By Ruth Bloomfiled
Fizzy water straight from the tap, a hot tub on the terrace for post-Covid gatherings, an in-house florist on call, and a panic room just in case of emergency; welcome to the very weird but also wonderful world of luxury housing in London post-Covid-19.
While wealthy buyers have always wanted lavishly-appointed homes – think silk wallpaper that would make Carrie Johnson green with envy and bathrooms clad from floor to ceiling in book-matched Italian marble – the definition of “luxury” is an evolving one.
The collective experience of living through lockdowns and facing the possibility of life-threatening illness has inevitably changed how people view the perfect home.
“The bar that delineates ‘luxe’ gets higher and higher every year, and that’s without a global pandemic,” said Keir Waddell, head of London new homes sales at Strutt & Parker estate agents.
“Covid-19 ultimately shifted everything we previously thought we wanted from our homes. And for prime developments every part – outdoor space, amenities, communal areas – had to be viewed through this new Covid lens.”
And while normal Londoners may feel that the world of ultra-luxury homes has little to do with them, the truth is that trends that begin at the luxury end of the market – whether it be cars, or fashion, or bags – have a habit of trickling down in a diluted form into the mainstream.
Buying agent Emma Fildes, founder of Brick Weaver, said that post-pandemic buyers still want the “classic fundamentals” – secure parking and a walk-in wardrobe. “Ideally, with a chute to the laundry room for clothes,” she adds.
The pandemic has added a defined WFH space – not a corner of the kitchen or a dark hallway cubby hole but a proper study or a co-working space on site – to this list.
At Southbank Place, beside the London Eye, The Penthouse at Belvedere Gardens has a dreamy luxe layout with a master suite featuring its own private terrace, walk-in wardrobe, and bathroom.
There is also a “production kitchen” so staff can unobtrusively take over the work at dinner parties, plus the all-important home office. All this could be yours for a cool £21million.
Camilla Dell, managing partner at Black Brick buying agents, said her buyers are looking for generously sized rooms, and a really high specification. “Real luxury has to have top quality construction, materials, layout and design,” she says.
She finds buyers particularly like the character of an older building combined with the convenience of a new-build.
“The combination of the charm and history of an older building with the comfort of a new build is another highly desirable design feature,” she said. “Developments such as Battersea Power Station and The Old War Office are good examples.”
The sense of jeopardy we all felt during the pandemic appears to have stoked the paranoias of the ultra-wealthy.
“Post-pandemic, we have seen significantly more clients expressing concerns about their personal security in London and wanting to ensure their family feels safe within the home,” said buying agent Edward Heaton, founder and managing partner of Heaton & Partners.
“24-hour security is much-desired but reinforced front doors, traditional security grills and safe rooms remain important considerations for many buyers.”
Luxury buyers know their brands, says Waddell, and they are extremely picky. “Every year there’s a new standard,” he says. “At the moment in kitchens it’s names like Sub Zero & Wolf appliances that people want. Wait times for these can be up to a year thanks to increased demand.”
Little extras which luxury home-hunters seek as standard nowadays include ways to deal with our increasingly erratic climate.
“With hotter summers and colder winters, air conditioning and underfloor heating are popular, as are taps that provide instant hot, chilled, or carbonated water,” said Peter Krelle, land and new homes director at Barnard Marcus.
A concierge to ensure security and handle Amazon deliveries is, of course, a must have, but Ed Lewis, director at Savills, says developers are increasingly offering all sorts of extra help around the home, from nanny services to florists and private chefs on call.
The pandemic also made people very aware of the life-fulfilling benefits of outside space, and in the luxury sector buyers aren’t looking for a modest balcony with room for a bistro table and a couple of chairs.
“Views of water will always demand a significant premium, followed by views of open space such as parks, especially in big cities such as London,” says Krelle. “A cityscape may be a lovely backdrop, however, concerns over air quality often limit this desire.”
Fildes agrees. “Outside space is now non-negotiable. But you need room for at least six to eight people to sit comfortably, plus ideally a more open area to house a BBQ or hot tub. ‘I need space for morning yoga’ is often something which clients request.”
The four-bedroom Regent Penthouse, perched on the 29th floor of a building at the West End Gate development in Paddington, ups the outside space ante with no less than three balconies, each offering a different viewpoint over London. And, at 4,757 sq ft, this £12.75 million apartment is the size of a spacious family home.
Ever since One Hyde Park, with its subterranean spa and hotel-style services, burst onto London’s new home scene in 2011, residents have wanted the luxury home experience to continue beyond their front doors.
Residents’ amenities – from libraries and private clubs to gyms and roof gardens – are now an intrinsic part of the high-end homes sector.
Waddell says buyers want a “compound” vibe from their home – with everything they need, from a gym to a restaurant, a workspace, and wellness facilities, in their building.
Samuel Richardson, head of sales at Carter Jonas in Marylebone, says that access to a private dining room is currently a big hit with buyers of luxury homes.
“In a post-pandemic world, many are now prioritising socialising,” he said. “Private dining rooms enable them to host dinner parties with famous chefs from the best restaurants across London. This sense of exclusivity is now a key component of the luxury lifestyle.”
One once-prized shared amenity which is being rethought, however, is the swimming pool.
“The majority prefer to have total privacy when swimming,” says Dell. “We see this becoming evident in developments such as The Glebe in Chelsea, and John Caudwell’s up-and-coming Audley Square development, where apartments have their own individual private spas, gyms, and swimming pools rather than sharing communal areas.”