21st century gauche replaces 20th century elegance
A hidden enclave opposite the V&A museum in South Kensington was home to two of the twentieth century’s most fascinating individuals. London club owner and arbiter of good taste Mark Birley lived at Thurloe Lodge for nearly thirty years until his death in 2007 and for a time, the British ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn resided next door at Amberwood House.
Sadly, now, both properties are about to be subjected to the wrecking ball. Built in the 1840s and remodeled during the ownership of the renowned actor-manager Sir Nigel Playfair in the 1920s, Thurloe Lodge – which was marketed and sold for some £17.5 million by Birley’s daughter India Jane in 2011 though agents W. A. Ellis – is to be pulled down and replaced with a three-storey dwelling.
That the new owners have managed to secure planning permission to replace the entire building despite Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea planning officers noting “the existing property does make a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the conservation area” is somewhat perplexing. Nothing it seems is sacred and that the “well appointed” rooms of Birley’s “ultimate bachelor pad” will be replaced by something more appealing to a Russian oligarch is both sad and telling.
Amberwood House was built in the 1920s and it was here that Fonteyn lived with her husband the Panamanian ambassador Dr. Roberto Arias in the 1950s and 1960s and where also she took in Rudolf Nureyev in 1961 when he defected from Russia. It is currently on the market at a price of £25 million through Knight Frank after having been sold to developers Prime London Holdings for £12.5 million in 2010.
The firm of developers, which is connected to former Dragons’ Den star James Caan, have gained consent to increase the unmodernised building from its current 6,147 square foot to 13,500 square foot and will dig down to create further accommodation at basement and sub-basement level. Naturally, given the needs of the type of purchaser they’re targeting, such things as a swimming pool, leisure facilities and a passenger lift are included in their designs. In addition, an “ingenious solution” for parking a car as big as a Rolls-Royce Phantom has been proposed. It will incorporate a hydraulic lift platform and will require a planning modification.
Though many will argue that change should be accepted and that the new wealthy will leave their own intriguing legacies, we imagine that sadly both Fonteyn and Birley would turn in their graves if they saw what was being done to their old homes.
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