Lateral thinking. All 54 feet of it

Clever design (and the odd sledgehammer) are bringing loft living to London's smartest areas, says Gwenda Brophy
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The Independent Online

Afriend whose one-bedroom property is no longer spacious enough has been considering buying the adjacent flat and knocking through to make a super-sized apartment, all on one level. It was not just to avoid the hassle of moving; the loft concept of generous, lateral square footage has become as deeply desirable as it is deeply entrenched in our psyche.

Afriend whose one-bedroom property is no longer spacious enough has been considering buying the adjacent flat and knocking through to make a super-sized apartment, all on one level. It was not just to avoid the hassle of moving; the loft concept of generous, lateral square footage has become as deeply desirable as it is deeply entrenched in our psyche.

Lateral conversions offer free rein to design totally new interior layouts, spanning the width of the two former properties behind the original facades that are left intact. These are then sold in horizontal slices.

For the private owner, there are probably too many headaches relating to planning and leases to make it worthwhile. But architectural and design issues on such a scale are less of a deterrent to developers, who have the financial muscle and resources to take on such ambitious projects. Currently on the market is 36-38 Pont Street in London's Knightsbridge, where five lateral apartments have been created. Gerard Cunningham, managing director of the developers Thomsett, says the project was based on demand and demographics. "Young buyers enjoy properties on one level because it is less hassle going about day-to-day living within a single-storey environment. In addition, we are living longer, and buyers are often looking for longer-term living solutions as well as more space."

Furthermore, while we may believe that some of our most expensive housing stock is delightfully quaint, others are less enthusiastic. "Americans in particular tell us they are fed up with living in furnished chimneys in London," says Eliza Leigh of Knight Frank, agents for Pont Street.

What the new lateral conversions do is to marry period features with a more contemporary organisation of space - and the cachet of an upmarket postcode. The space unexpectedly opening up behind deceptively traditional frontages recalls the scale of the original true lofts. But whereas lofts were sold on space and little else, lateral conversions incorporate luxurious interiors and finishes. So, at Pont Street, for example, exposed brickwork is not in evidence. Instead, there are burr oak panelled libraries and a marble entrance hall.

At a second development in Knightsbridge, at 41-42 Lowndes Square, developers Octagon have incorporated features such as American walnut doors and antique Louis XVI fireplaces in the three lateral apartments and duplex penthouse. The 54-foot-long lateral apartment over the two former first floors at Lowndes Square boasts no fewer than six French windows leading out onto a balcony overlooking the square. This first-floor prime position is reflected in the pricing. In Mayfair, the first floor at 46 Green Street, where Willowacre Property Developments have four lateral apartments, the coveted £3.2m first-floor apartment is the most highly priced, apart from the penthouse at £3.85m.

It is the disparity between quality of space that, according to some developers, can be a problem. Paul Hyatt of Landminster developers admits that laterals are nice to live in, but adds: "The design of the typical London house is that you tend to have prime space at the front of building, with the not-so-grand at the rear. That means in some properties you can have a real problem with outlook and light. The first floor is highly attractive with those high windows, but the attractions of some other floors are not always so obvious."

A case in point is the basement, where none of the developers have attempted to incorporate a lateral apartment. At Pont Street the lower ground floor has become four studios, while at Green Street the ground and lower ground have been split vertically into two apartments. At Lowndes Square, there is a studio and "executive" one-bedroom apartment on the lower ground as well as a maisonette over the ground and lower ground floors.

Paul Hyatt sees another problem for developers and the property market. "The limit on what you can charge for some areas of the property means you might need to charge a price for the true laterals that is more than what is achievable for a particular location." Despite the price tags, however, the appeal of the laterals is overriding predictions. At Lowndes Square, all the lateral apartments have sold by Harrods Estates, with just the maisonette left at £5.5m, as well as the studio, anticipated to sell as staff accommodation.

At Pont Street the first floor has already sold, with the second floor available through Knight Frank and Friend and Falke at £2.95m, the third floor at £2.75m, and the fourth at £2.35m. One studio remains at £425,000. At Green Street, in addition to the first floor and duplex apartment, the second floor is available through Blenheim Bishop at £2.95m, the third floor at £2.85m. The two lower ground/ground floor apartments are £1.9m and £1.95m.

Blenheim Bishop: 020-7290 2822

Harrods Estates: 020 7893 8933

Knight Frank: 020-7591 8600

Friend and Falcke: 020-7581 3022

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