Island in the (Fulham) sun

Laid-back southern California, complete with palm trees, comes to west London. Penny Jackson talks to architect Piers Gough, who designed this light-hearted and mixed-use development
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The Independent Online

There is not much chance that anyone living at Fulham Island could lose a guest en- route. Wavy walls of yellow brick, sprinkled with coloured tiles, make the new development one of the most distinctive buildings in this part of west London. It is such fun that it makes you smile as soon as you see it.

There is not much chance that anyone living at Fulham Island could lose a guest en- route. Wavy walls of yellow brick, sprinkled with coloured tiles, make the new development one of the most distinctive buildings in this part of west London. It is such fun that it makes you smile as soon as you see it.

And there is more. A courtyard roof garden at the heart of the mixed-use scheme is laid out with palm trees and splashes of stainless steel. A bright blue clad building with oval windows, not unlike portholes, houses the offices that overlook the garden.

This is laid-back California come to Fulham and was quite deliberately unserious, according to its architect, Piers Gough. "This is all about Fulham feeling good about itself. It doesn't have to think of itself as second best to Chelsea, just different. It is quite loose and that joyfulness has come through in the building."

Fulham Island's mixture of apartments, penthouses, shops, offices and restaurants was brought to Fulham by Harry Handelsman whose Manhattan Loft Corporation has not ventured this far west before with a residential development. Together with the Osborne Group, he spotted the potential for "casual elegance" in what was a slightly shabby part of town which, until now, was probably best known for its street market.

Smart new apartments are harder to find among west London's streets of Victorian terraces than in the east of the city, and nearly all were snapped up off plan. One of those first buyers was Chris George who owns a restaurant nearby. "Friends thought I was mad when I first opened up, but I knew so many people who would prefer to stay here than go into into town for the evening I was sure it would work. I think it is a great area and its mix gives it a special feel. It is not just the evenings either because I have nearly all my business meetings in the cafés downstairs." The appeal of a lifestyle that offers the choice of a Conran bar, a Middle Eastern restaurant and a Marks & Spencer's food hall, all under one roof, is easy to see and it has proved a big draw.

But the penthouses have been slower to sell - a common story everywhere at present. Four of the five at Fulham Island are on the market at between £750,000 (dropped from £875,000) and £1.3m.

All have large floor-to-ceiling windows, with solid ash and limestone floors and are fully wired for sound and vision. The quality of the finish is extraordinarily high, from the double-glazed wooden windows to the detail of skirting boards. Although views from the balconies stretch to the London Eye, those over the church and local, flower-bedecked pub convey something of a village atmosphere. The building has an almost wavy shape, with the apartments' balconies protruding from it in curves. This undulating effect makes it as interesting to look out from as to look at from the exterior.

Harry Downes, sales director of Manhattan Loft, expects them to appeal to those Fulhamites who love the area but don't want a traditional Victorian terraced house. "For the same money, they can buy a similar amount of space, but not divided into little rooms. They also get underground parking, porterage and a large communal garden."

Creating the feel of a Californian landscape fell to the landscape architect Jennifer Coe. She and Piers Gough worked closely on the textures and colours until they settled on exacty the right blues and yellows. One of the refurbished buildings with shades of Art Deco has a rich mustard-coloured façade with a stark white stairway running down to the garden. "We used scuptural plants and rocks and river-washed stones to suggest the dryness of California. We used colour in slabs on the floor and with the stainless steel around the planters." The textured and coloured stainless steel changes shades as it catches the light, even on a dull day, while the white floor has the effect of making it appear to be permanently bathed in sunlight. The garden is for the use of the residents - office workers can only look and admire.

Among those who have benefited from the development are the long-established residents of those buildings deserving of a facelift. One elderly couple preferred to stay throughout the building work: they felt it couldn't be worse than the Blitz.

The old communities are still evident in the streets and shops around Fulham Broadway, and so far gentrification has not encouraged a wholesale exodus. Gough wanted to celebrate the diversity of people and buildings and where better can that be seen than in his polka-dot design, bang next to the old church. Each looks entirely comfortable with the other. "A new building should be wacky and have some kind of identity. I am really looking forward to the day when the palm trees start poking through and you can see them looping over the rooftops."

Fulham Island sales: FPDSavills, 020-7610 0000

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