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June 3, 2011 10:01 pm

Old cachet, new money

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An Old Park Lane penthouse

An Old Park Lane penthouse that once belonged to Alan Sugar

London’s Mayfair district evokes images of 1920s and 30s splendour: mansion houses occupied by the English aristocracy; London’s most elite hotels; exclusive streets such as Savile Row and Park Lane, not to mention Half Moon Street, home of PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, the ultimate Mayfair man about town. During the second world war and postwar years, however, the picture was very different: residential mansions were requisitioned for offices and given temporary commercial use permits after West End buildings were destroyed in the Blitz. The area lost its sheen and its bright young things grew old.

Since the 1990s, buildings have slowly reverted back to residential use and office furnishings have been replaced by contemporary interiors. After a lull in development, townhouses are being converted into smart flats and penthouses. Grosvenor Square is set to change over the next decade when the US embassy building is converted, most likely into a mixed-use luxury hotel and residential scheme. More glamour will be injected into the area when an art deco building on Balderton Street is developed into a 75-room boutique hotel.

Mount Street, just south of Grosvenor Square, has become something of a fashion cluster since Marc Jacobs opened his first London store there in 2009. Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin and Lanvin have followed, as well as younger European labels such as Wunderkind and Loewe. “Mayfair has a huge reputation and evokes romantic and stylish ideas,” says Richard Cutt of Knight Frank’s Mayfair office. He says Mount Street is “almost on a par with Bond Street and Sloane Street”.

As well as shoppers and diners, Mayfair continues to attract international and domestic buyers who, Cutt says, often come with a brief that does not meet the physical reality. “Mayfair’s geographic size is not as big as its reputation.” As in many areas of London, demand exceeds supply, especially when buyers are looking for properties in a near-perfect state.

London map

Ned El-Imad, 32, a partner in the residential property department of law firm Mishcon de Reya, has lived in Mayfair for 10 years and recently bought a three-bedroom apartment on Mount Street. He has owned several other properties in the area and believes that it is possible to achieve good value for money: “Comparing pound per sq ft values in Mayfair with the rest of London, there is stuff that is more expensive in Bayswater than in Mayfair.”

Prices do vary, from £1,200 to £3,500 per sq ft, although Cutt says prime property can fetch very high prices: “You could sell the very best penthouse in Mayfair with the porter, the parking, the views, the terrace and a beautiful interior for £3,500, possibly even £4,000 per sq ft.”

For El-lmad, Mayfair’s big draw is the availability of attractions on his doorstep: “The village feel is something that escapes people unless you live here. At the weekends you walk out of the door and it is very calm and tranquil and there are so many good restaurants and clubs – like Annabel’s, George, and Morton’s on Berkeley Square.”

But while the area is popular with people seeking a pied-à-terre, its appeal to families is limited. “A lot of houses within Mayfair have no gardens at all so you are looking at big chunky houses with potentially a mews to the rear but not necessarily outside space,” says Richard Barber of estate agent WA Ellis. “If you want a family house with a garden, generally speaking, people have commuted westwards to Kensington and Chelsea.”

The style of the houses has changed with the new generation of residents. There are fewer of the English dowagers and duchesses who there were 20 years ago, Barber says. “They have died off and been replaced, and the houses have been modernised in a very contemporary style.” This style is not to everyone’s taste – palatial bathrooms, lacquered kitchens – but Barber says it is what foreign buyers, many from the Middle East and Russia, want to see: “If you are going to refurbish a property, there is no point going down the [fabric designers] Osborne & Little route. People expect it to look a little bit like the Mandarin Oriental.”

 
Berkeley Square in Mayfair©Getty

Berkeley Square in Mayfair

The former penthouse of entrepreneur Lord Sugar on Old Park Lane is on the market with WA Ellis for £20m. The apartment covers nearly 6,300 sq ft, is spread over the top two floors of the building and has several balconies and a roof terrace with views over Hyde Park. For a more traditional exterior, WA Ellis are selling a listed 18th-century townhouse on South Audley Street for £10m. The six-floor house has a master bedroom suite that covers the entire second floor and an audio system that extends to the outside terraces.

This contemporary theme continues in the new developments in Mayfair. Grosvenor, whose London estate covers more than 300 acres of Mayfair and Belgravia, is undertaking several residential developments including a mixed-use scheme on North Audley Street. There will be nine large residential apartments and a new restaurant by the founders of Zuma and La Petite Maison. Costing details for the apartments are yet to be confirmed but Ian Morrison at Grosvenor says the scheme is “attracting a tremendous amount of overseas interest,” and he expects prices to exceed £2,500 per sq ft.

Morrison insists that these and other developments in Mayfair will be carried out with regard for the architectural style of the area: “It needs to be fresh, in terms of the internal space, but externally it will maintain that classical elegance that Mayfair has. You’re not going to stick a One Hyde Park on Park Lane or in Grosvenor Square. I can’t see that happening.”

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Buying guide

Pros

● Easy access to Hyde Park and West End

● Address looks impressive on headed paper

Cons

● Not really a family location

● The future development of Grosvenor Square is likely to be disruptive

Market performance

Five years: 40 per cent growth; one year: 8.4 per cent (source: Knight Frank)

What you can buy for

£1m A one-bedroom, 670 sq ft flat on Dunraven Street

Contacts

WA Ellis www.waellis.co.uk

Grosvenor www.grosvenorlondon.com

Knight Frank www.knightfrank.co.uk

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