How millennials are setting new benchmarks for city living

A millennial mindset is redefining premium property in urban hubs, inspiring state-of-the-art homes that offer a sociable, sustainable and connected mix of comfort and awe. Lisa Freedman reports

The Wardian London development in Canary Wharf has its own swimming pool set amid 100 different species of exotic plant
The Wardian London development in Canary Wharf has its own swimming pool set amid 100 different species of exotic plant

The world’s wealthiest have always set the pace in terms of home comforts – quick on the uptake for every innovation that could make life easier and more luxurious. Today, however, this wealth is emphatically trickling down to a new generation, and the lifestyle requirements of millennials – those born in the 1980s and 1990s – is having a dramatic impact on property. Inheritance, of course, is an increasingly significant source of millennial wealth, but the technology industry has been to the 21st century what railways were to the 19th and clusters of high-tech affluence have helped form a new global geography. 

Canary Wharf’s Wardian London apartments offer spectacular views across the capital and prices range from £635,000 to £1.85m through Foxtons
Canary Wharf’s Wardian London apartments offer spectacular views across the capital and prices range from £635,000 to £1.85m through Foxtons

“Tech professionals want to live in vibrant cities and, in turn, cities have needed to attract and retain tech talent. They work hard and want to live close to the office,” says Paul Tostevin, associate director of world research at Savills. “This means that new areas within established cities have become fashionable – the East Village in New York and Hoboken in New Jersey, Silver Lake in Los Angeles and the Mission District of San Francisco – but they’ve also created important new markets elsewhere.”

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Austin, Texas, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Copenhagen have all been beneficiaries of this reemphasis, but Berlin (where Knight Frank is selling an exclusive four-bedroom apartment in Crown Prince’s Gardens in Mitte for €4.5m) has seen an unrivalled impact. Here, prices have risen 107 per cent over the past 15 years, including a 17.4 per cent rise in 2017 alone, with the widespread addition of state-of-the-art contemporary housing, according to Knight Frank. (Indeed, you know a property market has truly arrived when US investor Warren Buffett puts money into a local estate agency.)

The 40-storey Atlas Building, close to Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout in London, has apartments starting from £1.037m
The 40-storey Atlas Building, close to Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout in London, has apartments starting from £1.037m

What these locations have in common – apart from their combination of youthful energy and high-tech industry – is intangible but is generally described as an “urban buzz” (or, more formally, “the experience economy”), a cocktail that includes of-the‑moment bars and clubs, first‑rate restaurants and a strong sense of “neighbourhood”. “Wealthy millennials don’t necessarily want to be in a location with lots of money,” says Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank. “They’re more interested in living in a community where their friends are based.”

Christie’s International Real Estate has a seven-bedroom river-view apartment at New York’s 551 West 21st Street for $36.5m
Christie’s International Real Estate has a seven-bedroom river-view apartment at New York’s 551 West 21st Street for $36.5m

In London, for example, as well as clusterings in Shoreditch, Hackney, Clerkenwell and Islington – all, of course, within a brief cycle of Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout (where apartments in The Atlas Building start at £1.037m for a two-bedroom property) – it’s thumbs up to vibrant Marylebone, Notting Hill and Chelsea, but a rather more tepid response to conventional wealth havens like Knightsbridge, with its population of peripatetic shoppers, or stately Mayfair, with its “working vibe”. Developers have been quick to recognise this longing for belonging. At London City Island (apartments from £420,000), EcoWorld Ballymore has introduced such traditional anchors as a baker, grocer and deli/restaurant, as well as those centuries-old focal points, a series of communal squares and green spaces, while at Battersea Power Station (apartments from £550,000 through Battersea Power Station) purchasers are invited to join a residents’ Power Club to ensure they feel instantly part of the in-crowd.

An elegant four-bedroom villa in Barcelona is for sale at €9.7m through Savills
An elegant four-bedroom villa in Barcelona is for sale at €9.7m through Savills

For this generation, get-together amenities must be equally urban – at least in feel – in a second-home purchase, whether buying abroad or weekending nearer home. “Younger buyers tend to take shorter and more frequent breaks,” says Hugo Thistlethwayte, head of international residential at Savills. “They want to arrive quickly, go out and enjoy themselves, then get straight back on the plane.” This has been good news for short-break cities, particularly those that efficiently double up as beach destinations, such as Barcelona (where Savills is selling a four-bedroom villa in Bonanova for €9.7m) and Lisbon, both of which have far outperformed their local markets. 

A one-bedroom apartment in Milan’s iconic Bosco Verticale is on sale at €930,000 through Frimm Academy Milano
A one-bedroom apartment in Milan’s iconic Bosco Verticale is on sale at €930,000 through Frimm Academy Milano

It’s excellent news, too, for “branded residences” such as Marriott International’s W Residences, which not only offer such appealing necessities as “extraordinary hotel-inspired living” and “whatever, whenever” services in prime millennial locations (including a fully furnished three-bedroom penthouse in West Hollywood for $7.75m) but in some cases also provides the very much in-demand potential to let your property when it’s not in use. “Even if they’re billionaires, millennials want to see their assets work for them and are much more conscious about leaving property empty,” says Thistlethwayte. “Branded residences are attractive because they do all the rental work for owners.”

Ori House, an Ekkist/Studio McLeod concept, is a blueprint for sustainability and wellbeing
Ori House, an Ekkist/Studio McLeod concept, is a blueprint for sustainability and wellbeing

The get-there-get-back-fast mentality has also infected the English countryside, where a time cap of 1.5 hours from the capital is usually explicit and traditional slow-paced activities like hunting, shooting and fishing have been sidelined for speedier indoor attractions. “In the Cotswolds, for example, the area around Soho Farmhouse is particularly popular,” says Jonathan Bramwell, head of property search agents at country-house specialist The Buying Solution. “A good country weekend will take in a bit of shopping at Daylesford Organic Farm in Kingham, followed by a sushi lunch and spa treatment, then clubbing in the evening at Soho Farmhouse.” But more Fitbit-friendly exercise is also part of the mix. Not golf, perhaps, but activities like surfing (with the London-Newquay helicopter link considered a boon by weekenders) and, of course, cycling – ubiquitous in both town and country. 

London City Island by EcoWorld Ballymore offers residences with open-plan living and elevated views of Canary Wharf, apartments from £420,000
London City Island by EcoWorld Ballymore offers residences with open-plan living and elevated views of Canary Wharf, apartments from £420,000

Though this is largely a pre-child culture (or “child free” as Soho Farmhouse would have it), the addition of kids does not have to alter the mindset. “Millennial families still want a hip lifestyle,” says Dan Conn, CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate, “though they also want locations with viable schools and a Whole Foods Market, which has led to the popularity of areas in Manhattan, like Tribeca, West Chelsea and Hudson Yards.” For Conn, this appetite can be happily satisfied at 551 West 21st Street in the heart of Chelsea Arts District (where Christie’s International Real Estate is selling a seven-bedroom apartment for $36.5m). “It’s both right on the river and right in the centre of the art market but away from the commotion. Uber has changed the idea that you need to be near a subway,” he says. 

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Here and elsewhere, the arrangement of interior space is being driven by this altered agenda. “Social media has been a major influence,” says Albert Hill, co-founder of The Modern House, an estate agent specialising in design-led homes across the UK. “Buyers today are looking for a mixture of comfort and awe. They want a big, open, dramatic space for entertaining to make an impact on Instagram but also somewhere private where they can let their hair down.”

And while most buyers have neither the time nor the inclination for DIY – “Their parents were happy to project manage; they just want the immediately inhabitable,” says Thea Wellband, London specialist at The Buying Solution – those still willing to put their personal stamp on a property generally prefer a collaborative approach. “They like to feel they’re not really the client, but are working with someone on their level,” says Hill. So, firms like Practice Architecture, “curators” of such à la mode venues as Frank’s Café in Peckham and Cambridgeshire’s organic Margent Farm are very much in tune with the current wave.

Sustainability – like plug-and-play 1GB broadband and an electric-car-charging station – is now a given but personal wellbeing has undoubtedly soared up the want list. “Of course, millennial buyers want to know that design is good for the environment, but they also want it to make them feel better,” says Olga Turner, who with business partner Jonathan Baker launched Ekkist last year, a design-and-build practice focusing on wellbeing.

Over the past few decades, various health and sustainability benchmarks have been introduced to guide more “woke” developers and consumers, including Passivhaus (a German standard of low-energy heating and cooling), Breeam (which concentrates on sustainable construction) and more recently, the Well Building Standard (launched in the US in 2013), which addresses occupant health. Here, the mark scheme rates the quality of air, light, water and materials and the impact a building will have on the residents’ state of mind. In response, working with its architectural partner Studio McLeod, Ekkist has devised the Ori House, the UK’s first concept property to abide by both Passivhaus and Well Building Standard principles. Available to purchase as a blueprint for a freestanding building (there are also options for extensions and alterations or a bespoke model can be commissioned), the design has taken account of all requirements: maximising daylight (and happiness-inducing serotonin) with plenty of well-positioned glass and offering the chance to upgrade to circadian lighting systems – synched to the body clock to fine-tune performance – as well as providing air and water filtration systems and fireplaces filled with focal planting rather than wood-burning stoves. “Nasa studies have shown that certain species of vegetation help to filter pollution,” says Turner, “and other research has demonstrated that exposure to greenery can help concentration, lower stress and aid recovery.”

Biophilic design – an approach reconnecting urban homeowners with nature – has become increasingly widespread. For example, at Wardian London, an innovative development at Canary Wharf (where apartments are priced from £635,000 to £1.85m through Foxtons), buyers can not only swim in the pool amid 100 different exotic species of plants and flowers, but can also customise their own indoor and outdoor greenery with a bespoke landscaping service. In Milan, meanwhile, at Bosco Verticale (where Frimm Academy is selling a one-bedroom flat for €930,000), the façades have been enveloped with 900 trees intended to improve air quality, moderate temperature and reduce noise. 

Interior design preoccupations have also moved on, from the carefully controlled, minimalist and neutral to a look that is much more colourful and bold. “Social media sites like Pinterest have made this generation more expressiveof their individuality,” says Sophie Ashby, creative director at Studio Ashby, who masterminded the look atNo 3 Upper Riverside (where apartments are priced from £525,000 through Upper Riverside) in millennial-targeted Greenwich Peninsula. “They don’t want everything hidden behind doors; they want open shelving to display their possessions and wall space to hang their art.”

Very much a reflection of this mood, the bespoke, the one-off and the handcrafted have now become dominant themes. “Millennials are looking for the opposite of mass-produced,” says Hannah Thistlethwaite, senior home buyer at Heal’s, a company that has been successfully moving with the design times for over 200 years. “They want homes that are an expression of their own taste and want to incorporate things they’ve picked up on holiday, so the look is much more eclectic. They’ve moved away from safety to express their personality.” Confident, concerned and in a hurry – that’s this brave new world.

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