(Bloomberg) -- Mary Austin remembers the first time she saw Garden Lodge. She was accompanying her friend Freddie Mercury as he was house-hunting in London in 1980.

“It was a summer day, children were playing in the garden, and I was behind Freddie as we came in. It was so quiet and so peaceful, and that continued through the house,” Austin says, speaking exclusively to Bloomberg News from inside the Kensington property. She says he decided to buy the home that same day.

“Freddie went outside and said, ‘Tell them to take it off the market. I’ll give them the asking price now,’” she says.

Austin says Mercury was looking for an escape in London, a place where he could create and work on his music in peace without being hounded by the media—and Garden Lodge was it for him. “The press had been pursuing him to come out, and he wouldn’t, and why should he? And this gave him the wonderful feeling that he could create and live and be private here,” she says.

Austin inherited the property from Mercury upon his death in 1991 and has been living here ever since. She says at first she wasn’t sure if it’d be healthy for her to live in the home amid her grief from his untimely passing. But she realized that she could make a life at Garden Lodge and that she didn’t need to let go “for quite some years.”

“It was really only ever my house in name only,” says Austin, her voice full of emotion. “I had worked on the house with him and for him, and it will always be his. It was his dream, it was his vision.”

Austin, 72, has decided to list the property with Knight Frank for £30 million ($38 million). This follows a massively successful Sotheby’s auction this past September in which more than $50 million was raised selling Mercury’s belongings, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The house, when I saw it in mid-February, was mostly empty. But the design and details, such as citrus-yellow paint on the walls and spectacular art deco mirrors in the rock star’s dressing room, are the way Mercury left them. It stands as a tribute to Mercury’s own taste.

The plan was to do the auction and then think about selling the house, Austin says. “The auction was enormous. And I wasn’t sure how I would feel at this moment. But I realized that the time had come.” Austin says she’s alone in the house now, her kids are grown up and live elsewhere, and she feels like it’s time to start a new chapter in her life and move on. After a whirlwind year, she says this will be her last interview.

Touring the House

Garden Lodge is just past Cromwell Road in the heart of upscale Kensington, but it’s completely private, set back from the quiet residential road and protected by an 8-foot Edwardian brick security wall topped by an even higher spiked fence, with cameras around it. The wall’s famous green door, which acted as a shrine for Mercury fans who scribbled messages on it, sold in the Sotheby’s auction for £412,750. There’s another door there now protected by clear casing.

Just through the door lies a Japanese-inspired garden with blooming magnolia trees, a wooden pergola and a carp pond. The whole effect once inside the gated walls feels like a country retreat, with the high walls blocking out the noise of the streets. You wouldn’t feel like you’re just a 10-minute walk from the popular Kensington High Street, in the middle of prime central London.

“Freddie had an absolute vision for the garden. Kyoto Gardens was what came to mind—he wanted to re-create that tranquil environment,” says Austin, recalling some “very special memories” of having lunch with Mercury outside on sunny days by the pond.

The property offers eight bedrooms, and Mercury’s studio-house has an impressive brick exterior. Once inside the main entrance, to the left is what the singer called the Japanese room, one of two main living spaces. It has double doors that lead out to the garden and was his personal reflection space, says Austin. “We knew not to disturb him when he was in there.”

The ground floor also has a dining room where Mercury used to throw dinner parties, with planned menus and handwritten seating plans, including a space for his cat Oscar. Mercury was incredibly involved in the design of the room; he even painted the designs on the wall himself.

“He couldn’t get the decorator to match the ideas that he had in his head, so he had to do it himself,” says Austin, adding that Mercury did a design with pinks, greens and yellows on the wall.

Taking up the largest amount of the ground floor is the studio drawing room, with its wooden floors, yellow walls and ornate stone fireplace. This room was home to Mercury’s Yamaha baby grand piano, on which he wrote Bohemian Rhapsody; it sold for £1.7 million at Sotheby’s. Austin remembers pushing the piano to different spots around the room with Mercury, trying to find the ideal placement upon his move-in.

Here was the main room for entertaining, and there’s a staircase at the edge of the room that leads to an upstairs bar area, where someone getting a drink could observe the party going on below. Its two-story windows fill the room with light and look onto the expansive garden and its host of topiary trees.

Austin says she didn’t go to all of his parties but remembers a hat party that was in her words “a little full-on.”

“He designed a hat for everybody and had them all made,” she says. “He’d give you a hat, or you’d have a choice of two or three depending on how he felt about you that day.”

Along with the generous entertainment spaces, the ground floor has a cloakroom and a kitchen—with modern appliances—set back from the dining room. There’s a discreet utility room to the side that has served as a delivery area, and when I saw it, a place for Austin’s cats to sleep. 

Upstairs, Mercury’s four-part primary suite lies at the end of a hallway carpeted in thick cream pile. Once you enter, you’re surrounded by floor-to-ceiling mirrors in an art deco dressing room. The mirrored doors artfully hide cabinets where he stored his clothes, including his famous stage outfits. On the side of the dressing room are two full en suite bathrooms, one of which has FM engraved in the marble. Just ahead, sliding mirrored doors open to the bedroom space, with a terrace that overlooks the garden and into the tranquil spaces of Kensington beyond.

There’s a strong sense of personality and sense of time throughout the house, such as the light pink marble and green tub in a guest bathroom or the theatrical flair of the drawing room. It’s not a blank canvas, and that’s part of what makes it so special.

Before Freddie

Queen’s Mercury was the most famous occupant of Garden Lodge but wasn’t the only creative person to live there. The Neo-Georgian property was built at the turn of the 20th century as a combined home and studio for painter Cecil Rea and sculptor Constance Halford.

Other owners included Peter Wilson, a former chairman of Sotheby’s auction house, and British intelligence operative-turned-art-dealer Tomás Harris. It’s easy to imagine his own parties at Garden Lodge, with artists and spies mingling around the studio drawing room and the celebrations spilling out in the garden.

When Mercury bought the home, it was owned by a member of the prestigious Hoare banking family. Before its citrus-yellow makeover, the dining room was where they kept their safe.

“Mr. Hoare was taking us around, and I was just fascinated,” Austin says. “He said, ‘Oh, this is the safe. My father always sleeps at the bank, and when he can’t sleep at the bank, he brings all the money here.’”

Now that the property has been emptied of most of Mercury’s possessions, being in the house reminds Austin of how it was in the mid-’80s when Mercury was working with architect and designer Robin Moore Ede to make the home his own.

“We’ve actually revitalized the place to almost what it was before he moved his piano and belongings here. It was finished for at least a year before he moved in,” Austin says. “I would come here to work, I would come here to supervise, I would be here most of the time. And I suddenly find myself back to 1985.”

The Future of Garden Lodge

Austin first went to Knight Frank and explored selling the house 25 years ago, though she wasn’t quite ready to part with it then and, she says, appreciated that the agent she spoke to made sure to ask her if she was sure about a sale. She is now, she says, and is coming to terms with the fact that a future buyer will likely make changes to the property.

“The last thing you want is for someone to say, ‘Yes, I’ll buy it,’ and exploit it, and demolish it,” she says. “This is unique and has its beauty, and I know it has a purpose for someone—it did for Freddie.”

Prospective buyers should contact Paddy Dring or James Pace at Knight Frank for exact details of the property. Layouts, square footage and the size of the lot were not shared by the agency and are not being made available to the public for privacy reasons, they say. The listing itself is not being put online.

Dring says the property itself is a piece of cultural history, but it would be notable even without its famous owner. It’s incredibly rare to see such a large unmodernized home in central London with a mature garden area, he says. “It’s unbelievably special and a complete one-off.”

Kensington is sought-after, too. After Mayfair, it was the London area with the most sales priced above £10 million in 2023, according to Knight Frank. The average sale price for a Kensington detached home in the past year was about £18 million, according to Rightmove data. Comparable recent property sales near the £30 million asking price include ones with the same amount of bedrooms in nearby Holland Park—both updated recently and with swimming pools—but without any rock legend imprimatur.

As to whom Austin sees buying the house, she has a feeling that it’ll be another artist. “If it’s not another creative, it should be because it is, it has that atmosphere,” she says. “There might be a buyer with a similar modus operandi to Freddie.”

But, she continues, gesturing around the grand, now piano-less drawing room, “Once you’ve sold, you’ve sold. You can’t hold on to the past forever, I suppose. I’ll be leaving with it very warm in my heart.”

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