Step inside your own secret garden
A new London scheme gives owners access to a private plot of greenery right in the heart of the capital, writes Eleanor Doughty
PFor just a few minutes, London’s private squares felt like public property as William Thacker (Hugh Grant) and Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) climbed over a wrought-iron gate into Rosmead Garden, W11, in Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill. There are more than 200 private garden squares in London, owned by the residents who live around them – the most notable, Cadogan, Pembroke and Wellington – and very few of us will ever get to enter one.
However, if you’re in the market for a converted apartment in a period clock, and have a budget of £995,000 million, then you might be in luck.
The newly renovated Kensington Gardens complex, in the heart of Bayswater and a four-minute walk from Hyde Park, overlooks a two acre plot.
Private space like this is almost an unknown in Greater London’s residential areas, let alone in Zone One, and the new Garden House apartment block has direct access.
This 58-apartment development, with a 24-hour concierge service, is made up of one-, two- and threebedroom units. All are encased in a stucco-fronted Victorian mansion building and go on sale today.
“Normally properties on garden squares open on to a street, then you have a railing, and then the garden,” says Emma Whitby-Smith, head of investments at Residential Land, the developer of the Garden House.
“We don’t think there is another like this, where you can come straight from your flat into the garden.”
86-92 Kensington Gardens Square was built in 1860, originally as seven grand mansions. Over time, the building became run down and, at one point, was used as a boarding house. In the Seventies, it was converted into a block of flats, and a fifth floor added.
The whole project is described by Whitby-Smith as “affordable luxury”. “Affordable” is relative: units start from £995,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and £1.5 million for a two-bedroom.
Nevertheless, Whitby-Smith believes that the strategy is unique.
“Anything of this quality in a similar location is likely to be north of £3 million,” she says.
Unlike other new developments such as nearby One Kensington Gardens, Garden House does not have a penthouse. This, Whitby-Smith says, was done to keep capital values down.
The goal was to have all apartments under £2.5 million, and the onebedroom units under £1.5 million.
This is a critical figure for stamp duty: properties valued at £925,000 to £1.5 million are subject to a rate of 10 per cent, rather than the 12 per cent charged on properties valued at £1.5 million or more.
Whitby-Smith defends the suggestion that Garden House will be yet more bait for the international super-rich.
“A lot of the products on the market at the moment are over£2 million, but Kensington Gardens is cheaper than that. These units should therefore appeal to the domestic market,” she says. “We think there will be lots of people who will live here during the week and go to the country at the weekend.”
It is hard to see why anyone would choose to live in Garden House part time. Each apartment has deep, fluffy carpets, a south-facing patios and large, original sash windows.
The signature apartments are on the corners. One has triple floor-to-ceiling sash windows that looks out on to the two-acre garden, while the bedroom has a different view, this time of a smaller, railed square at the front of the building. This functions as a “front garden” for Garden House.
Access to both outside spaces is via the lobby, where the 24-hour concierge is located.
The entrance room gives a sense of the age of the building. The ceilings are high, and the team has preserved and restored the original cornicing
“Here, you know that the plasterwork hasn’t just been constructed, and the windows are wood – there’s no UPVC,” WhitbySmith says. “That was important to us – buyers like authenticity.”
Older buildings offer tangible advantages over their modern counterparts. “Basic things like soundproofing are much better in a period building,” she adds. “It’s built to last, whereas the modern blocks age quickly. They’re very much of their time.”
The purchase of a Garden House apartment buys “into a lifestyle”, says Carsten Swift from Knight Frank. “You’re getting a 24-hour concierge, parking by permit, and a two-acre garden. You can’t get that anywhere