Ahead of the Curve: The Clareville Townhouses, Kensington
I don’t know why they have bothered building a big bang machine at Cern, a friend of mine remarked shortly after the Large Hadron Collider blew a majorly expensive electrical circuit, if they want to watch things moving at the speed of light, they should come around my house and watch the gas meter.
Admittedly, if you’re shelling out the best part of £5 million on buying a new build, your hardly going to be thinking location, location, gas bill. So it comes as a bit of surprise to find that high-end luxury property developers, Morpheus Developments, have elected to go down the less well trodden path of sustainable housing with three new townhouses in Kensington & Chelsea. After all, the occupants of the Royal Borough, one suspects, were instrumental in ensuring that Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, and that the proposed hike in charges for so-called Chelsea tractors, along with the early demise of the western extension to the congestion charge, never saw the light of day.
So having acquired a prime piece of real estate, the old Webber Douglas Drama School on Clareville Street, within tractor range of some of the most expensive postcodes in London, why take the chance? The thrust and ethos of Morpheus Developments is towards sustainable housing, explains Giles Green, Morpheus Developments Managing Director. The Clareville footprint was pretty unique: a new build in London, which provided us with an opportunity to explore such eco-tec features as geothermal heating. After all, you can’t put boreholes into a penthouse. It was the beginning of a learning curve for us, moving towards sustainability, and we learnt a lot.
Gutsy stuff considering as the townhouses at Clareville, unlike their previous capital projects, was not client led, but Morpheus first ground-up development financed solely by the company itself. No less than 16 geothermal boreholes were drilled for the three properties. Not an easy operation considering that each borehole had to be drilled to a depth of 100m, and the local strata of Kensington & Chelsea proved as reluctant to going green as the local inhabitants. What was supposed to take six weeks actually took six months, recounts Giles of the drilling operation.
Geothermal heat pumps work by circulating a mixture of water and antifreeze around a loop of pipe buried deep underground. As the liquid travels around the loop it absorbs the natural heat of the ground which is then used to heat radiators, under-floor heating systems and hot water, dispensing with the need to install a conventional gas boiler. However, they produce a lower heat temperature than traditional boilers, so it was essential that the new builds were well insulated. Double glazing was used throughout the building, says Giles, we even used recycled lambs wool insulation instead of fibreglass.
Heat and insulation was not the only consideration they took into account. In order to maximise ambient light and assist the low energy lighting, the basement was fitted with a glass ceiling to the rear, and a specially designed floating staircase, which sits below another glass skylight in the roof, allows light to permeate to the lower levels.
Morpheus, of course, didn’t get where they are today by gambling on proposed amendments to building regulations regarding energy-efficient housing, hedging their bets by continuing their trademark commitment to contemporary and luxurious design.
Thus the Clareville properties boast all the essential requirements for a luxurious lifestyle: a master suite occupying the entire second floor, with private sitting room, his & hers marble bathrooms, and mandatory walk-in wardrobe, designed and built out of FSC certified walnut by the in-house joinery team. The kitchen boasts all mod cons and includes a wine cellar, while the basement area benefits from a media room and is configurable to individual clients requirements, whether it be additional accommodation or staff quarters. There is both garage and off-street parking and the buildings entire electrical system, lighting, sound system, security and heating, can be controlled, remotely if so wished, by a Creston Home Automation System.
Giles freely admits that the sale of the first two properties was had little to do with their green credentials. About tenth on people’s list I would say. The first two properties sold due to traditional factors, location and quality of work, and the fact that they’re new builds with 10 year warranties, not because they have bore holes beneath them.
How much did Morpheus expend on sustainability then? Not as much as we got back, laughs Giles, around 50,000 per house, and we wouldn’t change that. We hardly scratched the surface of what was possible, and we would definitely make the same decisions again. I think when our clients come to sell in five years time, factors such the sustainability and a low carbon footprint, are going to become more and more important.
The final Clareville property is available for viewing through Knight Frank’s Kensington office. www.knightfrank.co.uk +44 (0)20 7861 1780.