Many houses are marketed as a fusion of the old and the new, east meets west or even luxury meets shabby chic. But 50 Charles Street is a rare fusion of Mayfair mansion and Milanese palazzo. This unusual combination is the result of one of London’s most ambitious conversion projects, designed to woo one of the biggest names in Italian haute couture.
In the early 1990s, Gianni Versace and his eponymous fashion house was at the height of its success as a global business, worth almost £700m. The Versace family had harboured a decade-long ambition to float the group on the Milan Stock Exchange. But Italian financial instability forced them to switch allegiance and they announced plans to float in New York or London in late 1997. With a newly-opened shop on Bond Street and friends in Elton John and Princess Diana, Versace was rumoured to be looking at property in the city, with interest in this Grade-II listed, 5,756sqft building.
Originally built in 1752, the house changed hands between members of the aristocracy and wealthy merchants until it was converted into offices for a law firm after WWII due to a lack of commercial space in the West End. In 1994, it was purchased by a local contractor, who upgraded the interiors in anticipation of Versace buying it as his London base. He already owned multimillion-pound mansions in Miami, New York, Milan and Lake Como.
The four-bedroom home was given a spectacular atrium-style, conservatory that is still thought to be the largest of its kind in the West End, with full-height glass double doors opening onto a Milanese patio garden. Sheltered by a glass roof, which is over 30ft high, a sculptured staircase links this area to the floor above. Visitors are greeted by a diamond-patterned marble slab entrance hall leading on to a grand reception room, with gold leaf ceiling and a carved wood and marble fireplace. The master bedroom suite takes up an entire floor and there’s a separate studio flat on the lower ground floor for staff next to extensive high-security vaults.
“This was a substantial Mayfair property,” says Peter Stevenette, who was director of DTZ Residential when it worked on the conversion project, “I clearly recall the dramatic transformation of 50 Charles Street from a tired and underwhelming office building into an extremely stunning Mayfair residence of which the triple height, glazed conservatory was a major attraction. The entire project was highly sensitive at the time and cloaked in confidentiality, so it’s interesting to hear what the rationale was.”
By July 1997, the house was 70 per cent complete and, later that month, Versace signed a deal with Morgan Stanley to take the group public. But four days later he was shot outside his home in Miami by Andrew Cunanan, a madman on a three month killing spree around the United States. Even more ambitious plans for the house were put on hold and it was quietly sold to a businessman later that year.
Now, it’s back on the market with estate agent Wetherell and chief executive Peter Wetherell envisions “a buyer who wants a statement home with space to entertain on a large scale.”
50 Charles Street is on sale for £15m. Contact Wetherell on 020 7529 5566 or visit wetherell.co.uk.