Experts share their insights into the most sought-after comforts and conveniences in urban homes. from February 12, 2016 / Luxury Lifestyle
Cities are back in a big way: discerning buyers are increasingly looking for homes that offer convenience and culture without the commute, and global growth in the 21st century is becoming more concentrated in urban environments. According to McKinsey and Company, this phenomenon is especially evident in the world’s top-ranked “megacities,” which are experiencing extremely high rates of growth, making them global centers for the booming luxury sector. With both emerging entrepreneurs and retirees moving to central cities, “Today’s buyer is looking for a mixture of old and new, period features combined with the newest, most cutting-edge features,” according to James Forbes of Strutt & Parker in London. “The desired look is more homey and far less ‘hotel’ and impersonal. At this top end of the market, buyers…want things to be extra special and individual.” Craftsmanship and materials are of great importance, whether buyers are investing in renovated older buildings with period detail or newer properties built with an eye to green, eco-friendly design. This week, Luxury Defined shares insights from real estate experts in the world’s megacities to find out more about what today’s affluent home buyers really want.
“I have seen a growing trend for more interiors created by British craftsmen,” notes Strutt & Parker’s Charlie Willis, who adds that “there seems to be a focus on provenance and ‘Made in Britain’ fixtures and fittings.” Luxurious features and conveniences should be integrated into a home in a way that feels organic, reflecting a sense of place and a promise to withstand the test of time. While timber floors, exposed brick or stone, integrated wine storage, and custom banisters evoke a home’s heritage, modernizations like the under-floor heating, double glazing, internal vacuum system, and retractable terrace found in this London Mews home bring a residence up to contemporary standards of comfort and efficiency. “Nowadays,” says James Forbes, head of Strutt & Parker, “high-net-worth individuals are far more interested in the use of high-quality materials when it comes to luxury inside their homes. The finest stone, wood, porcelain, or fabrics like silk and fur, beautiful light fittings, unique fireplaces and expensive art are also part of the mix.”
Similarly, this property in the Chelsea area of London integrates a gym with steam room as well as a cinema room and contemporary fireplace into a home with plenty of brick and cobblestone charm, exposed timbers, and traditional six-panel sash windows, making it both quintessentially English and undeniably modern. Parisian realtor Marie-Hélène Lundgreen, of Daniel Féau, agrees with her London colleagues. “In Paris,” she explains, “international buyers are mostly looking for period buildings…however, renovated classic apartments usually offer more modern features like state-of-the-art air-conditioning, great insulation, various security features and highly automated systems. Great insulation is one of the most sought-after features we get enquiries for.”
2. Period Details, Modern Conveniences
In cities that are exceptionally rich in architectural history, the deft integration of the latest amenities into a property from another century is a fine art. “In Paris, there are not so many new-builds,” says Marie-Hélène Lundgreen of Daniel Féau. “International buyers are mostly looking for period buildings like Haussmannian and Art Deco and focus primarily on the location, the quality of the accommodation and the interiors as well as having beautiful views. However, renovated classic apartments usually offer more modern features [that] are particularly appealing to buyers.” The premium apartments and townhomes at 140 rue de Grenelle in the 7th arrondissement are insulated with brick-framed double-glazed windows that open onto private gardens. An onsite caretaker, security cameras, and exterior lighting further ensure a sense of seclusion and tranquility in the heart of Paris. The impressive gates of this apartment building open onto a secure tree-lined private lane exclusively reserved for residents and their guests.
3. Simplicity and Elegance
In a sense, the ultimate amenity is the absence of fuss and worry: too many gadgets and systems to manage can defeat the entire purpose of living in a luxury apartment. As Charlie Willis, Head of London Residential at Strutt & Parker, notes, “We are definitely seeing a bit of a backlash against having too much technology in the home. People want their homes to look and feel simple and intuitive and, more importantly, be easy to live with and uncomplicated to fix when things go wrong.” Residences in which services and technology are seamlessly integrated into the interior landscape get it just right. “In the late 1990s and early 2000s,” says James Forbes, Head of Strutt & Parker, “we saw all kinds of show-off bells and whistles like lobster washers in the kitchens, scales in-built to marble bathroom floors, and even digital mirrors that delayed your reflection so that you could see yourself from behind as well as from the front. This is not the sort of luxury that buyers want anymore. People learnt quite quickly that these sort of fussy gadgets go wrong and often take ages to get fixed.”
4. Convenience and Service
High-net-worth individuals are invariably busy people. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, the more assets a working American owns, the more pressed for time they’re likely to feel. This has led luxury buildings to offer an increasing number of concierge services to help residents make the most of their time. In addition to the traditional 24-hour doorman services one would expect, buildings around the world are now offering on-site exercise facilities, dry cleaners, pet care options, and staff support to help with catering and reception. “Entertaining is always made easier when the staff…is only a phone call away for any items forgotten or anything that runs low during the party,” says Ryan Preuett of CONLON, a real estate firm in Chicago. Amenities offered to residents of luxury properties are as diverse as they are impressive. Electric car charging and car-sharing services as well as a convenient neighborhood shuttle are readily available, for example. “For busy executives who wish to buy a home that provides the ultimate in convenience, a luxury in-town residence with world-class services—such as those offered at New York’s 50 Central Park South—is highly prized,” states Kathleen Coumou, SVP, Christie’s International Real Estate.
5. Green Space and Green Living
“Green building is the recent trend,” explains JM Loo of Singapore Christie’s International Real Estate, who adds that today’s buyers attend to whether new construction is eco-certified. Singapore’s Belle Vue condominium complex, built in 2011, is a recipient of Singapore’s Green Mark Gold Award, which recognizes buildings that meet international standards for environmental design by reducing their own potential environmental impact and improving air quality and water use. This Belle Vue penthouse in the heart of the prime Orchard area was designed by the designer-owner as a private garden villa. The focus on green living goes hand in hand with a desire for green space, even in the modern urban landscape. “As Singapore is a garden city,” JM Loo continues, “some buyers are looking for buildings that provide nice landscaped gardens.” Accordingly, Belle Vue accompanies forward-thinking environmental technology with rooftop gardens—including an organic vegetable and herb garden—as well as beautiful landscaping, private terraces, and a branching building design that offers all residents views of the lushly landscaped pool, waterfall courtyard, or other water features.
6. Biometric and LED Lighting
In February 2016, GE announced it will phase out its spiral-shaped CFL, or compact fluorescent bulbs, by the end of the year. This change is a clear signal that LED lighting is here to stay. Clean and efficient “solid-state lighting” is not just a new form of illumination, it’s smart. In what’s referred to as the “Internet of Buildings,” systems are increasingly connected and responsive, adapting to things like body temperature and physical movements in order to optimize efficiency and comfort. Biometric lighting even recognizes current weather conditions and can track sleep and wakefulness through the use of wearable devices. A biometric illumination system can also be programmed to gently wake one before sunrise or cultivate a stress-free environment after a long work day.
7. Luxury Motorized Shades
Particularly in newer high-rises, which often feature floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive views, the ability to sync and control interior lighting is a highly sought-after feature. As James Forbes of Strutt & Parker states, today’s home buyers want amenities that truly increase comfort and can gracefully facilitate its owner’s interactions with the surrounding urban environment. “Lutron motorized shades are incredibly prized in residences such as this penthouse with 14-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows,” says Ryan Pruett of CONLON in Chicago, “as they allow the owner to control the light and mood with the touch of a button.” Lutron motorized shades effectively control sunlight and frame the expansive views from this impressive apartment’s oversized windows, and can even be controlled with a tablet or smartphone using an app such as HomeKit.