JUST imagine the dinner party possibilities of living in an unusual house. No matter what other people tell you about their wonderful new stables or their eco-conversion, revealing that you live in a converted Cold War military base is sure to stop people in their tracks.
Two of the most desirable properties currently on the market in the London area are in fact a 1950s-built nuclear bunker and a torpedo testing site, It sounds great, but is it in reality?
“The key is that they still have to be good homes,” says Simon Edwards of Savills’ Hampstead office. “Of course it’s fantastic to have an unusual building, but you still have to live in it.” Edwards is the agent selling a nuclear bunker, Seafield House, and points out that it has been converted by a good architect, “so it works well.” Instead of hindering it, the building’s past makes it a terrific home. It’s built in a protected greenbelt and sits on two prime acres.
Building on protected land like this would not be possible now, so properties with histories like this often present an opportunity to obtain extremely desirable areas. It’s also a “hugely solid building – you haven’t got to worry about noise or the building falling down. It is also enormous, since it was made to house the whole government.”
But it’s important not to get carried away by novelty. Edwards recalls a Kent bunker that was redeveloped around a swimming pool – it seemed a good idea but in practice, did not work well. Would you want to have a swimming pool as the centre-piece of your (Kent, not Ibiza) home? Exactly. “Though it appeared amazing,” he says, “the reality of living in it is tricky. It’s important that the space itself is not compromised by its past use.”
If you’re considering an unusual conversion, check what you’d be able to do to the property if it’s listed. If you’re buying and converting a property yourself, check with the local authority that it has residential permission. Then make sure it can be connected to a sewage system and can get all services such as drainage, plumbing and phone. “Basically, you need to make sure you can turn the place into a practical residence. Maybe you don’t want to retain the pumping equipment in an old water tower but the local authority would say you have to, because it’s listed.”
With churches, think hard about whether you’re happy with stained glass rather than real windows. Pubs tend to be very exposed to the street, and lacking in land. But as long as practicality isn’t badly compromised, buying a converted building with history is brilliant move. “It’s a real boon to have something with a history. People like unusual buildings, so they keep their value well. But it can’t be so whacky that you can’t live in it. It still has to have elements that make people want to buy it – good bedrooms, sensible proportions, good utilities.”
THE FORMER TORPEDO TESTING TANK
In the Royal Park of Bushy, close to Hampton Court, this was used by the Admiralty during WW2. A circular domed building containing a 46m pool used to test torpedoes that spun around on a metal arm. Now it's a seven-bedroom contemporary home in 1.3 acres of land. £4m, contact Knight Frank, tel 020 8939 2800, www.knightfrank.com.
THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE
A two-bedroom flat converted into a contemporary luxury apartment on Commercial St. Spread over the fifth and sixth floors of the building, it has a terrace and is convenient for the City. £699,000, contact Foxtons, tel: 020 7033 1414, www.foxtons.co.uk.
THE NUCLEAR BUNKER
This Mill Hill property would have housed the government in a nuclear war, complete with 1.5m concrete walls. There’s now a 956-bottle wine-cellar, great local schools and a train to City Thameslink. £5m, contact Savills, tel 020 7472 5000, www.savills.com.
Once part of the Queen’s Theatre in Battersea, the stage, dressing rooms and storage areas have been converted into a three-bedroom home with a roof terrace. £1.95m, contact Savills, tel 020 8673 4111, www.savills.com.
A one-bedroom flat on the ground floor of a converted local, this is close to Victoria Park station, making it handy for the City. £250,000, contact Foxtons, tel 020 7033 1414, www.foxtons.co.uk.