The most expensive mews house ever to be sold in London fetched £24m – a sum that would have been far beyond the comprehension of the garage lads who once lived there. The sale of the property on Reeves Mews in Mayfair is proof of the tremendous changes these pretty but pint-sized players in London’s housing market have gone through in the past few years. Reeves Mews, which was rebuilt and extended before its record sale, measured a substantial 6,249sq ft.
“In the past there was a legacy of hang-ups that mews were down at heel and dark, just a garage area,” said Peter Wetherell, CEO of Wetherell. “Now that attitude has changed. Mews have come up an enormous amount.” Indeed, according to research by Savills, the prices achieved in a sample of 20 central London mews has increased sevenfold in the past two decades, rising from an average value of £350,955 in 2005 to £2,346,227 today.
While Reeves Mews achieved just under £3,840 per sq ft, Wetherell says that a redeveloped mews in Mayfair usually achieves closer to £2,750 per sq ft – compared to the area’s overall average price of around £2,500. Similarly, over the past 18 months Stuart Bailey, a partner at Knight Frank, has seen the value of Belgravia’s mews houses first catch up with and then overtake the area’s tall, slender Georgian townhouses, with their endless flights of stairs and exposure to traffic and passers-by. He estimates that a well-renovated and enlarged mews in Belgravia would sell for £2,500-£3,000 per sq ft. A Georgian townhouse in the same condition would be worth £2,300-£2,500 per sq ft. “Remarkably mews houses are achieving better prices than houses on ‘proper’ streets,” confirms Bailey.
While Reeves Mews and its contemporaries have had very thorough renovations, mews houses also enjoy some natural advantages, both cultural and architectural. “Mews have a different atmosphere than blocks of flats or townhouses, says group managing director Rupert Collingwood of The London Search Company. “There is a villagey feel where everyone knows everyone and they look out for one another.”
James Robinson, general manager of Lurot Brand, specialises in mews and mews-style houses. He prefers cul de sacs, partly for their lack of through-traffic but also for their atmosphere. “Mews rarely have gardens, so if you want to have a glass of wine in the sunshine you can’t hide behind your house,” he said. “People sit outside, and they get to know their neighbours.”
This community spirit is often reflected in an abundance of floral displays. “If you take Bathurst Mews in Hyde Park, there are cobbled streets, people grow olive trees and wisteria and there are even horses at the end,” says Robinson. “We always get mad prices down there.”
In terms of location mews were by definition built behind some of the best streets in London. But their relatively modest original floorplans mean that, despite a high value per sq ft, if they have not been extended buyers can purchase “a house for flat money”, says Robinson. And because they are houses, they are normally sold on a freehold basis, which many buyers prefer. Architecturally their distinctive full‑height doors were originally designed to accommodate carriages. The ground floors were also used for stables and storage, with humble accommodation for grooms and drivers above. Today these wide frontages allow for generously sized rooms. In Burton Mews, Belgravia, Henry & James estate agents is selling a three-bedroom mews house with a reception room that measures almost 36ft by 18ft. The 3,070sq ft property is on the market with a guide price of £6.25m.
Another plus point of mews is that despite their historical charms, they tend not to be listed. “They just do not seem to have the same historical interest as the main-road properties, and that means there is a lot more freedom,” says Knight Frank’s Bailey. “You can put a lift in, you can add a mansard-roof extension, and you can go down.” Perhaps the largest mews house currently on the market is on Wilton Mews, Belgravia. The six-bedroom home has 9,803sq ft of space over five floors and a passenger lift linking them. The double-fronted property, complete with basement swimming pool, is on sale with Knight Frank and Savills for £36.5m – and if it reaches its asking price it will resoundingly beat the record set by Reeves Mews when it sold last year.
While redeveloping mews houses, planners are finding they can also overcome some of their innate downsides. The architect Ian Hogarth, director of Hogarth Architects, lives with his family in a mews in Kensington which he has built with a large basement featuring a master suite, full-scale dance floor and a professional-standard DJ booth. He believes light – or the lack of it – is the greatest issue facing those who wish to redevelop a mews house. “You have to remember what they were built for,” he said. “They were not built to be homes and often they are ‘blind’ at the back, without windows.”
On top of this the lack of outside space means creating lightwells to illuminate new basements are not an option. Architects need to be clever in their designs to get round this. Roof windows and skylights will bring light into the lower floors of the building, as will internal glass floors and light tubes. A more radical option is to slightly raise the ground-floor level, allowing ground-level slit windows to be inserted. And, of course, intelligent layout is important because facilities like saunas and cinema rooms do not require natural daylight. On Queen’s Gate Place Mews, Hamptons International and Strutt & Parker are selling a four-bedroom, 3,718sq ft mews house with a basement gym, steam room and cinema room. It is priced at £6.95m.
Lack of outdoor space is often resolved with the addition of either a roof terrace or balcony. A house currently for sale on Adam and Eve Mews, Kensington, has been extended from an original 1,732sq ft to 2,363sq ft. As well as a new basement media room, a roof terrace has been added on top of its mansard roof. It is on the market for £4.55m with Lurot Brand.
Although these modern mews are generally too small for swimming pools, they are kitted out with most of the bells and whistles buyers expect of homes in prime central London, including home cinemas, gyms, treatment rooms, saunas, golf simulators and wine cellars.
On Clabon Mews, in Knightsbridge, Strutt & Parker is selling a newly refurbished mews house with four bedrooms. From the outside this 3,220sq ft house looks the very image of a quaint, pretty London mews with its painted brickwork and window boxes. Inside it has had a root-and-branch refurbishment including Control4 home-automation technology, a Lutron lighting system, marble and quartz bathrooms and walnut or American-washed oak timber floors. It also has, in lieu of outside space, a “terrace room” with a retractable glass roof on the top (second) floor. The house is priced at £8.495m.
According to Savills’ Duncan Petrie, British buyers account for more than half of all sales. “Mews are very private,” adds Lurot Brand’s Robinson. “The garages often have electric doors so you can drive in and out without anyone seeing you. We often sell to musicians and actors because of that.” A further 13 per cent of mews are sold to buyers from western Europe. The remainder go to a fairly even mix of buyers from North America, Pacific and South Asia, eastern Europe, Africa and China. Russian buyers tend to be less enthused by living in what they perceive to be former servants’ quarters, and some buyers from the Middle and Far East seeking a standout trophy home simply find mews too understated.
The exception to this – admittedly anecdotal – is when the owner of a townhouse is able to buy the mews behind and reunite the two (mews houses were largely sold off after the second world war; with domestic staff and funds in short supply, few great houses had need of stabling). They then treat the mews as a de facto gate house – both a secure entrance to the property and a base for staff. “It is really going a full circle back to the days when these houses were built,” says Duncan Petrie, head of mews sales at Savills.
Owning a main house plus mews can also enable owners to circumvent building regulations around historic houses. “If your main house is listed, you are no longer allowed to dig a basement underneath it,” explains Rachel Thompson, a partner at The Buying Solution. “But if you purchase an adjoining mews you can normally dig under it and the garden connecting the two together, thus fulfilling many ultra-high-net-worth individuals’ demands for a gym, pool/spa or cinema as well as security, discretion and the ability to park the car and walk directly into the house.”
The current voguishness of mews houses has, however, created a problem for those who live there. Rarely does a week pass without Westminster or Kensington and Chelsea Council fielding an application for a mews-extension project. These planning applications incite horror among neighbours who cite the particular difficulties of executing a major building project on a street that is narrow, tightly set and often a dead end. Last year Ernesto Bertarelli, the pharmaceuticals magnate, and his wife Kirsty, found themselves at loggerheads with several neighbours after winning planning permission to add two basement floors to their Victorian mews house in Belgravia. A local resident himself, Wetherell is sanguine about the tribulations of living with building works, even when tonnes of rubble needs to be removed from beneath a narrow street. “I live in Belgravia and there is always work going on, scaffolding up,” he said. “That really is just London.”