Instant home: just add people

Hate decorating? Then buy a ready-furnished show house, says Anne Spackman
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The Independent Online
On the staircase of the Moreton family's home outside Birmingham hang two old cricketing prints above a cricket bat signed by Dicky Bird. This, you would assume, is the home of a cricket fan - until you learn that the bat was won at a Rotary dinner and the prints came with the house.

When the Moretons bought their new, five-bedroom show home in the prosperous village of Barnt Green they did not only buy the cricketing prints. They bought the carpets, curtains, chairs, tables, pictures, ornaments, lamps, cushions and almost every other detail down to the bottles in the bathroom and the pot pourris.

They are not the only ones. At Barratt's Lakeside Grange development in Weybridge, Surrey, Christine Bonny has bought the £325,000 show house as a complete package. And Crosby Homes, which built the Moretons' five- bedroom house, also sold its four-bedroom show house in Bowdon, Cheshire, with all the contents.

These properties are at the top end of the market. Builders recognise that in order to attract buyers to new homes and away from traditionally prestigious properties such as old farmhouses and Georgian rectories, they need to show them at their full potential. As a result, developers are putting aside a big slab of the marketing budget for the interior design of their most expensive show homes. If the furnishings are attractive enough, they will not only help to sell the other houses on the development, but they can also be sold to the show-house buyer.

This is what happened with the Moretons. Their interior was the work of Rectory Designs, a family firm based in Gloucester. Rectory was given a budget of around £35,000 by Crosby Homes - and it shows.

Anyone who has not visited a show house for five or 10 years may be surprised by both the quality and style of the interior design. It is no longer a case of inoffensive pastels and chain-store furniture. The fabric in the Moretons' house comes from designers such as Nina Campbell and Mulberry. The curtains are interlined, the seams hand-sewn. The furniture in the main rooms is in elm and walnut. Colours are strong - reds in the dining room, dark green in one of the bedrooms. There are more borders and pelmets than you might find in an old rectory, but the effect is more cottagey than fussy.

The Moretons had grown out of their previous home, a three-storey Edwardian house in two acres of land. They were planning to buy an old property again when they saw their present one advertised. "If the house hadn't been decorated, I wouldn't have felt the same about it," said Mrs Moreton.

At the bottom of the market, the budget for show-home interiors is usually so tight that designers have little leeway to be creative. The average budget for a new two-bedroom flat is likely to be around £7,000 - and that must cover carpets, curtains, beds, chairs and tables as well as all the accessories.

As prices rise, so does the importance of getting the design right. When Try Homes put its apartments at Plantation Wharf, in Battersea, south London, up for sale for between £95,000 and £289,000, it had a clear idea of the market. The company employed Simmons Design of Kingston to produce a fresh, contemporary look, using lots of blues and creams and natural fibres. The budget for the show flat was £18,000. Philip Simmons of Simmons Design said he had been helped by the use of contemporary materials such as beech and chrome in the finish of the flats. "Try Homes was very forward-thinking," he said. "They wanted something different from the average show house."

Last month Try Homes ran a special interior design weekend at Plantation Wharf, offering anyone who reserved an apartment £1,500 worth of fabrics plus a free design consultation. The offer led to five sales and a number of commissions for Simmons Design.

Interest in interior design soared in the Eighties when everyone tried to make their tiny city terraces look like grand country homes. Being good at interior design became a social requisite, like being a fancy cook or a wine buff. But isn't buying-in all your furnishings going a bit far, a bit like asking caterers to do your dinner party? Don't the buyers themselves feel that it is rather impersonal?

Vera Moreton is very pragmatic about it. "With both of us working, we just haven't got the time to go looking for fabrics and furniture," she said. "Everything from our old house is too big to fit in here, so we had to start again. Doing up a house is fun once or twice, but we spent 10 years getting our last house right. To us now, it's just a drag."

Christine Bonny in Weybridge felt similarly. Both women found houses which were furnished in a style they would have chosen themselves. Mrs Bonny, a 41-year-old widow with two teenage children and a demanding job, simply did not have the time to do up a new house. "The place had been decorated and furnished so wonderfully, I knew straight away that it was where I wanted to be," she said.

Rectory Designs 0594 529766; Simmons Design 081-974 5974; Crosby Homes (Midlands) 0926 491111; Barratt Southern Counties 0483 505533; Try Homes' apartments sold through Savills: sales office 071-585 0041.