July 26, 2013 6:20 pm

How high-end homes are designed to meet owners’ religious needs

Property developers around the world are growing to realise that respect for faith is now a commercial necessity

As symbols of Mammon go, the property developer appears a perfect fit. So too, perhaps, does the high net worth individual. Yet many of today’s homes built by developers for HNWIs are inspired not only by profit but also by faith.

This is because many of the growing number of HNWIs (now up to 12m globally according to research by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management) will be among the world’s estimated 2.2bn Christians, 1.6bn Muslims and 1bn Hindus (figures from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a US-based independent think-tank).

The forum estimates there are 4,000 organised religions in the world, many of which use domestic religious symbols in their homes.

Buddhists have dedicated rooms containing a butsudan, a table shrine bearing a statue of Buddha, especially popular in Japan; a puja altar is common in Hindu homes, especially in Asia; some traditional Catholic households have crucifixes and images of the sacred heart; many Muslim homes display Islamic calligraphy; while Jewish households often have a menorah and a mezuzah.

Some groups have gone further, by modifying their homes to meet religious requirements. Amish Mennonites, for example, try to “design out” modern distractions from their lives of manual labour, so have separate outbuildings for telephones and internet connections. Some devout Mormons – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they wish to be called – create large storage spaces in homes for water and food. A year’s supply is often recommended but Church guidance also includes information on storing 30 years’ worth of wheat and rice.

Increased affluence around the world permits some people to customise property even more explicitly along faith lines. For example, Jewish law prohibits the cross-contamination of meat and dairy products, a risk best avoided by having two separate kitchens or modifying one kitchen to ensure different preparation areas.

Savyon Villa in Israel©Shai Epstein

Savyon Villa in Israel (£20.05m) has two separate kitchens

Such design is standard in longstanding Jewish communities. Savyon Villa, just outside Tel Aviv in Israel, was built in 1964 and has separate sinks, refrigerators, storage and serving facilities. It is on sale for £20.05m, through Beauchamp Estates.

In other parts of the world, buyers retrofit these facilities in their homes, such as a villa on sale in St John’s Wood, London, which has two kitchens. It is being marketed by Beauchamp for £39m.

PRP Architects is a British practice that has contributed to faith-sensitive design guidance issued by the UK’s Homes and Communities Agency, a public housing body. The company’s Stephen McGrath has designed a kitchen around the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot.

The sensitivities, time and effort required to tailor homes to faith needs are considerable – but it sells

Traditionally, this week-long festival is celebrated in a temporary “shelter” attached to the main home and made of natural material such as branches or leaves. “The client wanted to mark Sukkot with family and friends in his kitchen. He used a clever combination of lighting, ceiling design and table configuration to create the impression of eating under the stars,” says McGrath.

Other features in homes in Orthodox Jewish areas of cities, like Stamford Hill in London or Borough Park in Brooklyn, New York, include so-called Shabbat elevators. These operate automatically on religious days of rest, with the doors designed to open on every floor without users having to press any buttons. Refrigerator and oven lights can also be deactivated on rest days, when the setting of a fire – interpreted to include switching on electric bulbs – is prohibited.

Integrating faith design into customised one-off homes can be relatively straightforward but volume developers face a harder challenge when building multiple units for different markets.

DAMAC is one of the Middle East’s largest high-end developers having built 9,000 homes, with another 19,000 at the planning or construction stage.

The company has worked with upmarket brands, such as Trump International for a golf course and with Versace and Fendi for home interiors, but has also had to tailor units for faith-based markets.

Amish Mennonites building at a farmhouse in Ohio, US©Eyevine

Amish Mennonites building at a farmhouse in Ohio, US

“In Dubai most buyers of DAMAC products will be international, particularly Indian, Chinese or European. The properties may be rented out to other users from anywhere in the world so the design style will be global, not overtly Muslim – more secular if you like,” says DAMAC spokesman Tamer El-Maghraby. “In Saudi Arabia most buyers will be Muslim families living in the homes themselves, so design will reflect a more explicit faith approach.”

This means that DAMAC apartment blocks in Dubai may have a communal swimming pool and gym used by men and women, whereas in Saudi Arabia there are separate facilities. There may also be Muslim iconography on the facades of Saudi homes, but not in Dubai. Conversely wine cellars may feature in Dubai but not elsewhere.

The Muslim faith emphasises modesty between the sexes, including separate washing. For many, this is addressed through en suite bathrooms although some believers also want showers and baths in separate rooms from lavatories. In such cases, corridors are designed to ensure men and women do not meet en route to washing facilities or the lavatory.

The sensitivities, time and effort required to tailor homes to faith needs are considerable, but it sells. In an age when affluent buyers are from regions of the world where religion is strong or growing, respect for faith is now a commercial necessity – and you had better believe it.

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Vastu Shastra: Properties designed to point ‘the right way’

Vastu Shastra is not an organised religion but is popular with Hindus in particular and can take on near-spiritual status. Vastu, like Chinese feng shui, is based on directional alignments. It requires, for example, master bedrooms to “point” southwest, entrances to point north or east, and insists that a property’s footprint be square or rectangular.

“Today’s business community considers Vastu an alternative energy. The environment is polluted by electro-stress due to WiFi, mobiles, computers. This can be easily nullified by Vastu,” says Nitien Parmar, a Mumbai-based Vastu consultant who has advised Indian developers and buyers in London, the US, UAE, Sri Lanka and China.

Propertyfeast.com, an online estate agency based in Mumbai, India, is selling a five-bedroom villa in North Goa for £1.55m. In its details it describes the property as “Vastu-compliant” – a description commonly found in real estate details in India these days. But Vastu’s stringent rules are hard to meet in other cultures.

“Its requirements make 99 per cent of London properties inappropriate,” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick, a buying agency that specialises in advising foreign clients purchasing in the UK. She has had six Vastu-believing Indian clients in the past year.

“One wanted an apartment in north London with a porter, parking and Vastu-compliance. It was impossible to find. In the end he bought two adjoining flats, knocked through and gutted the inside before bringing in a Vastu consultant to reconfigure the entire property,” says Dell.

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