Thursday, 29 May 2014

art on a thursday

The Triumph of Neptune, a carpet design by Rex Whistler for Edward James.

Had Rex Whistler not been tragically killed in Normandy in 1944 aged 39, Cecil Beaton thought he would have become the next Turner. Whistler enjoyed a short-lived yet dazzling career. His work encompassed all areas of art and design - from West End theatre to book illustration and mural and trompe-l'oeil painting. At the age of only 21, Whistler was commissioned to produce a mural to decorate the restaurant at the Tate Gallery - The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats remains to this very day one of his most famous and remarkable achievements.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

last tango in tisbury

We spent last weekend in Wiltshire, not too far from where we were at the beginning of the month. We were staying with our good friends Edward and Charlotte, at Edward's parents' charming house in Tisbury. I cannot tell you how much I'm enjoying getting out of London on the weekends at the moment - it's such a cliché, but it's so good for the soul, and one gets to enjoy the countryside in all its springtime glory.

Edward's parents' living room. I think Ed's mother was an interior designer for several years, which explains why this room looks so warm and inviting.

Clearly, we had rather a good time on Saturday night. Several roast chickens and carrots from the farm next door and lots of wine. The rooms at the back of the house, including the kitchen, enjoy this incredible view over the hills. We woke next day to a view of brilliant green, soft grey mist and hoards of lambs.

After a long lunch at The Beckford Arms complete with several post-feast games of pétanque and a healthy country walk, we spent most of Sunday afternoon lounging around, surrounded by stacks of books and newspapers. I discovered this copy of Love in a Cold Climate stuffed away in a downstairs bathroom - what a cover!

In other news: I'm in dire need of an orange Smeg fridge.

On Monday morning we headed back to London via Salisbury; we wanted to take a look at the cathedral, and even more excitingly, the Cecil Beaton at Home exhibition, which has just opened at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. I've always loved the cathedral (I used to spend the odd weekend in Salisbury as a teenager), but my favourite thing about the place this time might have been the brightly coloured needlepoint prayer cushions - this swan version in particular. Outside, the surrounding Cathedral Close (the largest in Britain) was quiet and lovely.

Another weekend in Wiltshire, another Cecil Beaton exhibition. I cannot recommend this one enough. It presents a biographical view of the legendary designer, photographer and artist through his two Wiltshire homes - Ashcombe and Reddish. Simultaneously a retreat, an inspiration and a stage for impressive entertaining, these two houses also fuelled his passion for gardening and delight in village life.

Ashcombe as portrayed by Rex Whistler.

Gosh, there were so many incredible things to see. Particularly fascinating were the recreations of Beaton's extravagant interiors at Ashcombe - the famous Circus Bed, complete with gilt unicorns and seahorses - being the highlight. (The Circus Bed was actually manufactured by a maker of fairground carousels, a detail which I totally love). I left feeling completely invigorated and inspired, with a copy of Beaton's Ashcombe: The Story of a Fifteen-Year Lease in my pocket. Now we're wondering, could we rent a folly, a tower or a little gatehouse in the countryside? I suppose perhaps not for a while, but it's something to aim towards at least...

Beaton in the Circus Bedroom at Ashcombe. I think I'd eventually love to have a Circus (Guest) Bedroom, complete, of course, with ridiculous bed.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

marbled delight

Talking of campfire bliss (see below), I really do need to plan some sort of adventurous outdoor wild camping trip, if only so I can make use of my new marbled enamelware from Labour and Wait. I love a good bit of marbling, and Labour and Wait's range of plates, bowls, tins and mugs should be just the ticket for serving up summer treats. I cannot go into L&W's shop in the East End without coming away with at least a new frying pan or a few bars of soap - it's heaven.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

lord huron

I'm really into bombastic, epic americana with a radio friendly twist at the moment, musically, and I'm not afraid to admit it. Ben Schneider (aka Lord Huron) sings of winding roads and river crossings, trudging through forests and shouting out his love from mountaintops on his debut album, Lonesome Dreams, which I discovered this week. It's a soaring, multilayered and extremely beguiling record. It's campfire bliss.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Thursday, 15 May 2014

art on a thursday

It was the final day of the Hockney, Printmaker exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Sunday; we raced down from above the river just in time to catch it. It was a dream, of course, and the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon - surrounded by Hockney's beautiful, vibrant works. This was one of my favourite prints, although of course every single one had a magic of its own. Utterly inspirational.

Lillies by David Hockney.

Monday, 12 May 2014

sofa dreams

As mentioned previously, we've been making a few decoration adjustments at home, particularly in the sitting room - new colour for the walls, new floorboards - but what's been exciting us most is the arrival of our new sofa, which we chose to have upholstered in a mustard yellow velvet. I'm so pleased with the result; it certainly brightens up a dull London morning, and the yellow seems to work rather well with the dark green walls, which is a relief. We've adorned it with a Navigare cushion from Svenskt Tenn, which I picked up in Liberty a couple of years ago - one of my favourite designs from the Swedes, plus, of course, new Ionic Column and Palm Tree cushions from my very own debut range! (Massive hint: available here.)

The Iggy, from

Funnily, almost as soon as our new yellow sofa arrived, something inside our old grey Orson sofa from snapped and rendered it useless. (Christ, is all that springtime baking I've been doing finally taking its toll?) Luckily, we're having it replaced with the same model, but in a purple fabric! I couldn't resist. Who wants a boring old grey sofa? Quite full-on really - green walls, a yellow sofa and a purple sofa. I can't wait to see how it's going to look...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

springtime in somerset

We spent last weekend in Somerset (my spiritual home - the county in which my ancestors lived), exploring, resting and enjoying the early May sunshine. We came down from London on Saturday via Wilton House, the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years. This is the impressive two-storeyed gallery, designed by James Wyatt in the early 1800s to display the Pembroke collection of classical sculpture. We were pretty amazed, especially when the light began streaming through these huge windows - it was my favourite part of the house.


We'd come to Wilton, first and foremost, to visit the newly unveiled exhibition of never-before-seen photographs from the archive of Cecil Beaton, a close friend of the 16th Earl and Countess of Pembroke. Beaton first visited Wilton in 1927 and found it 'unfailing in its beauty'. He spent the next four decades photographing three generations of the Pembrokes, often in costume for the regular fancy-dress balls hosted by the 'bright young things' - that notorious gang of bohemian young aristocrats and socialites.

Stephen Tennant, William Walton, Georgia Sitwell, Zita Jungman, Rex Whistler, and Cecil Beaton at Wilsford, 1927. See more images from the exhibition via Vanity Fair.

After lunch at The Beckford Arms, we made our way further west and on to Bruton. We'd booked a room for two nights at At the Chapel - one of our favourite West Country haunts. We'd stopped here for lunch on several previous occasions; it turned out to be the perfect place to stay too. Our bedroom was simple and very comfortable, with Gothic windows looking out over the 12th century Saxon rooftops of Bruton and a huge, gorgeous marble bathroom. Bliss. Rather excitingly, Hauser & Wirth will be opening a gallery complex in renovated farm buildings nearby this July. The Wirths are regular diners at the Chapel (they curate the artwork on show in the restaurant and bedrooms) and the Chapel team will in turn be running the restaurant at the new gallery. Read more about Hauser & Wirth Somerset here.

We rose early on Sunday, and after a breakfast of croissants, coffee, sausages and eggs (we were on holiday, after all), ventured over to nearby Montacute House. Before our trip, I spent some time looking at local houses to visit and came across this Elizabethan Renaissance gem. It didn't disappoint. In fact, it was one of the most incredible country houses I've ever visited. With its towering walls of glass and glow of ham stone, the whole place seemed to be glittering in the spring sunshine. A highlight was the Long Gallery, which houses over 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Inside the house, I loved this tapestry. I think I want a tapestry.

Back outside, I loved this fountain. I really love a fountain.

D. taking a quick pit stop on the front lawn lawn.

Perfect wisteria creeping up the outer walls of the estate.

We headed over to The Talbot Inn in Mells for a long, lazy Sunday lunch. I had salt cod croquettes, a pea, mint and goat's curd pithier and a lemon posset - fresh, delicious, full of springtime joy. The Talbot serves the same great food as its sister pub - The Beckford. They both have wonderful gardens too; I highly recommend. We noticed this wild garlic on a post-lunch walk through Mells - so beautiful. We spent the rest of Sunday hauled up at the Chapel with newspapers and pizza (straight from the restaurant's custom designed floor to ceiling wood-fired oven). Heaven.

On Monday we reluctantly left the Chapel (clutching loaves of bread from their excellent in-house bakery), and made our way over to Longleat. I had fond memories of Longleat from childhood (although, admittedly, memories based more on the attached safari park than the stately home). We took a tour around the house, and whilst some parts were of course very impressive, I was left feeling more than a little uneasy after seeing several of Lord Bath's private rooms, fitted out with his own enormous murals... Alas, each Lord to their own. This ceiling on the other hand, based on an original in the Doge's Palace, was magnificent to behold.

I adored this wallpaper, found in a tiny bedroom somewhere up high in the house.

I love this view of Longleat by Jan Siberechts. Pure Grand Budapest Hotel, no!?

We sped over to Babington House for lunch, and seeing as the weather was still so wonderful, spent the rest of the afternoon floating around the grounds with glasses of pale rosé. Seen here is the Church of St Margaret, which sits opposite the main house. It's a Grade I listed building - I've always thought it quite perfect. We were on the road by early evening, bound for London, feeling very much inspired and revived, which is surely all one could hope for after a quiet weekend in the country. We'll be back soon, Somerset.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

month of three milkings*

I apologise for the lateness and the laziness, but I really have to share the seasonal blog entry below - it's exactly the same one as posted on 30th April 2013. It's one of my favourite posts, you see, I suppose because of the passage from Popular Romances of the West of England. I don't believe I can top it by writing anything new concerning the beginning of May, and I really don't wish to. It's a perfect snippet of English countryside eccentricity. Do read on...


It is an extraordinary time of the year. Tonight is Walpurgis Night. Tomorrow is the first of May. May Day. Beltane. The first day of summer. Over the next few days, we will celebrate the beginning of the bright half of the year with burning fires, flowers and revelry. The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgisnacht celebrations of the Germanic countries. On this very eve, people will light bonfires, blow whistles and dance across the hills. Witches will meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods. Beltane, the ancient Gaelic festival, will be celebrated with the kindling of huge bonfires too. Historically, Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer - cattle were driven out to their summer pastures and rituals were performed to protect cows, crops and people. The flames, smoke and ash of the bonfires were said to have protective powers. In England, towns and villages will celebrate springtime fertility (of the soil, livestock and people) with Morris dancing on the village green, parades and even more dancing around a decorated Maypole. People will gather flowers, wear green and rise before dawn to wash their faces with dew... This is an ancient time of rebirth, youthfulness and romance, for debauchery, laughter and light.

The following passage is from a description of May Day events in Cornwall in 1881, collected by Robert Hunt in his book Popular Romances of the West of England: The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall.

'The first of May is inaugurated with much uproar. As soon as the clock has told of midnight, a loud blast on tin trumpets proclaims the advent of May. This is long continued. At daybreak, with their 'tintarrems', they proceed to the country, and strip the sycamore-trees (called May-trees) of all their young branches, to make whistles. With these shrill musical instruments they return home. Young men and women devote May-day to junketing and picnics. It was a custom at Penzance, and probably at many other Cornish towns, when the author was a boy, for a number of young people to sit up until twelve o'clock, and then to march round the town with violins and fifes, and summon their friends to the Maying. When all were gathered, they went into the country, and were welcomed at the farmhouses at which they called, with some refreshment in the shape of rum and milk, junket, or something of that sort. They then gathered the 'May', which included the young branches of any tree in blossom or fresh leaf. The branches of the sycamore were especially cut for the purpose of making the 'May-music'. This was done by cutting a circle through the bark to the wood a few inches from the end of the branch. The, bark was wetted and carefully beaten until it was loosened and could be slid off from the wood. The wood was cut angularly at the end, so as to form a mouth-piece, and a slit was made in both the bark and the wood, so that when the bark was replaced a whistle was formed. Prepared with a sufficient number of May whistles, all the party returned to the town, the band playing, whistles blowing, and the young people singing some appropriate song.'

*Month of three milkings is a translation of 'Þrimilci-mōnaþ', the Old English name for the month of May.