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Property News,

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Property News,

In our address book

The perfect English house and garden in the heart of Chelsea


Words by Alan Russell

How one European family created a loving tribute to the neighbourhood’s rich history in their Cheyne Gardens townhouse.

The house at the end of the terrace

Chelsea Manor, once owned by Henry VIII and where Elisabeth I grew up, was knocked down in the 18th century and replaced with houses. Parts of the original walled gardens and a blue commemorative plaque can still be seen today. The street was renamed Cheyne Gardens and lined with tall Victorian terraces built from red brick with beautifully contrasting stucco dressings. The house at the southern end of the terrace, standing on what used to be the orchard and vegetable gardens of Chelsea Manor, is especially fine. Its main façade with four windows includes high Dutch gables and a canted bay window with a balcony on top. The open sidewall of the house allowed for a second Dutch gable and additional south-facing windows for sunlight to come in from three directions. This created much brighter and more generous interiors, thereby giving space for a large staircase that evokes the entrance hall of a country house.

The façade with a balcony at the top.

Details of the staircase that evokes the entrance hall of a country house.

The façade with a balcony at the top.

Details of the staircase that evokes the entrance hall of a country house.

Celebrity residents

The immediate area of Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Gardens has attracted numerous celebrated residents. In fact, the neighbouring houses were home to the former prime minister David Lloyd George, the painters Dante Gabriel Rosetti and James Whistler, the philosopher Bertrand Russell and the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. More recently, members of The Rolling Stones, a former New York mayor, former Central European royals and presidents used to or still live on the block

Responsibility to restore heritage

When the current owners, a European couple, acquired the house in 2006, they were immediately attracted to its beautiful architecture and unique location. However, it was in a state of disrepair. Aside from fixing the roof and the windows, the owners needed to replace most of the technical infrastructure including a new kitchen, bathrooms, wiring and heating to make it a home suitable for family living. At the same time, they were keen to preserve and restore as many of the original stylistic features as possible, hoping to evoke and keep alive some of the area’s rich history while also allowing for contemporary living. ‘We felt a responsibility to restore the heritage of the house out of respect for our host country,’ they explain.

Preserving historic features

Their vision was brought to life by a pair of architects who appreciated these objectives of preserving the historic features while delivering all the amenities required for modern living. Where doors and skirting boards had deteriorated beyond repair, they were replaced to match the original designs. Elsewhere, more exceptional pieces were chosen if they suited the historic character, such as replacing later wooden mantle pieces with marble ones. And, on the first floor, the two smaller drawing rooms were opened up to create a double reception room with sunlit and spacious proportions.

Once finished, the house provided a perfect setting for a mix of traditional and modern furnishings, as well as large walls for hanging pictures. Continental pieces were complemented by English items, some antique and others contemporary, including a range of artworks that likewise suited the overall aesthetic.

Village feeling in the midst of metropolis

The owners have lived in Chelsea since they first moved to London in the late 90s. They fell in love with the feeling of being in a village whilst living in the middle of a metropolis. Around the corner is the beautifully curated Chelsea Physic Garden, and Battersea Park on the opposite side of the Thames is easily reached by walking across Albert Bridge. The Chelsea Flower Show in the nearby gardens of the Royal Hospital is a long-standing annual fixture that marks the start of London’s outdoor summer events.

From Cheyne Gardens, the excitement of the King’s Road is within walking distance, as well as museums and concert halls. Thanks to its slight recession from Cheyne Walk, traffic on the embankment cannot be heard from the house, nor from the garden and the roof terrace. Quaint pubs such as the Surprise in Chelsea, the Phene and the Cross Keys, or the fabulous La Delizia pizzeria, are tucked away into nearby side streets.

Private garden

The generous private garden is dominated by a beautiful, protected lime tree. Flanked by magnolias, camellias and palm trees, a fruit-bearing fig tree and lush plantains overlap from the adjacent gardens, creating a subtropical Eden in an English urban setting. Off the south end of the terrace, a majestic mimosa tree comes into full bloom early every year to mark the coming spring – arguably the prettiest season in London. In the summer months, the owners might have breakfast or lunch outside, while their children could host garden parties for friends.

Bittersweet goodbye

Thanks to its eight bedrooms across five floors, as well as a caretaker flat, the property is large enough for everyone to have their own space and privacy. The owners have loved making a London townhouse their home over the last 18 years, creating beautiful memories that are further cemented into the streets, schools, shops and other iconic Chelsea haunts. Simultaneously saddened to say goodbye to Cheyne Gardens, yet excited for their next adventure, the family feels privileged to pass on the house to the next lucky owners.


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