Buy Of The Week: Mayfair

Only in Mayfair would you find a mansion that's housed sheep - and Gloria Swanson. Mary Wilson investigates
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The Independent Online

Mayfair might have the most expensive houses on the Monopoly board, but in the real world it has yet to match the exorbitant prices of Knightsbridge and Chelsea.

Mayfair might have the most expensive houses on the Monopoly board, but in the real world it has yet to match the exorbitant prices of Knightsbridge and Chelsea.

What it does have, however, are some of London's most impressive houses - both architecturally and historically. Most of the finest and grandest were built for dukes, duchesses and nobles in the 18th century. During the Second World War, a good chunk of these buildings were requisitioned as offices, because businesses were forced to relocate away from the City, but when these leases expired in the early 1990s, Mayfair began its return to the elegant residential area it once was.

Among the grand houses, the cobbled mews, the Victorian mansion blocks and the new, expensive apartment blocks, there are a small number of buildings that stand out for their eccentricity. One of these is the Farm House in Farm Street, an extraordinary looking building from the outside - and pretty unusual internally, too.

Although its early history is unknown, except that it was a farmhouse before Mayfair was developed (there is mention of a right of way for sheep through the house in the deeds), it was rebuilt in the early 1900s by a Mrs M Strakosch in the Gothic style, with half-timbered façade, heavy panelling and original Jacobean doors.

Strakosch took the trouble to create an authentic 16th-century house - and even put in original medieval doors and panelling. The impressive oak front door is carved inside and out with the heads of the 12 apostles, and the reception hall used to be lined with old Flemish linenfold panelling. This is now gone, as is the old walnut panelling and painted 17th-century wooden wardrobe doors in the main bedroom. But many of the original Jacobean internal doors are still there, including the linenfold panelling in the dining room. The original stone floors have been replaced with wide, wooden boards.

Previous inhabitants of the Farm House include Thelma Furness, who was Gloria Vanderbilt's twin sister, and Gloria Swanson, who had her second child there in 1932. In her autobiography, Swanson writes: "Lady Thelma Furness had a charming house on Farm Street, where her friend Wallis Simpson has kept the Prince of Wales company while Thelma was away in the States. The house was empty for the moment, so we settled in to wait for the baby and see old friends."

To testify to her presence there, a mural was painted on the far wall of the dining room depicting Swanson, her films and her foibles. In the picture there is a champagne bottle and glass, a cigarette holder, a riding whip and hat, a Harlequin, some cards and a candelabra. In one corner, the artist, Carl Jasper, has written his name.

When the current owners, who do not wish to be named, bought the house in 1976, the mural was covered by the red silk wallpaper that adorns the other walls of the dining room. They were told that there might be something beneath the paper and were amazed to find the painting, which they duly had restored. They have carried the red theme through the house, carpeting the dining room and the stairs up to the top floor in a colour dyed exactly to match the wallpaper.

Other quirky features include an oriel window beside the first flight of stairs, which has been copied from one in an old London church; and linenfold panelling in the kitchen, which the present owners put in to match the rest of the house. In the bedroom, too, they have copied the old, though not the original, pine wardrobe doors, for the doors to more wardrobes and a dressing table.

The house is cosy and inviting, with a particularly large drawing room on the first floor, overlooking the neo Gothic Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception across the road. Although it has some stunning features, there is room for updating, especially in the kitchen and the bathrooms - the main bathroom has no shower, but it does have a huge double-width bath, large enough for all the family.

There is a self-contained two-bedroom flat on the lower ground floor, which was converted 18 months ago. This has a different feel from the rest of the house, being fitted with a modern kitchen replete with marble worktops and cherry wood units, and smart bathrooms with limestone flooring and tiles. Off one bedroom, there is a small courtyard garden, and off the other a very useful vaulted wine cellar, fully tanked.

On the top floor, which has some ornate original cornicing, there are three bedrooms and a small kitchen, but these could easily be opened up to create fewer, but larger rooms. It also has a pretty decked and tiled south-facing roof terrace and it is thought that planning permission could be obtained for another floor or a conservatory.

"The house really stands out and it's in a very quiet street," says Charlie Willis of Strutt & Parker, which is selling the house jointly with Horne & Harvey. "It needs a bit of imagination, but could be made into a really stunning home". The owners do not wish the price to be published, but it is safe to say that the 4,500sq ft house is on the market for several million pounds.

The Farm House in Farm Street, London W1 has six bedrooms, four reception rooms, study and an integral garage. Strutt & Parker (020-7235 9959), Horne & Harvey (020-7499 9344).

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