Unmodernised ‘set’ in “rule-ridden” Albany, Piccadilly that was the London home of eccentric antiques dealer and ‘King of Chelsea’ Christopher Gibbs for sale; tour the home of the man who got Princess Margaret high on hash
Expelled from Eton “for being generally totally impossible,” antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs (1938 – 2018) was not a man one would have imagined would have liked the idea of living in a place with archaic rules. This “peacock pied piper to society in the Swinging Sixties” whose “drug consumption awed even Keith Richards,” however, surprisingly chose as his London base Albany in Mayfair and now his former residence is for sale.
“A hermitage; quiet as a lagoon, secluded from the roar of Piccadilly” according to the author Sheila, Countess of Birkenhead in her 1958 tome Peace in Piccadilly, Albany – which is only ever referred to as ‘The Albany’ by the extremely ill-advised – quintessential dandy Gibbs lived in the building for “more than half [his] life.” Whilst also owning properties including Davington Priory in Kent – which he later sold to Bob Geldoff – and a “mystic hangover” home in Tangier, it was here that this ‘King’ of “distressed bohemian” style found a place that offered him: “Perfection for a singleton, an oasis of serenity in the frenetic heart of West London.”
This curious “cloistered world” has numbered Sir Isaiah Berlin, Alan Clark, Lord Byron, William Gladstone, J. B. Priestley, W. Somerset Maugham and Terence Stamp amongst those who have passed its vetting committee of trustees and Gibbs – a man who legendarily got Princess Margaret so high on marijuana that she had to go to hospital – even embraced its “no pets, no children, no whistling, no noise and absolutely no publicity” policy.
Photographed there by the curmudgeonly Victor Watts on a daybed that allegedly belonged to Lord Tennyson, described the home he created in an article for The New York Times’ ‘Style Magazine’ in April 2013:
“I had the place to myself and proceeded to make it my own in the accustomed style: sober mahogany, Oriental rugs, family pictures. I’ve continually reordered these rooms, distilling, paring, pruning, as chaste as my voluptuous nature allows.”
“So enraptured with my Albany life did I become that, reason deserting me (not for the first or last time) I gave up a spacious Bond Street gallery where I had my antiques shop and took one at the back of Albany, a small if elegant space with an entrance into the building, another onto the street and best of all a door into the underground passage – a quiet, invisible stroll home.”
“I love returning from Morocco, where I now spend much of my time, seeing the friendly porters at the door, hearing the clip-clop of feet on the Rope Walk, seeing the old-timers sitting in the little ivy-lined garden, sunning themselves by the little bronze statue of Antinous and the fountain, regularly invaded by the ducks from St. James’s Park – and enjoying sudden glimpses into other people’s lives through uncurtained windows, the hours marked only by the clock chimes of St. James’s Church, accompanied by the more uptempo tinkling of the clock at Fortnum & Mason, our local grocers.”
“At this point, when I am in London, I can’t imagine staying anywhere but Albany – all the more reason, perhaps, to clam up, maintain the longstanding omertà (or I should say discretion) that has held sway for centuries now, and count my blessings.”
Gibbs’ former home, ‘Set L6,’ is situated on the second floor in Albany’s Courtyard. It extends to some 1,178 square foot and includes a hall, reception room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. On the third floor, a separately accessed studio space has a shower room and kitchenette and of the property, the selling agents remark: “Whilst capable of immediate occupation, [it] does require the bathrooms being upgraded.”
Sold for just £60,000 ($75,000, €69,000 or درهم275,000) leasehold in March 2019 (presumably the term must have been very much towards its end), agents GreenHunt listed ‘Set L6 Albany’ on Zoopla first in May that year. Now, in April 2020, it remains for sale, but is instead listed on Primelocation. They seek £925,000 ($1.2 million, €1.1 million or درهم4.2 million) and offer it on a new 20-year leasehold with an upfront premium and a peppercorn ground rent.
Living in the building is not just the preserve of those with deep pockets. Peviously, in 2014, we featured ‘Set A5 Attic Albany’ – which was just £395 per week ($494, €454 or درهم1,800 per week) – whilst for those looking for something grander currently, a second and third floor freehold set is currently available through Sotheby’s International Realty for £4.95 million ($6.19 million, €5.69 million or درهم22.73 million). It extends to 1,890 square feet, is described as “meticulously refurbished” and includes an especially impressive drawing room.
Christopher Gibbs quoted:
“[I’ve always attracted] the grand and the raffish and the fast and the chic.”
“[I am] monumentally narcissistic.”
“I am a bit snooty… I do make exceptions, but very few.”
“We are here to learn, and my goodness I have a lot to learn.”
“[I was expelled from Eton for] Rabelaisian antics – illicit drinking, pantry raids of other boys’ rooms – that sort of thing.”
“Taste is something you catch – like measles or religion.”
“I like things in their natural state – people especially. As life goes by, that’s what I admire: objects and people that are unmonkeyed with, that are themselves, not trying to be something else.”
“I’m not interested in creating a dazzling impression of richness. We can make do with surprisingly little in life. It is best to have a few things which are really nice. I don’t approve of the mean look, but I do approve of the spare look, where every little bit is telling.”
“Being a shopkeeper, I used to sell things, sometimes.”
“I definitely suffer from the blown-mind syndrome… The only thing I’ll say in my favour, is that I was practically the only person I knew who actually went to work at nine o’clock in the morning, whether I’d been up to eight o’clock or not, because I had a job, my own business, and I realised that, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any of those things.”
“[I] help people make nice cosy homes where they are going to live happy, beautiful lives.”
“[I] encourage friends to dig into their heirlooms, to wear old clothes, to turn their backs on ugliness and conformism.”
“Collectors today want a good car, a good sound system, and a huge pink heart painted by Damien Hirst with dying butterflies on it which costs £400,000. Yet for much less you could buy something completely fascinating made 300 years ago.”
Quotes about Christopher Gibbs:
“Taste is difficult to define, but his is absolute perfection” – Min Hogg, founding editor of World of Interiors.
“[He was] like an 18th century English parson who knew more about Etruscan vases than anyone at the British Museum” – Sir John Richardson, July 2018.
“I’m here to learn how to be a gentleman” – Mick Jagger of his then neighbour Christopher Gibbs whilst at a dinner party at his house.
“He was very flash… Sometimes he just wore tight jeans or fancy dress, like the others; but mostly his tastes were elaborate; suits with double-breasted waistcoats and cloth-covered buttons, and velvet ties, and striped Turkish shirts with stiff white collars, and cravats. Above all, he had a passion for carnations and was forever buying new strains, pink-and-yellow, or green-ink, or purple with red flecks” – Nik Cohn, author of Today There Are No Gentlemen, January 1971.
“Part Montesquieu, part Beau Brummel, and part Baudelaire… [Christopher Gibbs was a] well-born Renaissance man with an unmatched eye for aesthetics and a talent for friendship and the mot juste” – Hamish Bowles, international editor at large for Vogue, July 2018.
“Christopher was almost single-handedly responsible for making English antiques, and English heritage, look ‘cool’ again” – James Reginato of Vanity Fair, July 2018.
“A connoisseur of the weird and the wonderful” – Christopher Mason of The New York Times, September 2000.
“[He was an] acid-tripping ex-roué once known as the King of Chelsea” – Bitter words from the ex-Daily Mail ‘journalist’ and poison pen James Delingpole, executive editor of Breitbart.
“[The] avatar of Swinging London” – A more kind description from Sam Roberts of The New York Times.
“The arbiter of bohemian style” – Mitchell Owens of Architectural Digest Pro, July 2018.
“Christopher Gibbs: the man who brokered £50 million Getty grant to the National Gallery – and fed Princess Margaret hash brownies” – Huon Mallalieu of The Art Newspaper, July 2018.