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.”

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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Orla Kiely + the Blue Fin Building

Pure Gold  

orla_kiely_01

The Duchess of Cambridge and Janice Porter, newly elected Chairman of Grovehill Animal Trust, are fans. She’s one of only a handful of Irish designers who are household names. Like John Rocha, her work has been celebrated on an Irish stamp. Lavender’s Blue meet Orla Kiely for afternoon tea. We’re on the top floor of The Blue Fin Building cheek by jowl with Neo Bankside, The Shard, The Helter Skelter, The Jaguar Melter. Far below, the flotsam and jetsam of life between landmarks is reduced to miniature. Finger sandwiches, lime and coconut cake, lemon meringue cupcakes and chocolate raspberry brownies are served, all on Orla Kiely crockery of course. And, as it turns out, all made using Kerrygold.

Kerrygold @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I studied textiles and fashion at NCAD before doing my Masters at the RCA,” says Orla. “I’m originally from south Dublin but have lived in London for more than 20 years now.” Her distinctive prints and patterns are instantly recognisable. Spot an Orla Kiely umbrella on a rainy morning; Orla Kiely shades on a sunny afternoon; an Orla Kiely notepad at a business meeting; Orla Kiely candles flickering in a hotel reception. Soon you will be able to spot Orla Kiely designed butter packaging in the local shop. It’s got the designer’s look. But only if you’re quick – it’ll be stocked as a limited edition for just two months. The marketing of butter in the supermarket has gone upmarket.

“I only work with brands I like or respect so only go with suitable business offers,” Orla confirms. “Kerrygold is an Irish company I admire. I wanted to be true to Kerrygold, not just for the design to be about me. Colour is very important to Kerrygold’s brand. The faun, green and shades of cream I’ve used complement Kerrygold’s iconic green and gold. I wanted it to be a cute, clean design. The cow is formed of flowers – a different way of illustrating an Irish meadow!”

Lavender's London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

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Victor Hugo + Place Les Vosges

French Disconnection 

Place des Voges Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Everything sounds better in French. But when the Garllic nation attempts English, sometimes all is lost in translation. Take a stroll through Le Marais, try not to smirk as you pass a shop unromantically named ‘I Do Marriage, Be Sweet’ on Rue Beaubourg or ‘Hello, I Love You, Can You Tell Me Your Name?’ on alliterative Boulevard Beaumarchais. Bewildering, dazing, confusing. No lines to learn to forget to read between. Maybe this is where Cecilia Ahern gets inspiration for the titles of her doorstopper potboilers. Stopping a few doors down on Boulevard Beaumarchais, the grammatically challenged ‘Restaurant Loving Hut’ conjures up all sorts of scenarios. An amorous small structure with a fondness for eating places, perhaps? Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Jules Verne Eiffel Tower Restaurant © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Time to chill in 17th century Place Les Vosges, grab a coffee under the arches at Café Hugo. Everybody’s changing; some places stay the same. Parisians are so friendly. C’est quoi? In the sandy square, children, substitute pets, hang from climbing frames like miserable uncaged monkeys. Better not seen not heard but they’re far enough away. Disconnect. Seats, lovers populate. Paris can’t wait. Tucked away in an unforgotten corner of Place Les Vosges, the apartment where Victor Hugo penned the Hunchback of Notre Dame, rooms wallpapered to within a square inch of their dead lives. He’s gone, the wallpaper’s still there. An empty Edouard Vuillard interior brought to life. No doubt in part thanks to said conquering author, a queue snakes out of la cathédrale, slithering round the statue of Charlemagne. Skedaddle; head for the queueless Saint Gervais et Saint Protais, near yet far from the clueless maddening crowd, hifalutin, lording it above the City Hall. Get a high in a high church in a high church. No usurpers of grace. Experience multiple epiphanies. Peerless chanting fills the nave. As we said, everything sounds better in French.

Castlemacgarrett Claremorris Mayo © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Daring To Love 
 
I lie down in
the long grass…
daring to love again
that which had
passed away…
First one
then two…
…empty
staring at a sunless sky
refreshed with salty tears
here alone
I’ve found my
pocket of peace.
 
Lulebelle  19/7/2014
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Cocktails in the City + Hoxton Hotel

Shaken not Stirred

1 Cocktails in the City Hoxton Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ralph Lauren recently remarked, “At the moment I think London is the place. It’s very exciting – the people, everything.” Non merde, Poirot. The weather isn’t the only thing that’s hot. We’re off to the not-so-far east for the Cocktails in the City party. It’s not entirely unchartered territory – the best of the west have joined us. From “oh darling to “’ello mate”. The only thing better than a martini and caviar is a vodka martini infused with fresh Beluga caviar accompanied by vermouth foam with a hint of seaweed courtesy of The Rivoli Bar at The Ritz mixed in the Apartment of Hoxton Hotel under the watchful eye of Beluga UK Brand Ambassador Robert Zajaczkowski. Phew. Actually make that for two.

2 Cocktails in the City Hoxton Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Organiser Andrew Scutts welcomes everyone to “a party for VIPs, the beautiful and the good.” And those who are all three, presumably. “We’ve gathered 13 of London’s top bars under one roof to save on taxis between venues. Sustainable or what? Each bar has been tasked to showcase a signature cocktail. You’ll be given a few minutes to watch the bartenders work their magic. But when DJ Crazy P stops the music you must drink the cocktail and run to grab chairs in the next room for another cocktail.” And so begins a game of speed dating meets musical chairs meets Cluedo. The billiard room, dining room, library… every room’s a flawless speakeasy tonight.

Bastion of British good taste and good fun, the absolutely fabulous Harvey Nic’s Champagne Bar tempts us with a Lady Marmalade cocktail. We really should make a pun on a toast to toast but it’s getting late. The Alchemist mixologist concocts a literally smokin’ drink while Trailer Happiness drops Earl Grey into Lamb’s Navy Rum blasting the best of British theme. Hot in the city, the night is aglow, the air a thick warm blanket. Embracing the moment we’re in high spirits. Absinthe (mixed with bootlegger, egg white, grenadine and lemon juice by Steam and Rye) makes the heart grow fonder.

3 Cocktails in the City Hoxton Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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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 jam 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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