March 7, 2014 5:55 pm

Homing instincts

‘As well as having a degree of elegance, my ideal apartment will also get the basics right’

For sale: this new development in the heart of London (or Vancouver, Washington, Sydney, Hong Kong) is designed to make all the other rubbish springing up around it look dated, environmentally insensitive and poor value for money. Aimed at an international audience who’ve lived in enough places around the world to know what makes a good apartment, this building is not targeting oligarchs who want to park their cash, southeast Asian investment buyers who have no interest in being part of the community, or people who want to live in a compound disconnected from its surroundings.

This is a mixed-use development combining retail, essential services and affordable apartments aimed at first-time buyers and people working in the immediate vicinity, as well as flats for those international buyers who are interested in living in a building that gets the basics right: excellent water pressure, plenty of storage space, good security and solid construction.

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Tyler Brûlé

From street level, residents pass shops, restaurants and other outlets that have been selected to serve not only the building but also the neighbourhood. Small, independent operators have been chosen over formulaic chains. A bakery from Copenhagen has been invited to open a branch alongside an independent wine shop, a florist, a greengrocer and a proper barber. Rounding out the mix is a café, an izakaya that adds a dash of German influence to the Japanese, a bountiful kiosk and a 24-hour convenience store.

The building’s façade is a mix of brick, wood and glass and, along the pavement, there are places to perch, mature trees and shrubs, and a very efficient awning system to deal with both rain and burning rays. Where too many developments go in for faceless fronts, this apartment block has presence and a degree of elegance.

There’s also a resident doorman, who really is resident and is on hand to hail cabs, assist other residents, and sign for packages. He will also keep an eye on the street and do his bit to keep the whole block functioning properly. Rather than leaving the cleaning of gutters and pavements to the city, the spirit of the tenants and owners is to set an example for the broader neighbourhood by not waiting for others to put things in order.

Through the front door, the lobby has been designed with comfortable chairs for waiting, not lounging. There are no statement art pieces, fake fireplaces or silly lighting installations. The focus is on a sense of arrival and departure, with solid materials throughout – the floors are anti-slip so they don’t require yellow warning signs when it rains. The walls are wood or stone so they don’t dent when they come in contact with a wheely suitcase or pram. The lighting is, of course, low level and flattering.

In the centre of the building there’s a wide staircase, with lifts on either side – one reserved for dogs, parcels and tradesmen. The lower level has a vast laundry room fitted out with the best machines, storage lockers for all apartments, a bike garage with a ramp to street level and an automatic Japanese-style car parking system.

On the floors above, halls are wide and, like all the public spaces, have been designed to absorb wear and tear. Walls that get marked can be oiled rather than repainted. A strict covenant also keeps all the graphics consistent, so there are no nameplates or numerals in a font other than Univers.

Apartments have double-entry doors for both soundproofing and security purposes – along with delivery hatches for parcels and post. In an age when proper foyers have all but disappeared from apartments (though who wants to walk straight into a kitchen or living room?), much consideration has been given to where coats and shoes live, where the guest bathroom is placed and how to create a gentle transition between public and private space.

An essential feature is a sunroom-meets-balcony that brings the outside in and creates a proper terrace that’s useful even when the weather’s not pleasant. Most new developments have balconies that are not fit for having breakfast on, let alone for stretching out on a lounger, but this block harnesses the elements to discourage air conditioning while encouraging cross-breezes. Another environmental essential is that no one is being upsold on a bunch of poorly designed en-suite bathrooms – better two good bathrooms in a four-bedroom apartment than four pathetic ones.

Sadly, this building isn’t on the market anywhere yet. There are plenty of old classics that get much of these basics right but there’s certainly room for a smart developer to start planning a place for people to live in – not just invest.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

More columns at ft.com/brule

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