Wednesday, 18 December 2013

All Wrapped Up

You know those magazine articles that are full of lovely ideas for beautifully wrapped presents?  They suggest brown paper and string with homemade dried orange peel and cinnamon sticks attached, or using pages cut (never haphazardly torn) from magazines, or arranging layers of different coloured tissue paper finished with generous servings of a wide satin ribbon, doubtlessly bought at great expense from VV Rouleaux.  Seriously, google 'creative gift wrapping', and just see what comes up.

I've saved you the hassle of googling.  This is one of the images that comes up.  Amazing, right?

Anyway, I don't have time to do any of that.  Not since I got married and had children and my sister got married and had a child and my sister-in-law had a child etc. etc. - not to forget Father Christmas's duties - the point is that I now have to wrap what seems like five hundred presents every Christmas.   So, these days, I go in for rolls of the least gopping wrapping paper Paperchase has on offer, and copious quantities of Sellotape.  I occasionally manage to accessorise with some silkiness, but it invariably has chocolate smeared on it (Esmeralda loves the ribbon drawer.)  On balance, however, I find myself at peace with my somewhat slummier wrapping method, and it has definite advantages:  the receivers of my gifts tend to have very low expectations of what is going to be inside.

What a present wrapped by me actually looks like.  Especially since I ran out of Sellotape and have been having to improvise with electrical tape.

Despite my lack of wrapping skills, I thought that I was pretty organised as far as Christmas goes this year.  I got the bulk of the presents wrapped, and delivered, to my parents' house in Yorkshire about a month ago.  So I switched off.  Today, in horror, I realised that I had nothing for my father, and virtually nothing for my husband.  Oh, and one of my orders, containing Esmeralda's presents, has not arrived.  And we're leaving London first thing on Friday morning!  I tried to do some emergency shopping this afternoon at the Olympia Horse Show (it's not too late to get tickets incidentally, and it was fab, Esmeralda loved it, especially the Shetland Grand National) but it wasn't great for much besides sparkly browbands and multicoloured numnahs, both things I think my father's horses can probably do without.

Olympia Horse Show, Shetland Grand National.  I always wanted to ride in this when I was little, back when my sole ambition was to be the first female jockey to win the actual Grand National.  Times changed.

I've potentially got a chance tomorrow afternoon at Winter Wonderland, and for a moment it really was looking like all those I forgot about were getting things from the genuine replica German Christmas Market (or however it is that they phrase it.)  But then I remembered Amazon!  Who now sell everything! (Including serious art.  Weird, but, whatever.)  I can get it all delivered, ready wrapped, to Yorkshire!  And the only reason I remembered this is because my friend Georgia has been doing Gift Lists on her blog, Before the Baby, and published Esmeralda's wishlist today.  Georgia's site is seriously worth checking out if you've got children to buy for.  And if you're buying for a woman, well, my friend Willow has done an amazing list on her blog, Willow Rose Boutique.  (I want everything.)

As far as husbands and fathers go, I have one thing to say:  Fine Food Specialist, who, if you order on Thursday by 11am, are still able to deliver in time for Christmas (just like Amazon!)  They've got it all:  truffle oil and goose fat, Gentlemen's Relish, endless cheeses, caviar, foie gras, whole hams - some of which are the most perfect stocking fillers imaginable (perhaps not the ham.  Unless your stocking is giant.)  And because I get to share what Father Christmas gives my husband, I'm definitely adding the Artisan du Chocolat Salted Caramel Drinking Chocolate.

However badly wrapped, what's inside is not going to disappoint.

Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Wise Women Bearing (Beauty) Gifts

There was an article in last week's Sunday Times Style, by Esther Walker, about the moment one realises, post-children, that it's time to up one's game.  I've known I've been needing to do it for a while now, and the feeling is reaffirmed every time I go into Mayfair and have lunch with my friend Deep, who is Fashion Director of Tatler and has the sort of innate style that I dream of, or go and eat cake with my very chic friend Christina who until recently worked at Vanity Fair, and who has insane will power (she'll order the cake, but only eat a a single forkful.)  Christina is pregnant, and I bet she won't let herself be the kind of mother who, when her child throws up on her in the night, wipes the worst of the sick out of her hair with a baby wipe and then sprays it with Mitsouko.   And I don't for a moment suppose that either of them are the kind of people who haven't got around to changing their skincare routine since their twenties.

Well, nor am I, technically.  For in my early twenties, I used whatever I was given in goody bags or was handed from the Vogue and Tatler beauty cupboards.  I paid virtually nothing for any of it, covered my face in Creme de la Mer one week, Clarins and Lancome the next, and some new and unheard of brand from Iceland (the country, not the shop) the next. My skin didn't mind one jot.  My skin was amazing.

And then I got married, got pregnant, had Sholto, got thin again, got pregnant again - all the time using the same Clarins products that I discovered in the second half of my twenties - had Esmeralda, looked in the mirror, and realised that I look about four hundred years old.  I can't actually blame Clarins - in fact, I owe Clarins for the fact that I don't look six hundred - rather, the age increase is down to the lack of facials, the broken nights, the occasional severe sugar binge (see 'broken nights'), the fact that I blatantly should have moved on to the product range developed for women in their thirties, and that side-affect of mothering that they call guilt.  (I feel guilty about everything:  guilty that I work, guilty that I don't play football with Sholto every afternoon, guilty that I have yet to cook a single thing from the Annabel Karmel 'perfect baby nutrition' book, guilty that I'm still co-sleeping with Esmeralda, guilty that I'm not also still co-sleeping with Sholto, guilty that I can't quite stretch to the the fees at Notting Hill Prep, etc. etc. etc.)  And all of this means that I don't look like Sienna Miller.

Why, why don't I look like Sienna Miller?

However, I'll feel even worse, and probably guiltier still, if I don't get to grips with my looks soonish.  My friend Talia, who had her second baby a whole lot more recently than me and looks incredible, told me about the Tracy Anderson Post-Pregnancy Workout DVD.  I've ordered it, I just need to unwrap it from it's cellophane, and get it into the one remaining DVD player in the house that Sholto hasn't filled with raisins.  My friend Samantha, who has three children and is about to be forty (not that anybody could tell) swears by body brushing, which I totally mean to make time for.  And Calgary Avansino, the former Executive Fashion Director of Vogue and general wellbeing guru, dictates good food (i.e. not M&S ready meals) and daily exercise ("Sweat is your fat crying").  I follow her blog assiduously, and am determined that the entire family will be eating more healthily come the New Year.  (And you can forget Annabel Karmel.)

Calgary Avansino.  Look at her, just look at her! I think I need a juicer.

But it seems that the Gods were listening to my plea for a somewhat easier quick fix, for I found myself at one of those Christmas fair things at the Cavalry Club, and who should be there but a girl called Georgie Cleeve (with a tiny baby called Ophelia strapped to her tummy) who I knew when she used to work at House & Garden.   She has developed a whole skincare range called Oskia, which I imagine everybody in the world knows about except me, as they've won pretty much every beauty award going.  (I now feel guilty that I didn't do something as clever as Georgie with my maternity leave.  And I've realised that it's time to start reading the beauty pages.  They're doubtlessly packed with helpful information.)

Well, after less than a week of using Oskia, I only look about a hundred.  It's amazing!  I think my favourite product has to be the Renaissance Mask, which was voted Best Mask by the Anti-Aging Beauty Bible, and Best Prestige Skincare Product in the UK Beauty Awards, and which means I don't have to worry about the fact that I haven't had a facial in about a year (who has time?  Seriously?)  I'm also a big fan of the Nutri-Active Day Cream and the Bedtime Beauty Boost.  Oh, and the Get Up & Glow, which won Best Skin Perfector at the Natural Health Beauty Awards, and which one can put on either under or over one's moisturiser. I am literally glowing (in a good way, rather than a 'Oh my God I realised I was going to be late to pick up Sholto from school, so ran here, pushing a buggy, and now I'm bright red and quite literally melting' kind of way.)  And Georgie told me that she's going to send me the Renaissance Cleansing Gel - she was utterly horrified to hear that my concept of 'cleansing my face', these days, is splashing it with water.  (It dries out the skin.  I know this, I know this - my mother's facialist, the great Janet Filderman, told me when I was fourteen, and still I persist.)  It's time to stop.  It's also time to stop walking around with chipped nails (unacceptable past the age of twenty-five, I reckon), unbrushed hair (ditto), and in jerseys from Zara that have seen better days.  (That last I have potentially remedied.  The Erdem sample sale took place last week.  Whoops.)

Get Up & Glow.  This, combined with one of Calgary's juices would surely be a total game changer.

So, it's more time at the gym, healthier eating, improved grooming . . . . . I'm probably not going to manage all these things immediately (even as I type, I realise that the Chanel Rouge Moire that looked so fabulous on my nails on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is now chipped, and therefore sadly must come off.)  Oskia, however, I'm sticking to. I am a total convert.  Especially since one of my parents' friends just mistook me for my sister Rosanna, who is eight years younger than me (and much more beautiful.)
Calgary Avansino's blog; her own website is coming soon -

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Timeless Home

Books, in my house, are forever multiplying;  there are piles everywhere.  And still they keep coming! (I bear no responsibility.  Though I'm not convinced that Andrew believes me when I tell him that Amazon sends me stuff for free . . .  )  One of the recent additions to the stacks is Alidad: The Timeless Home, which I've found myself scrutinising on a very regular basis over the past couple of months - I keep going back to look at the stunning photographs and wonder why I don't have a striped marble hall (literally the chicest entrance to a house I have ever seen) and a holiday house in the hills above Beirut.

Alidad - just in case his name is not immediately familiar to you -  is an award-winning interior designer, whose wealth of references, decorative approach, use of antique textiles and ability to blend Baroque and Neo-Classicism with chinoiserie and Regency is something that I aspire to within my own home.  Tragically, I don't yet manage to achieve (or afford) his look quite as well as he does, but there's time, and the book is both an explanation of how to make one's house 'timeless' (which is something we all aim for, no?) and full of handy design tips that I'm already mentally applying to the next house.

For instance, "On a very simple level, if you don't have precisely positioned sockets, the room will fail you as a working space," he declares.  And he's right, obviously! The sockets were already in place when we moved into this house, and we haven't moved a single one.  Resultingly, we have extension cords threaded under chairs and wedged behind bookcases, and it's very inconvenient.  Electrics aside,  there are passages devoted to Alidad's preference for creating double or triple height spaces that allow for mezzanine levels and majestic architectural details like partly glazed cupolas, an explanation of how he arrives at each decorative layer he applies - "too much colour or pattern can kill a room, and, conversely, too much texture on texture can feel wrong" -  his technique of 'layering light' using mirrors and candles, and how he succeeds in ensuring that a room will look consistently good at different times of the day.

The photographs are by the brilliant James McDonald, whose work regularly appears in my favourite interiors magazines (World of Interiors and House & Garden) and the text is written by Sarah Stewart-Smith.  It's a perfect Christmas present for anyone with any interest in design, and one I'd definitely be asking for if I didn't already have it.  (The only hitch is that, having read the book, I definitely can not afford what I'm  now looking for in my next house:  I've discovered I'd rather like partly glazed cupolas in a triple height grand hall.  It's been a bit of a revelation, rather like when I started reading AD Spain and realised just how exquisitely beautiful - and therefore necessary -  a well designed pool can be . . . . Also, recently, I've started collecting images of box gardens.  As well as the triple height grand hall and the swimming pool, the next house also needs a large outside area given over to topiary.  Oh, and an orangery, and an ice-house.  And a lake.)

Alidad's own flat.

A London breakfast room, complete with William Yeoward glassware and chair covers from Chelsea Textiles.  (There are other, silk damask ones, for more formal occasions.)

The saloon at Buscot Park, with it's incredible series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones.  (I definitely need a pre-Raphaelite frieze somewhere in the next house, too.  Or perhaps stained glass windows in the chapel?  I don't want to be too exacting.  It can be an either-or.)

The dining room in a Queen Anne London house.  Each of the mirrored sections within the room's wood panelling depicts a hand-painted portrait of a fictitious Ottoman Sultan.  

For more, you'll have to buy the book.  Here.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Fashion Galore! La Bella Isabella

The Isabella Blow show at Somerset House opened today.  It is brilliant - so much more interesting than your average fashion exhibition.  And it is very Isabella: having worked at Conde Nast at the same time that she was Fashion Director of Tatler, I recognised many of the pieces on display, remembering seeing her in them.  And hearing her voice on videos, smelling her scent (the exhibition rooms all seemed to have been liberally sprayed with Fracas) I was transported back to spotting glimpses of her in the Vogue House loading bay (invariably sitting in the middle of chaos, amazing Philip Treacy confection on her head and dark glasses protecting her eyes from the stygian gloom of what was essentially a garage, reading the International Herald Tribune, smoking a cigarette, and basically looking fabulous) or of being with her in the unbelievably slow Vogue House lift, in which she'd tell everyone in there intimate details of her immediate life story in the time it took to get from the third to the ground floor.  And Isabella could pack a lot in.

But I don't have any particularly amazing Isabella stories, not first hand stories, not stories that aren't just gossip.  (And, towards the end, the gossip got mean, and sad.)   But one of the people who does have worthwhile - and often magical - tales is Daphne Guinness, who loved Isabella, and who owns all the clothes in the exhibition. I interviewed her about this time last year, and she told me about how she 'had' to buy Isabella's wardrobe, because she couldn't stand to see it 'being picked over.'  She then sold off much of her own couture collection, and with the proceeds set up the Isabella Blow Foundation, which, among other things, funds a scholarship at Central St. Martin's, "because Isabella was all about new talent, and bringing on young designers."

And that is what I love so much about the exhibition.  All the early McQueen, the endless, endless hats (will anybody ever celebrate millinery like she - or Anna Piaggi - did, ever again?) the Jeremy Scott, the Junya Watanabe, the long-before-Strictly Julien MacDonald - I could go on, of course, but it would just be a roll call of designers' names.

And anyway, it's a fashion exhibition, and when it comes to fashion, well, we all know that a picture speaks a thousand words:

That's not me, obviously, staring at the McQueen.

Isabella was spotted by Andy Warhol on account of her odd shoes . . . 

Photographed by Mario Testino

There's more, so much more.  I haven't even mentioned the endless catwalk videos from various shows - I could watch catwalk shows forever.  Seriously. They're mesmeric, the good ones.

And I'm now rather hoping that my husband gives me a bottle of Fracas for Christmas.  Because, smelling it again, I was transported back to my twenties, when life seemed full of promise (I don't mean to sound melodramatic, obviously life still has plenty of promise, but it has a direction now that it lacked then, when I probably still thought I could possibly be a popstar, you know, if I just gave it a whirl) and when Isabella was still alive, and filling the pages of Tatler with the bare bottoms of her willing interns. (Maybe I do have some stories.)

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!  is at Somerset House until the 2nd March, 2014.  The ice-rink is open, now, too - can you imagine a happier afternoon than a combination of the two?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pre-Christmas Cleanse

While the title might suggest I'm going to share a way to drop several kilos in the next month without having to resort to either the cayenne pepper and tree syrup diet, or the infinitely worse cabbage soup diet, this is actually about housework.  (Is it just me, or do other people too get press releases about hoovers?)  Anyway, we do actually have a new hoover (Dyson, in case you're interested) and it is quite revolutionary.  It actually sucks, and it isn't held together with masking tape.  I know that most people go in for spring cleaning, but personally, I like to do it twice year, right now being the other time.  After weeks of looking at the children's bedroom in despair, and of not quite being able to face the sitting room, I'm suddenly filled with a renewed vigour.  I've got a feeling that it's not entirely due to the new hoover - rather, it's down to the Chelsea Textiles sample sale which took place last week.  Because there's nothing like a couple of new cushions for giving a room a fresh look.

Of course, many would argue that the last thing I need is any more cushions, but I had a couple of errors to rectify.....  You know Achica, that genius discount interiors site?   Well, sometimes the deals just seem so good, and such good value, that I can't help but avail myself of seriously cheap soft furnishings.  But I've learnt my lesson.  Let's just say that that the seemingly beautiful peacock cushion I scored for a grand total of £7 is in fact so gopping that even Sholto has expelled it from his tent.  "Maybe mine friend Orson would like it," he suggested, thus demonstrating that he's about as good as I am as definitively getting rid of anything.  (And no, his friend Orson would not like it - or at least, Orson's mother wouldn't.  They have an incredibly stylish apartment in Trellick Tower.  I don't actually think they'd stay friends with me if I showed up with it.)

But happily, the peacock has been replaced by a pair of these beauties, which are now languishing on my sofa:

And the truly genius thing is that, due to their featuring either ornamental pineapples or artichokes - the jury is still out - I managed to get away with giving them to my husband, as a present, for our fourth wedding anniversary!  (Which is 'fruit and flowers', and otherwise impossible to to buy for.  Though I was very nearly swayed by a pair of orange trees, before I remembered that I'd probably kill them.)

You might, however, wonder what on earth that thing is that they appear to be sitting on.  Ah yes.  I believe that I mentioned my issue with our sitting room earlier.  A lot of the issue was to do with the sofa, which is Ikea, and which I've been trying and trying to convince myself is absolutely fine, especially since I discovered that Solange Azagury-Partridge has the exact same one in her country house (via World of Interiors - how else?):

The Ektorp three-seater sofa in Byvik multicolour (just in case you should wish to rush out and buy the same one.  You know, because of SA-P)

There's nothing actually wrong with the sofa.  I even used to convince myself that there was a touch of Robert Kime to the chintz.  The problem is my children, who have drawn all over it, among other more unspeakable things. Which is why it is currently covered with a throw that my sister Rosanna brought back from India and which my other sister Alexandra claims is technically hers.  And the throw, while beautiful for what it is, isn't exactly the look that I was going for with our sitting room.  (Alexandra:  I will return it.  You have my word.)

And this is where Ikea triumphs.  In approximately three weeks (which is when our delivery is due) our sofa will be the same colour as this armchair:

Simply by having bought new (machine washable, obvs.) covers.  And oh my are they going to look good with the Chelsea Textiles cushions.

My cleanse has not stopped there.  I have spent the weekend hoovering, dusting, sorting out cupboards and finally putting the new Rug Company down in the children's bedroom (along with their fill of Chelsea Textiles cushions) so that I can happily deal with that room again, too:

The Rug Company dhurrie in blue.  It's almost the exact same colour as Farrow & Ball's Parma Grey, and the same colour as the blue in The Nursery Window's Blackfoot Star fabric, which is what Sholto's tent is made out of, which I tidied up and mended on Saturday:

Blackfoot Star in Blue by The Nursery Window. The colouring is somehow off in these images. Believe me, in real life, the fabric and the dhurrie are a practically perfect match.

Chelsea Textiles 'dog' cushion.  The best ever accompaniment to Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy, which most of the time is Sholto's favourite book.

If anyone has got small children to buy for this Christmas, and doesn't know what to get, this - or the dog cushion above -  is potentially the answer.

Incidentally what I'm most hankering after for Christmas, now, is this - which having even washed out the kitchen cupboards I realise I (just) have space for:

The Staub pumpkin cocotte.  Did you ever see anything more delicious?  (This is entirely gratuitous incidentally.  I'm just a bit besotted.)

And I think that's the other reason my major clean happens at this time of year.  It's all because of Christmas.  For which I want my house to look perfect.   With nary a cheap cushion in sight.  

And for those who missed Chelsea Textiles (fools. Though it will happen again next year, and of course you could always simply go to the shop on Walton Street - and indeed you should - alternatively if you wait a month you can buy them from my new venture English Abode which is going to be the most amazing new interiors website ever - you can sign up for news right now) I am delighted to be able to inform you that it is the de la Cuona Christmas Bazaar on Tuesday (5-8pm) and Wednesday (10am-6pm) of this week.  That's right, de la Cuona - also on Walton Street - of the stunningly amazing linens and velvets.  We're talking cushions and throws galore . . . .  Just in time for the pre-Christmas cleanse. (and this is probably the last time I'll recommend them for anything . . . .) - sign up!  sign up!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Reading v. Shopping

I've previously written about my friend Simon taking his interior inspiration from Edith Wharton, here.  Watching L'Amour Fou, the documentary that was made about Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge - their relationship, their houses and their collection - I've discovered that Simon is in excellent company:  Saint Laurent and Berge decided to make their house in Normandy a 'Proustian' house, and decorated the rooms after different characters.  Saint Laurent's own rooms were decorated after Swann, a character he was apparently obsessed with, always taking his name when travelling.

For the longest time, I imagined that I'd read all of Proust over one hot summer in Paris, lying in the Jardin du Luxembourg, alternately eating madeleines and smoking cigarettes.  I'm not sure what I thought I'd be doing job wise - well, obviously, not much, as reading Proust would be my main occupation - I guess I thought I'd be a part-time nanny, or something.  I was probably reading too much Henry James at the time.  Regardless, it never happened, and it's now beginning to occur to me that it's a bit late.  There's no way I could lie in a park and read anything with Sholto and Esmeralda as companions. For a start, Sholto's a bolter, and I can't take my eyes of him for so much a split second.

But now that Sholto is three and Esmeralda is one, and I've nearly finished the new Donna Tartt and read the glut of great new releases that were published over the summer, I'm wondering if it's time to start finding out more about that Mr. Swann.  Either way, I've got to find something to steer me away from overdoing the Christmas preparation (i.e. scouring Ebay for Royal Copenhagen Christmas china.)

Just in case you're interested, this is what else is on my Advent list:

The Blodwen Mistletoe Candle.  It's sounds like heaven, right?  And it's (comparative to Diptique) good value, at £19.  Top of my wish list.

It'll get me in the mood for writing these:

Totally adorable Christmas cards from the V&A. I love sending Christmas cards so much that I actually have to refrain from writing them before the start of December.  And then I love stringing up the ones I receive on red satin ribbon that I thread through the banisters.

And maybe even for making one of these:

A hand-made advent calendar.  I mean to make one of these every year, obviously haven't, and so have yet again resorted to the V&A shop. Those of you with children, woe betide getting to the first of December and not having something ready . . . . 

I spied these Russian-esque decorations in the Graham & Green catalogue this weekend, and am definitely adding them to my wishlist.  My absolute favourite Christmas ornaments are traditional Soviet tin dolls that my Russian friend Ksenia gave me.  This is the closest I've seen to them in the UK.

This Mario Testino cover is my other inspiration for Christmas this year:  specifically the pom-poms.  I'm going to make masses, between now and the beginning of December, in red, orange, pink and turquoise, and string them up in clusters all over the place.  (I figure this is slightly more likely than my making an advent calendar.)

Incidentally, I found the chicest idea ever for an alternative to the traditional Christmas tree in the December issue of House & Garden:  a flat board, which can be propped against anything, through which a series of LEDs are pushed, depicting the shape of a tree, but nothing more.  Were I doing a minimalist Christmas, I would definitely go down that route.  

Regarding food: I went to a dinner party on Friday night at my friends Laura's (she of Little Miss Homes) and Patrick's (her husband) and was fed spectacularly well.  We had soup with stilton croutons, really good bread and the best salted Cornish butter (Patrick had been to a particular shop to find it), followed by venison with kale and potatoes dauphinoise, followed by rhubarb crumble with clotted cream.   Aside from the fact that it was a night that typified the Buzzfeed 20s v. 30s party (we had a conversation about the benefits of liquorice tea) I learnt that all my friends - literally all of them, those same friends that, at school, were the masters of opening a bottle of wine with only a French dictionary and a four-colour biro - get weekly delivery boxes from Abel & Cole.  Like, what?  I thought we all still lived on M&S ready meals.  But no!  And, what's more, it turns out it's like some secret club.  They text each other, with things like "We got squash - yay!" or "Pomegranates - how good can this get?!"  (Oh my God we've all become cliches.)

Regardless, I'm thinking of starting a regular Abel & Cole subscription.  Discovering that they deliver clotted cream is what totally sold me on it.  It also means that we're going to eat way better over Christmas than we would normally.

Of course, getting fatter (on the afore mentioned clotted cream) also means keeping warmer.  Mostly.  Nothing on earth can make my parents' house warmer, which is where we're going for Christmas itself: the thermostat is set to 16 degrees, which is kind of irrelevant, because the heating is so seldom turned on.  So I'm really hoping that Andrew gives me one of these:

A vintage Welsh blanket.  I've pointed him in the relevant direction.

I definitely need a good book to read before I find my fingers accidentally clicking 'buy' on any of those websites . . . . (they also do vintage Welsh blankets)

Monday, 28 October 2013

Life's Luxuries (Occasionally for Less)

I've always loved the concept of the above installation by the Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset, which is plonked in the middle of the Texan desert (I so want to go.)  There's currently a work by them at the V&A, which, entitled Tomorrow,  fills the former Textile Galleries on level 3.  The rooms have been turned into what feels like a theatre set:  they have become the home of a fictional architect, the 75-year old Mr. Swann, who is facing bankruptcy.  What no one points out is that he could perhaps sell of some of his paintings, furniture or sculptures if he needs cash, as his house is full of pieces that the artists have borrowed from the V&A's collection.  I think that we're meant to delight in seeing them in a new context, but I spent most of the time wondering if it was a comment on materialism, along with fearing that Mr. Swann was topping himself in the bathroom (the sound of a running shower emanates from behind a door, his maid confirms that he spends a lot of time in there - ooh, another money-saving idea, dispense with the staff!)  Regardless of all the brilliant ideas I had for Mr. Swann to avoid the looming lack-of-readies situation, it did get me wondering about the questionable futility of acquiring beautiful things, if one is simply going to die (and actually there's no 'if' about that) and, prior to that, face financial ruin.

And then it was my birthday, and I received no end of wonderful presents, literally all my favourite things:  a cashmere cardigan, the newest Chanel nail colour, next year's Smythson's diary, Charbonnel & Walker champagne truffles (the closest you can get to heaven in a mouthful), Jo Malone treats, a Cressida Bell lamp, and, astoundingly, a new handbag, which I got to choose myself, and which is currently taking up an entire seat beside me on the 05 40 Eurostar.  (It transpires that if one wants to get to Paris first thing, one has to get up very early.)  So, I remembered the point of beautiful things, they make me happy.  And not just fleetingly happy, either:  I get a kick out of my new lamp everytime I see it.  My handbag is transportable so it makes me happy even out of the house.  Just knowing that I'm encased in cashmere and slathered in Jo Malone Red Roses moisturiser guarantees a good day.  I could continue, but I figure you probably get the picture.

Anyway, do go and see the Elmgreen & Dragset installation, because it's great. But, if you'd rather just go and purchase some beautiful things, I'm delighted to be able to tell you that it's the Luke Irwin (he of the stunning rugs) sample sale tomorrow, at Chelsea Town Hall.  It starts at 10am, and I'm beyond excited.

In the mean time, here are some images from Tomorrow:

Tomorrow, by Elmgreen & Dragset, is at the V&A until the 2nd January 2014.
The Luke Irwin sample sale is at Chelsea Town Hall, actually tomorrow, as in Wednesday 30th, from 10am.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Midas Touch

I've barely achieved a thing this week.  First Esmeralda was ill:  she has had a temperature and been off her food - and occasionally sick - since Saturday.  I hold her incisors entirely accountable, both for the pain she has been suffering, and for my having had to watch as much Baby Einstein as I have.  Mostly through the long dark hours of night . . . .  (Yes, I've missed every single party that has taken place this week.  Instead I've eaten about a million walnut whips in a bid to stay awake long enough to work in the rare moments Esmeralda has actually slept.  I feel gross.)  But she is finally mainly better, and today I was planning to nip to Frieze and Frieze Masters, and then maybe on to The Other Art Fair, just to stretch my legs, see some people, feel in touch with what is going on, and perhaps even formulate an opinion of my own instead of regurgitating Blouin Art Info and praying the person I'm speaking to hasn't read that same article.   Or at least, I was until I received a call from Sholto's nursery telling me that he'd been sick, so could I please go and fetch him.  Oh joy.  Frieze might just not happen for me this year.

However I did manage a quick visit to PAD yesterday.  I love PAD - the Pavilion of Art and Design - it's one of my favourites of all the fairs that London hosts.  It's small, everything is beautiful, there are seldom great masses of attendees (one imagines that those that do go drop a fortune there, or at least enough of a fortune to make it worth the while of all the galleries that show there) and those attendees are always chic and well-dressed (the women are the sort that wear velvet bows in their hair without a trace of irony.  Unfortunately I couldn't find my velvet bow - the one that Sholto shoplifted from American Apparel, and which I've been too embarrassed to return ever since I used it in a moment of emergency - but I did root out my Chanel handbag for the occasion, and gave my boots a cursory polish with a baby wipe.)  Even the scent of the fair is amazing as every single gallery seems to have at least one presumably earth-shatteringly expensive candle burning, and I found myself stalking some woman who I'm sure was wearing the new Edition Frederic Malle, Portrait of a Lady.  (I'm going to Paris at the end of the month, and am hoping against hope that I have time to nip to one of the stores.  Yes I know that I can buy it in Liberty but that wouldn't be the same.)

I find, at fairs, that my eye gets caught by something, and then I can't help noticing similarly themed items.  On this occasion it was, irrefutably, gold and jewels.  I became so obsessed with tracking down more and more examples that I barely checked out the stands that had paintings or photographs, and thus, according to Christopher, missed a really great Egon Schiele.  My love of the Midas-touch look has definitely been reawakened.  (At one stage I wanted to gild the insides of the all the door frames - and still might. Andrew went through a phase - which I'm going to encourage him to revisit - of gold-leafing various things he found lying around, such as the odd bone, or plastic animal.  He has a vast collection of both; every so often I find myself removing streaks of tigers from the tops of all the picture frames downstairs.  I did have to prevent him from gold-leafing the bars of the cot, however.  While I realise it would have been very chic to keep our children in gilded cages, I worried they would have been poisoned when they inevitably would have eaten it all off.)

But back to PAD.  First up, this amazing gold throne by Mathias Bengtsson at Galerie Maria Wettergren:

Seriously, who wants a chintz-covered arm chair when you could have that?!

Then I discovered a pair of amber-encrusted cabinets by Kam Tin at Gallery-88:

Having done some research I've discovered that Kam Tin also works in turquoise:

They would look amazing in my fantasy palazzo!  (Meanwhile I'm wondering if I can put Andrew's collection of glass stones to good use, and encrust the fronts of all our fitted cupboards.  I could have the blingiest kitchen ever.)

Then I stumbled upon Galerie Beatrice Saint-Laurent, and fell head over heels with everything there.  In particular, though, the works of Taher Chemirik:

Taher Chemirik, The Bride Chandelier.  So called because it has a train.  Amazing.

Taher Chemirik tables.  They're literally jewels on legs.  Can you think of anything more lust-worthy?

It transpires that Chemirik started as (and still is) a jeweller, which is no great surprise.

And then I found the most exquisite bench at the Gabrielle Ammann Gallery, a piece from Studio Nucleo's Future Archaeology collection:

It's wood encased in resin, but it looks like amber, with its threads of gold running through it, thus showing that you don't need actual precious stones or metals to create something jewel-like.  I'm going to suggest that Andrew try it out with some of his driftwood collection (and before you wonder if Andrew just collects anything, well, the answer is yes, sort of. He is a hoarder, but the collection is curated, in a manner.)

And then finally I found there was this gilt and bamboo cupboard by the Campana Brothers, which surprised me, because I'm not usually a fan of their work (they're perhaps better known for all those chairs made out of stuffed animals, which, in truth, creep me out.)

So even if I don't make it to Frieze, PAD gave me enough inspiration to last a while.  I'll just keep humming Spandau Ballet's Gold, which has been stuck in my head since departing Berkeley Square, and bless the fact that it's Sholto who's ill this time, and that he has a slightly more developed taste in television than Esmeralda.  I'll take The Octonauts over Baby Einstein any day.  I'll also thank my lucky stars that it is only teething and a tummy bug that my children are suffering from, and not anything more serious.  Prayers and positive thoughts to all the the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

PAD is in Berkeley Square until the end of Sunday, and is open from 11am-6pm.  (See, even their timings are hyper civilised.)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Bloomsbury Revival

There's a shoot in the new (November) House & Garden which features furniture painted by Cressida Bell.  Subsequently, I've become a bit obsessed.  It transpires that painting furniture is by no means the only thing that Cressida Bell does, but simply one thing in a portfolio of fabulousness.  Just look, for instance,  at this hand-painted lamp and lampshade:

These amazing cushions (obviously):

This rug!  (She's designed several):

And finally, she makes cakes! (She made a magnificent purple and white creation for one of the three parties that the Editor-at-Large of Vogue US, Hamish Bowles, was given to celebrate his 50th birthday.  There's a picture of it in the October issue):

As if all that weren't enough, she has also designed a number of fabrics and wallpapers, does private commissions (what I wouldn't give to have a whole house painted and decorated by her!) and written a couple of books:  Cressida Bell's Cake Design: Fifty Fabulous Cakes and The Decorative Painter: Painted Projects for Walls, Furniture and Fabric.  All of which has made Cressida Bell my latest pin-up.  I mean, she makes all my favourite things, literally.  I think I'm most in love with the lamps, and am therefore trying to work out where I can fit in a couple of extras in this house (no mean feat:  Sholto already has two bedside lamps.)  For now, I've ordered both books;  obviously I love cakes, and I'm totally up for painting all our furniture.

Cressida also has rather an interesting pedigree:  she is the daughter of Quentin Bell, and the granddaughter of Vanessa Bell (and therefore the great-niece of Virginia Woolf.)  And she is, in a manner, working in the Bloomsbury tradition - Duncan Grant, who lived with Vanessa Bell, painted china (I'm still trying to establish whether I like it or not.  I probably do. I think, if I were to start collecting it, I'd soon love it):

It just so happens - and incidentally I do not think that this is just coincidence - that I'm currently reading a review copy of The Angel of Charleston, which is the biography of Grace Higgens who was Vanessa Bell's (and therefore to an extent Duncan Grant's) housekeeper.  Although, saying 'housekeeper' - albeit technically her title - is underselling her.  Vanessa Bell painted a portrait of her:

which is where the picture on the book jacket is taken.   The biography is written by Andy Stewart MacKay, who I was at university with (I like to keep tabs on my peers, where possible.  One girl who was in my year, Harry Eastwood, has written several cookery books - seriously, look at her amazon page.  Every time I think about her I feel somewhat overwhelmed.)  Anyway, Andy is really, really nice, and the book is very well written, well researched and fascinating - certainly for anybody with any interest in the Bloomsbury Group, or for anybody interested in 'life below stairs' (though, technically, Grace's wasn't.  She lived on the top floor of the London house.) 

It feels like the Gods have spoken.  I have got to go and visit Charleston, which was Vanessa Bell's country house and which is in West Sussex and open to the public from the beginning of March until the end of October every year.  It's got an incredible collection and an incredible-looking shop which, among other things, sells ceramics, including mugs by Cressida Bell!  

I'm predicting a Bloomsbury revival.
The Angel of Charleston by Stewart MacKay can be ordered here