Determining whether one should purchase a gleaming modern apartment or its grand period equivalent in London is a conundrum. Some property experts argue that both are worth the investment a historic first-floor flat in Cadogan Square can be as highly prized as a shiny new Knightsbridge penthouse, depending on the property’s location and condition. However, others disagree.

The secret, according to Daniel Wiggin from estate agency WA Ellis, is whichever you choose, always go for the best. ‘These days, there are few high-end new apartments being constructed in super-prime locations, such as the Richard Rogers-designed One Hyde Park, where prices are rumoured to be £5,000 a square foot. Something of this calibre should retain its appeal, but rates for apartments out of the area could plunge.’

The current trend for high-end London apartments is ‘hotel living’ with hotel-style services offered to itinerant global owners, such as meal deliveries, maids, leisure facilities, and a concierge to book theatre and airline tickets. This explains the need for the tunnel connecting One Hyde Park to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge.

Generally, you pay more for a contemporary apartment, as you won’t suffer from winds rattling through cracked windowpanes and plaster drifting from decaying ceilings. Peter Rollings from Marsh & Parsons argues that ‘cubbyholes and cornicing are deemed unnecessary by those preferring secure parking and a 24-hour porter. Prices per square foot for a period property range from £1,500 to £2,500, and for a modern apartment, they rise to about £3,000–£4,500.’ And don’t forget service charges for highly serviced new schemes, costing £50,000–£70,000 a year.

A decade ago, the delineation of who bought old or new was simple. The young wanted up-to-date apartments, and the older generation felt more comfortable in established historical architecture, unblemished by the demands of the modern world. The lines have blurred somewhat in the 21st century, although broadly speaking, the French, Spanish and English tend to opt for period properties, and Arab princes and Russian oligarchs want new trophy homes, where only interior designers have trod before them.

However, an interesting hybrid is emerging for those nervous about where to put their money. A solid conversion incorporating fine period features and fashionable kitchens and bathrooms can keep purchasers in both camps happy.

If someone gets hold of a past gem and gives it a facelift, such as the penthouse graciously restored by Richard Collins at 10, Palace Gate, you get the best of both worlds, says Jonathan Hewlett from Savills, currently selling the penthouse and the ground-floor guest annexe, refurbished in the same style, for £7.5 million. ‘In the 1990s, this outstanding Grade-II listed Wells Coates building looked pretty miserable. A year ago, it was renovated, and Mr Collins has created a secret apartment at the top.’

Niche developer Mr Collins has had new door and window handles fashioned to the original Wells Coates design, and copies made of 1930s wall lights from the Savoy, contrasting with up-to-the-minute limestone-tiled bathrooms and Gaggenau steam ovens. ‘The idea of cold, sterile interiors is unwelcoming, and I wanted this to be modern, but comfortable.’

Property finder Camilla Dell, from Black Brick Property Solutions, agrees that discreet conversions by small developers, such as Mr Collins and Mike Spink of Spink Property, provide the character of a classic building with modern conveniences, resulting in a successful marriage of period and progressive. Such hybrids could prove a better investment than new apartments in riverside developments outside the centre, she cautions. ‘Prices might not rise in these areas over the next five years, but well-located luxury buildings and sound conversions should continue to thrive.’

Modern conveniences vs period charm

Concierge available to take deliveries ………..or………………Rely on friendly neighbours
Crestron electronic lighting ……………………….or………………Antique table lamps
Wet room with power shower……………………..or………………Claw-footed bathtub
State-of-the-art gym/pool in basement…….or………………Wine cellar/junk room
Underground parking spaces………………………or………………On-street resident’s parking
Glass-and-steel mezzanine floor………………….or………………High ceilings with coving and roses
Japanese wooden benches…………………………..or……………..Cushioned bay-window seats