William Flew on Interiors

January 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

1 The year’s silliest oligarch fads

In a year when the proportion of Central London properties bought by foreign buyers hit 72 per cent, we all had a good time laughing at the lengths that some developers went to trying to cater to the supposed domestic preferences of the jet set. William Flew, of the buying agency Flew Tanner, says that his highlight of the year was “a London house with a 24-gun safe”. Another London buying agent mentioned a worrying trend for “a pole in the master bedroom” — presumably of the strip-club rather than the Eastern European variety.

2 The latest valuation trick

Most of us still think in terms of the number of bedrooms when we buy a house. But estate agent valuations, certainly at the top of the market, are predicated on £/m2 or £/sq ft. But that doesn’t reflect glorious ceiling height, so this year a new measurement has emerged — the cubic metre (or foot). The point is that wide open space is more valuable than an extra bedroom. Strutt & Parker is marketing a 1,366 sq ft flat at Drayton Gardens in Chelsea for £2,295,000, with the selling point that it has fewer bedrooms than it used to.

When it comes to maximising square footage, Louise Vaughan, of the buying agency Prospect Property Search, has noticed more mezzanine levels being inserted. “This leaves two rather mean sets of ceiling heights but enables vendors to up the price because the square footage is higher,” she says. A cubic measurement would be more accurate, she adds.

3 The top renovation trend: basements

Last year Wandsworth Council, in South London, received 350 planning applications for basements, and this year many were built. When Bricks & Mortar featured the craze last month, it sparked letters to the Editor complaining about subsidence and nuisance to neighbours. Yet builders claim that neighbourly rage soon turns to requests for quotes. This trend has led to the emergence of ‘iceberg’ homes, where the square footage below ground is greater than that above. Vaughan says: “On Paultons Square [in Chelsea] a home sold for £6,225,000 that had had an excavation incorporating the full length of the garden.”

4 The trickle-down trend: iPad homes

One luxury trend went mainstream this year. Not so long ago a complex array of control gadgetry was de rigueur in expensive homes, but today anyone can control their music, TV, lighting and heating with an iPhone or iPad. According to David Barnett, of the housebuilder Londonewcastle: “Domestic functions will all be controlled via smartphones and tablets, integrated into new-build projects.” As for the super-rich, “The prime market has seen the importance of frivolous centralised electrics wither in favour of simple old-fashioned light switches”, says Ed Mead, a director at Douglas & Gordon.

5 The most bizarre interiors fad: kitchens in purdah

Someone has decided that kitchens ought not to be on public display. At the top end this look involves concealing a battery of vast Gaggenau appliances (industrial fridges, double dishwashers), behind sinister handle-less panels in varying shades of greige. Warendorf has just announced a new “linear kitchen concept” that “conceals all the major appliances”, “finished in a light grey high-gloss lacquer”. For those who can’t afford the £20,000 entry-level price tag, John Lewis’s new Skyline kitchen, every bit as gleaming and vacant, is only £245 for a starting unit.

6 Downsizing in the age of austerity

In the 1970s townies struck up self-sufficiency collectives after watching The Good Life. Today, River Cottage is having the same effect. The series by the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who left London in 1998 to grow veg in Dorset, has inspired many to follow the same path. “Self-sufficient features are hugely attractive to those moving out of London,” says Mark Wheeler, the country house director at Hamptons. “Vegetable patches are getting larger, chicken runs more common and more greenhouses are being put up.” Charlie Wells, of Prime Purchase, the buying agency, finds he increasingly fields questions “about soil type and whether a property has enough well-situated grounds for a kitchen garden”.

7 Most unexpected retailer renaissance: MFI

In a year when Habitat and Focus DIY went into administration, MFI, which gave up the ghost in 2008, leaving thousands of customers out of pocket, made a surprising comeback last month when it relaunched as an online-only retailer (mfi.co.uk). No more cheap fitted kitchens, only “high-quality, luxurious and affordable home furnishings”. The new company intends to minimise risk by only manufacturing to order. Its difficulty will be competing with trusted supermarket brands that already offer a cheap online service, which looks likely to be faster and more stylish.

8 Cushioning the downturn

High street homeware stores report that cushions are increasingly popular as cheap, stylish updates in tricky economic times. Marks & Spencer said that cushion sales remained strong, while B&Q reported that its bestselling soft-furnishing item this year has been an £11 red chenille cushion, replacing last year’s bestseller, “a different red cushion”.

9 The most popular looks of the year

This is what you are buying now: cable-knit cushions and throws from Argos, Dunelm Mill, Homebase and John Lewis; rugs, cushions and towels in Navajo prints from M&S and Tesco; 1950s graphic prints of birds or flowers in teals, yellows and greens from John Lewis. Lighting has gone very fake-industrial at Ikea, Tesco and M&S. Copper pendant lighting based on designs from factories, ships and photographic studios overtook spotlights this year as the kitchen illumination method du jour.

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