Explore the period-style new builds taking the north London property market by storm
PUBLISHED: 13:09 25 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:21 25 September 2015
The most special north London addresses are attracting brand new luxury development disguised as period homes. But why would someone buying a new build opt for a period-style property rather than a contemporary home?
Charming yet crooked period property or stark yet functional contemporary new build? In broad terms, these are the options facing house hunters. Of course you can find 200-year-old properties with cutting edge interiors and brand spanking new builds with period flourishes aplenty but these can both feel like compromises, rather than ideal iterations of their type.
This is why the new breed of luxury new build – period replica from the outside, ultra modern tech-facilitated pad on the inside – is making waves at the moment.
Philip Green, director of Goldschmidt & Howland who are marketing a six-bedroom Regency-style house on Downshire Hill in Hampstead says: “Period houses are very specialist. Most people would look at one and think ‘I can’t deal with the maintenance, I want the facilities.’ This house gives you the charm and character of the area with modern convenience, in a really special street with all period property, full of history and charm.
“Of course you don’t get the wonky walls and crooked floors and some people love that and will only go for that. But if you like the period style but with all modern convenience this is ideal.”
Located in London’s most sought-after locations, these multi-million pound houses are subject to some of the country’s strictest planning constraints. They tend to be in conservation zones where new development is a rarity and is often the result of exceptional circumstances. Exterior design is scrutinised, height and bulk are hotly contested, and even apparently minor infringements can land you with a hefty fine. For a developer, the potential rewards of selling on a property in prime London may be outweighed by the costs outlaid on redevelopment.
The house on Downshire Hill is a case in point, with a somewhat chequered recent history followed by fire, flooding and the subsequent neglect of a seemingly untouchable property.
Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture were enlisted to oversee the planning and overall design of the building as specialists in the conservation of historic architecture.
Maida Kaiser, a historic buildings consultant at the firm, who worked as architects for the initial planning approval for rebuilding Downshire Hill, says: “This is not a typical project at all. The demolition of listed buildings is very rare. The old house has not been demolished, it’s been dismantled very carefully, brick by brick, by hand, so that what could be saved and used again was. Everything had to be catalogued so we knew where to put it back when re-building.
“The building was Grade II-listed but it was in such a condition that it was literally falling apart. After the fire and flood and general neglect over the years it was impossible to save it.
“Instead, the front is an exact replica of the original building and uses a lot of elements that were saved – all the ironwork on the balconies, etc. was all saved but what’s interesting about this project is that it’s a new house from scratch.”
Indeed, step inside Downshire Hill and you’ll see that it is in fact a top-of-the-range modern home, hiding in plain site. It seems doubtful that the property’s original architects or owners could have imagined that it would ever boast its own private swimming pool, or a lift but both are now in place behind the cream stucco facade.
Similarly, if the original Georgian residents of The Grove in Highgate wanted to cool their houses or let in fresh air, they would have had to open the windows. Not so for any future inhabitants of The Grove Villas, two newly developed, semi-detached homes in the heart of conservation-mad Highgate Village.
As Trevor Abrahmsohn of Glentree Estates points out: “The windows are period-looking but they don’t leak air, so you don’t get this drafty window syndrome. In fact, you don’t have to open the window because the system cleanses, hydrates, clears the pollen if that’s something that bothers you.
“Another benefit of a new build is that the building is all insulated so it’s very easy to live in and it’s economical to run.”
The windows’ period-look is in line with the exterior of the two houses, which are complemented by the mature landscaped gardens. Abrahmsohn says these would be award-winning should they be entered for an award.
It’s all part of the delicate balancing act involved in building in a strict conservation zone – The Grove Villas are the first to be built there for 150 years says Abrahmsohn.
David Smith, of Octagon Developments who developed the houses, explains: “It’s no secret that building new, period-style homes can be a challenge – the process involves blending all the contemporary specifications you might expect within a new build, with the classic design details that are emblematic of an old property.
“The considerations go beyond bricks and mortar, and we take into account every last detail, from complementary landscaping to period-style external railings, whilst providing all the latest gadgets and interior delights that our top-end buyers could desire.
“At the luxury end of the market, today’s ‘must-haves’ include the dedicated party room, incorporating not just the cinema room, but also a home bar, chill-out lounge area and games zone.”
What is refreshing about Downshire Hill and The Grove Villas is that the developers have not tried to dissemble or pretend that these properties are anything other than 21st-century homes with barely a cornice or corbel in sight once you get inside. Instead, the mod cons are offered in elegant and streamlined yet glamorous settings. And what mod cons they are.
“There’s a crystal glass lift, which goes through the entire height of the house, which travels at a very slow speed, intentionally, so you can savour your journey through your house,” says Abrahmsohn of The Grove Villas.
“The piece de resistance, which you’re not expecting when you alight from the lift on the ground floor, is a glorious entertainment space.
“And quite separately you’ve got a cellar with an incorporated cigar space. It has glass doors so you can look at your viticultural assets before you go through to your gym. Some of the pieces of equipment are like works of art rather than gym equipment, they’re just gorgeous.”
This level of private luxury may be in the spirit of the Hampstead and Highgate inhabitants of yore - although one suspects it is somewhat more lavish. Yet the area is well known for boasting more than its share of groundbreaking contemporary architecture. This begs the question: if you want all this modern luxury, why not just buy a contemporary looking home?
“Not everyone likes contemporary styled houses,” says Abrahmsohn. “They have a narrow appeal. A lot of people love a period architecture. It’s architecture with a soul.”
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