Kensington owes its origins as a fashionable location to Kensington Palace, a royal home since 1689. Kensington Palace Gardens, a long, private avenue has a sprinkling of homes owned by the super-rich, among them Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter, Tamara.
Development in Kensington has tended to be small-scale but the area is changing. Its burgers have been jolted into action by seeing Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia steal much of its limelight, and by the dramatic rebranding of Bayswater. With the help of ever-resourceful developers, key areas are being unlocked for new homes.
Its biggest housing scheme for decades, 375 Kensington High Street, a complex of apartment buildings with a spa and concierge, is a joint venture between house builder Berkeley and insurance giant Prudential, bringing 339 homes to a prominent corner site at the junction of Warwick Road. Prices from £805,000. Call 020 7720 4000 or visit 375kensingtonhighstreet.co.uk
The much-heralded redevelopment of the Commonwealth Institute with leading minimalist architect John Pawson producing a new Design Museum, has the added attraction of three new residential blocks with 62 flats, some overlooking Holland Park. Contact Savills on 020 7535 3300.
Redevelopment of the much-loved Odeon, across the street, is a step nearer, too. A previous scheme for new homes failed to get off the ground but now Minerva has revised plans to build 40 luxury flats and a new cinema behind the cherished art deco façade.
The Crown Post Office at 257 Kensington High Street is also set for redevelopment, while next year work will start on a scheme of 72 flats on land once part of Holland Park School. This project, a collaboration between property giant Grosvenor and niche developer Native Land, is bringing 72 flats to prestigious Campden Hill, which links the high street to Notting Hill.
De Vere Gardens, with 97 luxury homes, aspires to be Kensington’s highest-calibre apartment scheme — a low-key, less blingy (and cheaper) alternative to One Hyde Park, the Candy brothers complex up the road in Knightsbridge. Architect David Chipperfield has designed modern new elements to complement the retained traditional façades. The project is still a building site and the appointed agents (Strutt & Parker and Knight Frank) are keeping their cards close to their chest until the official launch next year. Completion is due in 2014.
Estate agents are rubbing their hands at the prospect of all these new residents, reporting a rise in the number of sales to tax-fleeing French nationals, who have a long association with Kensington because of the Lycée Français in Cromwell Road.
Though the area heaves with seriously wealthy people and has the capital’s highest proportion of second homes, it is also a place where families on middling budgets put down roots, attracted by excellent local schools, and houses with relatively large gardens.
The wide mix of properties and settings takes in grand stucco townhouses, mansion flats, artists’ studio houses, purpose-built Sixties blocks, garden squares and cobbled mews.
Mainstream properties in Kensington cost about £1,300 a sq ft, which is lower than some buyers expect, though the very best homes can cost more than twice this figure.
“Autumn has got off to a lively start and we are seeing strong offers coming through,” says Kit Allen of estate agent Savills. “We had 12 bids for a house which went under offer at 23 per cent above the guide price.”
Banda Property, a search and project management company, says in the past year it has found five buildings in Kensington High Street alone for clients. “Generally, it is buildings with residential upper parts where good-value one- and two-bedroom units, rather than trophy apartments, are being created,” says Edo Mapelli Mozzi, managing director.
Abingdon Village, south of High Street, is another hotspot.“Last January we identified a house for a client for about £1,400 a sq ft,” says Mozzi. “Current asking prices for houses on the same street are £1,940 a sq ft. Buyers want to move to Kensington before higher-priced new residential schemes arrive on the market.”
Another telltale sign of change is Dryland, an upmarket business centre and private members club opposite High Street Kensington Tube, set up by tycoon Jon Hunt who made a fortune from selling the Foxtons estate agency chain he founded.