Another Night on the Tiles | Encaustic Humour
Back at Jumeirah’s Grosvenor House Apartments, yes hot to foxtrot in Mayfair, General Manager Astrid Bray introduces WW1 Centenary Works the latest exhibition of artist in residence Mark Humphrey. Fires roar casting dancing shadows across the charcoal grey and burnt amber upholstery of the atrium. “I first came across Mark Humphrey’s work at the new St James Theatre,” Astrid announces. “There was this amazing marble staircase. It blew me away! I said I’d really like to meet whoever designed it. A few phone calls later, a Christmas tree commission followed, and two years later Mark is still our exciting artist in residence!” After several of Grosvenor’s trademark cheese and asparagus cones are consumed, South Ken bound it is, as the theme of art, hotels and a Lake Wobegon High reunion takes over.
The Exhibitionist Hotel, London’s latest, may be a pair of twin four storey early Victorian terraced houses but it’s not stuccoed in the past. Its façade has been fashionably Fa’ow Ball’d a shade of Vole’s Breath or Elephant’s Back or Banker’s Wife’s One Shade of Grey with details like the Doric porticos and piano nobile balustrades picked out in crisp folded linen white. Neighbours are as
eccentric eclectic as the interiors. The polychromatic stonework of the Natural History Museum looms over Queensberry Place; opposite the hotel is the byzantine brickwork of Institut Français. A few doors down lurks the intriguingly named College of Psychic Studies. Several streets away in Roland Gardens lingers Anoushka Hempel’s Blakes Hotel where the whole boutique rage took off.
The name Exhibitionist Hotel shrieks streaks of “clothes optional” but while there are no shrinking violets at the opening, the only wallflowers being fabric, it’s actually a play on nearby Exhibition Road plus having lots of its very own gallery space. Has anyone else a loaded pistol? Yes. Le Gun. The art collective takes the hotel by storm with large scale drawings and murals. Standing sentinel at the door is a mannequin suitably unclothed except for a lampshade on his head. It’s an artwork by Jimmie Martin, otherwise known as Jimmie Karlsson and Martin Nihlmar. Queen of pop Madonna commissioned Jimmie Martin to design a golden throne for her Super Bowl half time performance and it’s easy to see why. They don’t hold back. “We paint on things to create progressive art,” says Jimmie. “Bondage meets luxury I guess!” Martin adds, “Upcycling antiques at our studio on Kensington Church Street, that’s our thing.” London based Jimmie Martin and Squint designed the penthouse suites.
Hotel founder Manhad Narula commissioned designer Steve Crummack to oversee the interior concept. “Cool pieces and vintage furniture,” is how he sums it up. “We wanted to retain the period feel while also focusing on the weak points and having fun with them.” That explains the psychedelic fake flower faux grass filled lift rising to hippy heaven next to the drawing room marble fireplace. “You can see right through the reception desk,” he laughs, “so that leg candy is visible!” Steve designed the three basement suites. “They have their own private entrances so you can have fun, invite your mates over for a party. The suites pay homage to the era of fabulous travel!” In the ground floor Abstract bar, cocktails prepared by mixologist Isaac Muigai vie with installations for colourfulness. Rough Luxe is so last year. Lux Lisbon and Art Luxe are so now, so so now. Drown your joy in beauty. A pair of female legs stick upright from an urn. Has a guest made an exhibition of herself? Zany has a new.
You Got a Fast Car | Chasing Cars Around Our Heads
Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce. Fast cars. Keep up. Snaidero OLA Kitchen 1990, Juventus Stadium 2008, Calligaris Orbital Table 2011, Millecento Residences 2012, Sergio Pininfarina Concept Car Ferrari 2013, Fuoriserie Bike 2014. Steady excellence. Keep going. It was only a matter of time, time being of everyone’s essence, waiting for no woman, until Pininfarina was asked to design the fleet of trains travelling up to 200 miles per hour that link the UK to continental Europe. The French – and Belgian – connection. All aboard the Eurostar. Happy 20th birthday.
City lights lay out before us | We don’t need anything or anyone
It’s the unveiling of the first new state of the art e320 train. The world class Italian design house has gone full steam ahead with the interior design covering styling, engineering and livery to boot. Pininfarina’s brand values, as ever, are at work and play here: creativity, experience, innovation. Nothing jejune. Nothing ersatz. Nothing déclassé. Nada. That hasn’t changed since 1930. Unlike the number and whereabouts of the employees. The company now has a workforce of 3,000 across Italy, Germany, Sweden, Morocco, China. Bigger picture, devilish detail. After all, Pininfarina has in the past gone micro, designing an exclusive bottle of Chivas 18. Back to macro, delivering it large.
Is it fast enough so you can fly away | We’ll do it all everything on our own
A double decade ago, Eurostar really was the most momentous event in the history of cross Channel travel since Blériot wobbled his way over the white cliffs in 1909. At first departing from Waterloo, the smart move was to relocate to St Pancras, a destination itself with two of London’s finest hotels at the end of the line. Beautiful staff line the platform as a DJ and poptastic quartet perform. More seats, more room, more fun. Pininfarina has given Eurostar all that pizzazz. Business class culinary director Raymond Blanc says salut.
Leave tonight or live and die this way | Just know that these things will never change for us at all
Over to Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic: “We’ve changed the way people think, live and work between the cities of London, Paris and Brussels. So far we’ve carried 150 million passengers. Eurostar has doubled the size of the market between our three cities. Our DNA is product innovation and customer service. We aim to make travelling a pleasure, an experience in itself.” Next year, Eurostar will travel direct to Lyon. The following year, Amsters. A star is reborn.
Maybe together we can get somewhere | Let’s waste time
Atlanta. Hotlanta. Leave sultry Sunday Funday we’re-off-to-balmy-Piedmont-Park behind. Hop on the next flight out of the capital of Georgia, bumping along over the alligator swamps. Y’all this is the only way to make it from Lavender’s Blue to Savannah blue. Savannah Hilton Head International: as trim and prim as a spanking new golf resort. Grab a cab and drive along the highway past preened lawns greened by sprinklers, screened by clipped bushes, neat verges, shuttered existences, everything manicured to within an inch of its life.
Turn right off the highway. Screech of breaks. Wham bam thank you ma’am! A change of gear literally, historically, metaphorically. A contrast as sharp as the right turn. Do the time warp. Welcome to the urban jungle that is Savannah. The antebellum and great antebellum mansions between pastel washed clapboard townhouses and horse drawn carriages clip clopping along cobbled boulevards fanned by the river breeze make for picture perfect views framed in 1,000 postcards. Yet it is the lush verdant vegetation above all else, the layer of nature that hangs over and creeps round this genteel city four square, that makes it so special.
Spanish moss forms an overhead tapestry of heavy green drapes and swags interwoven with patches of intense blue sky. A pink azalea carpet sweeps across the squares while wisteria climbs up buildings like wallpaper, dogwood blossom providing extra pattern. Ivy acts as leafy borders. Eat at The Lady and Sons, pray at Christ Church compline, love. But this visit was years ago. The immediacy of the past, the distance of the present. Deep calls to deep. That is all we have. The future is not ours.
In the now not the not yet, who better to talk to about Southern planting than the owner of Recreating Eden Landscape Design. Former model, cat lover and Lavender’s Blue reader Sandra Jonas has been designing noteworthy landscapes for over two decades. Gardens, parks, historic sites, cemeteries and even Olympic equestrian competition courses have benefitted from her talent. A graduate in Landscape Design from Radcliffe College Cambridge Massachusetts, her award winning work has been celebrated in Atlanta Homes, Better Homes + Gardens and Southern Living. Sandra’s own garden is a learned essay in four seasons centred on the vistas and verandas and virtues of Hamilton House, her 1840s antebellum home in Hogansville.
“Some of the most beloved and ubiquitous spring plants in Georgia are the big blousy Southern azaleas, or rhododendron indica,” she says. “Every spring garden tour is timed for their bloom. They are spectacular. Larger gardens will have at least one Southern magnolia, magnolia grandiflora, the plant that defines the South. Larger gardens may use these plants as hedging material. They have dense evergreen lustrous foliage and flowers the size of dinner plates with a fragrance that isn’t too sweet or powerful nonetheless.”
Sandra adds, “Then of course there are the camellias, which, depending on the variety bloom from autumn to spring. Right now camellia sasanqua is the star of the garden. The wonderful thing about the climate here is that gardens planned with care can have plants to delight every month of the year. Most historic Southern gardens feature a ‘camellia walk’ leading from the house to the kitchen. The kitchen was located some distance from the house so that a fire wouldn’t destroy the house. These sheltered walks were probably meant to keep the food warm rather than necessarily for the comfort of the slaves who cooked and served it. Usually there would be fig trees and muscadines, wild grapes, that would be made into preserves and wine for winter. As for the gardens I’ve seen in Savannah, they mostly use plants to frame the architecture, which is sensational, and anchor the houses in the landscape.” Tara!
Destination known. Another evening, another ambassador. Diplomatic community. Greek Ambassador to the UK Konstantinos Bikas co hosted a party along with his cohort the Governor of Crete Stavros Arnaoutakis at the National Geographic Store opposite Harrods and basking in the afterglow of The Lansbury. It was the London Launch of a celebration of all things Cretan. Incredible Crete.
Stavros commented, “Over half a million people from the UK have visited Crete this year. Tourism makes up 70 percent of our GDP. We have 1,000 kilometres of coastline and one third of all five star hotels in Greece are on our island.” Woody Allen ponders in Love and Death, “I wonder if Socrates and Plato took a house on Crete during the summer?” The island is after all where the first civilisation in Europe began and later home to Titus, recipient of an epistle from St Paul.
The accompanying photographic exhibition illustrated the built and natural wonders of Crete. The ghost of Crete. Shot in 1905 and then again 101 years later. Previously the only evidence of the rural legend of the Cretan wildcat was a couple of pelts purchased at the turn of last century by palaeontologist, zoologist and ornithologist Dorothea Bate. An expedition by the Natural History Museum of Crete and the University of Perugia rediscovered the Cretan wildcat in 1996. One was captured, photographed, studied, tagged, released and tracked for a few months across its habitat on Psiloritis Mountain.
Notes were swapped at the soirée on the travels and travails of reportage with The Fly Away American, a Texan turned serial expat. Snappy wordsmiths at work. Isle of Olive (say it quickly) did the catering. “We’re based in Broadway Market,” said
Christie Turlington Paulina Filippou, who owns the company with her husband. “And sell a range of natural Greek products.” The healthiness of the Mediterranean diet was on display. Dittany by Votania, artichokes, cheese, tomatoes, olives and olive oil by Lyrakis and of course, no meat. Nothing tastes as good as skinny Dakos. Destination next also known. The Tom Dixon lunch @ The Mondrian.
Hang on a minute. Are those elephant droppings in the courtyard? Is there a circus in town? Is Nellie on the rampage? Is it sh1t or sh1t art? We (very) gingerly bypass this and other disconcerting existentialist concerns and make our discerning way straight to the basement Dive Bar at Ham Yard Hotel. Boy, we haven’t been in as fun a disco dive bar since Pinkie Master’s Savannah (midnight in the venue of good and evil). There are enough fluorescent signs to keep even Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown happy. Viva Las Vegas. Flavour of the month Ruinart the imbibable equivalent of caviar, is on tap. Starting with big balls in the small hall, the art continues inside and thankfully improves. Or maybe that’s the bubbly kicking in.
Mayfair’s our usual hunting ground. Private views, our game. So firstly we’re gunning it to the Mayfair Gallery’s inaugural exhibition Impressionists and Modern Masters. It’s a new venture for W1’s antiques treasure trove. “The part of Mayfair Gallery fronting South Audley Street is ideal for exhibitions,” says Director Jamie Sinai. “We’re looking forward to holding more exhibitions in this space.” Watching this space, Renoir’s sensitive charcoal on paper Musicians and Louis Anquetin’s full on watercolour Aux Courses highlight penchants for portraiture. Other Impressionist and Post Impressionist household names represented by painting, sculpture and sketches are Boudin, Matisse, Moore and Picasso.
Next stop Ham Yard. We haven’t strayed too far from the closeness of riches, sticking firmly to the Regent Street edge of Soho. More than a mere hotel, this Woods Bagot designed piece of new townscape is stitched into the tight urban fabric. All the key town planning buzzwords are ticked: accessibility, flexibility, legibility, permeability. Stylistically too it’s a fit, displaying a kickass warehouse meets townhouse typology. Dotted around the perimeter of the courtyard are 13 boutique shops. In the hotel itself, as well as the Dive Bar there are 91 bedrooms and suites, a ground floor restaurant, orangery sunken halfway below street level and a theatre two floors down. Ah, the theatre. Our raison d’être at the Kemps’ latest development. Alex Beard (Chief Exec), Kevin O’Hare (Director of the Royal Ballet) and Kasper Holten (Director of Opera) have invited us to celebrate the opening of the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season. “We’ve an audience to die for!” exclaims Alex. “We’ve got with us more than a smattering of Royal Ballet artists. Friends and rellies, you can catch me in the cinema! We’re going from strength to strength.”
Kicking off (although there’s probably a more genteel term for it) the season is Kenneth MacMillan’s acclaimed Manon performed by The Royal Ballet starring Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. Madness, materialism, mayhem, mistresses, mystery, misery, Monsieur GM… they’re all in the gripping three acts of Manon. Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpiece may be 40 years old, first performed in 1974, but it remains thematically bang up-to-date. His Views of the Word are not defunct. Tonight’s performance is being simultaneously broadcast across 40 countries. Federico’s family are watching it in Genoa. But first for some revolutionary devolutionary evolutionary canapés. There’s the opening reception plus two intervals then the after party to navigate our way through. Phew. Thank goodness for avocado and lime on dried cracker; grilled goats’ cheese on mini toasted brioche; prawns marinated in basil pesto; grilled asparagus with garlic mayo; mini pulled pork and beetroot burgers; and pan fried cubes of chicken fillet. Not forgetting white chocolate caramel lollipops – they’ve got kick. Survival of the fattest.
Kenneth MacMillan’s source was the 18th century French novel by Abbé Prévost. It had already been adapted for opera by Massenet and Puccini. But he drew new sympathy for the capricious Manon using his customary psychological insight and memories of his own impoverished upbringing. He described his heroine as “not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor”. It’s a heart wrenching drama accentuated by Jules Massent’s score. The great choreographer’s widow, Lady MacMillan personally introduces Manon at Ham Yard. “Kenneth loved cinema and would be delighted by this performance. I warn you – there’s no happy ending!” And the best bed flip award (presumably there’s a technical term for it) goes to Marianela Nunez.
The Most Beautiful House in England
A letter to Country Life from Simon Herrtage sets the scene. “What a catalyst for action the ‘Destruction of the Country House‘ exhibition was and how much we owe to Sir Roy Strong for staging it. On visiting it as a young man, I was immensely moved by the plight of these buildings, so when my father died in 1978, I sought out a house in need of help and bought 18th century Island Hall in Cambridgeshire, a fine structure that had been converted into flats following service occupation in the Second World War and subsequently suffered a disastrous fire. With the help of the late Peter Foster of Marshal Sisson Architects, the house was saved and, in return for grant aid from the then Historic Buildings Council, we opened the house to the public and enjoyed several happy years there. Had it not been for the exhibition, who knows what the fate of that house might have been – but, given that it was viewed as ‘beyond reasonable repair’ I think we can guess.”
After this structural restoration was successfully completed, Simon advertised the house in Country Life to allow someone else to carry on the good work as custodian. “Drive on,” warned Lady Linda Vane Percy when her husband Christopher, the distinguished interior designer, purposefully slowed down outside Island Hall in 1983. Two weeks later, they bought it. Christopher had good justification to be interested. The property had previously been in his family’s ownership for almost two centuries save for the rickety 20th century patch when Simon Herrtage rescued it. “We are proud of Island Hall’s war record,” admits Christopher. “In 1943 my grandfather’s cousin was given 48 hours to leave his house. It had been requisitioned. Things unravelled again when it was requisitioned a second time under the Emergency Housing Act. With its odd assortment of tenants it became like a grand version of Rising Damp!”
Things went from bad to worse. “In 1977 a fire broke out in what is now our telly room,” relates Christopher. Hell. “The tenant in this part of the house was a milliner and her materials caught fire.” Lady Linda adds, “I was recently sent an East Anglia Television video of the event. Even now it is rather unnerving seeing what was later to become our home in flames.” Otherwise, conversion into 15 flats wasn’t all bad news for Island Hall. “The alterations looked brutal but architectural features were boxed in which protected panelling and chimneypieces,” he recalls. The Georgian organ visible in an early 1900s photograph of the entrance hall wasn’t so lucky. It ended up on a bonfire. This historic photograph shows the entrance hall crammed full of gas lamps, occasional tables, rugs, prayer chairs, nursing chairs, dining chairs, more chairs. The staircase is shown partitioned off by a bizarre Gothick screen – eclecticism taken a jarring step too far. “The house was waterproofed and almost entirely heated by the time we bought it,” says Christopher. “We quietly worked our way round restoring columns, rerunning cornices, replacing missing chair rails and recovering Georgian colour schemes. The staircase had been repainted bright orange!”
It’s an Irish Georgian Society London Chapter tour and the entrance hall which fills the central three bay block, front to back, is laid out with rows of chairs as it can be for weddings. Island Hall is available for hire. A choir of clocks chimes. “The house was built in the 1740s by a Mr Jackson for his son John’s combined 21st birthday and wedding present. The Jacksons went bust two generations later when another John described his home as ‘this family wreck’. It’s just like Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode engravings in our hallway. Money, fortune, affairs, debts.” Limbo. Christopher continues, “A certain Mr Fisher was a debtee of my great great grandfather Jacob Julian Baumgartner, a naturalised British citizen of Swiss birth. Island Hall was for sale at an auction in nearby Huntingdon and Mr Fisher bought it for £2,008 and 16 shillings. Island Hall fitted the bill, the debt! My ancestor was given the house by Mr Fisher on condition he paid 50 guineas to John Jackson. My family settled here. I come from a long line who did no Victorian or 20th century improvements. John Jackson would recognise the pale green colour of the entrance hall walls.” Save perhaps for the Quinlan Terry style stone dressing up of the central windows sometime in the 19th century. This relative lack of change to the house may be in part explained by a predecessor who didn’t believe in primogeniture, dividing the estate in 1874 between his 11 children. “We’ve been poorer ever since!”
“Even though there are 250 acres of flooding meadow nearby we’re situated above the 100 year flood level,” he continues. “The Georgians knew where to build! Island Hall was built on a brownfield site – a tanner’s yard and two or three timber framed houses. It was positioned to enjoy east and west vistas.” The east vista across the road in front of the entrance front has long been redeveloped but the west vista still stretches across a croquet lawn and on to the rebuilt rococo Chinese Bridge leading to the two acre island after which the house is named. “We redesigned the gardens to incorporate borrowed vistas,” says Christopher. “We’ve had a lot of fun. To quote Sir Roy Strong, ‘At least we didn’t have to resort to flowers!’ Our 32 years living here have gone by in a complete rush.” Topiary sculptures contrast with shady informal corners. Green is the new black.
Grade II* Island Hall is perfectly symmetrical, save for the attached dormered mews house topped by a cupola and weathervane, and unusually both main elevations are the same. No bows, no bays. An architectural spot the difference – trick question, there aren’t any. Its face to the world, village facing, is the same as its face to its owners, island facing. Two storey two bay wings abut a three storey three bay pedimented breakfront. The dentilled pediment floats on plain corbels set in from the corners of the projection. This is just one of many quirky charms of the architecture. Perhaps Mr Jackson himself had a strong say in the design?
The panelled interiors are quintessentially English, grand yet intimate, majoring in studied elegance. Heaven. A metal urn in the hallway piled high with trilby hats balanced at jaunty angles is a foretaste of what’s to come. Mixing toile de jouy wallpaper with mirrored Indian furniture in one bedroom illustrate Christopher’s originality of talent and taste. Debretts, after all, lists President of the International Interior Design Association among his many accomplishments. The first floor drawing room stretches across the middle three bays of the entrance front and is decorated in rich tones of crimson and burgundy. The walls are lined with gilt framed oils of ancestors. Christopher is a direct descendent of the Gunpowder Plotter Thomas Percy. His great grandmother insisted the family add her surname Vane. Lady Linda’s family are the Grosvenors. Her father was the 5th Baron Ebury and her brother is the present Earl of Wilton. “Island Hall is important,” finishes Christopher, “but the people it has nurtured are absorbed into the very fabric of the house.
Algebra The Reunion of Broken Parts
The artist, concept and venue are familiar. We last saw Wolfe von Lenkiewicz at Portland Place in the Edwardian space where that interminable yawn The King’s Speech was filmed. A couple of years before that, we popped up at the House of the Nobleman in one of Nash’s terraces overlooking The Regent’s Park. Our jaunt to the French Renaissance styled Il Bottaccio for an Italian job was just a few weeks ago. Combine the three and here we are back at 9 Grosvenor Place. Sometimes, familiarity breeds respect. A New Master | curation as an art form | heritage assets.
It’s a private view, so private it’s Lavender’s Blue* and Wolfe touring the two floors which have been transformed by museum lighting and, of course, art. “You don’t have to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa!” exclaims the 48 year old British artist. The French surroundings are immediately rather apt. “Some paintings are so iconic they seem unapproachable. But think of how artists like Duchamp and Warhol reinterpreted famous historic art.”
This Mona Lisa for the 21st century – although it will later transpire that time is not of the essence in the House of the Nobleman exhibition – is a recognisably intimate version of its predecessor. Same scale, same pose, same serenity, different detail. On closer inspection the painting is actually a medley of motifs found across Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre. The trees to the left are from his Annunciation; the trees to the right, The Virgin and St Anne; the shoulder ribbons from La Belle Ferronnière, and so on. He condenses Leonardo’s artistic output into a single enigma. It’s conceptual without being conceptualist.
Wolfe reveals he chose the Renaissance as a platform for experimentation because it was an age when artists attempted to root the making of art in a mathematical and aesthetically programmable formula. He renders his pencil and oil studies with a careful craftsmanship that seeks to replicate the original conditions and painting practices of Renaissance artists. It’s an exploration of the possibility of algebraic multiplication in reverse, drilling down an aesthetic object to its essential numbers. And onwards, to its prime number. Wolfe presents a Wittgensteinesque proposition that an artwork requires no further description to be in and of itself.
“These works represent a nonlinear flattening of history,” he relates. “They’re inspired by centuries of art… Botticelli, Michelangelo, Bruegel, Stubbs, Riley, Hirst. Why not Rupert Bear too? Inspiration doesn’t always have to be highbrow art or even art! On the surface, Wolfe transfixes and seduces us with his rare technical ability. Dig deeper beyond his respectful grasp of iconography. Yes, he succeeds in reviving the algebra of art, liberating it from the confines of history to a newness of meaning. In this way, Wolfe’s latest works question the notions of resolution and finish while maintaining the utmost respect for his forebears.
Lavender’s Blue catch up with the ebullient Mexican Ambassador to the UK His Excellency Mr Diego Gomez Pickering. The setting is a lively Mexican, of course, restaurant El Nivel on Maiden Lane, that gourmand’s international delight running between Covent Garden and The Strand. “It’s thrilling to be in charge of such an important relationship for Mexico,” says Ambassador Pickering. He started life as a journalist, working for CNN in Mexico City and the Americas edition of The Wall Street Journal. “London is the capital of global media. Here, you have some of the most influential news outlets in the world.” Moving on, he says, “Next year, 2015, is The Year of the UK in Mexico and the Year of Mexico in the UK. The year focuses around three pillars: cultural exchange which includes exhibitions, films and events across the UK; economic exchange emphasising tourism; and education. Britain is the number one destination for Mexican students – we need to takes this to the next level.” It’s an opportunity to build a legacy that deepens the relationship between the two countries. In the meantime, there’s always TequilaFest in November 2014. Sipping an Ambar Tequila, Ambassador Pickering quips, “Tequila is a good ambassador for Mexico too! ¡Salud!”
The White Stuff
In conversation with Arthur Edward Rory Guinness, the 4th Earl of Iveagh, the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the original Arthur Guinness of the 1759 Black Stuff fame, and his wife, the 4th Countess of Iveagh. Or Ned and Clare as they are informally known. Over the last number of years Lord Iveagh has turned round the 22,486 acre estate in Suffolk he inherited aged 21 into the largest working farm in Britain. Over 10,000 acres are given over to producing great quantities of grain, onions and potatoes. Around 4,000 acres are forest – conservation is taken seriously. The Elveden Estate as it’s called is a world of its own, complete with a smart inn and even smarter farm shop. They might be billionaires, but even the Iveagh family have found the 30 bay 70 bedroom Grade II* balustraded, niched, columned, rusticated, quoined and pilastered Elveden Hall a little on the large side. After his father sold the contents in 1984, this palatial barracks of a place was barely lived in again. But plans, they are afoot.
“In fact,” starts Ned, “Elveden Hall has been only used as a permanent Guinness family base for 10 years out of all the time we’ve been here. It was a shooting box. A large shooting box! Apart from films – Eyes Wide Shut and Vanity Fair were shot here – and some special occasions, it sits quietly here.” But it is the graveyard of the 900 year old estate church of St Andrew and St Patrick that best neatly tells the history. Cheek by jowl with the Guinness family plot are the gravestones of the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire and his wife Princess Bamba. What? Here in rural mid Suffolk? Indeed. The first country house was built here in the 1760s by Admiral Keppel whose descendants Alice Keppel and Camilla Parker-Bowles would famously become royal mistresses. The East India Company forced the Punjabi Maharajah to relinquish his territory and the Koh-i-noor diamond after the end of the 2nd Anglo-Sikh War. He bought Elveden in 1863 with the compensation he received. His architect John Norton engulfed the Keppels’ house into a larger 13 bay building which is now the west wing of Elveden Hall.
“Sikhs from around the world visit the graves,” Ned comments. “It was in my great great grandfather’s day that it became two churches. The Maharajah’s successors were disinherited so us Guinnesses, we bought Elveden.” A simple plaque reads: “This church was restored and the north aisle and chancel added by Edward Cecil, 1st Earl of Iveagh, in the years 1904-6. He died on October 7th 1927 aged 80 years and is buried in the north east corner of the churchyard.” Ned explains, “The 1916 bell tower and colonnade were added in memory of Adelaide, his wife, the 1st Countess. It’s a beautiful working church and school. Between 1895 and 1910 my great great grandparents built the estate model village using red brick from our brickworks.”
“Two houses with something special in the middle,” is how Ned succinctly describes Elveden Hall. The Guinnesses spruced up the exterior of the Maharajah’s house and duplicated it on the other side of a porte cochère behind which lies that something special: the Marble Hall. “The decoration of the Indian style room at Queen Victoria’s Osborne House is actually made of plaster. Ours is Carrera marble. The handiwork of 700 craftspeople working on site. We were immune at that stage to financial restrictions,” he smiles. “Although my great great grandfather was still very careful with money too. He recorded what he spent on newspapers.” This architectural aggrandisement isn’t entirely unlike the transformation of Straffan House into the K Club, only several notches up again. “Clare and I were married in the Marble Hall. It makes for a great party! It’s got a sprung dance floor but is a terrible room for echo!” The spectacular galleried domed space, all four storeys of it, is cathedral meets mosque. “It expresses my great great grandparents’ desire for exoticism and plays tribute to Elveden’s history.”
The design of the Marble Hall was inspired by the rooms of the Maharajah’s house. “He wanted to be reminded of the Court of Lahore. The walls and ceilings are ornately decorated between mirrors. His Drawing Room is divided by slender Indian style columns into conversation areas. The cantilevered staircase cost £30,000. The Maharajah was furious as this took up a large portion of his annual allowance. We whitewashed everything, us Guinnesses,” observes Ned, “it does get dark in winter in Suffolk!” Upstairs an enfilade overlooks the driveway: the King’s Bedroom, the Queen’s Bedroom, the Ladies-in-Waiting’s Bedroom. They retain remnants of Edwardian plasterwork and stencilled paint effects. “George V, George VI and Edward VII were frequent guests,” he explains. Mrs Keppel came too. The Royal Family last visited here for a shooting party in 1931.
On the other side of the Marble Hall, the rooms in the west wing reflect “the neoclassicism of my great great grandparents” confirms Ned. “The Boudoir opposite the Dining Room is where ladies congregated while men retired to the Smoking Room. It once held a collection of ecclesiastical themed tapestries. They must have faded as it’s south facing. More recently the Boudoir was the setting of my 30th birthday complete with oyster bar!” The Guinnesses’ architect was William Young. He’d proved his capability by designing the ballroom of Iveagh House, their Dublin City townhouse on St Stephen’s Green, and making alterations to Farmleigh, their County Dublin country house in The Phoenix Park. Practical design at Elveden includes double glazing on the north facing entrance front: sashes placed behind external casements. The 1st Earl asked Caspar Purdon Clarke, director of the V&A and an expert in Indian decoration, to design the Marble Hall to link the new and the old.
“I’ve managed the estate for 23 years. It pays for itself now.” The current Earl and Countess live with their young sons Arthur and Rupert in a rectory on The Elveden Estate. “But Elveden Hall is an enormous work in progress, an unfinished canvas. Our policy is to use the estate team for all restoration work where possible. I love the house but it’s a big challenge. You can’t see the fruits of our work so far. I’m very proud though we’ve reroofed the whole building, quite an engineering feat. The roof is now tilted to allow rainwater to run off. We’ve secured the shell of the building and it’s watertight now. What’s next? I want to use the house, to safeguard its future. Tens of millions of pounds of restoration you’re talking about. One step at a time. That’s my plan. I’ve furniture in storage too,” ends Lord Iveagh. Over to Lady Iveagh, “I’m not moving in until there is at least heating and hot water!”