The transformation of Kensington Palace:from new plans for a mega-basement to Christopher Wren's pavilions

The plan for a two-storey basement next to the Orangery, which has been lodged months before Kate and William are expected to move to the Palace full time this autumn, is the latest in a long line of changes to the layout of the royal residence.

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New plans for a 16,000sq ft, two-storey basement in the grounds of Kensington Palace to house offices for 100 members of staff have been submitted for approval to Kensington and Chelsea council.

The royal family has owned Kensington Palace since 1689 and it's rare for a monarch to live there without putting their own stamp on the complex of buildings and grounds. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who moved to the palace in 2013, are no different.

Their four-storey home, Apartment 1A, formerly lived in by Princess Margaret, was renovated by William and Kate in 2011 at a reported cost of £4.5 million. They created a contemporary open-plan layout and reduced the number of rooms from 30 to 22 to include two nurseries, three kitchens and offices for several of Princess Diana’s charities.

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Kate and William want to build a two-storey basement next to the palace's Orangery (PA)

Princess Diana is arguably most closely associated with Kensington Palace. She lived there from after her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981 until her death in 1997. The couple combined Apartments 8 and 9 – originally built by King George I for his mistress – and princes William and Harry grew up there. The apartments have since been re-split into two and house offices for charities and staff.

Princess Margaret's Formica family kitchen

Princess Margaret oversaw an £85,000 renovation (£1.5million in today’s money) of Apartment 1A with her then husband, photographer Lord Snowdon, in 1960. Although the major renovations of the semi-derelict, dry rot-ridden building were paid for with public money, a gift of £20,000 (£350,000 in today’s money) from the Queen paid for most of the fixtures and fittings.

One of Margaret's most radical departures was the installation of a family kitchen in white Formica and teak, complete with state-of-the-art appliances - for the day - including a waste disposal unit, freezer and a large fridge. The couple entertained the likes of ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, celebrity hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland and fashion designer Mary Quant.

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Princess Margaret entertained Sixties celebrities in the palace (Alamy)

Home improvements by Wren

When William III came to the throne in 1689, the sovereign’s main London residence was the damp, riverside Whitehall Palace, which proved a problem for the chronic asthma sufferer. He and his wife Mary bought a Jacobean mansion in the village of Kensington for £20,000 (£4.6 million in today’s money) and hired Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor to improve and extend – adding four pavilions, an entrance, a service courtyard and two galleries.

Queen Anne's winter garden

Their successor, Queen Anne, focused her attention on the gardens, spending £26,000 (equivalent to £5.3 million today) on a complete overhaul. She had the Orangery built in 1704 to protect her beloved exotic plants and citrus trees in winter.

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Members of the royal family have been adding to the palace since 1689

'The Aunt Heap'

During the 19th century, the Palace fell out of favour and into disrepair and was split up into apartments for minor royals and it was disparagingly dismissed as 'The Aunt Heap' by the Duke of Windsor. It also provided the first home for the Museum of London.

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Kensington Palace is vast warren of apartments, cottages and state rooms (Alamy)

Intergenerational living

Today, there are six apartments housing the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, all aged over 70, while among the younger generation of royals Prince Harry lives in Nottingham Cottage and Princess Eugenie is reportedly due to move into next-door Ivy Cottage this year.


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