Mad for Modern: the best contemporary homes

Mad for Modern: the best contemporary homes

The well-trodden path to a second home abroad went something like this: buy an old, rundown village property with bags of local charm and slowly renovate it into a perfect home from home.

From gîtes in the Dordogne to Tuscan farmhouses, there were plenty of beautiful if ramshackle properties with history dripping from every wooden beam or terracotta tile to fit the bill.

Local charm, however, quite often translates as small windows, tiny rooms and low ceilings, which in turn provide dark, cramped living space - the very opposite of what motivates most sun-starved Brits to buy abroad.

Suppose you yearn not for old but for new, and not just any new-build but a crisp modern space, one with wide windows to maximise the light, and sleek, minimalist lines providing an open-plan, uncluttered interior?

A home overseas could provide the chance to own a unique style statement.

For buyers whose tastes are more groovy than traditional, an overseas property search is not always straightforward, but, as one of our readers, Roland Openshaw, 54, found, you might just be looking in the wrong place.

Roland, an engineer, and his wife, Karen, a solicitor and writer on international law, from Derbyshire, returned to the UK after working in New York and began looking for a contemporary property to buy.

Modern homes cheaper abroad

Despite a wide search area covering the north of England and Wales, sourcing a suitable property wasn't easy.

"When we found we couldn't get anything modern in the UK for under £1 million, and realised the difficulties of getting planning permission, we decided to look abroad," says Roland.

The timing seemed good, too. "All the recent talk of the UK leaving the EU stiffened our resolve. We want to get out before the UK sets fire to itself."

However, the couple soon realised that a lot of websites aimed at selling foreign property to Brits concentrated on old-fashioned homes.

"It seems us Brits like 'olde-world' features like beams, dark wood and cutesy fireplaces," says Roland. "Yet when I went on websites aimed at, say, Dutch buyers I see a lot of contemporary homes - exactly as I wanted and couldn't find in the UK."

Roland's search highlights a commonly held view that it's our continental cousins, not us, with an eye for contemporary architecture.

Not so, says Linda Travella, of Casa Travella (, who sells Italian property to British buyers. Italy is normally associated with architecture from centuries gone by, but Travella says there is also plenty of striking new-build.

"Most Italians prefer new-build homes, Germans like traditional, remote homes and Scandinavians prefer the modern look," says Travella.

"But Brits have changed their attitude recently, and increasingly choose modern."

On the Spanish island of Mallorca, too, more Brits are requesting contemporary elements, although steering clear of ultra-modern homes, says Tina Deutsch of Engel & Völkers (

"Buyers like the rustic touch outside, while inside they like a modern, open-plan look, with all the latest technology and comfort, but they still want to have that cosy feel of a country house."

A modern statement

Ann Adenius co-founded Modern Homes Worldwide (, a website selling striking contemporary properties around the world, because she loved modern architecture and noticed its increasing popularity.

"More and more buyers are design-minded," she says. "They like modern architecture not only for its looks but also for its functionality, with spacious and flexible light-filled spaces and good integration between indoor and outdoor living areas."

She sells to a global audience and is strict about the property she lists.

"We showcase cutting-edge design and notable architects only," she says.

Prices on her website start from $250,000 (£150,000) at the Icon Vallarta beachfront apartments on Mexico's Pacific coast, with architecture by the award-winning firm Arquitectonica and interiors by Philippe Starck.

Local Modernism

In some countries, the traditional style can claim a distinctly contemporary flavour: the boxy "sugar cube" houses of Bodrum in southwest Turkey, for example, or the sleek, minimalist homes of Ibiza. The "White Island" has cornered the market in expensive, deceptively simple white villas.

Away from some resorts in the Algarve, where there are many uninspiring identikit new villas, Portugal has a reputation for outstanding contemporary architecture.

That came as a surprise to Tim and Karen Leahy from North London, who had never heard of Portugal's Silver Coast until they saw a picture of the property that was to become their second home.

"We'd never even been to Portugal before," says Karen, an interior designer and the owner of Your Home Style (

"To me, Portugal meant over-built golf resorts on the Algarve full of Brits, and not somewhere I would want to holiday."

Four years ago, they saw pictures of Joia das Dunas (, 18 contemporary townhouses and villas around 35 minutes north of Lisbon airport.

"The architecture of the project was what appealed initially," says Karen. "The striking modern design is a million miles from the cliché resort villa. So, on a whim, we flew to Portugal to have a look."

What they found was a quiet area with deserted Atlantic beaches, fragrant eucalyptus and pine trees and a strong cultural identity. Excited by the location and Joia's architecture, the Leahys, with daughters Rose, 20, Anna, 18 and Flora,16, bought a three-bedroom villa for £500,000.

"The inspiring design is driven by the use of local and sustainable materials, and by the use of the weather to control heating and water temperatures," says Karen, who has adopted some of their ideals in her work in the UK. Prices start from €550,000 (£452,960).

five bed villa for sale in IbizaThe price of modernity?

Tasha De Gelabert of Ibiza Sotheby's ( points out that modernism alone does not sell homes.

"Even when well-constructed and designed, if a building does not relate to the landscape or the buyer's needs it will not sell well," she comments.

"The look that sells in Ibiza today is a simple home integrated into the countryside, with a rational floorplan."

Practicalities, too, can be a plus for owners of contemporary homes. As a rule, newer homes are more energy-efficient and therefore cheaper to maintain.

"Higher standards of technology in new-builds mean they have savings in terms of insulation, eco-friendliness and energy efficiency," points out François Marchand of Erna Low Property (

Contemporary homes can be more expensive to build - large windows can push up the spend on associated cooling and heating systems, for example - but many agents report that buyers are increasingly happy to spend a little more on the build if it means lower ongoing maintenance charges.

New-build homes, of any style, come with a builder's guarantee, and can even offer lower buying costs. In France, for example, notary fees on new-builds are 2.5 per cent, rather than 7 per cent on resale properties.

The best locations for contemporary architecture?

If you are mad for modern, determined to throw out not only the chintz but also any unnecessarily fussy architectural details, where should you look?


This is the European winner for contemporary homes, and top of the pile is Bom Sucesso Architecture Resort, Leisure and Golf, within one hour of Lisbon, with townhouses and villas designed by one of 23 architects.

It provides the alluring possibility of owning the work of a famous modern architect from only €260,000 (£214,200) for a two-bedroom townhouse (

Award-winning architects at Bom Sucesso include Eduardo Souto Moura, Álvaro Leite Siza Vieira, and the British-born David Chipperfield, who have each worked on individual homes on the 400-acre golf resort.

There are 601 homes and plots for sale, all contemporary, and 90 per cent single-storey. The project began in 2004, and, although the opening of the 120-room Hilton Hotel has been delayed until 2015, more than 200 homes are now built and sold.


Individual villas in the Balearic Islands and Andalucía offer fabulous contemporary design choices - look at Engel & Völkers (five-bed villa in Ibiza pictured above;, La Zagaleta ( and Elite Inmobiliaria ( - while Modern Mediterranean Homes ( showcases the completed projects of two Modernist architects working predominantly around Valencia on the Costa Blanca.

Further north on the Costa Brava, close to the gastronomic city of Girona, PGA Catalunya ( was recently awarded Best Golf Development in Europe in the European Property Awards.

It opened in 1999 as a 300-acre estate of modern apartments, townhouses and villas made from Catalan stone and great expanses of glass, with open-plan layouts. Prices start from €365,000 (£300,475).

"We have mature golf courses, but 30 per cent of clients don't play golf," says Julio Delgado, chief exec of PGA Catalunya. "They are attracted by the resort's architecture and our location close to Barcelona and France."

villa for sale in Bodrum, TurkeyTurkey

The simplicity of design of many homes in Turkey makes this a good choice for Modernist-loving house hunters. Look at Property Turkey ( - who have just sold a $5m villa by star architect Richard Meier in Bodrum - but also offer an outstanding furnished four-bedroom villa, with pool, also in Bodrum, for £405,000. Or try Spot Blue (, which is selling a three-bedroom semi-detached home in a simple white and glass building in Kalkan for £185,000, or a selection of others in Bodrum - see left.

... or further afield

Companies selling modern homes globally at a range of prices include Modern Homes Worldwide (, which has stand-out apartments and penthouses on Phuket's east coast from £405,000.

Others include Move Modern (, yoo (, which has an apartment at the 10-floor yoo Berlin ( in the trendy Mitte district starting from €270,320 (£222,490), with a communal pool, spa and bar.

And if you are looking in the US, check out Sell Modern ( 


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