Kensington Palace Reopens to Public After a Royal Makeover

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LONDON -- It's the past home of Queen Victoria and Princess Diana, the future residence of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge -- and, it's hoped, a stop on tourists' London itineraries.

Kensington Palace -- part museum, part royal abode -- is reopening to the public after a two-year, 12-million-pound ($19-million) makeover designed to give visitors a sense of what it is like to live in a centuries-old building that has witnessed both affairs of state and affairs of the heart.

Senior curator Joanna Marschner said she hopes the renovated building will shake up preconceptions about royal palaces, offering both the "big, glorious, golden rooms" that people expect, and a trove of more personal, revealing items -- from Queen Victoria's baby shoes to Princess Diana's little black dress.

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"I hope what we have done will engage people who have always thought 'a royal palace is not for me,'" Marschner said Tuesday. "And for them to realize that these remarkable buildings -- part of the DNA of the city -- are for them."

Tucked into Kensington Gardens, a public park in central London, Kensington Palace is a warm red-brick contrast to gray Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II's London home.

It was home to six British monarchs, including Victoria, who spent her childhood here, and now contains several royal "apartments" -- actually Georgian houses, one of which William and Kate will move into next year.

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It also has dozens of rooms that are open to the public. The public side of the palace reopens Monday, in time for a busy tourist season that includes the queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the Summer Olympics.

Project manager Jo Thwaites, who oversaw the renovation, said the changes involved "peeling back the layers of Kensington Palace in order to reveal much more for visitors to enjoy."

Formerly shielded by hedges and fences that made its public entrance hard to find, the palace is now much more welcoming.

The entrance from the park lies beside a lovely ornamental garden surrounded by manicured lawns on which visitors are encouraged to dawdle. It comes as a surprise to find the signs posted there do not say "keep off the grass," but merely warn people to take care on steep slopes.

Many visitors will head straight for a ground-floor display of dresses belonging to the palace's most famous recent occupant, Princess Diana. She lived here for 16 years after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. After her death in a Paris car crash in 1997, thousands of mourners came to leave flowers outside the palace gates.

Display cases hold garments including a black silk taffeta gown by Emanuel, a Versace cocktail dress and a fuchsia Catherine Walker gown, alongside sketches of the garments and photographs -- all revealing, according to curator Deirdre Murphy, "Diana's evolving style and the important role fashion played in creating her public image."

Upstairs is an exhibition devoted to Victoria, the only British monarch before the current queen to reach 60 years on the throne.

It includes the room where she was born and the room where in 1837 she was informed, at age 18, that her uncle William IV had died and she was queen.

Personal items range from her first pair of baby shoes to a pair of the royal stockings -- along with Victoria's delighted description of how her husband, Prince Albert, helped her put them on.

Their marriage is traced from romantic start to tragic finish, with displays including Victoria's ivory silk wedding gown and the black dress she wore in mourning after Albert's death in 1861.

Further on are the grand state apartments originally inhabited by King William III and Queen Mary II, husband-and-wife monarchs who sat on the throne beginning in 1689. It was they, Marschner said, who hired architect Christopher Wren to transform "a modest-ish 17th-century house into a baby palace."

The rooms are grand, with Old Masters and gilded statues aplenty -- but they also tell a moving human story.

With no children of their own, William and Mary pinned the succession hopes of their Stuart dynasty on Prince William, son of Mary's sister Anne. The only child of Anne's 18 pregnancies to survive infancy, he was a lively but delicate boy who died after falling ill while dancing at his 11th birthday party.

His death sparked both family mourning and a constitutional crisis. With no obvious successor, Parliament weighed the claims of 43 possible heirs before settling on a German cousin, Sophia of Hanover. She died before she could take the throne and her son became Britain's King George I.

"In these rooms William and Mary debated what to do," Marschner said. "Here they played with their little nephew, willing him to live.

"That is an extraordinary, compelling story."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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Taking Inventory: Foreclosure Finds Across the U.S.
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Kensington Palace Reopens to Public After a Royal Makeover

Location: Trenton, N.J. 
Average Foreclosure Discount: 67.8 percent

Price: $198,500
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Trenton ranks No. 1 on RealtyTrac's list of cities with the steepest foreclosure discounts. This single-family, whose price was slashed recently, represents one of the killer deals you can find in the city. 

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Dating back to the 1960s, this Cape Cod-style home offers three bedrooms and two baths. Judging by the average foreclosure discount of New Jersey, the home could be running as much as $150,000 below market value. 

Location: Atlanta 
Average Foreclosure Discount: 49.67 percent

Price: $3.75 million
Beds/Baths: 7/10
Sq. Ft.: 22,000

Foreclosed homes in Atlanta are selling for a staggering 50 percent off, according to data from RealtyTrac. This vacant Mediterranean mansion offers a rather excessive four kitchens along with amenities that include a home theater, pool, spa, steam room and elevator. 

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With its gleaming double staircase, the foyer's richly finished, sparkling-clean interior contrasts with the scene at many foreclosed homes, which often show neglect. 

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At a whopping 22,000 square feet, the home's cavernous interior is distinctly palatial.

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Location: Houston
Average Foreclosure Discount: 48.14 percent

Price: $4.29 million
Beds/Baths: 5/9
Sq. Ft.: 12,129

It may be hard to believe that $4.29 million is a below-market price, but given that this stucco Mediterranean is bank-owned and Houston's foreclosure discount approaches 50 percent, odds are that the home could be quite a deal for a well-heeled buyer. 

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The home has a stone exterior and tile roof, along with a courtyard, pool and outdoor kitchen. The interior stretches 12,129 square feet. 

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After weaving around columns and through arched doorways, you reach the home's library or its fully-contained suite, accessible through its own entrance. 

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Location: St. Louis
Average Foreclosure Discount: 54.61 percent

Price: $89,900
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 1,342

This brick-built home, which dates back to 1930, probably hit the market at a reduced price to begin with, but now is running even lower, having just undergone a price cut. The home offers stained-glass windows and wood flooring along with a spruced-up kitchen. 

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Pictured here is the home's updated kitchen. The residence is even more of a deal if you factor in its purported HomePath Mortgage status. That means if you've got the right credit, you could snatch it for as little as 3 percent down. 

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Location: Lansing, Mich. 
Average Foreclosure Discount: 44.31 percent

Price: $124,900
Beds/Baths: N/A
Sq. Ft.: 2,228

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The home's portico gives it a tinge of the pastoral era in which it was built. The classic was constructed in 1855. 

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Location: Grand Rapids, Mich. 
Average Foreclosure Discount: 43.45 percent

Price: $289,900
Beds/Baths: 4/4
Sq. Ft.: 4,339

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Along with its expansive interior, the home also boasts its own heated greenhouse, along with a theater and office. 

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Location: Flint, Mich. 
Average Foreclosure Discount: 21.55 percent

Price: $109,600
Beds/Baths: 4/3
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Location: Tampa, Fla. 
Average Foreclosure Discount: 24.97 percent

Price: $143,900
Beds/Baths: 6/4
Sq. Ft.: 2,920

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Average Foreclosure Discount: 41.17 percent

Price: $29,900
Beds/Baths: 3/1
Sq. Ft.: 1,556

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Average Foreclosure Discount: 40.39 percent

Price: $129,000
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 1,456

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Pictured here is the home's open dining-kitchen area. The place seems to be in pretty good shape for a foreclosed home. Many fall into poor condition, succumbing to insect infestations or other symptoms of neglect. 

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