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The British love of a rural manor house or period townhouse is as strong as ever. Our national tolerance for draughts and cold showers has, however, withered. The new ideal home is a combination of old and new: a historic exterior with a modern interior humming with the latest technology. The buyers at the top of the market, who set the trend, want past and present merged into one perfect package.

Buying agents report that “more people are definitely asking for a period house with a modern interior”. James Greenwood, of Stacks Property Search, says: “The days of people putting up with draughty, damp, dark houses for the sake of living in a historic old wreck are behind us. People love a fancy kitchen and music systems and they don’t want to have to go to bed early with bedsocks because the heating doesn’t work.”

Luxury developers in London now specialise in transforming Georgian and Victorian townhouses into space-age technology hubs. One example is The Lancasters development on Bayswater Road, overlooking Hyde Park (thelancastershydepark.com). The developer, Northacre, has demolished almost everything behind the Grade II listed stucco façade, creating a new concrete structure behind. This creates a platform for “top of the range audio-visual equipment, mood lighting and comfort cooling, as well as swimming pools, gyms and business centres”, the chief executive, John Hunter, says. “Purchasers in the million-pound-plus price bracket are attracted to the grandeur of period London buildings yet expect state-of-the-art technology.” Creating this hybrid has presented “numerous technical challenges” to the architect, Chris Gaylord, of Nilsson Architects, such as “calculating down to the last millimetre the correct placement of the movement joints between the traditional and modern structures”.

On Palace Street in Westminster stands a classic Georgian townhouse. Inside, however, one finds “Lutron lighting, integrated speakers, iPod docking stations and Sky+HD points connected via infra-red to the central Sky box”, says Bernadette Cunningham, of Thornsett, the developer (thornsettgroup.com). “Period features such as the front elevation and staircase have been retained.”

The trend is heavily influenced by international tastes, says Alex Michelin, director of Finchatton, another luxury developer (finchatton.com). “Buyers at this level want world-class audio-visual [equipment] to match what they get in hotels, on their yachts, at the most prestigious homes around the world.” Finchatton has just converted a Victorian building on Montpelier Street, opposite Harrods, into multimillion-pound flats. Again, it is new-build with a period façade, and is, wonderfully, “the first development in London to have a fibre optic backbone”.

The list of gadgetry includes “wall-mounted touch panels, multi-scene lighting, bulletproof perimeter CCTV, underfloor heating, motion sensors and panic buttons”.

The trend has even spread to the countryside. “Country house buyers do want a period property, but they will spend huge sums of money installing very modern living on the inside,” says Atty Beor-Roberts, of Knight Frank’s Cirencester office. “New build still retains a stigma for some people, but it’s quite common to find a wet room bathroom in an old cottage with inglenook fireplaces.”

One developer, Fairfax Properties (fairfaxproperties.co.uk), has capitalised on this craze for the best of both worlds. “Most people aspire to live in a Grade II listed Georgian rectory, because it is a status symbol — a grand house with gravitas,” says David Milligan, of Fairfax. The problem is that there aren’t very many of them around. Fairfax builds new period-style houses. He says: “Queen Anne and Georgian is what most people ask for. The number of people who now want a brand new Georgian house is about equal to the number who would prefer an original one.”

The desire for old and new is not restricted to the rich. Houses at Kevin McCloud’s new affordable development in Swindon, The Triangle (haboakus.co.uk), are modelled on a traditional terraced street.

Isabel Allen, the design director, says: “You have to offer what people will be comfortable with. Some cultures learn to love tower blocks, but we’ve never quite managed it in this country.”

Yet the interiors will be contemporary, with latest technology as standard. “Each house will have a home information portal which tells you when the next bus is coming, how much your bills are and what’s going on in the local community”. So will the next trend in affordable housing be the fibre-optic backbone?





Hip and heritage

At first glance, 3 Queen’s Gate Place looks like any other renovated Victorian house. But here first impressions mislead — this development of five flats in Kensington typifies the heritage outside, high-tech inside that is, for many, the 21st-century ideal.

As Adam Blaskey, of the developer Northbeach, explains, the seven-storey building is “effectively new”, although the 1860s shell of brick and render and the period detailing have been carefully conserved. Inside the sleek apartments only the windows and the cornicing belong to the period. The comfortingly bulky radiators appear to date back to the early 20th-century additions, but even these are new.

The high-tech equipment in each of the apartments includes Rako wireless lighting and the SpeakerCraft MODE system. This allows you to plug in your iPod in one room and listen to your music via a keypad in all, or one of the other rooms.

All this gadgetry does not come cheap. The prices of the flats, which are on sale through Farleys, the estate agents, range from £1.95 million to £4.95 million for the four-bedroom duplex on the ground and lower ground floor.

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