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Here's how to live in style
Nanditta Chibber
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April 01, 2006

Jack discovered a beautiful castle as he climbed the beanstalk in the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk. High up in the air, the view from the aloof castle was breathtaking and Jack couldn't have asked for more.

Tune into reality where every inch of space available on the ground is already sold out in all the metros. You can opt for a larger apartment, but does it offer a bungalow-like feel? A penthouse - a residence situated at the top of a high-rise - is the option for those who want sprawling spaces and the bungalow effect - a bungalow in the air!

Kulwant Singh's penthouse at Celebrity Homes, developed by Ansal Township and Projects in Gurgaon's Palam Vihar, is nothing short of a personal palace for him. It starts at the 13th floor of one of the towers, on which he has a huge drawing, dining and family room. The 14th floor has the bedrooms.

Next, a flight of stairs to the 15th floor takes you to his landscaped terrace garden and finally, he has a personal swimming pool on the 16th floor. Singh, a retired NRI from the United States, likes to unwind on his visits to India in his 5,000 sq ft penthouse or penthouses (he owns another one in the same vicinity). But a four-floor house and no internal lift? Singh chuckles, "It keeps me young and fit."

Though penthouses have dotted the high-rise dominated skylines of New York and Tokyo for ages, their emergence in metros in India is scattered, but on the rise. Tower-dominated and space-cramped Mumbai took the lead , but other tier I cities are following suit.

High net-worth individuals from India's booming economic sectors and NRIs confess to have found their desired lifestyle with penthouses. For, apart from the space a penthouse offers, there's also oodles of snob value.

"In comparison to their Western counterparts, the only dilution of the penthouse concept by some developers here is building two penthouses on the roof rather than the customary one," points out Getamber Anand, managing director, ATS Greens.

Mumbai was the first to adopt the penthouse lifestyle, as people were used to high-rises and no power shortage meant that lifts would never fail them. Add to it the sea breeze, the view of the city's skyline and, above all, the distance from the madding crowd.

But in cities like Delhi and the surrounding NCR, till only a few years ago the first choice remained ground floor flats with garden spaces. Living on floors above the second meant the long climb up, with lifts working on the whims and fancies of the power board in northern India.

"It was the 100 per cent power back-up, assured and delivered by developers, that raised the confidence of people in cities like Delhi to buy apartments on higher floors and enjoy penthouses," says Anand.

In fact, Pranav Ansal, chairman, Ansal Township and Projects, sees a trend of people opting for penthouse apartments in suburbs rather than a three-bedroom bungalow in one of Delhi's posh colonies.

Nivedita Singh, a psychotherapist, is busy landscaping her terrace garden and designing an open-air barbecue for her 6,000 sq ft penthouse on the 9th and 10th floors of ATS Greens Village, developed by ATS Greens in Noida's Sector 62. By October, she plans to shift into it out of her independent bungalow.

Why forgo an independent bungalow for a penthouse? Singh reasons, "In an independent bungalow, a small plumbing problem makes you run around, whereas in a building, the housing society would take care of all these odd jobs. A penthouse lets you enjoy the benefits of a bungalow without the hassles."

And then Singh starts to list the highs of a penthouse - cleaner air, sunlight, less dust and mosquitoes, better view, no noise, privacy (no constant "hellos" to neighbours you run into on the ground floor), plus lots of open space, exclusivity and "a lifestyle". Her only apprehension is an earthquake. But what about Delhi's scorching summers, even with central air-conditioning?

"A special insulation to counteract the heating effect on the roof through foam concrete takes care of it," says Anand. And Singh is more than happy that its value has escalated to an approximate Rs 1.20 crore (Rs 12 million), when her purchase price was Rs 55 lakh (Rs 5.5 million) in 2004.

In comparison to penthouses in the West, most in India will not have exclusive lifts, but owners don't seem to mind. Limited penthouse availability also adds to the exclusivity tag.

"A great ego massage," says Amitabh Bhattacharya, vice president, corporate communications, Omaxe. He claims that it was Omaxe that gave Delhi and the NCR the penthouse concept, with its Omaxe Forest with penthouses built on a rather low fourth floor.

Architect Hafeez Contractor sees a penthouse as a win-win concept for all: "For the developer it gives a reason to quote a higher price, the buyer gets a huge space, and the architect more material for form and design." With a bungalow offering a view just till one's boundary wall, a penthouse gives an approximate 60-acre view.

No arguments when it comes to space, Hiranandani in Mumbai can cater to penthouses with a floor space of 21,000 sq ft. Jaypee Greens in Noida offers 7,851 sq ft pegged at Rs 4.5 crore (Rs 45 million). Omaxe, in Sector 62 in Noida, is building duplex-style penthouses of 6,500 sq ft on each floor. Most high-end developers are now regularly incorporating penthouses for their upcoming projects, where prices start at above Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) in Delhi-NCR and Rs 5 crore {Rs 50 million (5,000 sq ft)} in Mumbai.

Penthouse prices have seen a 100 per cent escalation over a span of a year-and-a-half, according to Bhattacharya. He says that it is difficult to find a penthouse that is for sale: "It's not an investment but a lifestyle choice, and people do not readily part with it."

Developers assess that penthouses will further dab the horizon of tier 2 cities in India, and Ludhiana and Amritsar specifically are ready for penthouses.

So it's not just Jack, but a lot of Jacks in reality who are enjoying the pleasures of their aloof mini-castles with a birds eye-view.

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