Peter York: The way we live now - High Society

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Penthouse and pavement is the story of Big London now. As much as Manhattan. The Candy Brothers, the hugely publicised developers of that site in Knightsbridge opposite the old Hyde Park Hotel (now the Pan-Asian, global-branded Mandarin something), have been briefing the world's property journalists that a Middle Eastern buyer has paid £100m for an apartment there. And there's also been a computer-generated impression of a penthouse doing the rounds. Penthouse used to mean New York and, by extension, major American cities. It meant the whole top floor of a big block, served by its own lift.

With a proper penthouse you get extraordinary light, great views and lots of outside space because penthouses are set back from the buildings' floorplans. Along with that you get all those technology features they cram into Knightsbridge houses these days when they re-do them – but more, and more integrated. A penthoused Master of the Universe will control it all on management consoles, with touch pads everywhere. There'll be plasmas in every room, integrated sound systems, fancy lighting, air-con and, of course, very elaborate security. Knightsbridge penthouses typically go to people who seem to need a lot of guarding (panic rooms as standard). The stuff is usually branded – and in global Penthouse World, people talk about these brands (Lutron and Creston and so on) in Ferrari and Lear-jet ways.

The design in these developers' penthouses relates more to Dubai or refurbished millionaire 747s than to any familiar old-world ideas of luxury-land. Think new hotel, think Canary Wharf, think Known Value Items. Think masses of marble and other kinds of smart stone. Think exotic, expensive, shiny Jazz Age woods – Makassar, ebony, zebrano. Think metal – lots of silver (and silver-leaf on furniture). Think leather – and even that super-soft kind of leather made from sperm-whales' giant foreskins.

Art, mostly, doesn't figure – though pulling pads may have, say, some Helmut Newton photographs. Nor books, nor any accreted anything. The hotel aesthetic doesn't allow the personal to clutter the perfect. And these new blocks operate practically as hotels, with a heavy emphasis on reception, concierges and every other kind of service (large pool and gym, of course).

Computer generation, as pictured here, really suits this kind of furnishing because these apartments promise A Second Life. There are silver chairs, a silver-grey buttoned-velvet daybed and a black grand piano. The owners can send out for someone to play it when they entertain new young friends met in the bar of the convenient Mandarin-something Hotel.