces cost £125,000. Call 020 7581 3349.
Converted Grade II-listed manor house will appeal to history buffs
With many buyers believing that being close to nature will improve mental and physical wellbeing during the slow post-pandemic return to normality, niche developments in leafy settings, especially those with a sense of history, are high on the wish list.
Ickenham in outer west London has been a haunt for the gentry since Tudor times. It remained a sleepy settlement until 1905 when the Metropolitan Railway company opened a stop, or "halt", on the line between Harrow and Uxbridge. But the area only became a genuine part of the London commuter belt in the Seventies, when the halt was upgraded to a fully fledged station.
Queen Elizabeth I watched a performance of Shakespeare’s Othello in the grounds of Harefield Place, a manor house later redeveloped by a Georgian nobleman. The 8.5-acre estate became a maternity hospital in 1935 and then, bizarrely, headquarters of video rental company Blockbuster, whose demise created an opportunity for conversion into 25 luxury homes.
Following a two-year restoration project reinstating Georgian and Edwardian elements and the addition of a new wing, the listed mansion has been converted into 25 homes. The gated estate has a driveway, sweeping lawns, lake, orchard and a wellness centre with spa, gym, pool and tennis court in the old kitchen garden.
Prices from £850,000 to £1,575,000. Call 01895 733525.
‘It’s idyllic and everything we want is close by’
Magna Carta Park in Runnymede, Surrey, is a smart private estate of 59 classical-style homes in 57 acres of ancient woodland and landscaped gardens, with "allowable" outdoor sports on the doorstep.
It takes its name from where King John and rebel barons signed the famous "charter of rights" more than 800 years ago. There are 33 houses plus 26 apartments spread across three new mansion blocks. All homes have been designed to have views of the grounds, a walled garden sanctuary and bluebell plantation, while residents’ amenities include a tennis club, health club and spa, pitch and putt golf, bar and library. Owners have golf buggies to get around, or they can use the trim-trail that snakes around the woodland.
"It has the air of a select country house hotel," says Laura Hackney of estate agent Knight Frank. "Buyers have the best of both worlds; they can enjoy a perfect work-life balance yet be within easy reach of London."
The estate also has sweeping views of Windsor, anchored on the horizon by its famous castle. Eton College is one of the local schools. A gatehouse with concierge provides extra storage for online deliveries, and there is 24-hour security.
From £1 million to £4.5 million. Call 011784 477 120.
Covid was the catalyst for Chris and Charlotte Jackson to downsize from the family house in the north London suburb of Hadley Wood where they had lived for 25 years.
Recently retired and with their 60th birthdays looming, the sporty couple knew this part of Surrey through water skiing and cycling activities. When they discovered Magna Carta Park, they knew it was for them. They bought a large three-bedroom apartment with a garden. "It’s an idyllic setting, and everything we want is here or close by," says Charlotte, who is also a keen tennis player.
Sporty: the amenities appealed to Chris and Charlotte
Large apartments in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, ‘one of the noblest streets in the world’
Hampstead has never fallen out of fashion. In early Georgian times its high-lying village gained a clutch of smart houses, and every age that followed brought new architectural versions, from handsome Arts & Crafts villas to Bauhaus-inspired flats, to blingy mansions in The Bishops Avenue - a mix unmatched elsewhere in London.
With the 790-acre Heath, parks and woods, an ancient village and protected garden suburb, boutiques, medieval pubs, golf courses, a surfeit of good schools and 15-minute Tube links to the West End, arguably Hampstead has it all.
In its Victorian heyday, Fitzjohn’s Avenue was the area’s most prestigious address. Laid out in the 1880s, the tree-lined boulevard had 70 mansions sitting in large plots and was described at the time by Harper’s Magazine as "one of the noblest streets in the world".
Fitzjohn’s, a new hilltop scheme in sympathetic red-brick Arts & Crafts style, has yielded 29 homes alongside deluxe residents’ amenities and courtyard gardens. Aimed at middleaged downsizers, the large apartments have hexagonal rooms with deep bay windows and high ceilings. Prices start at £2 million. Call 020 7980 8742. Kensal Rise is a less-sedate north-west London district favoured by younger buyers priced out of Notting Hill and Maida Vale.
Adele and rock band U2 are among stars who have visited 133 Kilburn Lane, a former recording studio now turned into 16 flats called Old Dairy House to mark the site’s agricultural use over a century ago. Prices from £595,000. Call 020 7590 7299.
Arts & Crafts style: Fitzjohn’s in Hampstead, above and left; U2 frontman Bono, inset, frequented Old Dairy House, above left, in Kensal Rise, in its former life as a recording studio