How prime London has changed.
In 2002 work began on The Knightsbridge. Located within a stone’s throw of Harrods and a near-neighbour of the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel, The Knightsbridge comprised 205 apartments built around a communal garden square, with show flat interiors designed by Jane Churchill and Kelly Hoppen, a spa, a swimming pool and round-the-clock security and concierge service, which included valet parking in its three-level underground car park.
This was luxury living for the international buyer who could now benchmark the home in which they lived, against the best global hotels in which they stayed.
The opening of The Knightsbridge in 2005 marked a seismic shift in how prime London would be defined over the next two decades.
The prime London of thirty years ago couldn’t have been more different Eaton or Cadogan Square were the best addresses to be had on your headed notepaper.
They needed no explanation and as street names, were recognised the world-over. This was prime international and everything else was plain old prime.
Things began to change in the mid-nineties with an influx of new international money. But with too few properties to be had in the smartest of streets, areas once considered ‘off patch’ simply moved up a notch.
It’s hard to believe now, but back then selling a Sloane Gardens’ flat was much more difficult than selling an apartment in Cadogan Gardens.
The selling price and the time to sell in nearby secondary streets reflected this. But buyers new to the city didn’t care – they were still close to prime international locations, shops, restaurants and transport. And that was what mattered.
Gradually over time these once less sought-after locations became desirable and prime international spread.
Compared to other global cities London came late to the new prime market. So much of the capital was then, and is now, restricted both in terms of available land and by conservation – those listed streets and squares which underpin the city’s inherent value and appeal.
This meant that if you wanted a large space, say 4,000 feet plus, your only option was to buy a large house into which you installed an army of staff. But this also meant multiple floor living, often without a lift and frequently with no ‘lock-up and leave’ peace of mind.
And then came Riverside One, a development designed by Foster + Partners. Situated on the south bank of the Thames, in Battersea, this was no prime location. The site itself was a derelict wasteland. But the vision for its transformation was a bold one.
In the late 1980s Norman Foster, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s great architects, chose the site on which to build his office.
The building was to have eight storeys split into two. Studio space for Foster + Partners on the lower floors and apartments on the upper. On each floor the apartments were divided into cores, each having one, two and three-bedroom apartments which could be bought singly or together to create large lateral spaces.
Secure underground parking made this both a practical, as well as a stylish development. Completed in 1990, Riverside One was arguably the first of London’s uber developments and marked the shift from prime being a named street, to prime being the name of a building.
Some 15 years later The Knightsbridge was to take this to a whole new level. Again, its position wasn’t the best. The monolithic 1970s Hyde Park Barracks to the front; to the rear, the 1960s office complex Knightsbridge Green. And one road back from Hyde Park meant it was blighted by traffic.
Nonetheless, the apartments sold well and in the early naughties broke through the £2,000 per sq ft barrier. Today the development is firmly established as a super prime address with its large upper floor apartments achieving in excess of £5,000 per sq ft.
Like The Knightsbridge, today’s super prime addresses are linked to the names of the new build developments, most of which are dotted around the four sides of Hyde Park.
What sets these homes apart from past prime addresses is luxury living. New homes built to the highest specification with facilities to rival the very best hotels.
The ‘new’ became defined by large one-floor apartments with every convenience at hand. Lateral living was what everyone wanted, and developers were happy to provide it.
The eleven largest apartments (excluding the penthouses) of 10,000 square each at One Hyde Park all found takers ahead of completion. One Hyde Park set extraordinary standards - not just in terms of lifestyle but in terms of sale rate.
The development set new benchmark prices of up to £50 million, prices not previously seen for apartments in any part of prime central London. This had become a market led by product.
Super prime became uber prime. The trophy street had been usurped by the trophy building.
And it is buyers that have driven the change. The prime buyers of the 1980s and 1990s were wealthy Europeans, with a mix of Middle Eastern families. Today’s buyers are truly global and not tied to one place in the world.
They come from Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and from mainland China. They are younger too and have high expectations of what amenity and service levels should be and they are happy to pay for them.
This is a new era of prime with in-house concierge, fitness centres, in-house restaurants and cinemas and it’s a long way from the jobbing porter in a basement flat.
These are buyers who are looking for areas to make their own. Over the last 20 years we’ve seen Marylebone, Notting Hill and Shoreditch transform themselves into the new prime and it’s the developers who have helped shape this move.
High streets with high-end shops, bars and restaurants have been transformed by this new breed of buyer. Whether they live in Marylebone or Mayfair everything they require in central London is within twenty minutes of where they live.
It doesn’t matter that their home isn’t in Eaton Square, what matters is that it is turnkey, super secure, comes complete with a garrison of in-house staff and, if it’s super prime, a trophy name.
This is London’s new prime.
*William Carrington is Chairman of LonRes