Important north London mansion set for return to former glory

Planner approve £35m restoration of Highgate's epic Athlone House after long-running saga

Camden Council has approved plans to return one of north London’s most important private houses to its former glory.

The once impressive Athlone House has been the subject of all kinds of speculation in recent years, but the derelict Victorian mansion is set to become a single residence once more after a long-running saga.

Built as a show-stopping family home in 1871 to a design by Edward Salomons, Athlone played a key role as a secret RAF intelligence base during the Second World War and went on to become an NHS hospital.

The striking red-brick building has lain empty since the NHS vacated in 2003 (a demolition job was even on the cards at one point), but its new owner, Russian businessman and industrialist Mikhail Fridman, came to the rescue earlier this year and hired SHH Architecture & Interior Design to draw up plans for a £35m resi revival.

Camden were impressed and the scheme sailed through planning without a hitch last week…

Highgate Cllr Sally Gimson said: “We really, really welcome that this has finally happened after many years. It’s a fantastic scheme.”

Graham Harris, Managing Director, SHH Architecture and Interior Design told PrimeResi: “We are all delighted to have received planning approval with full support from the council and no objections. It is a great achievement on many levels and wonderful that this beautiful house will be restored to its former glory.”

The plans involve two key sections; a major renovation of the existing building, and an extension, designed as a “modern replacement” for what was once the walled garden and glass conservatory. The combined result will cover some 29,000 square feet, which is just under the original size of the house.   

Athlone House

Original drawings and photographs of the property were pored over by the design team to understand period details like the Dutch gables, castellations on the tower and heraldic beasts. They also looked at how to refurbish the stone and brick with similar patterns to ensure the external “envelope” of the two-storey house could be returned to its original form.

Sadly there’s not much left of the original ornate interiors after years of institutional use; the few surviving pieces – former ceilings, timber panels and an oak staircase with stain glass windows will all be refurbished. The designers say they’ll be creating interiors “using the original architectural language to ensure a cohesive look that will feel restored rather than ‘new’”.

The original chimneys will be reinstated to modern standards and some of the “lost” features – like the spire and weather vane on top of the cupola roof – will be rebuilt and put back in their rightful places. Internally, the existing courtyard will be turned into a semi-glazed space, introducing double-height volumes and creating a “clever juxtaposition” at the centre of the house.

The extension will house a pool area, state-of-the-art kitchen, storage and services, and has been inspired by the original walled garden and conservatory. The design team have taken their cue from the existing building, but made sure the house is still very much the principal structure. Two internal glass courtyards will open to the sky with views of the gardens.

There’s a couple of other buildings at the entrance to the property, which are due to be turned into a guesthouse and accommodation for staff and security, and the listed grounds – all seven acres of them, viewable from Hampstead Heath – are to be restored to a design by JFA Landscape (plans for this went down well with local residents and have already been approved by the Council).

The Ukrainian-born Fridman is Chairman of LetterOne, an international investment business, Alfa Group, a privately owned investment company that owns Russia’s second-largest closely held bank, and X5, Russia’s second-biggest food retailer.

Main images: SHH Architecture & Interior Design

Final image from “London leaders: Historic Families, Ancestral Estates” 1907 (CC-PD-Mark)