Cadogan Hall + Inchbald Private View 2014

Hip to be Square

Hermione Russell Inchbald © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Is it just us or does the world really revolve around Sloane Square? Is it seriously the epicentre of gravity and gravitas? Everybody knows everybody in Café (Colbert) Society. There are no Sloane strangers. First it was the Chelsea Flower Show. Then Masterpiece. Now Inchbald. We’re off to Cadogan Hall to discover the next Sister Parish and Gertrude Jekyll at the end of year show. Well past its half century, the Inchbald School of Design has been instrumental in raising the profile of design in this country. Its founder Jacqueline DuncanMrs Duncan OBE to you – is reining principal. Not content with founding the first interior design school in Europe, she soon expanded the syllabus to incorporate garden design courses. Past lecturers have included David Hicks and alumni frequently reach single name status: Henrietta, Nina, Zaha.

Cothay Manor, a star of Country House Rescue, is revisited by Postgraduate Diploma in Architectural Interior Design student Hermione Russell. Ever since her History of Art BA, Hermione has focused on country house architecture. “I’ve reimagined Cothay Manor, which dates from the 1400s, as a bed and breakfast in the countryside. I wanted to instil a sense of belonging into the interiors,” she explains. “I’ve sandblasted the beams of the low ceilings to make spaces appear more airy.” Her drawings reveal a contemporary reinterpretation of Edwardian notions of sweetness and light. Think Lutyens at Knebworth or later Aileen Plunket at Luttrellstown Castle. “The bedrooms are named after wild flowers,” says Hermione, carrying on a country house tradition. Take Dundarave, Northern Ireland’s finest estate on the market. It sticks to colours for the names of the seven principal bedrooms. The Blue Room, Pink Room, Green Room, Yellow Room, Red Room, Brown Room, Bird Room (which begs the question what hue is the plumage?). The 12 secondary bedrooms remain anonymous.

From the great indoors to the great outdoors. Postgraduate Diploma in Garden Design student Anastasia Voloshko’s exhibition is entitled Seam Maze Limassol Promenade. “Limassol is Cyprus’s most international city,” says Anastasia who has also studied interior design. “It’s a crossroads of different cultures and languages. My concept was to use the spectacular background of the sea and translate its deep mystery onto the land.” An organic flow of contours and materials emerges, connecting the rocky shore to the modern city. Again, a reinterpretation of traditional forms – a rock garden, pool, box hedging – creates a refreshed language, a new geometry for our times. “I am inspired by many things,” she ponders. “A nice mood, the sky, a song, a painting… sometimes my best ideas come out of nowhere!”

Seam Maze Limassol Promenade by Anastasia Voloshko Lavender's Blue

Two very different projects. Two very different voices. Yet both Hermione and Anastasia tell us, “Going to Inchbald was the best professional decision of my life!” Inchbald School of Design continues to equip new generations of graduates with the skills to create houses for gardens and gardens for houses and places for people.

Anastasia Voloshko Inchbald © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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James Wyatt + Goodwood Festival of Speed 2014

Marching Season

Goodwood House 2014 © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

In the battle of the summer festivals, Goodwood and Glasto go neck and neck. Both attract 140,000 visitors each year although we prefer the Kinrara hospitality pavilion to mud. Sorry Dolly. Great view of the house track. A black and white racing check covers the triglyph and plain friezes over the Doric and Ionic columns respectively of the double height portico. Behind the highness of the first floor balustrade stand racing royalty: the Earl of March and Kinrara chatting to Lewis Hamilton.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2014 © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

Goodwood House is the glorious backdrop to the frenetic collision of noise, dust, smell and fast moving visuals that are the Festival of Speed. The principal front has a nine bay centre with five bay wings on either side angled back by 135 degrees. Perhaps three-eighths of a grand hollow octagon five-eighths unexecuted? Joins and ends are punctuated by cylindrical towers with copper domed hats. Provincial facing flint softens James Wyatt’s neoclassical urbaneness. It’s a ‘fur coat’ façade clothing a long skinny building. Stripped of pretension, the rear is an unselfconscious jaunty jumble of Diocletians, Serlianas and Wyatts.

Goodwood 2014 Rolls Royce © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

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Country Life + Mayfield House Portlaw

Lips Unsealed

2 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

“If I was my house, I would sue you for libel. How dare you call it eccentric!” Hazel Dolling about Lissan House

1 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

If art is anything you can get away with then architecture is whatever is there.

3 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

The three great Lanyon houses of Ulster: Drenagh, Dundarave (say “Doon-Dah-Rrrrave”), Ballywalter Park. Listed in ascending order of size and significance. Who would have thought two of the three would leave the ownership of the original families in the same year?

4 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

“Most certainly not! This is a private house!” The 5th and last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava at Clandeboye

When you’re this fabulous, you’re bound to make a few enemies.

Yes, but is it art?

William Blake experienced his first vision in Peckham: “A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.”

Money may not buy happiness but I’d rather cry in a mansion than a cottage.

5 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

“Ireland’s Best Hotel – Set in the loveliest scenery in Ireland, this hotel has all the amenities which the most fastidious could desire – Fishing, Golf, Tennis, Bathing, Dancing, an incomparable menu and 60 years tradition of comfort and service. No Currency Restrictions.” Classified Announcement, Country Life Coronation Number

6 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

You can’t overdress on the Orient Express.

7 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

“It’s bohemian.” Jacqueline Duncan, Founder of Inchbald School of Design, on Lavender’s Blue HQ

8 Mayfield House Portlaw © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

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Masterpiece 2014 Preview + Susan Hampshire

The Great Exhibition

Masterpiece 2014 © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue_edited-1

Masterpiece 2014. Preview breakfast, launch and supper. Ruinart on tap. There are so many celebrities this is the only day of the year you’ll get a table at Chiltern Firehouse. Everyone is beautiful, above average. Take the regal Susan HampshireLady Kulukundis to you – monarch of the glen, queen of all she surveys. Average doesn’t exist at Masterpiece. It’s Lake Wobegon for real. And Lavender’s Blue have a great lakeside view.

Susan Hampshire, Lady Kulukundis, & friends © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue_edited-1

Made in (Royal Hospital) Chelsea. We haven’t been here since, oh, the Chelsea Flower Show at least two weeks ago and before that, somewhere in the mist of time the Celeste Dell-Anna soirée. But first it was the warm up, Pimlico Road Summer Party. Jamb was full (sorry) of monolithic mantels and who knew Soane has the best roof terrace, make that twin roof terraces, on the stretch?

Masterpiece 2014 Contemporary Sculpture © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

At Masterpiece, over 3,000 years of art history and culture are on offer from museum quality antiquity at Ariadne Galleries to museum café quality antipasti at The Mount Street Deli. The international who’s who of exhibitors from around the world in 80 cities includes Galerie Steinitz based on rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, a musket shot from Champs Élyées. “This is one of our special antique interiors,” says Guillaume Garcia-Moreau. It’s like twirling inside an exquisite jewellery box. “The panelling is Louis XVI although we’re not exactly sure where it originally came from. It was installed in Lucien Guitry’s hôtel particulier at the end of the 19th century. The stucco insets are original and the carved wood is of the highest quality.”

Galerie Steinitz © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

Masterpiece 2014 Sculpture © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue

All that glitters is gold at Adrian Sassoon. “It’s all gold, even the lining is gold,” explains artist-goldsmith goldsmith-artist Giovanni Corvaja about his Golden Fleece. “Technology has allowed myth to become reality.” That plus 2,500 hours’ labour and oodles of talent. This hat is made from five million gold threads, each one a fifth the radius of a human hair. “The very ancient mythology of the Golden Fleece, the idea of making fabric from gold, fascinated me. It’s the stuff of kings. The gold looks like fur but touch it. It’s cold and quite heavy.” The Golden Fleece is priced £350,000. More golden ratio than gold is Palladio’s I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura for sale for £60,000 by Peter Harrington. As well as studies of Roman temples, it includes Palladio’s retrospective of his own designs. A one man Taschen show. “The four books date from 1570,” says Sammy Jay, “although their provenance is enigmatic. The binding is late 18th century.”

Golden Fleece Headpiece by Giovanni Corvaja @ Lavender's Blue_edited-1

Luxed out, we leave for another year. We catch glimpses of primary colour and primal lack of colour in the verdant setting as our golf buggy (it’s the chauffeur’s day off) whizzes up the driveway. Ranelagh Gardens in the hospital grounds has been turned into a sculpture park to celebrate Philip King’s 80th. Here’s to #MPL15.

Dunstable Reel by Philip King @ Masterpiece © Stuart Blakley Lavender's Blue_edited-1

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Curraghmore and the 8th Marquess of Waterford

Heirs and Graces

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The shadows were closing in. On a dark night in 1922, while heavy clouds curled and unfurled over the Comeragh Mountains, four IRA men crawled up the four mile driveway of Curraghmore. The fourth of four castles owned by the de la Poer family, who’d come to these islands during the French Catholic Norman Invasion, was about to become ruins. But St Hubert would save the night. As the terrorists approached, a flicker of moonlight silhouetted the crucifix surmounting a stag over the entrance tower. The family crest atop the balustrade, St Hubert. Illiterately, the terrorists assumed the family inside must still be Catholic. They fled and burned down the crucifix-free Woodstown House nearby. The de la Poer motto is Nil Nisi Cruce: “Nothing without the cross.”

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We’re in the James Wyatt designed staircase hall of Curraghmore. It’s a Sunday morning and John Beresford, 8th Marquess of Waterford, has graced us with his presence. Inspecting our old postcard of Curraghmore, he remarks, “Look, the fountain in the lake is clearly visible. It was the tallest fountain in Europe before my grandfather took it down.” The estate boasts the tallest tree in Ireland, a Sitka spruce. At 156 feet tall, its full height is not immediately apparent as it grows out of a dell. The Marquess is reportedly less than impressed by wind turbines visible from the neighbouring farm which mar the otherwise Arcadian setting.

Curraghmore

“That dashing red haired gentleman,” says the Marquess pointing to us a portrait on the landing, “is Henry the 3rd Marquess. He was hot tempered and one day got into such a fierce argument with his father he charged up the staircase on his black stallion. That’s how the middle step got cracked. The portrait of his wife Louisa the 3rd Marchioness, herself an artist, is rather lovely. The 3rd Marquess was killed while fox hunting. My brother Patrick is a great soldier. He was awarded the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst.” The current Marquess was a talented polo player and is a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh. “I’m lucky to have three sons and five grandsons. Richard, my eldest grandson, is 6’8” and a professional polo player.” Sport’s in their (blue) blood. The 3rd Marquess enjoyed partying as much as sport. He was one of several wild sportsmen who sprayed the tollgate and houses of Melton Mowbray with red paint. The phrase “painting the town red” was born.

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Marquess of Waterford Curraghmore Tower © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

1 Marquess of Waterford Curraghmore © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

6 Marquess of Waterford Curraghmore © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

8 Marquess of Waterford Curraghmore © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

7 Marquess of Waterford Curraghmore © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

3 Curraghmore Gardens © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

2 Curraghmore Gardens © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

1 Curraghmore Gardens © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

“That’s Aunt Clodagh,” the Marquess grins gesturing to another portrait. “Do you know what the Irish name Clodagh means? Muddy water. Lady Muddy Water Beresford.” Four miles of the Clodagh River run through the estate. “Curraghmore has always been a working farm.” Even more than that, it was once a self contained community. In contrast to the format of wings elongating the house, at Curraghmore the ancillary quarters stretch forward from the entrance doors to form the mother-of-all-forecourts. More Seaton Delaval than Russborough. As well as the stables for 60 horses they at one time housed the butler, doctor, estate manager, accountant, bookkeeper, gamekeeper, woodcutter and headmaster. An estate school lay behind the gatelodge. Basil Croeser, the retired butler, still lives in one of the Gibbsian detailed houses lining the forecourt. A new butler, aged 23, has just started. He’s yet to be fitted for his uniform. Later, he will serve the Marquess lunch, a silver tureen on a silver tray concealing produce from the estate. Game soup’s a favourite. There are 25 estate staff, including a cleaning lady for every floor. There may be four poster beds but bathrooms are on the corridor. No en suites. This is an Irish country house, not a hotel. Chamber pots at the ready.

4 Curraghmore Gardens © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

“That painting’s by Gilbert Stuart who famously was George Washington’s portraitist. Those are of my parents and grandparents. Do sign the visitors’ book.” Lavender’s Blue is added to Prince Albert of Greece, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and, er, Iain Duncan-Smith. “The house is surprisingly warm, even in winter,” comments the Marquess, “thanks to roaring fires in the main rooms and the thickness of the walls.” We move into the Blue Drawing Room, walking across a 1770 Axminster. The wealth of art between these thick walls becomes even more apparent. One, two, three Joshua Reynolds. Same again for Rubens. A portrait of Catherine the Great by Giovanni Battista Lampi hangs over the doorcase. A Gerrit van Honthorst here; a Thomas Lawrence there. In the adjoining Yellow Drawing Room, filled with morning from two windows on two sides (blind windows were unblocked in a major restoration 25 years ago), is a painting of another family aunt, Lady Wyndham. She’s wearing the pearl necklace Mary Queen of Scots handed to her lady-in-waiting before she lost her head. The pearls are upstairs, in the Marchioness’s dressing room.

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The dining room retains its original skin tone coloured walls and the 30 foot linen tablecloth dating from 1876 is still in use. Standards are high at dinner parties. The Marquess and Marchioness sit at opposite ends of the table, 17 privileged guests on either side. Men wear bow ties; ladies, long dresses and jewellery. Candles perched in three silver candelabra provide the only lighting. Dinner is served on 10 dozen floral Feuillet plates. Upstairs, far flung corners of the house are piled high with boxes of English, French and Chinese china. After dinner, at a nod from the Marquess, the ladies withdraw to another room. A larger than usual party was recently held when the Marquess celebrated his 80th birthday with 80 guests.

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There’s so much else to write about Curraghmore. The stuffed lioness and her cubs lurking in a glass box. Elephant trunk and feet umbrella stands. The quatrefoil shaped shell grotto. The grass avenue which stops abruptly, unfinished since the 3rd Marquess’s untimely demise. The Curraghmore Hunt painting by William Osborne with name plates for everyone including the hounds Jason and Good Boy. Grisaille panels by Peter de Gree. Roundels by Antonio Zucchi. Francini plasterwork. Most of all, the sense of peace that presides in the 4,000 acres of Ireland’s last wilderness.

Curraghmore Postcards Lavender's Blue

 

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John O’Connell + Montalto House

A TREATISE ON GEORGIAN ARCHITECTURE
IN FIVE PARAGRAPHS

L. V. B. R. T. P. I.

1 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Ghosts

“Riddled!” shrieked the 5th Countess of Clanwilliam, after years were already gone since irony, when faced with the prospect of sharing her matrimonial home Gill Hall with more ghouls than an episode of Rent-a-Ghost. “Simply one damned ghost after another!” A card game later, or so the rural myth portends, the lucky Earl won neighbouring Montalto House from a gentleman surnamed Ker. “Phew!” she exclaimed, sinking into a sofa in the first floor Lady’s Sitting Room with its Robert West stuccowork of scallop shells and a brush and comb and a cockerel and fox. The only spirits ever at Montalto are the Jameson bottles rattling on drinks trolleys. Over a wee dram, it’s worth catching sight of the resident albino hare in the 10 hectare gardens on the 160 hectare estate. His son the 6th Earl, in between sewing tapestries, demolished the ballroom and a chunk of the servants’ quarters, shrinking the size of the house by a half. Under the ownership of JP Corry, a famed timber merchant, the east wing and rear apartments also had to be chopped following a calamitous fire in 1985.

2 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Arts

Country houses form distinctive works of architecture, with appropriately furnished interiors, and considered as part of a demesne, conceived in all its complexity as a picturesque ensemble of gardens, woods and buildings, they represent what is justly described by John Harris in The Destruction of the Country House as ‘the supreme example of a collective work of art’. But whatever else a country house may symbolically constitute, it was always conceived to be decorated and furnished quite simply as a habitation, and it is that incomparable sense of home that the restitution, restoration and refurnishing of Montalto has sought to preserve for today and tomorrow. The Earl of Moira commenced construction in 1752 by which time a prosperous Irishman could have confidence that his home would remain his castle without having to look like one.

3 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

4 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

5 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Orders

Ballyfin is the Montalto of the South, beloved by the Kanye-Kardashian kouple and all known cosmopolitan denizens. It is no coincidence both houses have benefitted from the hand of heritage architect John O’Connell, plucked from a slim pantheon of heroes. Nor does he spin. Ballyfin is the Morrisons’ masterpiece. John also led the restoration of Fota, another Morrison great. Both Fota and Montalto have Doric porches. He designed a Doric temple for Ballyfin. Order, order! First there were the three orders of Vitruvius’ treatises: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Architect George Saumarez Smith, himself author of a treatise, calls Doric “solid and muscular; Ionic “graceful and light”; Corinthian “grand”. Then Renaissance men Alberti, Filarete, Palladio, Serlio and Vignola added Tuscan (a plainer Doric) and Composite (a hybrid Ionic and Corinthian). The five orders became the established canon, a sacred alphabet related to the laws of nature. Now that’s a tall order. Return to Montalto. Tall round headed windows and niches cavalierly skim the carriageway like crinoline skirts. The central shallow porch is set in a canted bay. In 1837 unlucky owner David Ker excavated the rock under the house promoting the basement to ground floor. Not without precedent, Hilton Park and Tullylagan Manor are other examples of the elevation of an elevation. Tripartite windows and more canted bays on the sides of the house overlook nature tamed as topiary taking the form of spherical shrubs and conical box hedges. The rear elevation with its generous wall to window ratio is a 20th century repair following fire and demolition. Its sparseness, bearing the greyness and eternity of a cliff, recalls Clough Williams-Ellis at Nantclwyd Hall.

6 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Interior

A sense of order framing majestic comfort prevails indoors with eight pairs of Doric columns guarding the entrance hall, sentinels in stone. It’s flanked by the dining room and library. Straight ahead the staircase leads to the long gallery, of more than average beauty, an axis in ormolu, a spine of gilt. Trompe l’oeil and oeil de boeuf and toile de jouy abound. The interior, like beauty, is born anew every hundred years. Montalto is a sun, radiant, growing, gathering light and storing it – then after an eternity pouring it forth in a glance, the fragment of a sentence, cherishing all beauty and all illusion.

The End

7 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

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Il Bottaccio + Il Bottaccio

Classical Order | Divine Comedy

Ill Bottaccio ballroom © Stuart Blakley

One is a five star Relais and Chateaux hotel in the rural idyll of Montignoso. The other is a luxury club in an Italianate mansion overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace. It’s time to go clubbing with Pasquale Terracciano, the Italian ambassador. We’re off to Il Bottaccio, place of the gathering of the waters. And the great and the good. Ascending the concentric marble staircase, the nine celestial spheres of heaven await a toast to Tuscan excellence.

A gentle breeze floats through the piano nobile ballroom, curtains fluttering out French doors open to the setting sun. Nino Mosca, Executive Chef of Il Bottaccio, is our gastronomic guide for the evening. Villa Mangiacane Winery supplies the Chianti. This 15th century villa is 10 miles from Florence and was built by the Machiavelli family, who presumably had a black sheep relative. Sheep’s cheese infused with wild artichoke comes from Lischeto Farm outside Volterra.

Lischeto Farm also produces extra virgin extra oil. Fabrizio Filippi, President of the Consortium of Tuscan Extra Virgin Oil, explains, “Tuscany is the perfect region for producing excellent quality extra virgin oil thanks to its landscape, climatic and environmental conditions, history and culture. The olive varieties, the cultivation techniques and the harvesting of the olives at the optimum moment all contribute to creating an incomparable product with a distinguished flavour.” Paradiso!

Chef Nino Mosca & Architect Ed Bucknall © Stuart Blakley

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Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve

What a Fad

Mount Congreve Entrance Front © Stuart Blakley

First it was Farmleigh, then Lissadell, next it was Mount Congreve. Historic Irish houses lived in by the original families with intact interiors and gardens that could have been saved in their entirety for the nation. The Guinnesses’ former home Farmleigh was eventually purchased by the Government after its contents had been sold. Lissadell, once the home of Countess Markievicz who helped establish the Republic of Ireland, was sold on the open market and its contents auctioned despite the Gore-Booth family offering it to the State. At Mount Congreve, it is the gardens that have been saved. Its last owner, Ambrose Christian Congreve, struck a deal with the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey that in return for tax exemption during his lifetime, the gardens would be left to the people of Ireland. The house is still there, stripped naked of its phenomenal collection of furniture and art, still surrounded by one of the finest gardens in the country, if not the world.

Mount Congreve Entrance © Stuart Blakley

It took just two days in July 2012 for Mealy’s and Christie’s to auction off the entire contents. At the time, George Mealy explained, “There are lacquered screens and vases from Imperial China, rare books, Georgian silver, vintage wines, chandeliers and gilt mirrors and enough antique furniture to fill a palace. Everything is on offer. It’s a complete clearance of the entire estate. He did his art shopping in London. He got most of it through London because he had spotters for items that he might be interested in. Mr Congreve loved collecting. He loved nice things and he had unbelievable taste.” The result was a hard core property porn auction catalogue. Page after page of exotic beauty: the crimson library, the lemon bedroom, the Wedgwood blue sitting room, the large drawing spanning the full depth of the house: Chinoserie takes on Versailles.

Mount Congreve Facade © Stuart Blakley

Mount Congreve Garden Front © Stuart Blakley

Jim Hayes, former IDA director, records a visit to Mount Congreve in his autobiography The Road from Harbour Hill, “We were received on arrival by Geraldine Critchley, the social secretary and long-term assistant of Ambrose Congreve. The ornate hall was decked with a number of gloves, walking canes and a variety of riding accessories. We were escorted into a large drawing room, the walls of which were covered in 18th century, hand-painted, Chinese wallpaper. Three large Alsatian dogs lay asleep in the corner of the room. A liveried servant then appeared with a silver tray and teapot and antique bone china cups and saucers. This young man, of Indian origin, was one of the last few remaining liveried servants of Ireland’s great houses.” Sheila Bagliani, doyenne of Gaultier Lodge in County Waterford, recalls, “Gus, Ambrose’s Alsatian, had full run of the house.”

Mount Congreve Driveway © Stuart Blakley

Ambrose was in London rather aptly for the Chelsea Flower Show when he died in 2011, aged 104. He had no children so eight generations of his family’s enhancement of Waterford came to a close. Geraldine Critchley, his partner, survives him. The son of Major John Congreve and Lady Irène Congreve, daughter of the 8th Earl of Bessborough, Ambrose inherited Mount Congreve in 1968 and restored and redecorated and replanted it to within an inch of its being. The good life took off, on a whole new level. Ambrose divided his time between Mount Congreve and his London townhouse near Belgrave Square. He employed a succession of fine chefs de cuisine including Albert Roux who went on to co-found Le Gavroche restaurant.

Mount Congreve Garden © Stuart Blakley

Now for some horticultural stats. 110 acre estate. 70 acres of woodland. Four acres of walled gardens. 16 miles of paths. 3,000 different trees and shrubs. 3,000 rhododendrons. 1,500 plants. 600 camellias. 600 conifers. 300 acer cultivars. 300 magnolias. 250 climbers. The stuff of rural legend, all piled high on the south bank of the River Suir. The manicured gardens end abruptly next to open fields, like a beautiful face half made-up. Awards include classification as a Great Garden of the World by the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and a Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Sheila Bagliani remembers, “Piped music in the grounds kept the 25 gardeners entertained while working. Ambrose also employed the Queen Mother’s former chauffeur.” Lot Number 492 at the auction was his 1969 shell grey Rolls Royce Phantom V1, price guide €12,000 to €18,000. It sold for €55,000. At his centenary lunch celebration, Ambrose declared, “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine. To be happy for a day, read a book. To be happy for a week, take a wife. To be happy forever, make a garden.” His garden lives on in perpetuity, making the public happy.

Mount Congreve Garden Dutch Steps © Stuart Blakley

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Elizabeth Cope + Shankill Castle

Period Drama

Shankill Castle Entrance Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

There are whistlestop tours and there’s a 30 minute stopover till the Gatwick flight from Terminal 2 Dublin Airport departs to check out a centuries old castle complete with famous gates, a gatelodge, even more famous stables, cottages, a walled garden, an orchard, a ruinous church and graveyard. Oh, and did we mention squeeze in a coffee in the kitchen with the owners, an artist and historian, their film director son and dogs? Welcome to Shankill Castle, 45 minutes from the airport. If the heel is very firmly to the steel up the M9, that is.

Shankill Castle Garden Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

The house is full of surprises. A playful Gothic exterior gives way to a wintry panelled entrance hall. “The 17th century chimneypiece without a mantelpiece is of an unusual design,” says Elizabeth Cope, the bold and brilliant artist in permanent residence. “There’s a similar chimneypiece in the National Trust house Dyrham Park just outside Bristol. This one’s made of Kilkenny marble. Did you know Kilkenny marble is actually polished limestone? Look at how tall and slim the Queen Anne doorcases are. They’re so elegant.” The hall, like all the rooms, is a wonderfully eclectic mix of period details, antiques and of course Elizabeth’s vivid paintings, bursting with life – and in some cases death. In the middle of the hall is a drum rent table with several dummy drawers for security and symmetry.

Shankill Castle Wing © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley.JPG

Beyond the entrance hall lies the dining room with a great boxy bay window overlooking the geometrically shaped lake at the back of the house. Dozens of wine glasses are laid out on the dining table. “It’s my son Reuben’s 30th birthday on Friday. The theme is The Great Gatsby. You must come! I love throwing parties. I always think no one will come and then at the last minute everyone turns up. This house is made for parties. There’ll be dancing through the night.” The drawing room is a gloriously summery space with wide windows opening onto the driveway and side garden reflected in 16 foot tall mirrors. Faded Edwardian wallpaper is the perfect backdrop to several of Elizabeth’s life size nudes. They’re as colourful and vivacious as the artist herself.

Shankill Castle Church © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Through the former billiard room and ante room, now an interconnecting study cum office cum art store, to the bow ended staircase hall. “Look at the walls,” points Elizabeth. “They were lined with Sienna marble in 1894.” We’re heading towards the back of house now, literally and metaphorically. “Keep to the left!” We descend the precariously angled stairs to the basement. Along a veritable rabbit warren of domestic quarters: boot room, lamp room, gun room, scullery, wine cellar with no wine – “We’ve drunk all the wine!” – past a row of numbered servants’ bells we finally arrive at the kitchen, once the servants’ hall. “Different rooms have been used as a kitchen down the years,” explains Elizabeth. “Owners tended to move the kitchen in tandem with whatever room they used as a dining room.” Flagstone floors are gently worn by the passage of time.

Shankill Castle Lake © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

The tour continues outside. “The nine sided sundial next to the lake is 36 minutes behind London time. Geoffrey my husband says more like 36 years behind London.” Elizabeth sighs wistfully. “London is the only place. We’ve sold our house in Kennington but I still exhibit in London. I recently had a show at Chris Dyson’s gallery in Spitalfields. Tracey Emin came. She wanted to buy the sofa in the gallery. I should’ve partied more in London when I was younger. What a waste!” she laughs. The Copes bought Shankill Castle in 1991. “It was as if the house was destined to be our home. We know the previous owners, the Toler-Aylwards. In fact they’re my daughter Phoebe’s godparents. Phoebe lives in Scotland – she’s an artist too.”

Shankill Castle Orchard © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Time is pressing; we’ve broken into a run. Elizabeth cuts quite a dash. “Come quick and see the stables. They’re by Daniel Robertson.” She strikes a pose. Even though Elizabeth has a studio in a stone outbuilding which would be the envy of any artist, she exclaims, “I paint everywhere, in the garden, on the bus, you name it! I paint through the chaos of everyday life. If I was to wait for a quiet moment I’d never paint. I believe painting should be like dancing. The real ‘work of art’ is not so much the canvas when the paint is dry. Rather it’s the physical rhythm of the process of painting it.”

Shankill Castle Staircase Hall © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Beautifully restored estate cottages and the east wing of the castle are available to let. “The things you do to keep a place like this going,” says Elizabeth as we leap through the ruins of the church to the side of the front lawn. ‘Shan-kill’ is derived from the Irish for ‘old church. “We throw a ScareFest every Halloween where I dress up and lie in a coffin to spook visitors. What people don’t know is it’s my real coffin. I was ill a couple of years ago so I thought I better get fitted out for one, just in case.” A full calendar at the castle includes the Midsummer Fair, Murder Mystery, Drawing Marathon, Wand and Quill Making Workshop, artist residencies and a new music festival Light Colour Sound.

Shankill Castle Drawing Room © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

It’s time to go, to drive by the haha and the trees planted in the 1820s to frame the view of Blackrock Mountain, leaving behind Shankill Castle, a world of its own.

Artist Elizabeth Cope @ Shankill Castle © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

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The Cristal Room Paris + Baccarat

The Truth is Plain to See

Cristal Room Baccarat Hall © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Like a forest fire, raging, sparking, keep ‘er lit, l’enfer, burning everything in its way with gusto, the desire, the lust, the greed, no make that the need to be and see and be seen and be paid to see and be paid to be seen… at the latest greatest eating house as it consumes London. London’s burning. Just as every other developer in town introduces his high density scheme as “inspired by the meatpacking district”, so the Manhattan trend for chasing restaurants for a fleeting 15 seconds has well and truly arrived in the English capital. Last year it was Balthazar, last Christmas it was Il Ristorante, last month it was Hoi Polloi, next month it will be Ham Yard. Now, very now, so now, right now, right on, it’s Chiltern Firehouse. Right?

Cristal Room Baccarat Entrance © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

With a three month waiting list for bridge-and-tunnel nonentities, the only alternative is to longingly gaze through the lead paned windows as girls-about-town celebrities Lily Cole, Lilly Allen, Lil’ Kim, bask in mutual glow, relishing the comforting closeness of riches and recognition, enjoying the peace and prosperity of the city. There’s always Monocle café across the street. At The Wolseley, Scott’s, Le Caprice, dining numbers dip slightly while the cameras flash outside The May Fair or Dabbous or The Ivy (weekend lunch menu Saturday 14th September 2002, £17.50, plus £1.50 cover charge in main dining room) and then it’s business as usual as Kate Moss, Kate Middleton, Katie Hopkins, return. In this feverish race to trip the light fantastic, skip the bright fandango, flip the trite almighty, moths fluttering up the lampshade of life, there are burnouts. Bistro K, where art thou? Senkai, why oh why? Enough. It’s time to tango in Paree.

Cristal Room Baccarat Staircase © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

The restaurant with a palace attached. No ifs, not buts. A ballroom (turn cartwheels ‘cross the floor) abuts the dining room abuts the marble staircase. A swimming pool fills the basement. More hôtel than hotel. Where the red carpet is always rolled out. Welcome to the Cristal Room at Baccarat, the hôtel particulier at 11 Place des États-Unis, 16th Arrondissement, a plumped up cushion’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe. Louis Quatorze, Quinze and Seize meet the current King of Design, Philippe Starck Première, Deuxième and Troisième. Where the past is never passé, lending a presence to the present. A place transcending our time, deserving of its own hard backed Assouline tribute. There are no equals.

Cristal Room Baccarat Light © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Cristal Room Baccarat Jaguar © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Cristal Room Baccarat Table Display © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Princess Grace Baccarat Invitation © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Cristal Room Baccarat Ceiling © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Cristal Room Baccarat Dining Room © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

The ghosts of the great and the good reside at no.11. They’ve all dined here. Not all at once. La Majesté Impériale le Tsar Nicholas II; Empereur de tautes les Russies; La Majesté Mozaffar-al-Din, Shah de Perse; Le Duc de Windsor et La Duchesse de Windsor; Comtesse Jean de Polignac; Monsieur Salvador Dalí et Madame Gala Dalí; Monsieur Alberto Giacometti; Monsieur Francis Poulenc; Monsieur Jean Cocteau; Monsieur Luis Buñuel; Monsieur Man Ray; Monsieur Marcel Duchamp; Madame Peggy Guggenheim; Mademoiselle Chanel; Mademoiselle Lee Miller; Mademoiselle Kiki de Montparnasse (ok maybe not her); Messieurs Lavender’s Blue. The crowd called out for more. Once the residence of les grands fromages Vicomte Charles de Noailles and Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, their descendants lease the hôtel back to Baccarat.

Cristal Room Baccarat Candle © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Mirrored lipsticked lips snogging niches shriek of decorative welcome from the leafy square. Staggeringly strange explosions of rarity erupt amidst terrifying grandeur. Like an emissary from a modernist future, a marble head utters eloquent profundities. A chandelier, Baccarat no doubt, drowns in a glass cube of water (dry chandeliers are priced €20,000 to €120,000). A jaguar (glass objet d’art, not a car) in the library is ours or yours for €25,000. A gargantuan chair lords it over the landing. Upstairs, ladies lunch (“You simply must come to Munich”), boys do late brunch, eating, meeting, sat in satin seating. Le ciel, c’est les autres. A social whirl, the dining room is hummin’ harder, metaphoric symbols of cymbals clash in ironic oxymoronic cacophonic supersonic discordant harmony. Crystal (natch), mirror, gilt, chalkboard, linen (a whiter shade of pale), scaglioli, marble, wood, exposed brick (au natch) and trompe l’oeil (the sky’s the limit) rise as a realised Piranesian fantasy. Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcophagi… “Vous êtes là!” the waiter randomly points on our opened map. We are, we’ve arrived. On a sultry late afternoon in August, fellow diners desert post dessert and we embrace the dining room to ourselves.

Cristal Room Baccarat Mirror © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

Appetites ablaze, we consume Michelin starred Guy Martin’s natural white asparagus, pecorino espuma and bresaolo in pesto garlic followed by Pollock fish cooked a la plancha with leeks and radishes in a dashi broth. C’est bon. C’est très bon. “Do you wish to continue outside?” Terrace for two, s’il vous plaît. Exquisite Harcourt is served alfresco. This is a light pistachio cream and crispy biscuit speckled with gold leaf as if fallen from the cornice. Let the rich eat cake. We call out for another drink, the waiter brings a tray. And so it was later.

Cristal Room Bacarrat © Stuart Blakley lvbmag.com

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