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.

"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.

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 from 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."

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Online: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace

Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless

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  • The 'Duty and Work' room of the 'Victoria Revealed' exhibition, charting the life of Queen Victoria, in Kensington Palace on March 20, 2012 in London, England. Kensington Palace is due to reopen to the public on March 26, 2012 following a 12 million GBP renovation project. The refurbishment has seen the renovation of the King and Queen's state apartments, a display of dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales and an exhibition charting the life of Queen Victoria. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • The 'Red Saloon'. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • The gardens of Kensington Palace on March 20, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: A woman admires the decor in The Cupola Room in Kensington Palace on March 20, 2012 in London, England. Kensington Palace is due to reopen to the public on March 26, 2012 following a 12 million GBP renovation project. The refurbishment has seen the renovation of the King and Queen's state apartments, a display of dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales and an exhibition charting the life of Queen Victoria. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • A woman admires the displays in the Queen's Gallery in Kensington Palace on March 20, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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  • A woman views an evening dress designed by Catherine Walker and worn by Princess Diana on an official visit to Thailand in 1988. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • The statue of Britain's Queen Victoria is pictured outside Kensington Palace. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • A general view of the entrance hall. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A light fixture in the entrance. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Lord Chamberlain Province Room. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The statue of Britain's Queen Victoria. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A 'golden cot'. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The gardens. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A display re-creates the childhood home of Britain's Princess Victoria. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Queen Victoria's wedding dress on display in the 'Love Room'. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • An 'Emanuel' black silk taffeta gown, worn by Princess Diana at her first official engagement with the Prince of Wales on March 9, 1981 at Goldsmith's Hal. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • A black and white cocktail dress worn by Diana, Princess of Wales. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A cocktail dress designed by Gianni Versace worn by Princess Diana at the Apollo 13 film premiere in London in 1995. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Detail on a bespoke wallpaper inspired by images of Princess Diana and created by artist Juile Verhoeven. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Queen Victoria's first signature as Queen, when she met with her Privy Council on June 20, 1837, on display in the Red Saloon. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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