Adventures in Theatreland

It looks like a corporate crash pad, but this amazing Covent Garden apartment is a bona fide family home
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The Independent Online

When the patients were lying in bed in the old Covent Garden hospital in London's Henrietta Street, it's a fairly safe bet they weren't gazing at the walls, imagining them hung with serious modern art or considering where in the ward they could position a humidor. But then it's many years since Matron made her final round with a squeak of leather shoes on polished lino, and the last patients were wheeled out to hospitals new.

The former hospital was converted into upmarket apartments, including number four, which the owner bought as two floors with the ambitious plan to combine them into one property. The result is a gleaming contemporary space, as crisp and white as a starched apron and as peaceful as a cloud in the hullaballoo of one of the capital's busiest tourist centres.

London-based designers Stanton Williams - whose work can be seen in the Issey Miyake stores - were commissioned to come up with the concept, the specification and design, with French architects Penin & de Robert adapting and executing the work. The brief was to have as pure a space as possible. The result is a huge area flooded with light and almost supernaturally innocent of any sign of normal occupation: not a coffee cup to be seen, no shoes or car keys, not even a toothbrush. The furniture looks as though it was positioned as carefully as a Zen garden, the sheets on the bed as sharply mitred as they would have been in Matron's day.

By some magic, a wall appears to float between the sitting and dining areas, with space at both sides and a clerestory window linking the top of the wall and the ceiling. The wall is coated with a marble and plaster mix to give it light, depth and texture, a technique also used by Stanton Williams in the Issey Miyake shops. The floor between the two floors was lifted - no mean feat - to create a mezzanine level, with the added advantage of making the once high-level window sills more accessible, so the gardens of St Paul's Church below can be enjoyed.

"The owner was worried that the sounds of Covent Garden in the evening would be heard, although the side overlooking the church gardens is an oasis, so we had to find soundproof windows," says designer Paul Williams. "White veils in the windows also drop down to diffuse the light. The project was driven by the quality of light and an overall sense of space. It is designed so that everything, like the television set, can be hidden away behind sliding doors."

The owner, a keen collector of art and furniture, wanted to display his collection as an art gallery would, without having to compete with any other feature of the decor. The property still had to work as a family home, however; it has two bedroom suites and two further bedrooms, and enough room for children, although it's hard to imagine any so tidy. There is even a storage vault for all the normal baggage a family collects.

An arrangement of nine vintage lampshades by Charlotte Perriard are displayed on a white-painted chimney breast, flanked by a pair of Eames chairs. There is, indeed, a humidor and even a specially designed picture hanging system, says Williams, which is an arrangement of tracks built in at the top of the walls. This is serious stuff. Perhaps most striking of all is the glass staircase with stainless-steel ends and steel string handrail, linking the floors.

From the main reception room, four balconied French windows overlook the church gardens, but when light is not needed, there are electric blinds to all windows. The bedroom windows are fitted with blackout blinds. The apartment is wired for sound, has digital internet access from all rooms and has a plasma TV with surround-sound and DVD player: all de rigueur in top-of-the-range London properties. There is a Gaggenau kitchen in white and stainless-steel, limestone flooring and two safes.

"It is what people expect at this level in the market," says one central London agent. "We have had a spate of high-specification refurbished apartments, with all the toys. But you will find most developers will offer a maintenance agreement, especially for complicated electronic systems. At one development I saw recently, there was a touch pad in all the rooms which controlled lighting, temperature, the curtains and the CDs. And I can't tell you how complicated some burglar alarm systems are now."

In fact, the Henrietta Street apartment is discreetly understated compared to some developments by designers like Candy and Candy, who have installed leather walls, suede blinds, integrated champagne fridge, lockable wine chiller and five-screen media rooms (so you can watch several programmes at once while keeping an eye on your investments with Bloomberg). Nothing so brash for this property - though you might need a healthy share portfolio to pay for its running costs. The service charges for the last year came to £11,352.

The apartment at Henrietta Street is being marketed at £2.25m through Winkworth (020-7240 3322) and Knight Frank (020-7499 1012)