Property: Living life on the level

Put away your pipe and slippers - bungalows are the new hip home.

Say the word "loft" and thoughts inevitably turn to industrial- sized fridges and mimimalist roof terraces. Say "bungalow" and images of fridge magnets and gnome-filled gardens prevail.

Traditionally chosen for their lack of stairs, rather than for their architectural appeal, bungalows have until recently been shunned by the hip and adored by those with hip replacements - but there are some surprises on the market.

Kirk Pickering is a visionary young developer better known for projects in fashionable spots such as Clerkenwell, east London, where he converted an old shipping factory. His company, Square Foot, creates unexpected spaces from unusual buildings. But while factories and warehouses offer challenges in terms of contemporary architectural design, one of his developments has been more testing than most.

Nestled behind a wall in south London lies Penington, a traditional Sixties- built bungalow, recently transformed by Square Foot into a testament to light and space. The two-bed dwelling, once a warren of small rooms, now features a modern, clean space with thoughtful use of light and colour. It is entirely open plan, with glass doors and walls which concertina onto purple decking outside.

The one-off conversion attracted great interest from prospective buyers, keen to view what was marketed through Bushells as "the party house". Manager Steve Smith is loath to use the B-word, preferring to describe Penington as a single-storey dwelling: "It's a very trendy, racy sort of property and the word bungalow doesn't tell that story. It makes it sound like a granny flat, when in reality it is an incomparable party house - even down to providing the privacy you badly need the morning after."

Party animals will be sad to learn that Penington is no longer on the market. Kirk's father, Jim Pickering, loved the property so much that he moved in - after selling his 400-year-old Essex barn with 6,000 square footage and 13 acres of land. Why the extreme change? "I was thinking of buying a penthouse in Clerkenwell. I like simplicity, not minimalism, and this place has everything I want. It's just like having a penthouse on the roof."

Has downsizing to 800 square feet been difficult? "There are no disadvantages and lots of pluses. I love being on one floor, which I would have been in a penthouse, and there is such simplicity of cleaning." Many of Jim's friends have admired his new home; but does he find there's any stigma attached to living in a bungalow? "None at all. I think they are increasingly sought after, as land is now so expensive that they are not being built anymore."

Bungalows are currently attracting much attention from the style gurus. BBC 2's Homefront recently featured a week-by-week makeover of a bungalow, once a residential home for the elderly, now transformed by cutting-edge designs such as an aromatherapy bathroom complete with mirror mosaics. And style bible Elle Decoration recently professed a fondness for low- slung homes, recommending bungalow life for the truly chic.

Though bungalows seem quintessentially British - conjuring up images of retirement homes by the sea - America has whole websites, magazines and books devoted to the subject. In American Bungalow Style, Robert Winter and Alexander Vertikoff explore how these simple structures became popular at the turn of the century, allowing people of modest means to achieve respectability.

Back in the UK, the sedate streets of Frinton heave with bungalows. But there are other, less obvious hunting grounds. Agents Ludlow Thompson are currently asking pounds 350,000 for a split-level bungalow - a rare example of one of the last architectural projects undertaken by the Crafts and Artisans Charitable Trust of Architects - in Brixton's Hillside Road.

It has been owned by stained-glass artist Maria McClafferty for the past 15 years. She has only positive things to say about bungalows: "They are fabulous. Living on one level makes life so much easier - there is no continual trekking up and down stairs."

Maria loves her home's adaptability: "It offers such opportunity. You can change it according to your needs." If arthritic knees benefit from bungalow life, then so do those who enjoy a knees-up. "It's great for parties: if you have music in one room, you can hear it all around the house."

The property has a Mediterranean feel, boasting two enormous roof terraces onto which all doors open. Maria is so fond of this way of living that she is selling her 3,000sq ft home and moving abroad in search of the real thing. She has never experienced anti- bungalow sentiment: "This place is so special. It is like a loft; and people are becoming more attracted to a modern way of living where you can expand and do different things. Bungalows are nothing to frown about."

Square Foot, 0171-253 2527; Bushells, 0181-299 1722; Ludlow Thompson, 0171-820 4100

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