Back to the seventies: It can pay to choose a more recent period property

Ruth Bloomfield meets one homeowner with an eye for modern vintage
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The Independent Online

From his 38th-floor eyrie the whole of London is laid out for Kurt Bredenbeck to enjoy: the green patch of Hampstead Heath to the north and the dome of St Paul's and the London Eye to the south.

Over the last year he has been able to watch that more recent city landmark, the Shard of Glass tower, nosing skywards.

In certain quarters, Bredenbeck's home is considered just as important as any of the famous sites he can observe from his balcony – he owns an apartment within the brutalist concrete towers of the Barbican Centre.

It is a building which fiercely divides opinion. In 2003 it was voted "London's ugliest building", but two years before that it was given Grade II-listed status and is also designated a site of special architectural interest.

Bredenbeck, the founder of two of London's most glamorous boutique hotels, bought the flat in the mid-1990s, wanting a dramatic change from his previous home in Little Venice, west London.

"I wanted a contemporary bachelor pad, but not a loft," explains. "I wanted something that was going to be smart, and 20th century, and in 1995 there were just not that many new apartment buildings because there had been a terrible property recession."

Having bought the property from the Corporation of London (now the City of London Corporation) for £210,000, he was immediately faced with a conundrum. The two bedroomed apartment was in sound but dreary condition.

"It was a bit of a time warp," says Bredenbeck. "I think that if a white tile cracked they replaced it with a white tile, and if a white wall needed repainting they repainted it white.

"The challenge was to make something modern, subtle and elegant and comfortable, that was based on the original architecture."

The first decision was to maintain the flat's structure intact, even if that meant living with a galley kitchen and a small and slightly Stalinist, white-tiled bathroom.

"Lots of people had ripped their flats apart and put in 1980s fake oak kitchens and pastel bathrooms," says Bredenbeck with a shudder.

"I couldn't do that. I look to always use vintage furniture but to make it feel contemporary at the same time.

"And funnily enough, the flats with the original bathrooms and kitchens actually sell for more than the ones where they've been stripped out."

The flats were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Corporation, which wanted to provide high-end rental units for single city workers.

"I had the idea of some IBM executive's penthouse – high quality not all purple and seventies," says Bredenbeck. "I always start with a theme like that."

With a concept in place, Bredenbeck then set about educating himself on the design of the era, to fit out his flat with period-appropriate furnishings.

And as his knowledge grew so did his collection. His spare room is used as a library, with shelves and a desk by George Nelson, the American modernist whose work is synonymous with the more famous designers Charles and Ray Eames.

The Eameses also feature in the flat in the form of their iconic chairs, while a set of glass-topped tables with silver bases are by the British firm Arkana of Bath. And a pair of rosewood cabinets are by a firm of architects, Merrow Associates (www.merrowassociates.com).

Not every single piece in the flat is retro – the dark-tan sofas were made bespoke to Bredenbeck's own design, with the leather dyed to match a pair of Knoll chairs he already had.

He decided to break away from the original, all-white palette, finding it too sterile, and mixed the "wet sand" colour that adorns two of the living room walls himself.

"It is a nightmare – you add a bit of this and a bit of that and try and remember the proportions," he says. "The painter was horrified. I said: 'Just follow the instructions, like you are making soup'."

At the same time that Bredenbeck, 44, was filling his new flat he was also buying furniture on a grander scale.

He left his native USA years before to study in London. After stints in the city he decided he would much prefer to work for himself.

He had noticed the huge impact that Ian Schrager's boutique hotels were having in the New York

"I thought that if an idea was working in a sophisticated market like New York then it would work in London too," he says.

A chance meeting with Terence Conran led to the establishment of the hugely successful One Aldwych, which opened in 1998 in a standout Edwardian building just off The Strand which Bredenbeck filled with original pieces.

Having sold One Aldwych, he promptly launched The Hoxton Hotel, conceived as a boutique hotel filled with one-off furniture at "Holiday Inn Express" prices.

The development, which opened in 2006, is now on the market for £80m.

Next up is a book on vintage hotel style, and another central London boutique hotel. But the project closest to his heart is a tie-in with the homeless charity Crisis.

Together they plan to open a small hotel in Shoreditch which they will run as a quasi-commercial venture entirely staffed by Crisis clients who will be able to learn the ins and outs of the hospitality industry and get work experience.

The project will be part funded through the proceeds of the sale of The Hoxton, but Bredenbeck is likely to have more than a little spare change left over.

Despite that he has no interest in leaving his flat, which has proved to be an outstanding investment, currently worth in the region of £1.5m.

He believes its value is linked to its height – prices drop off lower down the Barbican towers, with properties at the podium level failing to break the £1m barrier.

Although Bredenbeck is now fully-furnished, he does have some advice for others looking for post-war treasures. Although he homed in on Alfies Antiques Market, just off the Edgware Road, Christie's auction house and Camden Market (in the days before it was not chock full of tourists and cheap T-shirts) when he first became interested in the period, he believes the best deals are now to be done online.

"I love being able to say I paid £200 for a piece that would have been £2,000 in an antique shop," he says. "You just have to know what you are looking for a little bit and I have loved learning about it all."

On the market: modern marvels

Park Hill Estate, Sheffield

The North's answer to the Barbican is the Grade II-listed Park Hill estate, which lays claim to being Europe's largest listed structure and has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The brutalist landmark had been neglected over the decades, but its eagerly anticipated revival is in hand thanks to a £160m restoration being piloted by Urban Splash, the regeneration specialists. The first revamped apartments – 78 one and two-bedroomed units with lots of huge windows to counteract all that concrete – go on sale in September. Pricing is not yet available, but more information will be available later this summer. To register interest visit: www.urbansplash.co.uk.

Meadow Rise, Sutton Coldfield

Authentic right down to the pine-clad ceilings and a great example of individual, late-sixties architecture. This £1.1m four-bedroomed bungalow, with almost an acre of gardens, has a great location and has been sensitively modernised (Knight Frank; www.knightfrank.com,0121 362 7878).

Ceol-Na-Mara, near Folkestone, Kent

Completed in 1971, the same year as the Barbican Centre. Fans of Abigail's Party will love this three-bedroomed house with a dramatic circular reception hall, plus swimming pool and sauna. Priced at £900,000 to £1m. (Strutt & Parker; www.struttandparker.com, 01227 451 123)

Cedar Lawns, nr Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Modernism in the Midlands, this modular house offers a span of French windows and is an early example of open-plan living with a huge, triple-aspect living room featuring "raised music room dais". There are five bedrooms, with a hot tub and swimming pool within the 1.1-acre gardens. Guide price £1m (Knight Frank; www.knightfrank.com, 01789 297735).

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