How far will developers and designers go to justify multimillion-pound asking prices?
By Christopher Middleton
When the apartments at the Shard came onto the market in late 2013, we all knew what the main selling point was; the view. Asking prices for these ultra-high-rise dwellings (floors 53 to 65) ranged from £30million to £50million, based on the fact that residents are able to look out across a 360-degree cityscape, and gaze as far off into the distance as the North Sea.
Small wonder, then, that the company selling the apartments talked up not the fixtures and fittings, but the fact that the Shard (1,016ft), near London Bridge, is the tallest building in Western Europe. It didn’t anticipate much trouble finding buyers, either. ‘There are 10 apartments for sale, so I think about 20 phone calls should do it, don’t you?’ the Shard’s spokesman Baron Williams, was quoted as saying when asked to outline the sales campaign.
Maybe so, but that’s not the kind of lofty attitude other London super-prime developers can afford to take. They are asking high prices and, in the absence of a Shardtastic view, they know they have to provide something extra-special in terms of design. These buyers are high net-worth individuals who stay in the best hotels all over the world and are constantly exposed to the latest developments in decor and visual presentation. Residential developers have to up their game and keep a constant eye out for new ideas if they are to attract the right clientele. The last thing a purchaser wants is to be showing off a feature of their home and have a guest say, “I know where that comes from; I’ve seen it before.”’
At this stratospheric end of the market, where prices are in the multimillions, homeowners want to extract even more oohs and aahs from their visitors than those at the lower end of the market. So besides providing the standard super-prime features (exclusive address, impressive hallway, soaring ceilings), the developer has to go considerably further, peppering the property with design touches that will bowl over the buyer as well as tickle their fancy and capture their imagination.
Not that these extra touches have to be all manicured and smooth. At the Cotswold home designed for model Elle Macpherson, as part of the development by international firm Yoo, a rugged, natural look has been chosen. The interior walls are covered with timber panels recycled from dismantled Amish barns in North America. Even the metal cooker hood has an uneven, handmade feel.
Cutting-edge technology plays its part, too. Such as at One Hyde Park, where the ceilings are chilled with water to ensure a good night’s sleep in hot weather. Such developments are re-writing the definition of luxury. Just as it used to be only Jaguars or BMWs that had CD players, they soon spread to all makes of car, so every luxury apartment owner now wants entry to the building and their front door to be accessed via their mobile phone. As a consequence, developers have to keep pushing the envelope to come up with new innovations and higher levels of luxury.
Other increasingly urgent must-haves are steam ovens, gender-specific wardrobes, wallpapers not yet on public release, houses with two kitchens (one for show and one for staff to do the real work), and floor-length mirrors that record your image and play it back a few seconds later, so you can see your new outfit from all angles. There are even design firms that engage the services of galleries to select and hang paintings that may encourage a prospective purchaser to buy the property in question (and perhaps the paintings, too).
It’s all a far cry from traditional selling tactics such as fresh flowers and the aroma of newly baked bread. When people have got £60million to spend they have pretty high expectations of a property. Sometimes it’s the finishing touches that can make a difference.
Pitfield Design by Shaun Clarkson