The Mail on Sunday: An embassy revolution
Sun 17 Mar 2013
An embassy revolution
The diplomatic treasures that could become a passport to gracious living
Unless you work for a foreign diplomatic service of you find yourself in a similar predicament to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, it is unlikely you will ever spend a night at one of London's 115 embassies. But these foreign missions occupy some of the finest residences in the capital.
A number are likely to move in the coming years, according to Venetia van Kuffeler of Diplomat magazine, and many of the addresses they occupy will come under private ownership as a result.
'The majority of London's embassies are leased from the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estate,' says Ms van Kuffeler. 'Many of these long leases and peppercorn rents were agreed 100 to 120 years ago, and a number of these leases are expiring in coming years. Foreign missions in London may change locations for this reason.'
One person ahead of the trend is designer Jason Yeang, who bought the former Nicaraguan embassy in Gloucester Road, West London, for 1.95 million in 2008 and has now put it on the market for 3.5 million.
In the late Nineties, the embassy moved. A lawyer bought the house and lived there until 2008 but did little in terms of renovation.
Now Jason has transformed the three-bedroom, Grade II listed house, built in 1826, into a sleek, modern living space which bears little resemblance to its old life as an embassy.
'It was in a sad state when I bought it,' says Jason, 41. 'The skirting boards were in bad condition and the plasterwork had lost its sharpness.'
Jason, who was born in Singapore and moved to Britain in 1992, lived in the house for two years before beginning the work. 'I wanted to understand it before I started. As a designer, I've found living in a property makes the product better,' he says.
'I wanted to know where the sun rose and set and how I could open it up to bring in light. The house has an exact east-west axis running through the length of it and this is what I wanted to exploit.
'Besides location, light and space are the holy grail of English property and it was vital for me to get these aspects right.' Work began in 2011 and took 13 months to complete. The addition of a skylight and a glass wall overlooking the garden, running from the ground floor down to the basement kitchen, made the most dramatic change.
This has transformed a traditional four-storey cellular structure into an open-plan living space, with light flooding in all over the house.
Jason also moved the kitchen into the basement and turned the upstairs dining room into the en-suite master bedroom.
To make the most of the natural brightness inside, mirrors have been placed at strategic positions around the rooms and Jason has used limestone for some of the walls and flooring, which reflects light.
Jason's quest to find the right balance between the old and the new has been achieved by restoring the house's original staircase, timber shutters and the fireplace in the front reception room.
Standing on the balcony overlooking the garden, which has also been given a full makeover, is the only place where Jason can imagine the Nicaraguan ambassador making an appearance in the house.
'I can picture him enjoying a large cigar out here,' he jokes.
Jason describes himself as 'nomadic' and he and his fashion producer wife Valerie, 41, and their children Niki, ten, Justin, seven and Jamie, two, have moved out of the house and now live in Notting Hill.
William Hughes-Ward, from Marsh & Parsons, says: 'The fact that it once housed the Embassy of Nicaragua adds an interesting bit of contemporary history to this pretty house. It's unusual to get such a stunning light and modern interior in a property of this type in London.
'No 8, Gloucester Road is priced at 3.5 million and works out at 1,750 per square foot, which for this fabulous location represents fair market value, especially with its wow factor.'