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

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

My Family and Other Animals

I've been thinking a lot about design for children recently, not least because of the story that I heard behind this bookshelf, which I saw at Cassina during the London Design Festival (I'd gone in to look at some photographs that Karl Lagerfeld took - seriously, he gets everywhere, does Karl.  I'm beginning to wonder if he's delegated sleep.  I don't otherwise understand how he achieves all that he does.)

Valiero Bookshelves by Franco Albini

It's beautiful, isn't it?  It reminds me of a suspension bridge, and I love suspension bridges, which is why one of Sholto's middle names is Isambard.  (I'm not alone in this love, incidentally:  my father famously climbed Clifton suspension bridge the night before his wedding.  My mother tells me she was 'jolly cross' when she found out . . . I digress.)  When Albini first designed the Valiero, each shelf was a single piece of glass, and, among other things, the stereo lived on one of them.  Until the night his son had a party, pumped up the volume, and the ensuing vibrations caused every shelf to shatter.  Now, each shelf consists of two pieces of glass, glued together.  So it's now stereo friendly, but still, regardless of whether or not I had a spare £36,000 lying around, I wouldn't order this amazing piece of design at the moment, as I don't think it's particularly child (read, Sholto) friendly.  There's movement, you see, each shelf can be pushed to make it oscillate ever so slightly.  It's part of the joy of the piece, but I have no doubt that Sholto would want to experience that joy on a very regular basis, which, longterm, would be irritating at best.

But there's plenty of design that is child friendly, and I may continue this theme another time.  For now I want to talk about fabrics and wallpapers and such like that appeal to children, because I'm a tiny bit obsessed, and because I took Esmeralda to Decorex with me (which was faintly accidental but in the end not a disaster) and she made a beeline for anything with birds or animals on it.

Which is something that I love too, and why I was delighted to discover one particular stand at Decorex, which was exhibiting china, wallpaper, and some of Patrick Mavros's wonderful safari-esque silver creations (which Wills and Kate are apparently big fans of.  According to no lesser source than The Daily Mail, their wedding list was full of it.)

First up, the china, which is by Alice Peto.  (I've written about her before, here and here):

It's made in Stoke-on-Trent, and is 100% dishwasher proof (not that we have a dishwasher, but we will in the next house, for sure.)  I love it.  All of it. It also answers all my Christmas present issues (to my family:  state your preferences soon.)  I veer between loving the flamingos the most, and loving the parrots the most, and I think that the only answer will be to pray that somebody gives me the whole lot, and a Welsh dresser to store it in and on.  (Sholto would love it too, especially the penguins.  And it's a long time since he broke anything, so I would trust him with it.)

The wallpaper is by Juliet Travers, and is pretty much as close as you can get to being on safari (coincidentally the name of this collection) in your home, especially if one were then to load up with Patrick Mavros silver animals.  There are elephants and gazelles too, but I'm very into birds at the moment, so here are flamingos again, and guinea fowl (see, it works perfectly with Alice's china!)

Juliet Travers

Juliet Travers

Patrick Mavros, Baboons Mother and Baby

And then, then, just imagine if you upholstered a sofa in this:

Brunschwig & Fils, Kanchou in Wave (it's both a wallpaper and a fabric)

Which also goes pretty well with Alice's china.  And the children would love all of it.  (Much more than ikats and paisleys, it transpires . . .)