Three homes for £210m: Is this proof London’s property market has lost the plot?
KAM BABAEE remembers the moment he fell in love with the past: as a boy visiting unique, historic sites with his property developer father in his native Iran.
‘I was on my school holidays and we were visiting one of my father’s restoration projects,’ he says. ‘The craftsmen were working and I could see the incredible beauty they were recreating. It was inspiring and gave me my great love of history and the beauty that’s to be found in the past.’
Kam, chief executive of K10 Group, one of London’s most ambitious property developers, came to Britain in 1979 aged ten. But it was when he lived in the capital in 1988 that his love affair with London truly began.
His British business interests began with luxury cars, but marrying his passion for history with London landmark properties seemed a natural match. Today, K10 Group’s portfolio includes three extraordinary London sites worth £210 million. There’s Culross House, in the heart of Mayfair, a £35million new-build mansion on the site of an Edwardian coach house; Amberwood House, a £75million development in ballet dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn’s former home at the old Panamanian Embassy, opposite the V&A; and the extraordinary Doughty House, a palatial building with its own galleried wing in Richmond which, on completion, will be marketed for £100million.
We meet at Culross House, a 8,051sq ft, five-bedroom townhouse. It’s Mayfair’s only new-build mansion. It has a cinema-club room, swimming pool and spa complex, all deep within three newly-excavated, below-ground floors — London’s deepest residential home. There are three further floors above ground level. Built in 1929, the freehold property — unusual in Mayfair — was once occupied by the head groom to the Capel family, the Earls of Essex.
By the time K10 Group acquired it, it was outdated and rundown. Two and a half years later, it has been transformed into an extraordinarily lavish home, with rooms inspired by five-star hotels such as Claridge’s, and VIP venues around the world.
There is £1.8million worth of bespoke furniture, with some fabulous design touches, including Lalique glass taps and designer art deco lighting. Even the multi-million pound lift resembles an art installation, with a glass-walled shaft which shows the workings and allows light to filter down from the large skylight above. The lift shaft, and staircase that wraps around it, took over 12 months to complete.
On the lower levels, there are sensational glass floors in parts of the gym, to allow views down to the glimmering swimming pool a floor below. The water reflects light upwards to create a dramatic, dappled effect on the gym ceiling.
Next door to the pool is a hamam, or steam room, where 200 Swarovski crystals embedded in the ceiling give the impression you are under a night sky. (‘When it’s full of steam and you see them sparkling, it’s quite incredible,’ Kam adds.)
All the mod cons in this house, however, are discreet (who was it said that ‘wealth whispers’? It’s positively breathless here). The dumb waiter, which connects the dining area to the family kitchen on the lower-ground floor, hides behind a wall of mirrors.
The house also has what is probably Mayfair’s first ‘smart kitchen’ — built-in technology that allows for an online food inventory and can be programmed to automatically order supplies when ingredients run low.
In the master bedroom, Italian silk fabrics cover the walls (at £841 a roll) and there are real chinchilla throws over the enormous bed. A particularly neat touch in the master bedroom are art deco-style cushions featuring a small black horse in harness — a subtle reference to the building’s origins.
‘I get rather attached to my finishes,’ Kam says, adding that many of the bathrooms have walls created from one slab of marble, imported from Italy, so as to be able to match the grains and shapes on each. ‘I really like everything to be perfect,’ he adds.
Below stairs (where there are staff quarters), rooms are given over to housing cabling and wiring for the state-of-the-art technology, which requires 12 telephone lines to support it. There are eco credentials, too, with the power to harvest fresh rainwater.
If this house were a person, he or she would be one of Hollywood’s most exotic film stars. So it’s no surprise when Peter Wetherell, chief executive of Wetherell, which is selling the property, says he feels it’s likely to sell to an American buyer.
In the coming years, Peter tips Mayfair to reach, or exceed the property prices unique to Chelsea or Knightsbridge. ‘They’ve always had the stand-out properties,’ he says. ‘But with new developments like this one, Mayfair — an even better location, close to 70 streets where you can shop the world’s top 100 brands — is rapidly catching up.’
Next, it’s off to Knightsbridge to Amberwood House. K10 Group is transforming the former home of Dame Margot Fonteyn, and her Panamanian husband Roberto Emilio Arias, into a 15,300sq ft private mansion. It’s impressive, even as a building site.
A future private driveway will boast a six-car stacker which sinks into the ground, while the property will lie secluded behind walled landscaped gardens. The original five-bedroom house built in 1928 served as the Panamanian Embassy between the 1930s and late 1990s. It was also home to Dame Margot in the ’50s and ’60s. There, she hosted a string of parties for royals and celebrities — guests included Princess Margaret, Antony Armstrong-Jones and Peter Sellers. Dancer Rudolph Nureyev lived here for eight months after he defected from the Soviet Union in 1961.
Dame Margot and Arias left the embassy in 1964 after he was shot by a political associate in Panama.
Kam still recalls the excitement of discovering the dance studio of one of the world’s most famous ballerinas. ‘It was a pretty room, covered in mirrors,’ he said. ‘We had no idea it was there.’
Finally, it’s on to Richmond and Doughty House. It’s one of London’s most important heritage restoration and legacy projects where the group is creating a 38,000sq ft, ten-bedroom, £100million private palace.
It took two years to acquire the site, which was bought in three stages and is divided into three properties. First there’s Doughty House, a three-storey, Grade II-listed manor house, built in 1769 of Portland stone and London brick for Sir William Richardson.
Added to that is an enormous 125ft-long gallery wing inspired by the long gallery at Buckingham Palace. It boasts marble pillars and mosaics brought from the ruins of the doomed city of Pompeii. Finally there’s the charming and smaller Dower House which links the other two buildings.
By the 1870s, the long gallery housed art by Rubens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt, but a series of costly divorces forced the family to sell off much of its collection. Plans to turn the house into a luxury hotel, or apartments, stalled.
By the time Kam discovered Doughty, it was inhabited by pigeons, squatters and one tenant who lived warmed by an electric heater, in a tiny room.
K10 Group has spent four years planning the redevelopment and has a team of 120 working around the clock. (It’s due to be completed at the end of 2019.) Renovations are costing £62million. It will include 48 chandeliers, 12 grand fireplaces and over £4.5million in bespoke joinery. There will be 20 different types of rare marble and stone. The reflection pool will be the largest of any private home in west London.
Buyers have the chance to customise it as it is being completed. Payment would be phased, as is common in Dubai, where the buyer puts down £10million, then further payments until the palace is completed.
For Kam, the building is a treasure trove of history. One thrill was the discovery by workmen of a previous owner’s old Rolls-Royce repair garage underneath the site. His first love may now be historical buildings. But this restoration has taken him back to classic cars.
This new mansion will provide accommodation over five levels — two of them subterranean. It will include a cocktail bar, club room, cinema, staff quarters and a 39-foot long pool featuring waterfalls and a coffered ceiling, a glass pavilion and roof garden.
This is a 38,000sq ft, ten-bedroom, £100 million private palace. The conservatory will become a family kitchen, breakfast and living area. There will be a 49-foot long reflection pool, bowling alley, complex for cars, with a turntable and car lift. The gallery wing will have a winter garden room, art gallery, ballroom, cocktail bar and wine store.