Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Why Covent Garden is becoming one of London's most desirable places to live

Is this cultural hub taking over from Knightsbridge and Chelsea as one of London’s most covetable spots for residents?

High-end shops sit next to world-famous restaurants and some top-notch residences in Covent Garden.
High-end shops sit next to world-famous restaurants and some top-notch residences in Covent Garden.

Covent Garden welcomed about 45 million visitors to its cobbled streets last year. Today it is considered the cultural hub of London’s West End, with its myriad theatres and restaurants, and a bunch of British and independent shops. But it wasn’t always this way.

The area dates back to the 12th century, when it was arable land and an orchard within the grounds of Westminster Abbey. In 2019, it’s all bright lights and bustling streets, with well-known landmarks including The Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum. The River Thames, Soho and Trafalgar Square are all within walking distance.

The rise of Covent Garden

Capital and Counties bought the Covent Garden estate in 2006 with a remit to create a curated, clean and safe neighbourhood. Where once the area was a bit shabby, now it has a well-organised sheen. Some people say the area has taken over from Knightsbridge and Chelsea as being among the most desirable places to live in London, making the newly developed Floral Court Collection – 31 boutique apartments, from studios up to three-bedroom suites, that have a starting price of £1.3 million (Dh5.9m) –a highly attractive prospect not only for home-seekers but for potential investors, too.

Floral Court Collection recently opened in Covent Garden. John Sturrock
Floral Court Collection recently opened in Covent Garden. John Sturrock

To create a new look for the collection, architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates renovated two very different buildings: a 17th-centurystructure, the former Westminster Fire Office, and a 1970s office block. They took inspiration from the original market porters’ baskets that were stacked on top of each other, creating a design to the exterior that incorporates angular shapes and a new identity.

That identity – a sense of old and new – is also palpable when walking the surrounding streets and the nearby Covent Garden Market piazza, where enticing aromas waft from cafes by day and the sounds of music and laughter emanate from bars at night.

Jeannine Saba, editor of The Covent Gardener, moved from the pretty area of Lancaster Gate, near Hyde Park, to Covent Garden 10 years ago, and she says she now wouldn’t live anywhere else. “It can be a little crazy, but it’s also a lot of fun,” she tells The National. “It’s not for everyone but I love it.”

It was the buzz that drew Saba to Covent Garden, but it is the sense of community that keeps her here. “The stall owners and shopkeepers have become familiar faces and some I know on a first-name basis.”

This includes Kenny, the head gardener from The Resident’s Garden, a barrow in the square, who has been known to drop a handful of fresh produce into Saba’s basket when she passes by.

Jeannine Saba, editor of 'The Covent Gardener', at a stall at The Resident's Garden. Courtesy Jeannine Saba
Jeannine Saba, editor of 'The Covent Gardener', at a stall at The Resident's Garden. Courtesy Jeannine Saba

There hasn’t been a fruit and vegetable market in the piazza since 1974 but there are references to its foodie heritage dotted around. A sign in the arcade reads “Fruit, Flowers, Roots and Herbs”, and there are pineapple lanterns that decorate the top of the hanging lights, paying homage to the fact the old Covent Garden Market was the only place in London where you could buy the tropical fruit. The choice of restaurants is also extensive, as the area is now home to a selection of world-renowned eateries, such as fusion spot SushiSamba, seafood eatery The Oystermen and Parisian bistro Frenchies.

While before residents would have heard calls from costermongers selling their produce, now there is the sound of street performers and cheering crowds. The arcade is home to the Apple Craft Market, which is no relation to the Apple Store mere metres away. Designer pop-ups such as Tom Ford and Chanel sit alongside Roseheart Jewels and Jo Malone.

The lobby has been beautifully restored to its former 18th-century grandeur. That includes the original circular staircase with wrought iron railings

You wonder what the Floral Court Collection’s original architect Inigo Jones would think of Covent Garden today. Jones was considered one of the key figures in London’s city planning and the Italian inspired the design of the now famous piazza, which was the first square in London. He was commissioned in 1631 by the 4th Earl of Bedford to develop what was an open space and build “fine houses to attract wealthy tenants”. Today that sentiment hasn’t been lost, as the redevelopment both reflects the times and the buyers’ needs and wants, as seen in the new concierge service and in-house cinema. But none of that means any of the history and character has been lost. The lobby has been beautifully restored to its former 18th-century grandeur. That includes the original circular staircase with wrought iron railings that leads you to the private residents’ lounge.

Interior designer Sophie Ashby, founder of Studio Ashby, dressed The Penthouse, the three-­bedroom, four-terrace space that spans nearly 500 square metres and costs £20m. That price doesn’t even include any of Ashby’s furniture or design elements, which would have to be negotiated separately.

An apartment in the Floral Court Collection, interior design by Sophie Ashby. Courtesy Studio Ashby
An apartment in the Floral Court Collection, interior design by Sophie Ashby. Courtesy Studio Ashby

To fashion the look, Ashby created layers of her own bespoke furnishings and combined these with antique, vintage and off-the-shelf designs. Travel and nature influences the living spaces throughout. In the reception area hangs a painting with a scene reminiscent of the English countryside. Elsewhere, the dining room pays homage to the old Covent Garden market’s floral history – the dining table features British flowers meticulously pinned beneath a glass top, while a chandelier hangs overhead consisting of twisted metal that has been hand-painted to depict oak leaves and roses.

Sophie Ashby collaborated with Ruby Barber, of Mary Lennox florists, to create this decorative table top. Courtesy Studio Ashby
Sophie Ashby collaborated with Ruby Barber, of Mary Lennox florists, to create this decorative table top. Courtesy Studio Ashby

A certain sort of person lives in Covent Garden: they love culture and being in the heart of one of the world’s most thriving cities. Sure, the hustle and bustle might not be for everybody, but the historical backdrop, quality of shops and choice of dining appeals to most. It’s the “piazza” to be, and for some, it is home.

Updated: September 19, 2019 04:55 PM

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