Keeping it on the level

It's not only the elderly who hanker after single-storey homes - and you don't have to limit yourself to the humble bungalow to lie low, says Gwenda Brophy

Kate Allen and her husband Ian are archetypal urbanites. They both work in the City and take full advantage of the rich cultural life the capital has to offer. They also live in a property chosen to suit their lifestyle - which includes being parents to Jake, five, and Daniel, two. But in a reversal of the usual progression from apartment to house that usually goes with a growing family, the Allens recently sold their four-storey period house and moved into a three-bedroom apartment just down the road. Their new home is at The Academy in Vauxhall, London, a development of 55 apartments in a converted Edwardian school building with a newly built wing by Copthorn Homes. It is a hop and a skip from a park where the children can play, and is also close to the Underground station.

"We are dedicated townies, so we like to be able to get out, whether to the theatres in the West End or to children's activities," says Ian. "But what really got us down when we lived in a house were the stairs. We decided that the living space in an apartment was much more usable because you lose all the dead spaces that stairs and hallways take up, not to mention saving on all that legwork if you happen to forget a book or an item of clothing two floors up."

It is a myth that only those who find stairs physically difficult hanker after the single-storey life. Andrea Davies, of agent Henry Adams in Sussex, says that having the entire living accommodation on one level appeals to a far wider range of people than is typically thought.

"In our experience, families certainly like it. So do younger people without children, and increasingly so. We sold one place recently to a single woman who commutes to her work at an art gallery in London. She bought a one-storey property that quite frankly was totally outdated but she has turned it into something very contemporary, all stripped floors and hole-in-the-wall fireplaces. In fact, the contemporary loft style is much easier to achieve in a property that is all on one level."

It must be said that opportunities for those looking to live the single-storey life would not appear promising. Single-storey properties include that most derided of property types, the bungalow, while in the context of the densities suggested in the Government's PPG3 planning guidance, new-build developers would seem to be embracing the three- and four-storey townhouse with low footprint to square footage ratio with unseemly haste.

But for those who want to stay on the level, there are still plenty of options, although apartments aside, these are greatly increased if you venture outside the large towns and cities. The first route is to look for properties built in eras when one-storey buildings were not the rarity that they are today.

In Cranleigh, Surrey, 2 Collingdon Court is a one-storey detached house. Built in the Seventies, it has large picture windows overlooking the large south-facing garden - in that decade plots were often much larger, too. One of three properties on the private road, the four-bedroom property also features a large open-plan L-shaped sitting/dining room, kitchen and breakfast room and double garage, and is on the market for £499,000.

In the village of Holbeton, South Devon, Brent House is a detached three-bedroom single-storey home that was redesigned and completely renovated 12 years ago. Set in around three-quarters of an acre, it has been modernised with features such as floor-to-ceiling windows and a triple-window patio door that overlooks the rear garden with countryside views. It is priced at £475,000.

Indeed, for those prepared or able to move out of town, former agricultural buildings provide an ample supply of one-storey properties. The Stockyard is a barn conversion built on the edge of the village of Syderstone near Burnham Market in north Norfolk. The property, converted by award-winning developer Michael McNamara Associates, is set in a large plot, and built around a large courtyard area, ideal for summer parties or for simply keeping an eye on children.

The interior features vaulted ceilings and plenty of exposed brickwork, a 40ft sitting room, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. There is a huge hand-finished kitchen, and an annexe that could be used as guest accommodation or as an office or studio. The Stockyard is for sale at £595,000.

Low-level living need not preclude high levels of grandeur. At Dene Hall near Tonbridge in Kent, you can enjoy the elevated position of life in a great mansion house, but on the ground floor. Set within a private, gated estate, the apartment features a grand sitting room with ornate Elizabethan fireplace and minstrel's gallery, a drawing room and dining room as well as three bedrooms.

There is also an extensive private terrace overlooking the grounds. While technically a ground-floor apartment, it also comes with a lower-ground floor that includes a wine cellar and games room, as well as three garages, and is priced at £975,000.

With their vast expanses of land, large country estates are in fact fertile ground for single-storey properties. The Garden House in Warkworth, Newcastle, is one of four new individual contemporary-style dwellings being built on the grounds where the Edwardian country hall is also being converted on the seven-acre estate. The Garden House has five or six bedrooms and three reception rooms, and is built on either side of a listed Victorian garden wall that runs the full length of the house. The property, set amid terraced gardens and wooded grounds, is priced at £795,000.

The Academy, 020-7735 4571

Brent House, 01548 831163

Collingdon Court, 01483 268822

Dene Hall, 01732 789700

The Garden House, 0191 213 0033

The Stockyard, 01328 730500 (Bedfords) and 01603 617 431 (Strutt & Parker)

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