Whatever else was important when London's townhouses were at the height of fashion, it wasn't the subterranean servants' quarters. But walk into one of the houses in the first garden square to be built in the capital in a hundred years and the idea of joining this household's staff doesn't half seem a good idea. "Below stairs" is an enviable place to be in Wycombe Square, London W8. The lower-ground floor has natural stone in the bathroom, natural materials in the bedroom and, if being on the same level as the underground garage rather spoils the effect, then a step along to the 8m swimming pool should soothe any ruffled feathers.
Of course, the privilege of taking a dip comes at a cost: at least £6.75 million. How can the cost of these brand-new townhouses be so high? It begins with that old dictum about location; when developer St James Homes found their spot on a hilltop straddling London's three most expensive areas - Kensington, Notting Hill and Holland Park - they were free to pull out all the stops. And as members of the adjacent tennis club lob balls across their new courts, they can draw some pleasure from having neighbours worth a total of £130m in property terms instead of a reservoir.
From the outside, the 19 houses and 48 apartments ranged around the square have the solid features of their prosperous forerunners. Portland stone facades, curved bay windows and grand entrances give an impression of what lies inside. But, for all that, these are terrace houses - even if double-fronted, in prime position and with the highest price tag going up to £12.5m.
St James, part of the Berkeley group, regards Wycombe Square as its flagship development and within the narrow constraints of the townhouse form, it has lavished attention on detail. The layouts are flexible, giving at least five bedrooms, and the materials are of a consistently high quality. In the entrance hall you are confronted with a staircase that means business - imposingly wide with a moulded underside and handcrafted handrails. Glazed double doors finished in bronze - and needing more than a flick of the hand to budge - lead into a reception room where the stone floor continues into the skirting and the boxed wood shutters are not just for decoration.
If any element of this house has gobbled up money, then it surely is the wood working. Doors to the first-floor drawing room are solid American cherry in a classic bullseye pattern and, in the master bedroom, the circular dressing area is enclosed by curving cherrywood doors. These alone would gladden the heart of those buyers who make a rapid exit at the first touch of a flimsy veneer finish.
St James points out that the walk-in wardrobes took 500 man hours and eight weeks to complete; the staircase required the efforts of six people for one and half weeks. Buyers at this price range like to know this sort of thing. Quite a few of them are local, so need no introduction to the area, but may be less ready to take a newly built house at face value. Robin Rixon, the sales director, says that the new square is proving of interest to people who wish to stay in this area of London but want the advantages of security, service and up-to-the- minute technology.
If they have come from a period house around the corner they will be pleasantly surprised by the height of the ornate ceilings, which hide all the wiring and heating and air cooling paraphernalia that are essential components of a new home. In addition, the owners have the ease of secure underground parking and - via the full-blown concierge service - someone on hand to take delivery of shopping, arrange cleaning help or organise a dinner party. A substantial premium is paid for this kind of service.
Everything is top-of-the-range. Bathrooms have the limestone, flawless marble and scuptural basins expected in high-end properties, with small details such as the mirrored shutters bringing a touch of individuality. I did wonder, though, just how many washbasins one couple could need - especially when the master suite's two bathrooms (total of three washbasins) eat into what should be a luxuriously opulent space.
Of course, this is at the moment a house without personality, not a home. It is a beautiful stage set where you can dine in the garden room by candlelight and summon meals from a kitchen with a granite top as thick as a slab of Arctic ice. Sleek and functional, it suggests more of a brush with food than a long, messy acquaintanceship, despite the double ovens and huge refrigerator. It is by no means the heart of the house.
But then, the whole package has that luxury hotel feel. It has the perfect future as a home among homes - few buyers at this price range will be needing to store all their worldly goods under one roof.
WHAT ELSE COULD £6 MILLION-PLUS BUY IN WEST LONDON?
* In Chester Square, Belgravia, £7m would fetch an immaculate Grade II-listed, six-storey house with five reception rooms, terraces, lift, air conditioning and garage through Sotheby's International Realty, 020-7598 1600.
* For £5.6m freehold in Hans Place, Knightsbridge, a 1792 house built by Henry Holland with a great reception hall, extra wide staircase, very large drawing room, and a fully fitted library. It has a huge family kitchen, plus room for staff. Selling agents are FPDSavills, 020-7730 0822.
* A modernised freehold house in Justice Walk, old Chelsea, is also £6m. It has four floors and a double-height reception, plus a conservatory and self-contained flat with its own entrance. Agents are Aylesford, 020-7351 2383.
The agent for Wycombe Square, where prices start at £4.99m, is Knight Frank, 020-7938 4311; St James Homes, 020-7229 0808; www.wycombesquare.co.ukReuse content