With the face of schools changing so rapidly nowadays – with massive modern monoliths and the characterless and souless environments of many of the modern schools, it has been a refreshing blast back to the past seeing some of the Victorian School conversions come onto the market recently.
The fashion all really started about 15 years ago when Sapcote, a small commercial development company, stumbled across a couple of old Victorian School buildings on Amies Street in Battersea. At the time, the school itself had been vacant for many, many years and was starting to crumble away. The local council was selling the site and the only other interested party at the time were Barratt Homes! Their visionary idea was to potentially knock down these two magnificent building and build a bunch of homogonised modern terraces and try to blend in with the Victorian Terraces surrounding the site on all four sides. Thank god that never happened.
When Sapcote acquired the site (now called The Village), they were really not sure which way to go with it. Having been involed in Commercial developments, they initally throught that creating large Studio style offices would be possible, but this was also at the time that the loft market had really start to become established in London, but almost exclusively over in the East of London and Docklands.
So having got agreement with the local planning department, they offered the entire site, broken down into large ‘shell spaces’ with Residential or Live/Work use. For this part of London, it was a completely radical idea and in fairness, the uptake was extremely slow for the first 8/12 months with a couple of brave photographers stepping into the breach and buying a couple of the shell spaces to create live/work studios.
It was not until (Viscount) David Linley decided to buy the entire top floor of one of the buildings that the development really took off and within a few months of Linley buying, the entire development was sold out. The smallest units were around 1,200sq ft, with many at between 1800 – 2,500sq ft and several at 3,500 – 4,000sq ft +.
Shells were relatively normal in East London and the furthest west that shell spaces had gone was previous Kings Cross at York Central. But old Victorian schools were absolutely ideal for creating massive loft apartments. At the time Sapcote missed a trick in so much as they sold vast open spaces at about £100 per sq ft, but many of the buyers then created anything up to a further 50% in floor area with mezzanine levels, for relatively small cost. They certainly did not make this mistake again when the bought another old school site on Burns Road, just off Battersea Park Road. Before they released those spaces, they installed Mezzanine levels into most of the shells and divided up each floor into smaller units.
Prior to the Village, there had been one other school conversion in Battersea called The Lanterns which was 2 buildings, but just broken up into huge Loft style houses. After these 1st three conversions, the fashion for covnerted Victorian Schools spread like wild fire to 4 or 5 other buildings in Battersea and then across most parts of London. But these first few conversions provided what are still, some of London’s most spectacular Loft apartments – vast spaces with huge volume and incredible light. Sadly, the more that developers jumped on the band wagon, the smaller and smaller and more bland the conversions became.
One interest aspect about these kinds of properties that unlike conventional flats, were the smaller they are, the bigger the £’s per sq ft, in the last few years, people have realised the true rarity of the availabilty of the exceptionally large open-plan living spaces that these lofts provide that the larger they are, the more expensive they are in £’s per sq ft. About 3 years ago, we sold two lofts in The Village, located next to each other, to one buyer, who has consequently knocked them through to create an apartment in the region of 6,000+ sq ft. There cannot be many apartments in the whole of London with a 6,000sq ft floor plate!
We have just agreed the sale of one of the larger lofts in The Village which was on the market for £3.25m. It was previously owned by a well known photographer for about 10+ years but the next owners created a fabulous home, shipping in materials from Italy and all over Europe. We have just been instructed on a very striking top floor loft, again in the Village for £1.2m and will also have a couple of very individual lofts in The Old Chesterton Building on Battersea Park Road coming up at £580,000 and £825,000.
As the need for more modern schools keeps on growing then we are sure that many more of these wonderful buildings will come to the Residential market. We just hope that the developers avoid breaking them up into rabbit hutches and respect the very nature of the open-plan and large lateral spaces that these buildings can provide for more individual homes.
These apartments can provide the very best of Loft living and continue to find new fans every year. They may not be ideal for large families or for those that cannot get their heads around the concept of open plan living, but they continue to evolve and keep on providing buyers with highly original and striking homes.