Sunday, 30 November 2014

two peas in a pod

I'm desperately in need of a new winter coat. I've thought long and hard about this and what I really want is a peacoat, and I think I'll end up plunging for the above, from Maison Kitsuné (expensive option), or the below, from Reiss (cheaper option). I've spent hours searching for my new coat - I want something in heavy wool, with big lapels and deep pockets; something I'll love and keep for years to come. I have light jackets and rain coats, but strangely what I seem to be missing is a reliable winter weather staple that'll see me through the colder months.

The peacoat is a classic, of course, but it's much trickier to find something a bit interesting than perhaps you'd imagine. I can't bare the thought of black, grey or navy wool (really, too boring for words), and most things look the same to me these days. I'm a sucker for a jewel tone however, so I'm deliriously happy to have found these. Forest green or cherry? Now we're talking!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A Designer's Life

I spent an evening last week at Ralph Lauren's flagship store on New Bond Street for the launch of Nicky Haslam's new book A Designer's Life: An Archive of Inspired Design and Décor. (What a title!) Haslam has delved into his design archive to share the key moments in his career and the myriad inspirations for his decorating style. Essentially it's a rich, fascinating scrapbook of lavish interiors, sketches, notes, party photographs and amusing anecdotes.

A few of my favourite pages show the interior of a house in Pelham Place, South Kensington, in which Haslam lived for a time. The house used to belong to Cecil Beaton and when Haslam moved in, the rooms were (almost) exactly the same as they'd been when he lived there. Black velvet walls make a dramatic backdrop for club chairs covered with clashing purples and greens, pinks and yellows. Note Beaton's very beautiful, youthful self-portrait sketch in the corner of the left page, which Haslam acquired years before moving into the house.

The Drawing Room at 8 Pelham Place, 1963. © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s. I'm a huge fan of those decadent black walls; they really are a perfect blank canvas. Coincidentally, next week I'm going to be visiting Colefax & Fowler on Brook Street, where several of the Beaton era interiors at Pelham Place have been recreated as part of the Beaton at Brook Street exhibition.

A Designer’s Life: An Archive of Inspired Design and Décor, by Nicky Haslam, published by Jacqui Small Publishing.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

christie's interiors november/december 2014

I styled a photo shoot for the second issue of the recently established Christie's Interiors magazine. View more images from the shoot (and a story of mine from the inaugural July issue) via my website.

The shoot took place at my friend Piers' handsome house in North London. I mixed items coming up for auction at Christie's South Kensington with a few accessories from my favourite shops and Piers' own furniture and rugs.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

ten love songs

Norwegian songstress Susanne Sundfør will release her sixth album Ten Love Songs in February 2015. Listen to the first single from the record, Fade Away, below. It's a slick piece of Norse electro-pop with a big, shimmering chorus. I'm quite obsessed.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

art on a thursday

L'homme Au Chat. French school first half of the 20th century. From Julia Boston Antiques. This is pretty high up on my Christmas list.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

autumn in the cotswolds

D. and I left London late last Friday afternoon with the idea of escaping the city before the motorways got too clogged. Of course, everybody wanting to leave London on a Friday afternoon has this exact same idea and before long we found ourselves stuck in traffic jam after traffic jam. What a relief it was then, to arrive in the village of Crudwell (granted, not the most glamorous of names), on the edge of the Cotswolds. In need of a brief break, I'd booked in for us to stay at The Rectory Hotel for the weekend very last minute a few days beforehand. We left our bags in our attic room and walked a few hundred yards down the road to The Potting Shed Pub, which is owned by the same guys who own the hotel. I had the most perfect bowl of rabbit pasta and a good drink with lots of rhubarb, and then, totally exhausted after a long week, we had baths and went to bed...

Saturday was a very rainy and windy day; we spent most of the morning reading the newspapers. In the afternoon we drove to nearby Tetbury, where we explored the (many) antique shops and had a good lunch of hot onion soup (ideal wet weather subsistence).

The exterior of a very handsome house in Tetbury. A good choice of blue paint.

After Tetbury, we drove to Castle Combe (via several extremely muddy dirt tracks), which is often called the prettiest village in England. It's certainly true, the rows of Cotswold stone cottages, babbling river and Market Cross are all completely charming. I must admit my main reason for wanting to visit however: the village was used as a key filming location for Steven Spielberg's production of War Horse, a film which, I'm unafraid to say, I have a huge soft spot for. Just as the sun was beginning to set, we wandered through the village, the smells of woodsmoke and wet leaves hanging in the air, popped into the church, and sat for a while by the river.

Filming War Horse in Castle Combe.

The sitting room at The Rectory.

We enjoyed a great autumn feast in the hotel's panelled dining room on Saturday evening - Negronis, scallops, venison, rice pudding.

Springing to life on Sunday morning, we headed back towards London, with the idea of stopping off at Strawberry Hill House on our way home. The Gothic Revival villa was built in Twickenham by Horace Walpole from 1749; Walpole rebuilt the existing house in stages and added gothic features including towers and battlements outside and elaborate decoration inside. He wanted theatrical effect, atmosphere and what he called 'gloomth'. The object of 'gloomth' was to create atmosphere, an emotional and evocative approach to building opposite to the rationality of the classical Palladianism that was prevalent in Britain at the time. Walpole filled the house with papier-mâché friezes, Gothic-themed wallpaper, fireplaces copied from medieval tombs, a Holbein chamber evoking the court of Henry VIII, Dutch blue and white tiles and modern oil paintings, china and carpets. Strawberry Hill was not intended to be a faithful recreation of a medieval manor. Fascinatingly, Walpole said of the house: 'It was built to please my own taste, and in some degree to please my own visions.' You know, I'm not too sure how I feel about Walpole's big Gothic meringue of a house. Inevitably, nothing felt... well... real (not helped by all that papier-mâché, I suppose). Parts of it I really loved, the wallpaper lining the main staircase for example (see above), was wonderful. I think, in its heyday, it would have been the perfect house in which to have thrown a wild party!

An engraving from 1784 showing the main staircase at Strawberry Hill.

As an antidote to Horace Walpole's mock-Gothic melodrama, we dropped by Chiswick House afterwards. We needed a dose of Neo-Palladian symmetry. Though the house itself is now closed for the year, the gardens were looking incredibly beautiful in the last of the afternoon sunlight.

I mean, that light!

And then, home was calling. Back to the city, happy and rested.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

in the press... a little bird guest blog 03/11/2014

O ho! My Guest Blog for A Little Bird is now live. I've written about my favourite big (design) books. Read it here.


Not so long ago we enjoyed a brilliant lunch at Spring, ex-Petersham Nurseries head chef Skye Gyngell's recently opened restaurant in the New Wing of Somerset House. The light-flooded dining room boasts high ceilings, textured, pastel blue walls, an impressively long marble bar and even an atrium garden, complete with self-watering trees. The team at Spring have created an elegant, calm space in which to enjoy a long, languorous lunch. And so we got to it. I drank raspberry, rosehip and rowanberry cocktails and wine from Hungary (or was it Bulgaria?), and ate fiery crab cakes and monkfish with clams, rosemary aioli and brushcetta. It was all very well executed, beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious.

The dining room at Spring. I've read a few reviews of the restaurant in which journalists have spoken a tad negatively about the staff's uniforms. I, for one, loved them. The boys are all in indigo workwear - stripes, short, wide trousers and waistcoats. Just perfect. I'm already dreaming of all the many happy times to be had at Spring in the future - another lunch, a late night dinner, an ice cream in the Salon, come next year. I'm also desperate to try their version of Bicerin, a classic layered espresso and chocolate drink from Turin. My first experience was a pleasure; I can't wait to return...

Duncan, pre-lunch, in front of the National Gallery.

Post-lunch, more than ready for an afternoon nap. Read here about our trip to Peterhsam Nurseries back in February.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

blenheim marvellous

A couple of Saturdays ago, Duncan and I plus a group of friends took a train to Oxford and visited Blenheim Palace, with the idea of catching the new Ai Weiwei exhibition. This autumn, the Palace launched the Blenheim Art Foundation, which aims to bring an exciting new programme of contemporary art to the monumental country house. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s largest UK exhibition launched the foundation, with more than 50 new and iconic artworks on display throughout the palace and its grounds. The exhibition was impressive, my favourite piece being Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, which is comprised of twelve animal heads, each depicting a segment of the ancient Chinese zodiac.

Standing in front of the main doors of the Palace, you look up at the portico ceiling and see these striking painted eyes, which have gazed down for the past 80 years. The eyes were originally painted in 1928 for Gladys Deacon, the second wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

We explored the house, John Vanbrugh's masterpiece, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the gardens. I'd been to Blenheim once before; it was good to be back.

An 18th-century engraving showing the Great Court, which was designed to overpower the visitor arriving at the palace. Pilasters and pillars abound.

In 1764, Capability Brown transformed the park at Blenheim by making the canal into a serpentine lake. He also naturalised the woods and designed this wonderful cascade, creating the epitome of an English landscape. The trees were looking beautiful when we visited - all shades of rust, copper and gold.

I loved this glimpse of the house through pillars.

These are pictures from our trip to Blenheim in 2012 - we stayed overnight in Woodstock, the charming village in which the Palace resides. Here are the eyes again; I remember them being my favourite thing about the place the first time we visited.

There are some unusual decorative features on the exterior of the Palace. There are four gold balls on the roof; there are four finials on top of each tower that have a coronet with an orb over an upturned Fleur de Lys; there are four English stone lions mauling French cockerels; the Roman goddess of victory Minerva is placed over the main entrance; and a bust of the defeated Louis XIV gazes out over the south front.

Elliot and Duncan.

John Vanbrugh also built the Grand Bridge across the water in front of the house, lining it up between the entrance to the Palace and the Victory Monument that punctuates the park. Several generations later, Capability Brown dammed the streams again, creating two large lakes for the 4th Duke of Marlborough. In the process, he also flooded the once usable rooms in the base of Vanbrugh's bridge.

Blenheim Palace Park and gardens in 1835. I'm looking forward to returning again soon, although first I think I need to make plans to visit that other Vanbrugh pile, Castle Howard in Yorkshire.