From the outside it looked like I was approaching a classic Provencal farmhouse - but inside it had the full One Hyde Park bling-works consisting of black marble and fabrics, walls lined with white lacquered cupboards, hardwood floors and a must-have array of remotely controlled lights, music and heating.
The agent who accompanied me quickly explained the bizarre combination: “French planners wouldn’t allow changes to the outside but the owner wanted to make it appealing to Russians”.
Ah yes, the Russians. Every top-end residential market wants the Russians.
In a casually-racist way, developers dealing with the most expensive properties believe the only way to do this is to fit out each home - new build or period refurbishment, it tends not to matter - with an entirely predictable specification.
You can guess what it contains. The gizmos are Lutron this, Dolby that, Miele and Neff, under-floor here, video-entry there, and a plasma in every room. The materials are equally uniform: there will be limestone floors and granite surfaces with a hint of marble and - of course - a surfeit of crushed velvet, black walnut and design by Philippe Starck.
You get these in the highest value properties now anywhere in the world. The build-quality in London tends to be higher than in most locations and if the property is situated in a particularly hot climate, the design may substitute white for black. But otherwise, this is the McDonalds of top-end real estate: wherever you go, whatever the language, it’s the same.
Estate agents who sell these homes tend to be honest, at least with wizened hacks who’ve seen identikit interiors across the world. They admit it’s a global style, allegedly for all High Net Worth Individuals generally but specifically targeting Russians because they ...well, they are not so prudent, so sometimes pay over the odds by many millions.
Not every home that is blinged-up this way actually secures a Russian buyer, but that is what the developers and owners aspire to. As a result, the specification is Russian-ised.
Now there is nothing wrong with globalisation: I like the comfort of an always-exactly-the-same latte when I travel. But there is something bizarre about an attitude whereby those who in theory can afford almost any home they want, anywhere, have only one choice.
But money cannot buy taste, can it?
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