Fantasy flats to inspire buyers
Lesley Gillilan visits the show homes that aren’t afraid to indulge your imagination
In the kitchen there are slender bottles of Carluccio’s balsamic and extra-virgin olive oil. In the bathroom, a pile of folded white towels and a tableau of organic toiletries. By the bed is a copy of Kristin Harmel’s How to Sleep with a Movie Star. Am I being too nosy? No, because this isn’t a real home, but a show home, a fantasy apartment created to satisfy an imaginary buyer’s lifestyle cravings. And the devil’s in the detail: books, groceries, table settings, black and white photos of pretend owners on sideboards, lots of flowers – not all of them real.
“People struggle to imagine an unfurnished space,” says estate agent Dan Harris from Savills who is showing me around the marketing suite of the Cask Store, part of the Finzels Reach site, a former sugar refinery and brewery on Bristol’s city waterfront. The show home, a twobedroom apartment (circa £475,000) is presented with a “mid- to upper-end finish” – which turns out to be various shades of grey with occasional slabs of aubergine or indigo, engineered wood flooring, Corian worktops, porcelain tiles, smoked-glass wine goblets and a Vermeer print on the bathroom wall.
Ten minutes later we are in a studio flat at 28 Baldwin Street, a citycentre office block converted into 53 compact apartments by Westcoast Developments. With prices starting at £104,000, the look is distinctly lower end: retro-Scandinavian, leaning towards Ikea with a bit of upcycling Show home alchemy: designs by Sarah Woadden of WN Interiors (wninteriors.co.uk), main; a showroom in the Knights Wood development in Tunbridge Wells designed by Honky (honky.co.uk), above thrown in. There’s a typewriter on a vintage red Formica kitchen table; a pair of white Primark trainers sit under a steel rail of monochrome T-shirts. The bed clothes are loose and slightly ruffled and there is a canvas rucksack slumped in an old British Rail luggage rack. No posh wine glasses for our young buyers: they get a tin of Colman’s mustard, mugs and bottles of Badoit mineral water. “When it was launched, buyers camped out to be the first in the queue,” says Harris. “It was like Black Friday all over again.”
This bit of show home alchemy was conjured up by Sarah Woadden of design company WN Interiors, based in Poole in Dorset. The process, she explains, begins with visualising the “end user” – in this case, young professionals, in their late 20s to early 30s, plus buy-to-let or investment buyers. “We try to get into the mindset of the target buyer,” says Woadden. “The idea is to capture a moment in time and give it a bit of energy.”
There is quite a different atmosphere at One Shore Road, a millionaire penthouse in Sandbanks – same developer, same agent, same designer but as different in style as Jimmy Choo is to Primark trainers. “Buyers here would be looking at a second or possibly third home,” says Woadden. “It’s all about luxury and a high performance life.” The props include chocolates by Charbonnel et Walker, candles by Neom Organics.
No messy beds in this £2.4 million, five-star apartment (for sale through Savills), and instead of off-the-shelf furniture, everything is bespoke. “At this end of the market you don’t want a buyer to pick up a cushion and see a high street brand,” says Woadden. “You can almost smell the luxury.”
Show home tourism provides an insight into the psychology of property marketing, but for the buyer it’s also a great indicator of current trends, such as wood-grain finishes, vivid blues, faux fur throws, leggy lamps and rows of Karate-chopped cushions on rich velvety upholstery. Designers report a move away from chrome, nickel and steel, towards “warmer metals” (bronze, copper or rose gold), more surface texture in the kitchen and bathroom, black taps, graphic floor tiles and “fumed oak”.
At Keybridge Lofts – a 37-storey apartment block which is part of the reinvention of a former telephone exchange in Vauxhall, south London (for sale from £705,000 through Knight Frank) – the designer Honky has created a two-bedroom show home which mixes “urban and retro influences with a bit of members’ club glamour”. A mix of industrial surfaces with opulent velvets and midcentury vintage, the details include a Sixties record player and a wardrobe of clothing by Monki.
It reflects a more far-reaching trend, confidence. According to Woadden, “people are generally a bit braver and less fearful of stamping their own personality on a space”. Hence, show home designers are not afraid of a bit of theatre. £350,000 for a two-bedroom, design by Honky (honky.co.uk) From £869,950, design by Taylor Howes (taylor howes.co.uk) All sold, design by Sarah Woadden (wninteriors.co.uk) from £1,229,950, design by Th2 Designs (th2designs.co.uk)