25 January 2011

London Diary: Finale

Less than 48 hours left in Londontown, and, yes, I was running out of steam.  We were still in bed recuperating from the long boozy night before when Maeve rang.  A pub lunch?  Why yes, that sounds just the thing.

 photo from Flickr here

Not any old pub of course, but the Black Friar which retains its 1904 Art Nouveau interior, complete with pink and green marble walls and bronze bas-reliefs illustrating how a life dedicated to God doesn't mean neglecting earthly pleasures.  A hair of the dog indeed as I sampled a pint of British ale along with a scrumptious shepherd's pie. We parted ways and I hopped on the tube to Sloane Square for my date with the Emma Hope shoe sale.

My heart was in flutters and my palms moist as I anticipated all the beaded, embroidered low- and mid-court pumps waiting for me.  Sadly it was not to be as not one pair successfully seduced me.  I was bereft only for a moment as I had an even bigger delight waiting ahead.

Just behind Peter Jones is a cobble-stone paved road lined with old carriage-houses - it is here that Nicky Haslam has his design office

 The sensationally chic Colette with Nicky Haslam

While Nicky (if I may) was sensibly in Mustique, his brilliant design director Colette van den Thillart poured glasses of port all around.   Behind Colette's desk was the most thrilling inspiration board displaying her penchant for everything from surrealism to John Fowler.  (Click here to discover what's on her mind this very second.)

While she strangely didn't pick up on my hints that I would be quite happy to live in one of the office's closets, she did show me Nicky's office.

Utterly charming watercolors of proposed interiors by Nicky's hand hang on the wall and made me think - is there anything this man can't do?

Our last dinner in London was in bohemian Islington.  Our friends Jake and Lindsay Attree who were in town from Yorkshire joined us for a fabulous Italian meal at Canonbury Kitchen.  If the waiter insists on sharing his advice on the menu, take it - he will steer you to the heavenly rather than just excellent.

 A painting by Jake Attree

Jake is a Royal Academy-trained artist who - subversively? - embraces the idea of beauty and sees the fine and decorative arts as equal.  He passed along this quote of Agnes Martin: "All art work is about beauty.  All positive art work represents it and celebrates it.  All negative art protests the lack of beauty in our lives."


You will be shocked to read that our very last meal in London was McDonald's.  I know.  Clearly it was time to go home.  But wait - as we were exiting, Mr EEE spied a sign with an arrow to Dr. Johnson's House.   We followed the covert passages to the c. 1700 brick house where Johnson wrote the first English dictionary between 1749-58.  

The curators have used a light hand in furnishing the rooms, which is all to the good.  The result is that one experiences the space more directly and - so one feels - authentically.  Off to the airport, our step hastened by this statue of Hodge, Johnson's kitty cat, 

which reminded us of our three guys waiting at home.


Thank you for indulging this account of a very special trip.   If you are still reading, you get a prize!  It is Colette's "special haunt": the Dennis Severs' house which has been described to me as a work of art.  It is only open Monday evenings for candlelight tours so arrange your trip accordingly.  I didn't, so please tell me everything when you come back.

23 January 2011

London Diary: Days 4 & 5

Today a very special treat lay in store: Mr EEE, now free to frolic, and I had been invited to lunch at the House of Lords by none other than the wildly wonderful Rosie West of Rose C'est La Vie and her husband Alan.

Rosie and I have been "back-channeling" (this is the official term for bloggers communicating privately according to my niece who is getting her master's in social media at the LSE) for a few years and this was our first meeting IRL ("in real life").  I always get nervous at these first dates, but, just like the other times when I've taken a blog friendship offline, an hour passes in what feels like minutes.

The Royal Gallery is hung with portraits of monarchs, including a rather jaunty one of George VI in lavender satin

Our hosts gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Lords which was designed by the famous Gothic Revivalist AWN Pugin* and Sir Charles Barry after the Great Fire of 1834 devoured most of the medieval palace of Westminster.  The result is a feast for the eyes with every surface richly patterned and emblazoned with heraldric symbolry.

The Lords Chamber, where the Queen makes her annual speech at the State opening of Parliament, is the most sumptuously decorated interior in Westminster Palace.  Note the interesting passementerie detail on the corner of the ottomans

It is always clear where one is as the carpet changes from red (Lords) to green (Commons) to blue for the crown.  While some may think the Lords an outdated notion, a very modern note was struck by a helpful security (male) guard in full make-up, pearl earrings and pony tail.  In fact, the Lords is thriving - two new lords were being created that day and we were lucky enough to meet the inductor who was arrayed in a stunning gold chevron-breasted jacket and sword with  gorgeous gold-woven tassel.  Lunch itself was delicious which included the best liver the un-hyperbolic Mr EEE had ever had ever

This was soon followed and equaled by the best cigarettes ever, hand-rolled by Lady West herself and smoked while shivering with excitement and windchill on the terrace overlooking the Thames.

After making plans to visit the Museum of Childhood the next day, we said our farewells and slipped across the cobblestones to Westminster Abbey where all the kings are crowned and Kate and Wills will soon be making it legal.

  Elizabeth I is buried on top of "Bloody Mary".  Photo from Tudor Tour

Anyone interested in fashion history will think herself in heaven as the magnificently sculpted tombs depict impressive personages and their attendants dressed to the hilt.  The folds on Handel's knickers is a passage of carving I will never forget.

In the nave are glamorous Waterford crystal chandeliers which inject an unexpected note of Deco style.  They were donated by the Guinness family and are cleaned every three years, in case you're interested.

Night had fallen and it was time to make our way south of the river to see my dear friends Max and Marc for dinner.  While Max, who is an expert on Aesthetic Movement decorative arts, showed us a few of their recent finds, Marc was down in their Lancaster yellow kitchen, making  pizza crust from scratch out of flour that is milled by a National Trust property.  That's what I'm talking about.


 Rooms in the chillingly named Killer Cabinet c. 1830s.  Photo courtesy of the V&A.
 Day 5 started at a civilized hour at the V&A's Museum of Childhool in Bethnal Green.  Rosie lured me with promises of jaw-dropping dollhouses through the ages, and indeed there was everything from Georgian to David Hockney-60s.

 This 1930s doll house will certainly be going in my upcoming Art Deco lecture.  Photo courtesy of the V&A.

We repaired to her house for a glass of wine a la Hoda and Kathy Lee where I was able to wrangle out the secret of her cigarettes.  It's in the wrapping paper, which is a chic tobacco brown and is lightly laced with licorice.  She took me to a corner store, set me up with my own kit, and then we hopped on a bus to meet Mr EEE for a tour of Somerset House.

Somerset House today.  Photo from here.  We have Lily Safra to thank for the courtyard fountains.

Somerset House began as a Tudor palace in the 16th century, but was demolished in 1775 to make way for a neoclassical complex of government offices designed by the royal architect Sir William Chambers.  There is about a 40ft slope from The Strand to the riverbank, and Chambers ingeniously incorporated the drop into his design by channeling a below ground walkway around the perimeter of the courtyard.  This also enabled windows to be put in on the basement level.  This walkway is used frequently by filming crews, especially for Jack the Ripper-esque scenes and recently appeared in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.  We were able to traverse it to a death room which contained royal grave markers salvaged from the Tudor palace chapel.

By this point, I was dangerously close to letting my inner Mr. Hyde come out as I hadn't yet eaten.  Rosie graciously didn't make a moue as I gobbled down a Leon sandwich and Mr EEE told her of our big plans to buy a cigarette rolling machine (even though we rarely smoke - really).  It was now time to meet the aforementioned niece at the Savoy for drinks and we twisted Rosie's arm to come  - afterall, I couldn't let her last vision of me to be as the Tasmanian Devil at table.

As you all know, the Savoy just reopened this fall after a huge multi-million pound refurbishment.  Sadly not too many original Deco details seem to have been retained and my dreams of quaffing Champagne in the American Bar no longer had the same allure. BECAUSE I discovered the Savoy's Beaumont Bar.


Wowee-wow-wow.  Jet black walls picked out in gilt complete with gold-leaf niches.  It is absolutely splendid and this is where you must go.

Two Blondes on the town at the Savoy's jazzy Beaumont Bar
As you can see by my pin-prick pupils, Rosie and I enjoyed ourselves immensely.  While she sipped whisky sours, I tossed back kir royales, and Kate educated us on flamers, haters, and more blogworld speak.

We stumbled out, said our final farewells to Rosie, and then went off for dinner at the Austin Powers mod steak palace Gaucho on Chancery Lane.  (I had hoped to go to the Ivy - for no other reason than I couldn't afford to when I lived in London as a graduate student - but as Rosie and Maeve both knew, we weren't important enough to get in last minute.)

Gaucho Chancery.  Why not?

The room is completely black which sets off the Atomic Age swivel chairs covered in black and white spotted cow hide.  (We were in a different room than above for my eagle eye readers.) The steak - of which we got five different cuts - melted in the mouth.  After dispatching Kate in a taxi, we repaired to our hotel bar for a nightcap - just to make sure there was indeed more wine than blood in our veins.

Next post: Last days

* AWN Pugin was hugely responsible for the Gothic Revival movement in the 1830s.  He was a Catholic-convert and professed that the Gothic style, which he allied with religion, was the most spiritual.  Meanwhile, I've been told by my brilliant friend GG, he was living a licentious double-life and died of syphilis!  What?!  Read Rosemary Hill's God's Architect: Pugin and the building of Romantic Britain, said GG - the last chapters are right out of Dickens.

16 January 2011

London Diary: Days 2 & 3

 view from the room

For the first few days of our London week, Mr. EEE holed himself up in the hotel room preparing for a conference while I made myself scarce.  First stop: The British Museum.  Not only is it a close jaunt from our hotel,  it is tantalizingly adjacent to Robert Kime's newly expanded shop.

One side is devoted to his antiques and the other to his textile lines - both bear the most wonderful air of patina.

 Kime's Harlequin

In many ways, he is a modern-day Geoffrey Bennison who also appreciated the beauty of the worn and weathered.

A gorgeous tomato-beef stew at the BM cafe (lots of fresh parsley on top) revived me between the Minoans and the Myceneans and after finishing the audio-guide Classical World tour, I roamed the streets until dinner.

 Dionysus, the god of revelry - a masterpiece of drapery, c. 1250 BCE, photo courtesy of the British Museum

A new but already dear friend Lavinia whisked me away to her house in Pimlico where all fireplaces were blazing.  She whipped up a cozy risotto with peas and carrots while we gossiped and drank bottle after bottle of champagne. Lavinia apologized that that is all she drinks, and furthermore it must be ice ice cold.  (You understand why she has become an instantaneous great friend.)  I parted at 2 am in a warm glow and The Hare with Amber Eyes tucked under my arm.

By Day 3, I was organized enough to have lined up companions.  The marvelous Bridget (who is very proper but can recall her wild drinking days with the artist Francis Bacon) and Maeve were waiting for me for eggs benedict at the Wolseley, as our usual haunt Oriel's in Sloane Square had been closed down by Earl Cadogan who refused to renew the lease after deeming the food not very good.  No matter, as the Wolseley has one of the most smashing Deco-style interiors.  Formerly a car showroom, it is a large cavernous space reminiscent of an RKO sound stage with a jazzy black and white floor to match.  N.B. they refuse to make frites before 11:30am.

After sniffing scents at Floris and reconning the upstairs restaurant of Fortnum and Mason's (supposedly it is much more smart to dine here than the ground level Fountain Cafe, but we found the low-ceilinged space disappointing), we hopped in a taxi to the Sir John Soane Museum.

The museum keeps opening up new parts of the house - the bedrooms are planned for 2012 - and this time I was able to experience the Monk's Yard which Soane created to evoke the mystery and romanticism of a Gothic novel.

The Library, courtesy of the Sir John Soane Museum
One might think Soane an eccentric or obsessive after seeing how he transformed a great part of the house into a picturesque arrangement of antiquities, but, as one of the guides reminded us, architects and their students couldn't travel during the Napoleonic Wars and so Soane's collection was very much used for teaching.

His imaginative and innovative pared-down handling of the Classical vocabulary is evident everywhere.  I particularly adore his fireplaces which one day I can make mine via Chesney who reproduce them.  Click here to see the archive of Soane's chimneypieces.

If it seems all I did on this trip is eat and drink, you are right.  Maeve remembered a new restaurant in Belgravia that was in The Pantechnicon, an 1830s building which was built as a bazaar for arts and crafts.

Photos from flickr here and here

Alas, the gastro-pub which "borrowed" this name is not in the impressive Greek Revival building (which must have been rebuilt after an 1870s fire and is now inhabited by a Starbucks), but it did have an excellent Bloody Mary infused hamburger.

Before getting dinner fixings at the most beautiful grocery store I and Bridget had ever seen (the Waitrose at 27 Motcomb Street, if you must know), Maeve lured us into the dress shop Egg.

Egg - photo courtesy of Remodelista

It was full of very expensive aprons and floaty, unstructured jackets and dresses that harkened back to the '80s when babydoll dresses were the thing.  Not my bag, but brava to anyone who can wear an apron out on the town and look cool.  A light supper of cauliflower soup, crusty bread, and red wine and it was time for bed.

Tomorrow: Meeting Rose c'est la vie!

10 January 2011

London Diary: Day One

If paper is the appropriate gift for a first anniversary, than Mr. EEE outdid himself with tickets to London.  It promises to be a week full of raptures, and has already gotten off to a roaring start.

Alas, not two hours after stepping out of the hotel, I had found a new boyfriend.

Tall dark and handsome, Lord Mountstuart is one of the highlights of the smashing Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance show at the National Portrait Gallery.  Apparently when George III first set eyes on this young lord dressed as a Spanish dandy, he stepped back in revulsion at the very tight pants.

After having a most delicious grilled chicken sandwich from the new(ish?) chain Leon that values locally sourced ingredients, it was on to Somerset House to see the Rene Gruau fashion illustrations for Dior.

Influenced by Japanese calligraphy and use of negative space, Gruau's work inspires the imagination to supply what's not on the page.  I also learned  that the New Look shape was based on a flower.

It was by now cocktail hour so I returned to the hotel room for a reviving glass of red wine and a fistful of drugstore chocolate (sorry to say).  It was also a bit of liquid courage as I had a dinner date to meet the great biographer Hugo Vickers.  (Mr. EEE was studiously prepping for a presentation all the while.)

It was an incredible evening - he kindly showed me his Stephen Tennant - Syrie Maugham satin curtains.  (I will have the opportunity to reassure Rosie that they did indeed look very fulsome and beautiful.)  Hugo was also a consultant on The King's Speech.  When Helena Bonham-Carter as the Queen is asked to stay for dinner, she replies what a treat it would be, but alas they are otherwise engaged.  At the time, I thought what an elegant refusal it was and Hugo told me it was in fact something he had heard the Queen Mother say and suggested for the script. We had delicious steak at the Troubadour where Bob Dylan performed in the 60s and then parted ways.  (For more Hugo,  pre-order his forthcoming book, Behind Closed Doors: the tragic, untold story of the Duchess of Windsor here)

Such a day...

04 January 2011

Secret Source: Fort Lauderdale's DAFA Antiques Gallery

In these days of lumberjack sweaters and cozy-but-hideous UGGs, dreams of South Florida sun, Lilly Pulitzer pinks, and bonheurs-du-jour have been dancing in my head.    What?! you say - shift dresses and tans, OK, but the nearest antiques port to Palm Beach is New Orleans.

You couldn't be more wrong, as I learned upon my arrival a few weeks ago at the Decorative and Fine Arts (DAFA) gallery in Fort Lauderdale.*  Behind a plain post-war exterior lies a dazzling Aladdin's cave of delights, almost all directly out of estates and fresh to the market.   I was instantly made to feel at home when I recognized several items from an esteemed New York gallery -  yes, the very same but with a zero taken off the end. 

Debbie and Craig Mayor, center, are the proprietors of DAFA and kindly hosted a Castaing lecture and book signing,

along with the charming appraiser and expert Juan Lluria, above, and Lars Hegelund of Frederick Fine Art.


Craig has the most marvelous eye and loves the hunt (and the acquisition).  What this means is that his mark-up is quite modest so that things can move and his new purchases can come on the floor (like the contents of an entire mansion decorated by David Hicks - are you breathing as heavily as I am???)   A few dealers are already onto the DAFA secret, but why not go directly to the source (and before the price has been doubled)?

The inventory is eclectic, spanning periods, countries, and importance and is exactly to my taste.  One can imagine many of the items coming out of a Palm Beach doyenne's villa as decorated by Rose Cumming in the 1920s. 

The painting selection is equally of interest and is curated by the elegant and erudite Lars Hegelund.

Lars was excited by this new arrival "Blue Crab" which I could happily find a place for as could I this ivory leather-tufted couch. O how I adore this couch.

Like Miss Hootie, below, my cats would be hard-pressed to shred it with their talons.  

Am I purring?  Yes, but so will you when you visit.  Debbie and Craig's son has convinced them to embrace the digital age and is in the process of putting their inventory online here.  In the meantime, hop on a plane or in a car to:

3263 North Dixie Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334
Tel: 954.567.1570

* Fort Lauderdale is less than an hour's drive from Miami and Palm Beach (depending on traffic).  Because you might not be watching as much daytime television as I do, I can pass along Nate Berkus' preference to fly in to Lauderdale rather than Miami.