Till very recently, the concept of luxury housing was limited to location and size. Those who could afford such homes were high net worth individuals who wanted to live in large bungalows in premium locations such as South/Central Delhi or South Mumbai. The size and location were directly related to the wealth the individual had. In most of these properties, the interiors were generally simple.
With urban India changing fast -- a younger population with rising disposable incomes and exposure to global trends, the concept of a luxury home now encompasses various amenities and conveniences; the aim is to provide a luxurious atmosphere. In Delhi, the wealthy lived in areas like Amrita Shergil Marg, Golf Links and Aurangzeb Road. Today, these locations have expanded to include parts of South Delhi and even Gurgaon (Golf Course Road).
On the other hand, Mumbai, another city with premium homes, is not as conscious about location. However, a few areas, including Carmichael Road, Napean Sea Road and Malabar Hill, were the preferred locations for the wealthy. Today, these have expanded to include parts of Worli, Bandra, Lower Parel and Powai where a particular building is considered luxury because of specifics, even if the entire location is not.
Luxury housing in India can also be described by the development of gated communities in suburbs that cater to people who are not able to live in prime locations in the cities. These properties come with advanced security systems, club houses, swimming pools, sports facilities like golf courses/children's play areas, common party areas, cigar lounges, etc. The interiors of these apartments or town houses are done to the highest standards. What is interesting is that some apartments in these areas are considered more premium than others not only due to the quality of amenities and facilities but also due to the kind of people living there, which could be corporate bigwigs, movie stars, and so on.
For a luxury development in India, size and location continue to remain the main criteria. While earlier these used to be restricted to large plots of land, today apartments in high-end complexes are also being given the luxury tag. This has spurred the evolution of new design and interior concepts. When embarking on a luxury project, the affluent spare no expense in ensuring they have the best that the world has to offer. Today, a number of these home owners hire top architects -- from India and even abroad. Designs have also become ultra modern, functional and eco-friendly with use of top-of-the-line construction materials.
There is also extensive emphasis on glass (soundproof German glass), stone (Italian marble or top-end granite) and features like water bodies, green areas with exotic plants, advanced air-conditioning systems, etc. Depending on the size of the property, a lap pool or a temperature-controlled infinity swimming pool, personal gym, massage/yoga rooms, wine cellar, and various sports facilities are included in the design of the home. The air-conditioning system is extended to kitchen, bathrooms, pet rooms and even the rooms of the domestic staff.
Developers are innovating and looking for ways to bring in technology into projects. Some technology-related improvements include high-end electrical elements like home theatre systems, body sensor lighting, air-conditioning, and so on. Security systems, too, are a major feature. Today these houses have personalised swipe cards for each member of the household and domestic staff which record their entry and exit. Military-grade night cameras for CCTVs and alarm systems are also installed. Besides this, round-the-clock security personnel are also stationed. To effectively run these gadgets, every home needs a dedicated server room. The server also controls lighting, curtains, air-conditioning and security cameras. All of the above can be operated and controlled by a single remote from any location in the house.
Every aspect of a luxury home is taken into consideration during the design phase. This includes particular emphasis on kitchens and bathrooms of the properties. Today, one can get access to the best German and Italian fabricated kitchens with fitted accessories such as cooking ranges, microwaves, ovens, refrigerators, exhaust systems and other utilities at the click of a button. Bathrooms, too, come equipped with state-of-the-art Japanese electronic fixtures, French crystal or Lalique faucets, knobs or fixtures with semi-precious stones like Onyx or Lapiz, and walls and furniture inlayed with Mother of Pearl. In many cases the cost of the interiors far exceeds the value of the house itself.
As demand for these ultra luxury items picks up, the availability of building materials, accessories and furniture has also gone through a revolution. Today, in India, one can get almost anything imported -- from furniture by Armani, Fendi and Versace, flooring and high quality stone from countries like Italy, Spain and Africa, to bohemian crystal and automated luxury beds from Sweden. Besides top quality Indian products, several people, accompanied by their interiors advisors, travel to Italy, Dubai, Malaysia and China to buy furniture and accessories. Paintings and sculptures by Indian and international artists as well as art in digital form are considered must-haves in these homes.
The ultimate luxury feature is the ability to outsource the regular upkeep of the house to an agency which specialises in services fit for a seven-star hotel property. Everyday household staff is not equipped to clean expensive chandeliers and crystal or polish flooring and furniture. Neither can they be expected to have the expertise to maintain the advanced equipment. A small army of people comes into the house everyday to clean, make the beds, change towels and ensure that all the equipment and utilities are working efficiently all the time. The cost can range from expensive to over the top.
Luxury living in India and the overall quality of life has seen a major transformation in the past decade, primarily due to the huge wealth creation. A house will always remain the number one luxury statement, followed by cars, yachts, private planes and holiday homes. Going forward, if the Indian economy continues to grow at the current pace, luxury housing will grow significantly.
The writer is Chairman, India and South East Asia, CBRE