AFTER losing its lustre over the centuries, the once regal Star and Garter Hotel in Richmond, London, will soon be restored to its former glory. Undertaking the project is developer London Square, which will spruce up the heritage building that was a grand hotel in the 18th century. Originally though, it was the residence of King Henry VIII in the 16th century.

When the palace was turned into a hotel, some of its frequent visitors were novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, author Charles Dickens and art critic John Ruskin. In fact, Dickens celebrated the publication of David Copperfield at the hotel in 1851. Other guests include Queen Victoria, Napoleon III and his third wife Empress Eugenie, and King Louis-Philippe of France.

The property is located in a 955ha conservation area in southwest London on which deer have grazed for more than 375 years and which represents 49% of the park space in the capital owned by The Crown, including Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

“The Star and Garter is one of London’s most famous landmarks. It has been celebrated as an architectural gem for nearly a century and we are thrilled to have been selected by the Royal Star & Garter Homes charity to undertake the restoration and conversion of such an important building,” London Square sales and marketing director Rebecca Littler tells City & Country.

“Its prominent façade and impressive details inside will allow us to create some of the most architecturally interesting and impressive apartments to have come onto the London market for decades.”

The work involved in turning the historical treasure into modern homes will include the restoration of the building’s ornate mouldings, coffered ceilings and original fireplaces and combining these with contemporary interior specifications using the finest materials and finishes, she adds.

One of the challenges, Littler notes, is rehabilitating the terrace garden and grounds, which boast a historic fountain and pool at the centre of the Italianate garden.

London Square has assigned Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, a landscape architect and historian who is the president of the London Parks and Gardens Trust as well as garden adviser to Hampton Court Palace, to lead the design team.

Architecture firm Paul Davis + Partners, chosen for its outstanding track record with conservation projects in London, including The Royal Hospital Chelsea and Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, has been appointed to reconstruct the building.

Littler says while Star and Garter Hotel is an old structure, many of the original features — a grand marble and columned reception hall with beautiful stained glass windows and curved staircase with wrought iron balusters — are still in remarkable condition and are being expertly restored.

International release

London Square launched Star and Garter in both the UK and Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Singapore, early this October.

“Certainly, investors play an important role but we also expect the development to appeal to downsizers looking for an impressive property close to central London,” says Littler. “Those looking for a second home in a beautiful location with hotel-style facilities or people from around the world who want to own a part of London’s history and live in an architectural masterpiece may also be keen.”

The area surrounding Star and Garter has some excellent state and independent educational institutions, such as King’s House, the Old Vicarage School, The Vineyard School and the American International University. Richmond is one of West London’s most fashionable districts due to its smart designer shops, vibrant cultural scene and Michelin-starred restaurants like The Glasshouse, Hedone, Matsuba, A Cena and Stein’s.

The new Star and Garter will offer 86 apartments and duplexes with one to six bedrooms. The project has an estimated gross development value (GDV) of £170 million (about RM916 million) and is slated for completion in 2017. The group did not disclose the built-ups but selling prices start at £745,000.

Furthermore, the palace’s great rooms — the King’s Room and the Queen’s Room — will be converted for use by the residents. One idea is a fitness centre. According to Littler, a chapel within the property will also be restored and eventually opened to the public, for the first time.

There will be 110 parking bays for the 86 residential units, of which 10% will be for the disabled.

Additionally, residents will be able to enjoy the green parks around it as the Star and Garter overlooks the Richmond Park, claimed to be the largest of the Royal Parks in the UK.

Richmond, which has retained most of its historical landscape, is also well connected via the national rail, over-ground and underground lines at Richmond Station, which is just 0.7 mile away from Star and Garter. The town is 10 miles by road from central London while Heathrow Airport is just nine miles away.

Outlook for Richmond market

The regeneration project by the Royal Star & Garter Homes charity as well as easy accessibility to Richmond have had a positive effect on the property market in the area. According to Tom Bill, head of London residential research, in the Knight Frank Richmond 2014 report, Richmond has benefitted from fundamental changes in the prime London property market since the global financial crisis. The value of properties in the town had risen 10.9% from a year ago to June compared with 8.1% in prime central London.

“The wave of capital was largely confined to the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Richmond where prices grew 18% in the same period. That changed at the start of 2013 when double-digit growth spread to prime outer London as the UK economic outlook improved,” says Bill. “It marked the return of the so-called ripple effect in house price growth, where increases emanate outwards from central London, as has happened in previous property cycles. As a result, Richmond prices rose 10.9% in the year to June compared with 1.5% in the preceding 12 months.”

He explains that buyers are increasingly prepared to look further afield for high-value property and in prime central London, 26% of £10 million-plus deals have been done in the so-called “golden postcodes” of Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Belgravia this year compared with 51% in 2013.

“Given its parallels with prime central London, Richmond is well placed to benefit as demand for so-called super-prime property disperses away from the immediate south, east and west of Hyde Park,” Bill points out. “In fact, the Knight Frank Richmond office accounted for half of the £10 million-plus sales in prime outer London in the 12 months to the middle of June.”

Prices grew more quickly in Richmond than in any other area in southwest London in the first half of the year, Knight Frank sales data shows, and now regularly exceed £1,000 psf.

As for rental yields, Knight Frank’s prime southwest London rental index rose 1.5% in the year to June compared with a 0.4% fall in prime central London, although the latter should turn positive this year as the market recovery continues.

Bill says there is high corporate rental demand in Richmond, leading to lettings typically at between £4,500 and £5,000 per month but which can exceed £12,000 for larger properties.

The reputable schools in the area also add to Richmond’s high growth. “The strong reputation of Richmond’s schools is pivotal to many buyers and tenants. Primary schools in the borough of Richmond had the highest average score in London for academic achievement during the 2012/13 academic year, ahead of Kensington and Chelsea.”

Knight Frank research shows that the average value of homes within a mile of one of the top-performing schools in England is 30% higher than average values in the surrounding areas, a figure that has risen from 27% in 2012.

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 8 - 14, 2014.