2 August 2013, The Times
On the scent of a secret hideaway home
Secret homes with lush gardens lurk in city centres, says Lauren Thompson.
If you walked down the busting Kings Road in London, you would unlikely to notice the doorway at No. 183. Behind the unassuming façade lie four spectacular townhouses and three apartments, each with its own courtyard garden and underground parking. This new development, Chelsea Galleries, is one of several in the capital that are hidden from street view but open out on to something quite unexpected. Such “hidden homes” are being snapped up by buyers looking for privacy and security amid the hustle and bustle of London.
“Secluded homes in the heart of London are unusual and provide an oasis of calm for residents,” says Ed Lewis, the head of London residential development sales at Savills estate agency, which is marketing Chelsea Galleries, where prices start at £4.9million. “There is something magical about stepping into a home that is utterly concealed and that no one knows is there.”
Many new hidden homes sit in plots between or at the back of existing house, where an architect has spotted the potential to make the most of an unused space. Chelsea Cottage, also near the Kings Road, is a two-storey house but only the front door is visible from the Fernshaw Road. You enter into a long, narrow picture gallery that leads into the house itself, which was built to nestle in a plot surrounded by 14 neighbouring gardens.
John Walters of the Chelsea office of Knight Frank estate agency says “Chelsea Cottage is truly unique. It’s surrounded by other people gardens but you are still a distance from their houses, so it feels very private.” The two-bedroom cottage with garage and two terraces is on the market with Knight Frank for £4.35million.
Over the river in Wands worth lies another house hidden from the road in Lebanon Gardens, currently let to tenants. Built in 2008, residents go through a doorway on the street and walk down a passageway before coming to the two-bedroom mews-style house.
Mathew Dabell, director of lettings at agency Aspire, explains the building provenance: “The end-terrace house originally belonged to a builder in the 1890’s, and there was a plot of land to the rear used as his storage yard, complete with original cobbles. In 2008 the owner of the end-terrace obtained planning permission to build a contemporary house there, and it is now a really surprising and very secluded home.”
With London bursting at the seams, many developers turn to conversions of disused commercial building to create new and private homes. The Mill House near Shepherds Bush Common was lying derelict for many years while the regeneration of the surrounding Brook Green neighbourhood took place. Now its conversion into nine apartments is almost complete, with a discreet entrance at the end of a gated no-through road. Prices start from £499,950 with Marsh & Parsons.
A row of former artist’s studios in Chelsea has also been snapped up recently by developers, creating a new wing of one and two bedroom apartments called Bolton Studios. Onlookers would have no idea the development was there apart from a small entrance on Gilston Road, just off Fulham Road. Prices start at £1.265million with Savills.
Lewis says that the Bolton Studio apartments are being bought by those wanting a pied-a-terre or somewhere for their children, as well as buyers searching for unusual “trophy” homes that offer something different to friends’ bolt holes.
Hidden homes also appeal to those who travel often or leave their homes empty for long periods. Homes impossible to spot from the street are less obvious targets for burglars, even if there are no lights on during the winter months. Former religious buildings can be good hunting ground for private homes in London. One such new development is Carmel Gate, a former monastery in Temple Fortune, Northwest London, which is hidden from the street. The gated development is off Havianna Drive, off Bridge Lane, and is a combination of converted and new-build homes around a courtyard. Prices start at £575,000 for a two bedroom apartment through Glentree New Homes.
If you’re thinking of buying hidden homes, expect to be in the company of celebrities and other movers and shakers looking for a secret hideaway. Camilla Dell, the managing partner at Black Brick buying agency says “We recently acquired an off-market house on Earls Terrace in Kensington for a high profile Asian businessman. The road is popular because it’s concealed from Kensington High Street by a high hedgerow and it is also gated with 24/7 security. Even better, you can drive into and out of the car park underneath the houses to avoid being photographer by paparazzi.
Most of us are untroubled by the attentions of paparazzi or autograph-hunters, but the allure of somewhere utterly hidden from other people may still prove hard to resist.