Minimalism is over. Or at least the sterile wooden floors, glaring white walls and cold cold aspect of minimalism is on the wane. With unsettling factors in our lives like the war in Iraq, job losses and economic uncertainty, buyers are turning to something just that bit homier. Cosy is the new byword, rather than cool.
The Gatehouse, the latest project by top niche developers BMB Investments, reflects this turn from stark neutrality to design that goes back to the basics. The development, on the corner of Uxbridge Street and Campden Hill Road just behind Notting Hill Gate, is of a high quality, but the emphasis is on the infrastructure instead of the gadgets.
All the usual suspects are in evidence, from the heavy walnut doors to slate flooring in the communal parts, a lift, comfort cooling and Lutron lighting, but the difference here is you feel you could actually live a "real" life in one of these apartments without worrying about whether the style police will turn up at any moment to check the Kelly Hoppen-like alignment of your vases.
Julian Mercer, managing director of BMB Investments, believes purchasers want quality, but in a low-key kind of way. "They don't want it to look as if they are flashing their money about right now." If cash has been spent on ultra-high tech sound or satellite systems, you wouldn't know about it. Subtlety is all.
The Gatehouse is rare, as there are very few warehouse buildings in Notting Hill to convert and Mercer says the opportunity to bring "warehouse living" to the more traditionally stucco-fronted location of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was irresistible. Seven one- and two-bedroomed apartments on the first three floors are for sale now, with an eighth "mystery" unit set to come on stream later in the year.
Prices are affordable – well, comparatively affordable for über-chic Notting Hill – and start at £495,000 for a one-bedroomed apartment and ranging up to £1.395m for a third-floor two-bed unit. Compared with the charming but compact cottagey houses in the surrounding roads, a flat at The Gatehouse that is just under 1,000sq ft is more roomy and in most cases, cheaper. Another plus is the secure parking, with seven spaces in the ground-floor garage at £50,000 each. In an area where you can drive around for what feels like half your life looking for a spot, these are bound to be snapped up quickly.
Mercer says he has tried to maintain the Friends-style warehouse scheme throughout the solid brick building. There are high ceilings, wonderfully unusual room shapes, round metal columns and metal windows that have been painstakingly crafted to match what was originally there. The views are definite cityscapes, with Mary Poppins-style chimneys and rooftops.
Until recently, the former warehouse housed a television company and the location couldn't be bettered. Many developers' brochures boast of such amenities close by, but in reality, they are often several miles away. But in Notting Hill Gate, restaurants such as Damien Hirst's Pharmacy, the Coronet and Gate cinemas, and a multitude of coffee and wine bars are all literally round the corner.
Mercer admits it has been a bit difficult of late selling top-end property in prime central London. "Lots of people are looking," he says, "and are even making offers. The trouble is they then withdraw their offers a few days later, as they aren't sure where the market is going." There is a mix of prospective buyers viewing. Many have country homes and see the units at The Gatehouse as "second places". Enquiries are coming from Hong Kong, as Mercer thinks these investors want to get back into the UK market now. Also, some Australians seem interested.
Mercer reckons the apartments appeal mainly to a younger professional base. "Notting Hill is more a music and arts area, rather than a straight City zone," he adds. The generous spaces here are ideal for creative types. The two-bedroomed flats have two bathrooms and a cloakroom. The white limestone showers are big enough to hold a good-sized party and the large open reception/kitchen/dining room is likely to do so. There is plenty of storage – the bane of many a new development – and many of the bedrooms could accommodate a desk for those wanting to work from home.
Is BMB one of the developers leading the way to a "friendlier" form of modern design? It appears so and many insiders believe this trend for more approachable and welcoming homes is lonover due. Seemingly perfect wood flooring and off-white walls in open spaces are all very well, but the odd quirk to lend some character would go down well with purchasers. Mercer believes this attention to detail that offers something a bit different is important.
So it is goodbye to severe contemporary interiors and hello to the beautiful and the snug, and to features that will still be here in a 100 years time.
Apartments starting from £495,000 at The Gatehouse are available through Knight Frank 020-7823 5906 or Lane Fox 020-7938 3666. The marketing suite is open from Monday to Friday 10am-5pm 020-7221 9335