Byline: DAVID SPITTLES
MINIMALISM has made it into the mainstream, report the judges at this year's prestigious Evening Standard New Homes awards. Open-plan kitchens with sliding partitions, clean, stainless-steel and granite surfaces and a clever use of glass to enhance space are making homes even more of a design statement.
More developers are recognising the need for homes that suit our demanding lifestyles, with room layouts that are flexible, generous storage areas and cabling for the internet age. The public are no longer willing to take what they have been given in the past and design, construction and customer service are all-important to achieve a sale.
Housebuilders large and small gathered at the Savoy Hotel last week to hear the verdict of the judging panel, which consisted of property experts and Evening Standard readers.
Value for money was a key judging criterion in the awards, which cover nine categories - from starter homes to luxury mansions.
Fashions which have emerged during the past year include bathrooms with double-size showers and glass washbasins, multipurpose kitchens and the demand for live/work homes with a zoned space for business.
One of the big winners was Laing Homes, which took three awards including the sought-after "winner of winners" - the Evening Standard New Home of 2001.
Sean Ellis, Laing Homes managing director, said the company's extensive customer research was paying dividends. Laing employees have been on study tours of the United States to see if there are lessons to be learned in residential development there.
Ellis says: "What struck us was how open and direct American developers are.
Buyers know exactly what they are getting and what they can expect from a new home."
Feedback from British buyers has been revealing, too.
For example, owners want to be able to eat away from the food preparation area. Developers have had to produce imaginative solutions, such as sliding partitions, to suit this design.
Storage is another issue and to meet this challenge Laing wants to unlock the potential of attic space. "One of the problems has been access," Ellis says.
"We are looking at installing much bigger attic hatches and using motorised ladders to make it easier to get into the space. Boarding out attics would be helpful too."
With regeneration a planning priority, builders are having to think more creatively about the context of a scheme: the architecture, the density and how the development fits into the immediate surroundings.
Developer Crest Nicholson has got the formula right at Clements Park, in Brentwood, Essex. In the former ground of Warley Hospital, a new village of 360 homes is being built within 26 acres of parkland. The new properties are designed to match the original Gothic Victorian architecture of the area, with houses and apartments around squares and in tree-lined crescents.
Crest Nicholson's Gainsborough house type, which is situated in Clements Park, won the award for best three-bedroom house. It is an attractive, redbrick property with an integral garage and the show house was dressed by fashion designer Jeff Banks.
Aimed at young professional families, it has a clean and uncluttered look, which Banks describes as "masculine", with neutral colours, black and beige soft furnishings, animal prints, walnut dining furniture and glass shelving.
The Clements Park development provides the right amount of prestige and seclusion, says Sarah Jones, sales and marketing director with Crest. "It is not on the way to anywhere and is a real enclave. You drive off the main road and down a spine road before reaching the entrance. There is a real sense of arrival."
Some of the most glamorous new homes are provided by factory and warehouse conversions. Proof of this is Shad Thames in Docklands which, with its collection of Victorian buildings, is one of the area's most fashionable quarters. …