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One of London’s most iconic buildings, with 1,100 rooms and 2.5 miles of corridors, transformed into luxury apartments

Since the government moved out in 2015, the Old War Office in central London has been converted into Raffles-branded residences. Annunciata Elwes takes a look.

Wise as he was, as Winston Churchill puffed on a Romeo y Julieta at his Mountbatten desk in Whitehall’s Old War Office — a Portland stone, Edwardian Baroque behemoth built in 1906 at the eastern edge of St James’s Park in central London — he could little have imagined the building’s future as Europe’s first ultra-luxurious Raffles-branded residences.

The OWO view from Horseguards Parade. Credit: Grain London

Located on the site of the former Palace of Whitehall, the Alfred Drury sculptures of Virtues and Values atop the Grade II*-listed Old War Office witnessed a turbulent century before MoD operations moved out in 2015, a year after the building’s sale to the Hinduja Group, for a cool £350 million on a 250-year lease.

This building was the centre of operations during both World Wars — walls reverberating with Morse-code beeps and whispers over rustled papers — and the backdrop to the Suez crisis and Profumo scandal. Lord Kitchener peered over his giant moustache to run the ‘Your Country Needs You’ campaign and Lawrence of Arabia was a draughtsman there. We wonder what Ian Fleming, who worked in the building as a naval intelligence officer, would have made of his old stomping ground’s later use as a film set for a number of ‘James Bond’ films, from Octopussy in 1983 to Skyfall in 2012.

St James’s Park views from one of the turrets of The OWO. Credit: Grain London

Since 2014, the Old War Office’s 2½ miles of corridors, staircases palatial and secret and 1,100 rooms over seven floors have come alive, as experts from Historic England, The Prince’s Trust and the Museum of London Archaeology have flocked in and out, with EPR Architects (behind renovations at The Ned and Rosewood) overseeing an intricate redevelopment that saw conservationists and archaeologists catalogue every inch of the building’s fabric. As one can imagine, the subterranean tunnels, now blocked up, were labyrinthine, but a splash in the underground 65ft swimming pool is close enough.

An OWO master bedroom. Credit: Grain London

Launched on the market in June and set to complete in 2022, the 85 new homes, from studios to five-bedroom flats, will be based on the eastern, river side of the building, with ceiling heights stretching up to 14ft, interiors by 1508 London, handcrafted kitchens from Smallbone of Devizes, integrated appliances by the likes of Gaggenau and Miele, marble and onyx bathrooms with brass detailing and arguably the finest views in the capital through bombproof windows and from numerous elegant roof terraces.

The OWO apartment terrace. Credit: Grain London

Upon approach via the Spies Entrance on Whitehall Court — just across the road from the former faux offices of Rasen, Falcon & Co Shippers and Exporters, MI6’s original HQ — each residence is tailored to its footprint in the unusual building, which has been divided up with skill and flair.

Some are penthouses, some duplex, some contain original wood panelling, mosaic or parquet floors, even old messenger stations, and two feature statuesque corner turrets.

Among the 30,000sq ft of spaces exclusive to residents is Churchill’s former office, a 16-seat cinema, gym, three studios and seven lounges. For the first time in more than a century, the public will be invited into the Old War Office for 10 days a year, for tours of historic rooms.

Secretary of State Private Secretaries’ Office. Credit: Imperial War Museum

In essence, The OWO, as it is now known, embodies ‘vast Imperial wealth… two World Wars, a huge political scandal, the invention of sex in the 1960s… the end of an Empire and a remaking of a national image embodied in the most famous and least undercover spy in film,’ comments architect and author Edwin Heathcote. ‘Bureaucracy has faded in favour of luxury. This is its monument.’

Residents at The OWO will have exclusive access to London’s first Raffles hotel — with interiors by Thierry Despont (Claridge’s, The Dorchester and so on), 125 bedrooms and suites, nine restaurants and bars (including one in a rooftop turret), a spa and a 720-person ballroom — which, at the western end, makes use of the grand Whitehall entrance, just beyond the Quadrangle courtyard from Horse Guards Avenue.

‘Every decision made on The OWO is underscored by passion and respect for the heritage of the building and long-term commitment to London,’ explains Gopichand P. Hinduja, co-chairman of the Hinduja Group.

Two-bedroom flats start at the Old War Office start at £5.8 million, through Knight Frank and Strutt & Parker — see more at www.theowo.london

The Old Palace of Whitehall by Hendrik Danckerts. Not only is The OWO the site of momentous and clandestine 20th-century happenings — with underground parking taking the place of a Blitz-era bomb shelter — but this plot has seen much more. It began when Henry VIII confiscated Cardinal Wolsey’s house in 1530, turning it into the Palace of Whitehall, with a sumptuous interior much painted by Holbein and a footprint along the Thames larger than Versailles. His jousting tiltyard is now Horse Guards Parade. In 1611, Shakespeare’s The Tempest was first performed here. Other monarchs made additions, including Charles I, who commissioned a Rubens ceiling for the Inigo Jones Banqueting House and, 20 years later, in 1649, was beheaded outside it. It was painted in about 1675 by Hendrick Danckerts (above) and, in 1698, a fire that raged for 15 hours destroyed the entire complex as looters scrambled around burning timbers. Only the Banqueting House survived. Credit: Alamy