The pleasure principle goes commercial

Urban living is in and suddenly redundant industrial buildings are becoming the most covetable of homes. Robert Liebman sizes up the options
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Throughout the UK, formerly commercial riverside and canal-side locations are being used for new housing. In or near city centres developers are offering unusually large residences forged out of disused or obsolete warehouse or office buildings.

It is not just waterside areas and not just London that are affected. Significant new developments are rising both in and near Manchester and Leeds, for example. Ambitions plans for Birmingham city centre call for mixed developments in which modern residences will be intermingled with ultra-modern leisure and retail facilities.

The most expensive of the new apartments and town houses, especially in London, will be within the reach only of those whose bank balances resemble a phone number. Outside London, however, loft apartments are available for less than pounds 50,000, and even within the capital the prices of many attractive or attractively located flats are competitive. Among other factors, economic turmoil in Asia is expected to have a moderating influence on prices here by knocking Asian buyers out of the market.

The sheer number of new urban developments reflects changing social priorities and historical patterns. Cities and city life are back in fashion. Certain kinds of building are out of vogue. The combination favours residential properties of unusual size in previously commercial locations.

These new developments are rising in a new mood says architect Bernard Hunt, a partner in the London firm of Hunt Thompson, which is designing Millennium Village. "We are beginning to realise that dense urban living can be attractive. Developers are now able to sell a continental, metropolitan, urban life style," says Hunt. He also believes that society has become increasingly sybaritic, and many new developments are extending the pleasure principle to property.

The famous Harrods Depository fronts a large multi-building complex at Berkeley's Harrods Village which contains, among other structures, former Victorian soap and candle factories. Extending well back from the river, this gigantic development will contain townhouses as well as new and converted apartments. (Call 0181-741 7401 for details.)

Of the 133 luxury apartments in Barratt's Globe View by the City, near St Paul's Cathedral, 35 will be in a former riverside warehouse. The wholly new building will contain an atrium and landscaped courtyard (0171-489 8013).

In Shad Thames, on the south bank east of Tower Bridge, Malt Mill Developments has refurbish- ed a former brewery, the Anchor Brewhouse, and literally topped it with High Command, a four-storey penthouse containing its own internal lift and views in all directions (0171-488 9586).

Persimmon's Thorpe's Yard in east London includes a converted warehouse in addition to six new four-storey townhouses, and a new-plus-old warehouse conversion including an atrium and penthouses (0171-680 9990).

Four imposing buildings also comprise St George's Lockes Wharf. At its peak are duplex double-height penthouses the windows of which are so large at to make the apartment appear glass-walled (0171-531 6280).

Similarly massive windows adorning oversized penthouses are the outstanding features of the four-building 322-apartment Canary Riverside complex, which will be Canary Wharf's first residential development (0171-512 9393).

Bellway's Boardwalk includes several dockside apartment buildings and town houses in which oversized windows are also a prominent feature (01245- 259989). Terraces and a wrap-around penthouse typify Galliard's Old Bell City at Westferry Road, which includes a semi-circular terrace of town houses bookended by complementary apartment blocks (0171-515 1939).

Marylebone Warwick Balfour (MWB) and Manhattan Loft have nabbed West India Quay, the sole remaining Grade I warehouse in Docklands to convert into apartments. This 106-unit conversion, which will contain studios as well as apartments and penthouses, will feature exposed brickwork, cast-iron window frames and flagstone floors (0171-537 0000).

For something completely different, several new developments in the West End are similarly orientated around luxury and pleasure in traditional urban settings. In Soho, Westcity Wates' 12 Bourchier Street is an ultramodern building with distinctive art deco architecture and minimalist interior design. Each of the 17 units, including two duplex penthouses, has either a balcony or a terrace and, to maximise light in the urban canyon, floor- to-ceiling windows (0171-267 2828).

Galliard has sewn up the area around Waterloo Station with its massive Courtyard, behind County Hall, and similarly huge White House, nearer the South Bank. The approximately 150 apartments in the Courtyard include duplex and triplex penthouses in two buildings linked by a six-storey glazed atrium (0171-633 0435). Plans for the White House tentatively include a business centre, fitness centre and restaurant (0800 908 921).

At Vincent Square in Westminster, 69 apartments and penthouses comprise Nicholson Estates' Atrium. According to the developer, "the internal layout of each apartment is designed to give the maximum possible exposure to open views over Vincent Square or the landscaped inner gardens" (07000 464246).

Overlooking Russell Square, the same developer's massive Bloomsbury Mansions, in a former government Department of Health facility, contains resident parking, Jacuzzi, sauna and gym building. Duplex penthouses contain conservatories and terraces.

The Piper Building in Fulham was post-war plug ugly when it was built, which was fine with its owner, British Gas. Try Homes is sprucing up this architectural platypus and converting it into a true, if unusual, luxury residence. Double-height ceilings will enable many apartments to have spacious mezzanine decks. The residents will also benefit from roof terraces, of which this edifice - with a large extension supported by stilts - will have more than its share (Savills, 0171-824 9030; Egerton, 0171-584 7020).

Rialto's Astral House in the West End also features roof terraces to some apartments (0800 0181 515).

For panoramic cityscapes, head for the hills. The centrepiece of Pamlion's Inverforth House in Hampstead is the former home of Lords Inverforth and Leverhulme. Here, too, the developer divided the building into seven apartments and two wings, maximising the views over London and the Heath. Inverforth homes range in size from 2,150-7,600 square feet (Goldschmidt, 0171-435 4404; FPDsavills, 0171-472 5000).

Also in Hampstead and also with panoramic views, Mount Vernon is a four- building complex being developed by MWB and Sincere with apartments and penthouses, the majority of which have a balcony, terrace or private garden (0171-431 2121).

People more interested in doing than watching might be interested in two Laing developments. North of the river is a 14-home development of five-bedroom homes adjacent to Finchley Golf Club in Mill Hill. To the south is Wimbledon Parkside, a large development of new buildings convenient for golf as well as tennis (0181-207 6000).

For a multi-level penthouse, allow, say, a million quid per level. But many of these apartments will sell for a lot less. Consider Millennium Village, where Countryside will head a consortium that will build more than 1,000 new homes. Some will be rentals, some will be shared-ownership, and some will be full ownership (01277 260000).

Many of these developments will be mixed with restaurants and cinemas, bars and boutiques. Some, like Millennium Villages, will also be mixed socially.