£20m buys space for the retinue

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The Old Rectory in Chelsea, the most expensive house to come on to the open market, has been sold for about £20m. The proud new owner of the 30,000 sq ft mansion with two acres of gardens is a European, who bought it through an offshore company.

The previous occupants were squatters, who lived in the house when it was a dilapidated rectory. Since then it has been transformed into an ambassadorial residence with a vast cuboid drawing room, eight bedroom suites, a kitchen which can cater for 100 diners and a black marble swimming pool used as a backdrop by the photographer Herb Ritts.

It was the most extravagant of a series of speculative builds by Toyoko Metropolitan (TMC), a business combining the design team of Anthony Collett and David Champion and their Japanese patron Norikazu Nemoto. Last year they sold the house next door, a spectacular single storey property, for nearly £6m to the property developer Elliot Bernard.

The Old Rectory joins the new league of private palaces in London. Last year saw the sale of St John's Lodge in Regent's Park for £40m and two former embassy buildings in Kensington Palace Gardens for £30m. Richard Crosthwaite of Knight, Frank and Rutley, who sold the Old Rectory, said: "It does prove the point that the wealthiest individuals do have a requirement for houses twice as large as those they would have bought five or ten years ago. Their retinues have got bigger and they have got richer."