House of the Nobleman + Wolfe von Lenkiewicz

Algebra The Reunion of Broken Parts

Wolfe von Lenkiewicz @ Lavender's Blue

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.

Mona Lisa @ Lavender's Blue

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.

Wolfe von Lenkiewicz House of the Nobleman @ Lavender's Blue

“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.

*wherever there’s design there’s Lavender’s Blue

House of the Nobleman © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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El Nivel + His Excellency Mr Diego Gomez Pickering

Cultural Diplomacy

UK Mexican Ambassador Diego Gomez Pickering © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

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!”  

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The Elveden Estate + Maharajah Duleep Singh

The White Stuff

The Elveden Estate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

The Elveden Estate woods © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“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.

Elveden Hall Eyes Wide Shut © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“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.

The Elveden Estate Stained Glass © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“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!”

The Elveden Estate

 

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Victoria House + The Bloomsbury Ballroom

Save me the Waltz | Ballistics

Bloomsbury Ballroom Victoria House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Like Selfridges, that other great Beaux Arts behemoth cathedral to commerce, Victoria House confidently swallows up a whole urban block. An architectural display of imperialism with balls of stone commanding attention along one full sweep of Bloomsbury Square, the (breathe in) di style in antis Ionic Erechtheion portico (breathe out) soars heavenward on giant columns through the upper floors to a pediment boxed in by the mother of all parapets below a monster green slate triple mansard. All this is so emphatic. Incidentally it was used as a setting for the television series Mr Selfridge. Again incidentally it is faced with Portland stone from the same quarry as St Paul’s Cathedral. Back in the day, or year, 1926 to be exact, the architect Charles William Long’s brief was to “add to the dignity and beauty of the metropolis”. Something we’re not averse to doing either.

Bloomsbury Ballroom Victoria House Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Amazingly the interiors remain virtually intact. Entrance lobbies on all four sides are faced in Subiaco marble, decorated Greek style, dressed up to the nines with brass detailing and capped by coffered ceilings. Three halls with sprung floors for dancing are slotted between the panelled offices. The south hall is now called The Bloomsbury Ballroom. It’s a picture of a fabulous age, a place for roarers and flappers. Is that Alabama Beggs shimmying across the shadows? Seamus Heaney believed, “If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.” Conversely we reckon if architecture and the arts do anything, they can fortify your social life, your waywardness. Smash the carapace. Have a ball. And so, an invitation to a glittering world of Divine Comedy Decadence, an exploration of the darker side of paradise, utopia displacing dystopia, delving into a phantasmagoria, transcending into a transmogrification, proves irresistible.

We’re a little late arriving. Thank goodness for 3am licences. It’s been a long day starting with breakfast at The Travellers. Jennifer’s Diary eat your heart out. We’ve schlepped across London from an exclusive top secret party. It was a very private view for The Beautiful People of a three bedroom apartment at 155 Sloane Street curated by Wallpaper* editors for the next issue. Co-hosts were Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Tony Chambers and Cadogan Chief Exec Hugh Seaborn. Chatham House? What’s that? Is it National Trust? Anyway, it’s terribly important don’t you think to use colour for branding. Asprey Purple. Crown Cream. Linley Green. Tiffany Blue. Veuve Clicquot Yellow. Barry White. Hotel Chocolat Black. Acqua di Parma Gold. Bloomsbury Ballroom Black and Gold. Classy. The psychedelic Long Bar off the ballroom employs the full spectrum with lampshades of every shade in the colour wheel. Lights, cameras, lots of action: this starring Space Works world’s a candelabra-filled stage. Fuelled by Lotus Events canapés, ballroom dancers from City Academy take to the floor, tripping the polychromatic light fantastic. The room is on fire.

Turner Prize nominee Tris Vonna-Michell “creates circuitous, multi-layered narratives, characterised by fragments of information, detours and repetitions, designed to confuse and enlighten in equal measure.” The same could be said for the bars off the ballroom. The 32 metre Long Bar lives up to its name. So does the Crush Bar: we’re shoulder to shoulder with the air kissing crowd. “Things are always unnoticed until they’re noticed,” declared Tesco Chairman Sir Richard Broadbent, hell bent on stating something or other of consequence. “A monument to our creativity and a brilliant day out,” assertively commented Tony Blair on the Millennium Dome in the days before irony. Returning to paraphraseology we enthusiastically say The Bloomsbury Ballroom is a noticeable monument to our creativity and a brilliant night out. A dignified and beautiful ballroom of one’s own.

The Bloomsbury Ballroom candles © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Sinabro Restaurant + The Beaumont Hotel Mayfair

How Many Tears to Babylon?

Battersea Rise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

First things first. Clapham Junction is not in Clapham. Never was, never will be. When the railway station was first built in Battersea, the Victorians had the bright idea of calling it after Clapham which is 1.5 miles away. The former was a no go zone; the latter as respectable as could be expected south of the river. How things change! Local campaigns regularly erupt proudly claiming back Battersea to where it belongs. Take note Clapham Cluttons on Northcote Road. Never mind all that. At least agents agree the best real estate in SW11 is “Between the Commons”. It’s a heated up toast rack of roads lined with handsome houses cushioned betwixt Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common. For Wandsworth read Battersea. So no matter what side you’re on you’re a winner. As for the Clapham Omnibus it’s long been replaced by the South Chelsea Tractor. This is after all Yummy Mummy Nappy Valley Uppity Middle Class central. Upmarket has gone downstream.

Wandsworth Common © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Historically, before London completely engulfed this part of semi rural Surrey, it was the home of architects Sir Charles Barry and Thomas Cubitt, authors Samuel Pepys and Graham Greene, saints Zachary Macaulay and William Wilberforce, and typographer and sinner Eric Gill. Not all at once. Battersea Rise forms one of the outer edges of the grill or grid. To the north, Lavender Hill may not have its mob anymore but gentrification, yes Sixties sociologist Ruth Glass is to blame for that term, hasn’t quite taken over. Yet. The same cannot be said, to put it mildly, for south of Battersea Rise, the tract of land once owned by the 1st Earl Spencer. Here, a Parisian meringue pâtisserie qualifies as a corner shop. Byron is the chip shop. Dip & Flip is the burger joint. The Bolingbroke Pub and Dining Room, the local. Quids in, it’s not for the price sensitive. Everyone’s moneyed in The Bank. There are as many red cords, pink sweaters and yellow jackets on the street as Roderick Charles’ shop display. Welcome to Paradisian Battersea. It even gets a couple of mentions in The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. Half the time Made in Chelsea is made in Battersea.

Between the Commons © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Aside from Battersea Rise the other boundaries of this low rise swathe of bedknobs and broomsticks land are Clapham Common West Side to the east, Bolingbroke Grove to the west and Nightingale Lane to the south. Social distractions aren’t new. William Wilberforce lamented in 1791, “I find that I must as little as is really right ask people to Battersea Rise to stay all night as it robs and impoverishes the next morning… in this way I love my time, and find indeed that less is done at Battersea Rise than elsewhere.” The competition’s stiff, but really, for boys who brunch there’s nowhere quite like Sinabro at 28 Battersea Rise. It’s a reality. It’s a dream. It’s a paradox. Welcome to Parisian Battersea. Francophile Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By aptly plays softly in the background. Do turbot and merlot rhyme? Halibut and Malibu? In Paree do you drop the t? What about Moët? Hard or soft t? But soon life’s perpetual worries and other first world concerns subside and fade away.

Sinabro Battersea Rise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Yoann Chevert © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Siabro Egg Celeriac Mushrooms © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Sea Bream © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Baby Gem Salad © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We moved to Battersea three years ago,” relate Yoann Chevert and Sujin Lee, the owners of Sinabro. “We fell in love at first sight with this area because of its urban and suburban mix. We didn’t so much choose Battersea Rise for our restaurant as it chose us. We’ve been looking for premises for four years in London and had several abortive cases.” Sinabro is Korean for “slowly but surely without noticing”. Manager Sujin, originally from Seoul, explains, “This pure Korean word resembles us. We work hard as ants or bees collecting their foods by instinct!” There are just 29 covers in the sparely decorated restaurant: 16 at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, eight in a private space to the rear and the remaining at small tables overlooking Battersea Rise. “We have two, three and six course menus,” says Chef Yoann, originally from Loir-et-Cher. “Eventually it would be good to keep only the six course tasting menu. Our customers say each of our ingredients in a dish have strong intense flavours yet are delicate.” The Michelin Guide says, “Confidently prepared dishes that rely largely on classic French flavours but are modern in style.”

Sinabro Bavarois © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The two course lunch (£25.50) of liquid potato amuse bouche then egg, celeriac and mushrooms followed by sea bream, cabbage and mustard sauce with baby gem salad (£3.50) proves to be just that. Why stop there when there is fennel bavarois, strawberry and lemon sorbet for pudding (£6.90). The wine list is helpfully categorised. “Crisp and Mineral” includes Château Carbitey 2010 Graves Bordeaux (£44); “Rich and Medium Bodied”, Weingut Von Winning 2012 Pfalz (£37); “Leafy and Savoury”, Domaine Raymond Morin Saumur-Champigny 2010 Loire (£30); “Fruity and Supple”, Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Beaumes de Venise 2012 Rhone (£42); and finally “Big and Bold” includes Château Puy Mouton 2008 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (£58). “Frédéric Simonin in the 17th District is our favourite restaurant in Paris,” says Yoann. “We worked together for eight years! He is such a talented man.” Yoann’s Parisian experience included a stint at Michelin starred establishments Taillevent, Le Meurice and La Table de Joel Robuchon. He met his wife and future business partner Sujin at Le Cordon Blue. Yoann was formerly Sous Chef with Hélène Darroze at The Connaught Hotel.

The Beaufort Brown Hart Gardens © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Connaught. One of London’s oldest hotels, it’s the perfect pit stop for a sybaritic Bolly or four before full steam ahead to the soft opening of London’s newest hotel. The Beaumont. Fedoras at the ready. Restaurant royalty Jeremy King’s and Chris Corbin’s first hotel, the Art Deco styled Colony Grill Room is painted with Twenties American sporting activities. The adjacent Cub Room continues the theme but with a fine line in American whiskeys stops hospitably short of Prohibition. A Hemingway Daiquiri (£11.75) of Maraschino, rum, grapefruit and lime juice hits the spot. Across the bar sit modern writers Dylan Jones and Caitlin Moran. Overlooking the discreet oasis of Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair, but just a Celebrations Cracker’s throw from Selfridges, The Beaumont possesses that frequently sought yet rarely achieved blend of intimacy and grandeur. The 73 bedrooms and suites range from £395 to upwards of £2,250. Breakfast is included.

The Beaufort Hotel Mayfair © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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+ One

Self Portrait

Self Portrait © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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B + H Buildings

Reconstruction of the Country House

Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I am not an invention of your twilight hours.”

Clerkenwell has more architects per square metre than anywhere else in London. Take Bowling Green Lane. Tis the address of heavyweights Zaha Hadid, CZWG, Ian Simpson and Wilkinson Eyre. The density of pubs and restaurants is equally high. Handy presumably for wining and dining clients. This is after all the birthplace of the gastropub and the home of Exmouth Market. Round the corner on the corner of Northampton Road opposite a corner of leafy Spa Fields, an attractive 20th century Georgian revival block (as double fronted as the fireplaces inside) has been reborn as B&H Buildings with more than a sniff of Greenwich Village Manhattan sidewalk. What’s not to love? Clerkenwell links central London to the east end. Kind of. It was discovered by early loft pioneers before most Shoreditch hipsters were even born. A variegated skyline harks back to earlier glories: the 2000s polemical pyramidal Park Hut; the 1960s cliff face of Michael Cliffe House; the 1880s bastioned basilica of Our Most Holy Redeemer; the 1890s shadowy chateau of Kingsway Place; the 1790s spiritual spire of St James.

B&H Buildings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I will make you feel young again.”

While there’s a smattering of architects at the launch and a plethora of alpha types wearing Omega watches, a broader social mix – beta, zeta, eta, theta – reflects the appeal of an all day brasserie and bar from the people that brought us Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar, Reverend JW Simpson, Blitz Party and Prohibition. Fewer beards more socks less attitude than Hoxton. The brand’s offices are upstairs, hence the name. “If you don’t feel decadent you’re doing something wrong,” maintains that sage of New York, Sonja (JP) Morgan. Haut monde, beau monde, demimonde, tout le monde. It’s time to mingle; bring on that decadence. Whether vernissage or finissage, tastemakers or savants, we’re trailblazing our esoteric odyssey through town. The Music Box (golden section) apartments launch hosted by Gordon Ramsay. The Wallace Collection’s Great Gallery (golden frames) reopening. Wrong for Hay’s press lunch at 35 Queen Anne’s Gate (golden postcode). The Wish List (golden wonder) after party at Ognisko Polskie Club. Brunch at Sinabro on Battersea Rise (golden egg cocotte). Fortieth Anniversary of the Destruction of the Country House Exhibition (golden age) at the V&A. On canapés overdrive, little wonder The September Issue is always the fattest.

“I am the child of a lost era.”

Ah! Country houses. The V&A exhibition featured Breathless Beauty, Broken Beauty by Vanessa Jane Hall, a hauntingly evocative video triptych of country house ruins and restorations. Her cryptic murmurings provide our standalone quotes. We have form. “The interiors of the B&H restaurant and café capture the idea of an abandoned country house where the gardens and staterooms have slowly grown into one another,” explains Lou Davies of Box 9 Architects. An inside-out outside-in design emerged from her collaboration with the in-house creative team and Lionel Real de Azua of Red Deer Architects. Lionel calls it “a dramatic transformation” although the spaces are purposely not overdesigned. Trailing creepers and hanging baskets frame wicker seats grouped around cast iron tables. A white marble mosaic bar looks good enough to dance on. Head Chef Alex Visciano, former Sous Chef at the Connaught, delivers some fine culinary moments. Cod tempura bites with pea sauce and red bell pepper and thyme cake. Yum. Cider Rose (Somerset Cider Brandy, blackberry and champers) and Eton Fizz (Rathbone Gin, strawberries, lemon, honey, Greek yoghurt, egg white and soda). Complex cocktails, easy to drink. What’s the verdict on B&H Buildings? The jury’s in. No double takes. Or mixed metaphors. Just oxymoronic single entendres. B&H stands for burgeoning brilliance and a harbinger of happening.

“And in my heart I will paint these ashes as shining white snowflakes.”

B&H Buildings Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Lavender’s Blue Opera + Selfridges

Postcode Lottery 

Opera on the Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s our anniversary. Time to celebrate. Christmas – with a little help from Selfridges’ luxury handmade Celebration Crackers – came early to Lavender’s Blue. We’re looking fresh for our 100th and not worn out at all by 1,000,000 hits. After 99 articles from Serbian Royalty to British Royalty, Savannah to nirvana, Cristal to crystal, the falls to the Shankill, Royal Mint to polo minted, Edition to limited edition, Masterpiece to masterpieces, Duck + Waffle to our usual waffle, Knights at home to nights abroad, Clive Christian to Christ Church, Goodwood to New Forest, rural Darlings to society darlings, earls to pearls, supermodels to super models, Futurism to the past, we’ve left Home House for home. Party central at Lavender’s Blue.

Lavender's Blue Party Stuart Blakley

Classically trained soprano Sara Llewellyn serenaded us – and half the postcode – to a dream like performance on our courtyard terrace. After earning her Masters with Distinction from the San Fran Conservatory of Music, Sara’s many operatic lead roles include Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro at Berkeley. And yes, she has performed at the Royal Opera House. After jaw dropping renditions of Bach’s Ave Maria, O Mio Babbino Caro and Con Te Partirò, the tempo slowed down and the sun shone for an awe inspiring Summertime. Sara then proved her diversity while testing our moves with I Could Have Danced All Night. Tear jerkers followed with I Dreamed A Dream and You’ll Never Walk Alone. Finally, words and music at the ready, altogether now: the full Team Lavender Cupcake impromptu choir belted out That’s Amore. The whole postcode was entertained to our new take on Dean Martin’s classic. Glyndebourne SW4 had competition.

Morning Opera on the Terrace Lavender's Blue © Stuart Blakley

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Markree Castle + Knockmuldowney Restaurant

For Richer for Poorer

Markree Castle River © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The rich man in his castle; the poor man at his gate; God made them high and lowly; and ordered their estate…” penned Mrs Alexander wistfully gazing beyond the river running by, through the tall trees in the green wood to the purple headed Benbulben, Europe’s only table top mountain. Little did the Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh’s wife know her hymn, first published in 1848 to raise dosh for deaf mutes (stolen children), would be an early victim of political correctness. Her Anglo Irish outlook on social immobility grated with later sensibilities so the third verse about a destined housing hierarchy disappeared. Being about Markree Castle the poor man really didn’t have too bad a time at the Francis Goodwin designed Gothic gatelodge, a piece of castle itself. Fortunately Once in Royal David’s City remains intact. The name of the castle has evolved over the last five centuries from Mercury, Marcia, Markea, Markrea and finally to Markree.

Markree Castle Gateway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Cecil Frances Alexander wasn’t the only guest to wax lyrical. William Butler Yeats recalled, “We have always looked on the Coopers and Markree Castle as greater than the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace.” He wrote in Running to Paradise, “Poor men have grown to be rich men; and rich men grown to be poor again.” Nowt so queer as fate. Once owned by the McDonagh clan, in 1666 the land was presented to Edward Cooper, a Cromwellian soldier from Norfolk, as a reward for his role in the Siege of Limerick. Defeated Irish chieftain Conor O’Brien’s widow Red Mary married Coronet Cooper and her two sons took the surname of their stepfather. Later, the Coopers opposed the Act of Union so no dukedom, earldom or even baronetcy was bestowed upon them. A fiefdom of 36,000 acres, generating an annual income of £10,000 by 1758, must have acted as some comfort. Any doubts of lineage and loyalty are dispelled by the stained glass window of the staircase hall. Twenty generations of Coopers are iconised between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The enlargement and embellishment of the house finally ended five years shy of the 20th century, commemorated in the date stone over the dining room French doors. In 1902 Bryan Cooper sold 30,000 acres under the Land Acts, at the same closing the basement. A seven year Indian summer was over. Benign decline in line with the times had begun.

Markree Castle Gatehouse © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The recent story of Markree is told in its mention in three books. Brian de Breffny and Rosemary ffolliott ominously note in 1975 in The Houses of Ireland that “Lieutenant Colonel Edward F P Cooper is the present owner and has struggled bravely to arrest the dry rot in parts of the building, though, in order to keep the roof on at all, he and his family have had to withdraw to one wing of the vast place, which was intended to be manned by a host of servants.” Thirteen years later an unhappy ending looked inevitable. The crumbling staircase hall made a poignantly picturesque back cover to the 29th Knight of Glin’s Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland. Tome to tomb. By 1997, Luc Quisenaerts gushes in Hotel Gems of Great Britain and Ireland that the resurrected Markree is like “a wonderful journey through time”. Give or take the odd outbreak of civil war or dry rot, presumably. Pray how the turnaround in fortunes? A knight, this time in shining armour or at least with iron will, had arisen in the form of Charles Cooper.

Markree Castle Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree was occupied by the Free State troops during the Civil War causing damage,” Charles reveals. “Bryan Cooper’s eldest son Francis retired in 1930 and by 1950 the family had retreated to the east wing leaving the rest of the castle empty. The majority of the remaining contents were sold off. In 1988 my older brother put Markree on the market. I’ve worked in the hotel industry at home and abroad since I was 16. My wife Mary and I decided to buy Markree with the help of large bank loans and investments from family and friends. We converted it into a country house hotel. Most of the interior needed to be restored. The roof was completely refurbished due to extensive dry rot. My daughter Patricia now manages the hotel.” The top lit billiard room suspended over the porte cochère where nothing stirs remains untouched, resembling Féau & Cie’s Parisian workshop on Rue Poncelet, fit for St Simeon Stylites (“I want to be alone.”) The family live in converted and extended castellated estate buildings. Somewhere between the castle and the gate.

Markree Castle Balustrade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Phew. Still no modern wing repro’d up to the nines. Markree remains 100 percent castle. For Pringle clad budding Rory McIlroys there are six golf courses in driving range, so to speak, for afternoon tee. Thankfully, the castle has stuck to what it does best, afternoon tea. Sleek and new golf courses: once the delight of the Irish economy; now the bane of the Irish demesne. The early 17th century siege wall of a fortress built by the McDonaghs was uncovered in the basement during restoration work. But the sash windows of the basement hold more of a clue to the current building’s true origins. Hard as it is to believe, Markree is or rather was a five bay 18th century house with a three bay breakfront façade and one bay on either side of a garden front bow. So far, so Georgian. That’s till Francis Johnston came on the scene. Joshua Cooper commissioned the architect of Charleville Forest and Killeen Castle to engulf and transform the house into a castle of the early medieval revival symmetrical kind. Not content, in 1866 his son Edward Cooper employed the Edinburgh architect James Maitland Wardrop to continue the transformation, dropping a consonant from gothick to gothic in the process. Wardrop’s output includes the Jacobaronial Kinnordy Castle and Lochinch Castle, part Balmoral part Glamis (drop the second vowel to pronounce correctly).

Markree Castle Contemporary Sculptures © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The result? An encyclopaedic use of castellation, a visual feast, a rare explosion, a gallant gallimaufry. Here goes. Archivolts; bartizans; batement windows (no that’s not a typo); batters; colonettes; conical roofs; crenellations; flying buttresses and octahedral roofs (witch’s hat type, keep up); foiled quarters; battlemented servants’ quarters; machiolation; parapets; skew tables (no not sure either); six minarets crowning the billiard room, demarking a mecca of pleasure; strapwork; tracery; transoms and mullions; vaults and voussoirs. An encyclopaedic mind is required to imbue these words with meaning. Back to the late and last Knight of Glin who, ever wearing his erudition lightly, inn quotable resonant lucidity observed in his latter years, “Markree Castle, an 18th century house transformed into a castle, leaves in no doubt the competence, richness and variety of Irish country house architecture as a whole.”

Markree Castle Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle River © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Driveway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Chapel Exterior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle from River © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Roofscape © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Side © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle @ Lavender's Blue

Markree Castle Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Bow Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Cats © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle from Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Ground Floor Plan © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Entrance Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Stairs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Chapel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Markree Castle Chapel Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It may have taken a medley of architects, but oh boy, is the approach to the inner sanctums of the castle processional. Little wonder W B Yeats considered Markree regal. A sumptuous sequence of artistic compositions begins with the grand sweep of the staircase, tipping the ground at basement level before rising in steep ascent to the piano nobile. The double height staircase hall leads to a small hallway on one level. To one side, a cast iron radiator has been recast as a sarcophagus. This accordion-like alternating suppression and expansion of space heightens (yes pun) the sense of ancestral occasion, frozen music, a monument of its own magnificence. Tahdah! Into the double height staircase hall. Things simply can’t get any more exciting, can they? Oh yes – the triple height galleried hall. Francis Johnston at his hammerbeam roofed best. Each generation made their mark on Markree and, unabashed by eclecticism, untroubled by budget, unhindered by neighbours, unperturbed by vacillation, the twinned fruity Corinthian columns and compartmentalised ceiling of the adjoining cushioned sitting room render it neoclassical. Great rooms, beautiful lofty things, where travelled men, women and little childer find content or joy in excited reverie.

Markree Castle Gallery © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The dining room is a suite of three spaces good enough for Grace of Monaco to wander through. Calm hues of hammered gold, fleshy pink, off white and pale duck egg blue do little to dampen the Continental exuberance of the gold enamelled and mirrored interior installed by Edward Cooper in the 1830s. The result? An encyclopaedic use of applied decoration, a visual feast, a rare explosion, a gallant gallimaufry. Here goes. Acanthus leaves; beading; borders; bows; cornicing; coronets; crowns; egg and dart; festoons; flowers; friezes; fruit; heraldry; masks; mouldings; panels; pilasters; plaques; well fed putti – angels in the architecture; ribbons; rosettes; scrolls; shields; swags; tails; wreaths and reeds. Time for dinner amidst the surrounds of this visual feast. Courgette, mushroom and garlic amuse bouche. Whiskey bread. Ardsalagh goats’ cheese mousse with beetroot textures and lemon basil pesto. Buttermilk onion rings, always onion rings. Cockles from the sands of Lissadell, buttered samphire, cauliflower purée and sauce vierge. Pistachio (flavour of the moment) and olive oil cake, roasted strawberries and rhubarb sorbet. It’s a riot of colour and taste, Jackson Pollock in an Irish country garden.

Markree Castle Sitting Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Double doors sliding into the thickness of the dividing walls in the dining room are panelled like geometric jigsaws. Circles and squares, quadrant pieces and segmental cutouts. Jib doors allow the dado rail to continue uninterrupted. The French doors open onto an external staircase leading down to two acres of formal gardens rich in memory glorified, silent in the breathless starlit air. The staircase was the last addition to Markree and it sure did go out with a bang. It firmly belongs to the Belfast Castle outdoor staircase school of “more is more”. A piece of architecture itself, a central bay containing an unglazed Tudorbethan window is looped in the loops as they turn and turn in wildering whirls. Dartboard windows flank each side of the staircase at basement level.

Markree Castle Sitting Room Fireplace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In Ephemera W B Yeats ponders, “‘Ah do not mourn,’ he said; ‘That we are tired, for other loves await us; hate on and love through unrepining hours. Before us lies eternity; our souls are love, and a continual farewell.’” Markree, now old and grey, exudes an air of permanence in an ephemeral age. Centuries of building, from castle to house to castle to hotel, have merged into authenticity, melded by the patina of age: one form hewn from rock, one colour, one character, one craft, oneness. (1) The staircase hall remains just that. (2) Sinéad O’Connor (Sinéad O’Connor is the new Sinéad O’Connor) can still be taken to church in the traditional sanctity of the velvet curtained chapel. (3) The kitchen has been promoted to adjoin the new dining room. (4) The dining room rebranded the Knockmuldowney Restaurant was the drawing room. (5) The library stocks fewer books as the sitting room. (6) The same ghosts peer over the galleried hall to the family portraits below. (7) Drinks continue to be served in the sitting room now it’s a bar. And don’t forget the porte cochère, still there, it’s found a humbler use as a smoking room. These days it’s more upper case Regal. At the extremity of the garden front, just before the lowest wing tapers into the garden wall, a gothic arched outbuilding is now the stately home of two cats.

Markree Castle Dining Room Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

All 32 bedrooms are decorated in vibrant shades and furnished with dark Victorian pieces – such antique joy. The six largest are individually named. On the second floor, The Mrs Alexander Room is 370 square feet, the size of a one bedroom flat in London. It would give Temple House’s Half Acre Bedroom a run for its money. Also on the second floor, The Charles Kingsley Room has two great windows open to the south. The second floor W B Yeats Room is a hexagonal shape, pushing into the garden front bow window. Further along the garden front second floor corridor is The Bryan Cooper Room. On the first floor, The Coronet Cooper Room over the bar has a rectangular bay window and is accessed via its own serpentine stairs sliced through the thickness of the internal wall. The Johnny Cash Room (the singer stayed here in the 1990s) over the dining room is semicircular shaped. It too has its own stairs sliced through the wall.

Markree Castle Dinner © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Handmade Soap Company caters for all creature comforts great and small in the en suite bathrooms. Grapefruit and Irish Moss soap; Lavender and Rosemary bath and shower gel; Basil and Sweet Orange shampoo. A storm darkened rabbit warren: a life sized snakes and ladders game of corridors, galleries, landings, lobbies, passageways, staircases, stairwells, vestibules and more lobbies connecting the rooms is lit by a starry bright patchwork of archways, clerestories, rooflights, roof lanterns, casements and sashes. On a smaller scale, beyond the gate and pavement grey in Ballaghaderreen a castle designed by John McCurdy, architect of the Shelbourne Hotel, is for sale. Edmondstown Castle: offers around €800,000. A seven bedroom High Victorian pile on 29 acres for the price of a one bedroom flat in London.

Markree Castle Shutter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

An illuminated address presented by the tenants of Markree to Charles Cooper’s great uncle when he attained his majority hangs in the bar. It harks back to a more hat tugging, reverential era, reflecting a social order recognisable to Mrs Alexander: “Address and presentation to Edward Francis P Cooper Esq, Markree Castle, 1933. We the undersigned employees on your estate beg your acceptance of our best congratulations on the attainment of your majority and we wish you long and happy enjoyment of the position you now occupy as owner of the Markree property. We are all aware of the interest you take in Markree, and as most of us experienced very great kindness at the hand of your late father Major B R Cooper, than whom no better employer could be. We have every confidence in thinking that you will be equally good and feel that it will be a similar pleasure to serve you. We take this opportunity of expressing our deep appreciation of the many acts of kindness that we have already received from yourself and every member of your family. In commemoration of this occasion and a slight token of our feelings, we trust you will accept this small gift that we now offer with our best wishes for your welfare in the future, at the same time hoping you will be long spared to spend many happy days at Markree.” In September 2014, Markree Castle was advertised for sale in Country Life for sale for €3,125,000.

Markree Castle Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Claire Clark Afternoon Tea + Royal Opera House Covent Garden

Upbeat Downtown

View from Royal Opera House Covent Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

What do Bluebird, Buckingham Palace, Claridge’s, Sandy Lane, Sofitel Dubai, The Ritz, The Wolseley and the House of Commons all have in, er, common? Maestro pastry chef Claire Clarke MBE. Yes! She’s sprinkled her fairy dust on them all. Now it’s the turn of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden to benefit from her sparkle. Claire has composed an afternoon tea to be served in the Paul Hamlyn Hall. Conservatory is too mean a word for this vast glass vaulted space named in honour of the late philanthropist and publisher Lord Hamlyn. More like Kew Gardens crossed with Syon Park. A Paxton moment. No room for understatement.

Paul Hamlyn Hall Royal Opera House Covent Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Henry James wrote in The Portrait of a Lady, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” It’s pure indulgence by its very nature. Afternoon tea is a superfluous meal to be enjoyed while lesser mortals, nine-to-fivers, toil. Let the rich eat cake. Add a crystal palace, edible compositions by the UK’s leading pâtissière for over a decade (The Caterer’s words and just about everyone else’s), a flute of Ruinart and musical accompaniment by a classical pianist selected by The Royal Ballet and the ceremonial gastronomic extravagance is raised an octave or two. Music to our ears, so to sing.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The tea. Tea for two by Soho based specialists My Cup of Tea. White Jasmine has a light delicate flavour, the flowers layered between whole green tea leaves. Opera Afternoon harmonises black teas from China and Sri Lanka with the rounded sweetness of Bourbon vanilla. The savouries. Like movements in a symphony, variations in lightness and colour at once distinguish each one and complement each other. Severn & Wye smoked salmon blini; carrot and coriander humus on pear and walnut rye bread; cucumber and cream cheese on sourdough bread. The sweet savouries. Scones are accompanied by Dorset clotted cream and homemade seasonal strawberry jam. Lady Grantham would approve. The sweets. Exquisitely presented nostalgia is key to Claire’s creativity. Perennial favourite banoffee takes the form of a macaroon. A pistachio éclair with praline grains is a dolce diminuendo in subtle green. Glittering gold leaf performs a grace note atop a mandarin and kumquat amandine. A floating bar of music is the icing on the cake on Opéra Gâteau – a crescendo in chocolate.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden Afternoon Tea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Claire, still in chef whites, joins us for a chat. “I wanted my afternoon tea at the Royal Opera House to be traditional. This isn’t the place for modern interpretations. I’ve stuck to classical roots. My catering company is more about content – substance over style. All the ingredients are British. And there’s nowhere more British than the Royal Opera House. I’ve previously worked a lot in the West End.”

Royal Opera House Covent Garden Afternoon Tea Carrot Sandwich © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

She also spent five years as head pastry chef for Thomas Keller at Napa Valley’s triple Michelin starred French Laundry, reputedly America’s top restaurant. “I’m just back from celebrating my somethingth birthday there!” Claire confides. “I was in the garden of the French Laundry last week. Working at the French Laundry is like army boot camp – but in a good way. One where everyone wants to be fit. The staff are in the best five percent in the world. Everyone’s so passionate about giving the customer a special experience they’re prepared to go to extremes. Even the gravel outside has to be raked a certain way.” This perfectionist streak is clearly shared by Claire in her passion for pastry.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden Afternoon Tea by Claire Clarke © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

You don’t need to buy an opera ticket to enjoy afternoon tea in the Paul Hamlyn Hall although it would make the perfect prelude to Parsifal or Pagliacci. It costs £47.50 (for no champers knock a tenner off). Time for one more musical metaphor. Claire Clarke’s performance at the Royal Opera House really does hit all the right notes. A midsummer afternoon’s dream (that’s two).

Royal Opera House Covent Garden Pastry by Claire Clarke © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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