It’s something the higher-floor residents at Neo Bankside on the South Bank know only too well, with the owners of four multi-million pound apartments locked in a four year battle with neighbouring Tate Modern, whose viewing platform 34 metres away has resulted in thousands of gallery visitors peering into their homes. The case is now being heard by the supreme court, which could result in a landmark ruling over the right to privacy of owner of luxury high-rise properties.
Gary Hersham, founding director at Beauchamp Estates, says he is increasingly seeing clients wanting “more low-key homes, stepping away from the more obvious”. One recent buyer could afford the “best of One Hye Park apartments”, he says. “But he doesn’t want to be in the ‘billionaires’ building’, nor spotted in it,” says Hersham, who suggests such buyers are likely to prefer properties such as this seven-bed, Grade II listed house in Bayswater priced at £20.5m. It sits moments from Kensington Palace Gardens, “yet almost off the radar,” says Hersham.
Such stealth trophy hunters still want the super-prime location and five-star amenities, but they prefer low-rise understatement (from the outside at least) to high-rise, look-at-me beacons. They’re buying in new, super-prime schemes such as Lancer Square, close to Kensington Palace, where two-beds start at £4.86m. Some are relocating from “high-profile penthouses”, says Henry Barrow, associate director of sales for Lancer Square’s developers CIT. “They are wanting a more intimate luxury offering in more discreet, low-rise buildings, and they are choosing London over other key global cities such as Hong Kong and New York due to the low-rise luxury living available.”
TwentyFive in Marylebone – a new high-end scheme by Native Land, with one-beds from £1.45m – is also attracting under-the-radar buyers who prize luxury interiors but external understatement. This boutiquey collection of lateral flats and penthouses comes with a gym and concierge – but at street level, you would barely pay the simple brick building a second glance.
The pandemic has also made super-rich buyers reconsider their wish lists, with a private garden and their own front door preferable to a shared building with long hotel-style corridors and limited outdoor space. “There’s a certain type of buyer associated with developments such as One Hyde Park who like the attention that comes with a landmark address. But the majority of British and European buyers like being able to draw the curtains on their private townhouse. It brings the comfort of a certain level of anonymity,” says property consultant Alexander Millett. “Being self-contained and having private outside space has become a must have, and we’ve seen a renaissance in demand for the London townhouse since the start of the pandemic,” he adds.
Hannah Akyroyd, managing director at Akyroyd & Co, argues that buying a large house in a prime road such as The Phillimore Estate makes you more of a target. Ultra-prime developments, she says, offer greater security. “You can enter or exit your car more safely, which is usually when a person is more vulnerable,” Akyroyd comments.
But for many UHNWIs, nothing beats having your own entrance to the street, “whether it’s a gated mews or a ground floor duplex,” says Jonathan Inglis from Strutt & Parker’s Sloane Street office. He flags up this five-bed apartment in Knightsbridge’s Cadogan Square, priced at £24.5m. Its lavish interiors by Viktor Udzenija are masked by a non-descript black front door that merits its own photo in the sales particulars.
There’s one new residential high-rise in the City, however, that has deliberately avoided penthouses. The Sky Residences at One Bishopsgate Plaza – priced £1.3m-£4.75m start at level 21, above a Pan Pacific hotel. “It didn’t need one or two apartments that were flashier than the rest because all offer the views and the same level of luxury, privacy and private amenities,” comments Peter Allen, sales and marketing director at developers Stanhope. “Penthouses are often bought to show off, but buyers today are much more discreet. They are owner occupiers or overseas buyers for family members who will actually live there.”
High-rise living without hierarchy then? The buyers of the top three flats on floor 41 at One Bishopsgate Plaza may beg to differ.