A modern world in a period shell

26 March 2011, The Daily Telegraph

By Graham Norwood

From the outside, Carrick Villa looks like a perfect neighbour for the rest of the architecture fringing Regent’s Park in central London.

The villa may be just two storeys, detached and with four bedrooms, but it is at one with the terraces laid out nearly 200 years ago by John Nash. Carrick’s exterior is painted in the same cream as the other 600 properties lining the park and regulated by the Crown Estate. It even has the same crenellations as the larger house next door.

Step inside the villa, however, and you see how mistaken you were. This is no period gem, but a modern one. There are no architraves, ceiling roses, cornices or panelled rooms, which you will find in the rest of the park’s houses. Instead there are modern hardwood floors, smooth lines and walls with keypad-controls and touch-screen panels.

Wander around and you find programmable lighting scenes, a media-room equipment hub and air handling (that’s air conditioning to you and me).

This is a modern wolf in traditional sheep’s clothing. But that, after all, is the point.

“It’s got all the toys inside, but from outside it looks like a period house that was put up with the rest of those around Regent’s Park,” explains Daniel Daggers of selling agent Knight Frank. “Contemporary features are now mandatory in a house at this level of the market in this location. This is why people pay a new-home premium.”

It is quite a premium. At £7 million (Knight Frank, 020 7586 2777; www.knightfrank.com) Carrick Villa is an example of a trend sweeping house building. Homes that look old on the outside yet are strikingly new behind the front door. Properties like these appeal to buyers with an eye for classical design, but who have a fast-moving professional lifestyle ill-suited to the restrictions on improvements that come with the real McCoy.

Some of the new houses following this ”old outside’’ trend use parts of genuine period buildings. These are often large schools, hospitals and offices. Then new flats and houses are built alongside or even within.

Other developers, as with Carrick Villa, build completely from scratch, skilfully making the architecture of the modern building blend in with its older surroundings.

For buyers, the advantages are numerous. Firstly changes can easily be made, from turning a cinema room into a gym or knocking through two rooms to make more space for the family. The genuine period building would probably be listed, making those substantial modifications difficult, at best.

They also come with guarantees for the equipment and usually for the structure, too. This is reassuring, even for affluent buyers.

“Many international clients love period features, but are fearful of buying properties that are very old. The perception is there’s a higher chance of something going wrong,” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick, a buying agency that finds homes for high-net-worth purchasers, often from overseas.

“New-build property that replicates period styles offers the perfect compromise,” says Simon Barnes, another buying agent.

There is no shortage of evidence that the trend is catching on. For example, house builder St George is constructing a scheme of 90 flats and houses in what, at first sight, appears to be a Georgian terrace at Camberwell, south London. In the main, however, these are new-builds.

“It was important for us that the scheme retained the distinctive character of the original buildings and respected the conservation area in which it stands,” says St George’s Mark Griffiths.

There are plenty of other examples, often in areas rich in ”real’’ period and vernacular architecture where local planners have forced developers to emulate traditional design.

Retirement developer Beechcroft, for example, has built houses for the over-55s at Stow-on-the-Wold using traditional Cotswold stone, giving the scheme a 19th-century look (£395,000 to £465,000, 01451 833809; www.beechcroft.co.uk).

At Cleveland Court, situated between the commuter towns of Dorking and Leatherhead, a development of 15 homes has been built as a grand Georgian house. The whole scheme sits in four acres of parkland with views to Box Hill (£575,000, Savills, 01483 796810; www.savills.com).

“This combination of old appearance and new construction is a good thing,” Daggers says. “It gives people established style and modern convenience. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Pros

Little maintenance for first few years
Well-equipped, well-planned
Good energy efficiency
Often with parking

Cons

Rooms can be small, particularly spare bedrooms
Gardens are sometimes small
Style can lack character, especially inside
Often ”thin’’ walls, so limited sound insulation

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