Dr Nasser David Khalili, the Islamic art collector whose works of art are constantly touring world museums (the next exhibition in the US opens at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on 1 August, while his collection of 19th-century damascened metalwork goes on show at the Real Fundacion in Toledo on 14 May) has put one of his London houses on the market, for around £100 million.
This makes it the most expensive private town house ever offered for sale in Britain. Located in “millionaire’s row”, at 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens, the property has 55,000 square feet of accommodation, as well as underground parking for twenty cars. The immediate neighbours include King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and the Sultan of Brunei, while Kensington Palace is close by. Renovation work on the house has been the most expensive undertaken in Britain in recent decades, except for that done at Windsor Castle after the fire.
Ten years ago Dr Khalili bought the two adjacent houses for £40 million and he has spent a further £40 million on renovations and linking the two buildings. Built in the 1840s, to the designs of Charles Barry’s office, they were later both taken over by embassies. No. 19 became the Egyptian embassy and no. 18, once owned by the Rothschilds, formed part of the Russian embassy (its basement has steel-reinforced concrete walls more than two metres thick).
For most of the past six years Dr Khalili has employed 400 craftsmen, and the house’s walls and floors are now clad in 9,000 square feet of marble, some of it from the quarry used for the Taj Mahal. One of main reception rooms is lined with inlaid marble panels depicting the twelve months of the year. Much of the decoration throughout the house is inspired by Islamic art, and the basement has a massive Turkish bath. Although unfurnished, for Dr Khalili has never lived there, the floors are covered by Persian carpets.