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)