Mail and telephone messages are hand-delivered by a concierge. The celebrity chef from the restaurant in the lobby has cooked the evening meal to perfection. A sports car is securely parked in the basement, where a valet will wash it in the car wash bay. Oh, and would you like one of your vintage wine bottles sent up from the communal wine cellar?
Welcome to the new apartment living, where hotel-quality services are at your fingertips. Today’s luxury apartments are not merely about the ownership of blue chip property – they take their cue from luxury resorts, offering a lifestyle fit for those who can afford to splurge millions on their city house
These apartments are not just any old boxy hidey holes in a highrise tower. Oh no. They combine the benefits of home ownership with the services, privileges and amenities of a five-star hotel. It’s not merely a place to call home, but a place to luxuriate.
In new buildings like 150 Clarendon in Melbourne, one-bedroom apartments start at $1 million and the penthouse has sold for a reported $16 million. That money buys a position opposite Fitzroy Gardens, 24-hour concierge service, secure parking and access to a state-of-the-art cinema, conference facilities and temperature-controlled wine cellar.
These are apartments fit for a design snob, with top-of-the-line fittings and fixtures like natural stone, hardwood timbers and the latest in whiz bang gadgetry from video security through to home theatre.
“All apartments have three-metre-plus ceilings and plenty of marble in the kitchens and bathrooms,” says architect Martin Allen of Bates Smart, the firm also responsible for designing The Melburnian and Freshwater. “We use a timeless modernism and design rather than anything overtly fashionable or ultra modern. We try to design buildings that will maintain their aesthetic value for a long time.”
In Sydney, architect-designed apartments broke on to the property scene more than a decade ago with designers like Engelen Moore, Harry Seidler and Burley Katon Halliday lending brand-name cache to buildings such as Altair, Republic and Republic 2 and The Horizon. Concierge services, resort-style swimming pools and a restaurant either in the lobby or nearby became de rigeur.
Sure, it meant charging strata levies that hit the stratosphere – some apartments pay more than $20,000 a year for the privilege of such services.
“It’s the equivalent of having a house with staff, but this way it’s managed through strata fees and you don’t have to be banished to the suburbs to access it,” says KPMG demographer Bernard Salt. “This kind of apartment living appeals to all kinds of people – divorced single women, wealthy couples and hedge fund guys who work 24 hours a day. In fact, it’s perfect for the workaholics who get all their satisfaction from what they do and want a low maintenance bolthole to come home to.”
Consumer behaviorist Ross Honeywill, director of Neo Group, says high end apartment living can only grow as a lifestyle trend. “Urban living increasingly will mean apartment living. Features like gyms, concierge and pools – those are just mandatory – they don’t provide an edge. The real edge has to be design. Or a chef who can prepare room service,” he says.
“It has to be an environment to luxuriate rather than just reside. Beautiful architecture and interior design is the key. The property must touch the spirit rather than merely provide form and function. Of course, there has to be high speed broadband connection to the world and all the latest technology, but that’s not what will ultimately create the best apartments. It will be about more vertical communities as opposed to the sterile horizontal communities of the suburbs.”
Location is the other determinant of a successful hotel-style apartment. “A premium location is vital,” says Salt, who says proximity to the CBD, parklands, cafes or water is vital.
Honeywill predicts that well-designed apartments in edgy suburbs could also do well, as high-spending Neo consumers prefer edgy urban suburbs like Melbourne’s Fitzroy or Sydney’s Redfern.
“Any city connected to the global economy has a demand for this style of housing,” explains Salt. “If you work 18 hours a day your job is your social life then this is the housing model that plugs into it very nicely. These developments will happen in places like Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong. The very idea of it is to pull people out of the suburbs and into the global economy.”
“These apartments appeal to an ageing population who wants the freedom to come and go as they please,” says prestige real estate specialist Gerald Delaney, managing director of Kay & Burton.
He argues that luxury apartments should have at least 250 square metres of internal floorspace to hold their value. “In Melbourne, the going rate for apartments is between $10,000 and $15,000 a square metre, which means an apartment with 250 square metres should always be worth top dollar.
“The people living in these apartments demand the highest quality and are likely to have a second home in another state or even country. They need 24-hour security so they can lock up and leave and be assured they can come home to the apartment they left without any fuss or bother.”
Like most great apartment trends, this one originated in New York, where luxury apartments are an institution along prime blue ribbon strips like Park Avenue.
But even in the great global city of the Big Apple, the stakes have been raised by entrepreneurs like Ian Schrager, who has created 40 Bond (see pictures). Designed by Swiss architects Herzog de Meuron, the building is not only a masterpiece, but all apartments and townhouses have access to Schrager’s nearby development, the Gramercy Park Hotel where there are bars, fitness and business centres.
The services on offer at 40 Bond include buying flowers, grocery shopping, dry cleaning, massage, babysitting, pet care, arranging for renovations, party planning and direct billing for all hotel services, personal trainers, concierge. There’s even a turn down service – chocolate on the pillow, anyone? – room service and a bathroom amenity service, just like a hotel.
In New York’s Soho, Ivana Trump’s new apartment development called Trump Soho has a 24-hour concierge and white-glove-wearing butlers on hand for residents. There’s also a fleet of cars available for private use (with a valet service) and foreign currency exchange to make doing global business that much easier.
Sydney hotelier Terry Schwamberg-Kaljo – who owns Contemporary Hotels, Apartments + Penthouses – says hotels have always created inspired residential interior design.
“The very first flushing toilet appeared in a hotel,” she says. “Hotels are a benchmark for modern living and apartments follow the trends set by them.”
Schwamberg-Kaljo – who runs boutique Sydney hotel Medusa – has lived in the Harry Seidler-designed Horizon apartments.
“Living in The Horizon is like living in a resort – there is a north-facing swimming pool, tennis courts, barbecues, gym and a polite concierge to get your mail or help you if you need anything,” she says.
“Yet it’s more comfortable than a hotel because you get to socialise with your neighbours around the pool or greet people in the lift. It’s hardly a surprise that people who live in an urban village want this kind of lifestyle – it’s easy, it’s indulgent and it’s less lonely than living in a house.”
The greatest challenge for apartment dwellers is not fitting the furniture or smuggling in a precious dog or car – it’s other people.
Learning to love the neighbours is all part of living in close proximity to other apartment dwellers. Or is it?
Apartment dwellers like Kay & Burton managing director Gerald Delaney, who lives in The Domain in Melbourne, says he was worried about being face-to-face with so many other people each day after the sanctity of living in a house.
“I imagined the lift to be full of people each morning going down to the carpark, but it’s just not like that. I see less people here than I did when I lived in a house.”
Apartment living can be more private than living in a freestanding house, where the neighbours regularly see you drive in and out and can easily check whether you are home.
“Living in an apartment is anonymous,” says Demographer Bernard Salt. “You can be as communal or private as you wish.”.
A building manager A concierge
A swimming pool, spa and gym A staffed swimming pool, spa and gym
Video security Bio-security, with fingerprint recognition rathe than keyed entry
Designer finishes Designer everything
A secure parking space At least three car spaces
The selection of materials for apartments will define the building for years to come – sleek slate in the lobby says something entirely different to polished marble or gritty limestone.
The real key to a well-designed apartment is the communal areas – the swimming pool, the lobby, the gymnasium and the areas where all residents come together.
“The idea is to create communal areas that are beautiful and tranquil, as well as evocative of the building,” says Bates Smart associate director Martin Allen. “You want something as relaxing as a Bali resort without it literally being a Balinese resort. There’s a real art to those spaces.”