The Culpeper Spitalfields Kitchen + Rooftop Terrace

The Height of Good Taste 

The Culpeper Pub Spitalfields Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

After knocking back shiitake mushroom gnocchi and rum baba crème Chantilly in the first floor kitchen of The Culpeper, the only way is up. Corbu commended it | New Yorkers have forever known about it | Londoners are finally wakening up to it. The fifth façade. A building’s roofscape should be as purposeful and beautiful as any vertical plane. Admittedly Corbu didn’t have a Victorian pub roof in mind, unlike owners Gareth Roberts, Bash Redford and Nico Treguer. Under the long shadow of Christ Church Spitalfields’ spire, they’ve taken the green roof concept to a whole new level. The first day of summer happily coincides with the opening of the rooftop terrace. And greenhouse. And herb garden. Salad days and evenings. Pumpkin pie in the sky.

The Culpeper Pub Spitalfields Rooftop Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Culpeper Pub Spitalfields Rooftop Terrace Menu © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Sir John Soane’s Museum + William Shakespeare

The Cloud-Capped Towers: Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination

Sir John Soane Museum Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hot on the unclad heels of Sarah Lucas’s show at Sir John Soane’s Museum comes an exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. London is awash with Shakespeare festivities from Somerset House to Dr Johnson’s House. The Soanian exhibition is the best, the most intriguing, and is set in a superior interior. The playwright’s connection to the architect is far from tenuous. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sir John Soane Museum Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Soane comes halfway between Shakespeare’s time and ours,” muses Dr Frances Sands, Curator of Drawings and Books at the museum. Last spotted leading a tour of 20 St James’s Square, Fran is one of a trio of erudite academics on duty. “The bard’s reputation was really only fully established in the 18th century Georgian period. He wasn’t a national hero before then. It kicked off, in part, with the actor David Garrick. And the Shakespeare Ladies Society! Soane, as an educated gentleman, was a collector of Shakespeariana.”

Sir John Soane Museum Passageway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Professor Alison Shell of University College London, Guest Curator of the exhibition, adds, “Bibliophilia gathered pace as the 19th century progressed. Bibliomania! The madness of books! Soane acquired all four Shakespeare folios, a feat a private collector could never match now. One of the folios belonged to James Boswell. Shakespeare was something of a religion to Soane who venerated great men. Soane was a Romantic with a capital R!”

The exhibition space occupies two first floor galleries in the house to the left of the museum’s famous façade. “It was too tempting not to get out all four folios to make the point! Lovely!” smiles Alison. “It’s a celebration of the imaginations of Soane and Shakespeare.” The patronage of Dr Johnson’s friend Garrick is on display through actors’ portraits and theatre designs. Garrick commissioned both Soane and Robert Adam so another celebrated architect is represented. Indeed, Soane astutely purchased the full set of Adam’s office drawings.

Sir John Soane Museum Mausoleum © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tying various artistic strands together is Soane’s drawing of George Dance’s front elevation of the Shakespeare Gallery on Pall Mall. Short lived and commercially disastrous, the design of the Shakespeare Gallery nonetheless was inspirational to Soane. Its flying saucer domes would later reappear at the Dulwich Gallery.

Sir John Soane Museum Dome © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Museum Archivist Sue Palmer points to a diary, “Rather charmingly, when Eliza and he went to visit their son studying architecture in Liverpool, Soane noted their visit to plays in Stratford-upon-Avon. So that’s rather fun!” All three academics concur that Soane was the most literary architect Britain has ever had. In 10 out of his 12 Royal Academy lectures he quoted Shakespeare. His interest in theatre, a medium obsessed with illusion, befits the great conjurer of space. Soane promoted Shakespeare as the supreme embodiment of English literature. The architect never knowingly undersold his talent. No doubt Soane was heavily hinting that he was the supreme embodiment of English architecture.

Reflection of Soane's Shakespeare Gallery Drawing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Sir John Soane’s Museum + Sarah Lucas

Power in Woman

Sarah Lucas @ Sir John Soane Museum Passageway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Forget Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Breakfast at Soane’s is where it’s at. A private private view at sunrise in the North Drawing Room. Soane wasn’t afraid of breaking convention. Neither are the museum curators. At first glance it’s an alarming intervention: three contemporary sculptures of females from the waist down sitting, one cross-legged two open-legged, in a 19th century interior. British artist Sarah Lucas certainly has form. At second glance the plaster sculptures may be viewed as a development of Soane’s in situ collection of classical casts. Admittedly none of Soane’s have cigarettes protruding out of orifices. In a nice twist, the pale sunset yellow of the North Drawing Room inspired the colour of Sarah Lucas’s British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Power in Woman @ Sir John Soane Museum Passageway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Roxburghe Hotel + Charlotte Square Edinburgh

Ministerial Positions

Charlotte Square Edinburgh © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Turns out Scotland’s First Minister isn’t just better at debates than the UK’s Prime Minister. She’s got a more palatial pad. They might both be terraced houses but Number 10 doesn’t hold a Georgian candle to Number 6. Downing Street in London is a mean little hotchpotch of a side street. Charlotte Square in Edinburgh is an expansive leafy neoclassical masterpiece of town planning. Bute House, Nicola Sturgeon’s official address, is a lot finer than the Old Etonian’s accommodation. Albeit a little chillier for barbeques.

Charlotte Square Edinburgh Steps © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

New Town Edinburgh © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Charlotte Square Edinburgh Railings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Charlotte Square is the apex, the apogee, the climax, the pinnacle, the zenith of the horizontality – those palace frontages! – of Edinburgh’s New Town. Its 18th century town planner was 22 year old James Craig. No less an architect than Robert Adam designed the buildings lining the square. Details hint at the social hierarchy and habits of times past. Rough stone for the servants’ basement; smooth stone for the masters’ piano nobile. Trumpet shaped openings in the cast iron railings would have been used to snuff out the flamed torches carried by ‘link boys’ to illuminate residents’ way home at night. Glimpses can be captured at street level of the Firth of Forth – nature is never far away in Scotland. Even the built form often resembles rocky outcrops.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's Gardens Charlotte Square © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

For those who don’t rule the northern part of this island, Number 38 Charlotte Square is the alternative place to stay. The Roxburghe is an updated architectural microcosm of Edinburgh itself. Reflecting the conjoined Old and New Town twins, this hotel is formed by a New Town and Very New Town embrace of Georgian and contemporary. Taking up residence permanently as Nicola’s neighbour would cost a wee bit under £600k for a four bedroom penthouse on Charlotte Square. Calling by Dave’s for a pint of milk, a lot more.

Roxburgh Hotel Edinburgh Reception © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Edinburgh + The Doors

Opportunity Knox

Edinburgh Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Edinburgh, where even the doors have a chilly grandeur.

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The Secret Garden + The Witchery by the Castle Edinburgh

Hot Stuff | We’re Stuffed | Get Stuffed

The Witchery Edinburgh Windows © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Quail’s eggs on a watercress nest at Mayfair regular Hush, Maundy Thursday. Fried duck eggs at Holborn favourite The Delaunay, Resurrection Sunday. And so a procession of lunisolar led lunches, moveable feasts, begins. An extended Easter Triduum. When a man is tired of London, there’s always Edinburgh. Squared hen’s eggs on board Virgin, Easter Wednesday. York – Durham – Newcastle – Berwick-upon-Tweed – everywhere looks better when viewed from the 1st Class carriage. Rows of distant roofs punctuated by chamfered dormers announce to the visually aware the proximity of the Border.

The Witchery Edinburgh Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Oh yes I stayed in The Witchery years ago,” a journalist bravely whispered to us during the Making Africa press briefing in the Guggenheim Bilbao. Admittedly a mildly incongruous locale for such a muted conversation. It was undoubtedly a memorable stay. “I woke up in the middle of the night in the most frightful sweat! It was like the bed was on fire! I was boiling alive!” She got an unexpected roasting, so to speak. The next day at breakfast the journalist voiced her concern to a waitress. “That’ll be the witches,” came the nonchalant reply. “They used to burn them at the stake on Castlehill right outside.” And presumably it wasn’t the effects of a wee dram nightcap.

The Witchery Edinburgh Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Witchery Edinburgh Secret Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Witchery Edinburgh Tapestry © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Witchery Edinburgh Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Our Easter Thursday lunch in the restaurant turns out to be a slightly less steamy but still hot affair. Dr Johnson and his biographer James Boswell used to lunch there. Well if it’s good enough for Sam and Jamie… The schlep up the Royal 1.6 Kilometres past winding wynds and claustrophobic closes is so worth it. Four enigmatic fanlights peering over Johnston Terrace way below are all that hint at what lies beneath. We’ve arrived. Physically and metaphorically. Bewitchingly charming certainly, hauntingly beautiful definitely, ghoul free thankfully. Think Hunderby without Dorothy. Or Northanger Abbey goes to town. Owner James Thomson, Scotland’s best (known) hotelier and restaurateur, is evidently a follower of the Donatella Versace school of thought: “Less isn’t more. Less is just less.” An eclectic dose of ecclesiastical remnants, gothic salvage and Jacobean antiques is healthily apt for this 16th century building. A pulpit above, a trellised obelisk to love, a flag there, a tapestry where? Candlesticks galore carry flickering flattering light across a Secret Garden the envy of Frances Hodgson.

The Witchery Edinburgh Main © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The interior may flurry with wild abandon but the service and setting mercifully don’t. Our Milanese waiter makes sure of the former. Tradition takes care of the latter. Linen tablecloths, phew. Round plates (slates are for roofs), double phew. Unheated pudding (a dish best served cold), triple phew. After a bubbly reception (thank you Mark), the feast unfolds. Palate seducing grilled sardines followed by lemon sole with brown shrimp butter preceding chocolate orange marquise with espresso jelly raise spirits further. The huggermugger harum scarum of a prowlish ghoulish night owlish postprandial prance on the mansard tiles of Edinburgh’s Auld Toun awaits. The only way is down (hill).

The Witchery Edinburgh Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Royal Victoria Patriotic Building Wandsworth + Le Gothique

Mad For It

Le Gothique Bar Wandsworth London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Le Gothique isn’t your average local. But then Between the Commons isn’t your average area. Popularly known as Nappy Valley, it has more nannies per square metre than anywhere else in Europe. And your corner shop is a Parisian meringue bakery. A Saturday visit to Le Gothique isn’t without its perils: nannies’ day off. But a residents’ Privilege Card tips the balance so we’re off. It may be a five minute Uber ride from LVBHQ but on a gloriously sunny afternoon the stroll from Northcote Road across Wandsworth Common is simply too delectable to miss. The starched whites of cricketers contrasting with the rich greenery could be a Lowry painting negative. Going to Play. So quintessentially English. It’s like a Surrey village scene. Actually, it would’ve been a Surrey village scene over 100 years ago. The London Borough of Wandsworth fell within the County of Surrey back then.

The building may look like a Victorian madhouse but that’s about the only use it hasn’t been even though it was originally called the Asylum. Orphanage (1858), hospital (1914), orphanage again (1919), spy centre (1939), training college (1946), school (1952), empty (1970) and of late, 27 apartments, 20 studios, 15 workshops, two offices, a drama school and most importantly, Le Gothique bar and restaurant (1985). Major Rhode Hawkins was the original architect; Giles Quarme was the restoration architect. The Building News reported the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building as ‘bold, picturesque and effective’. There’s more than a passing resemblance to our almae matres: Belfast Royal Academy and Queen’s University Belfast. Country Life contributor Dr Roderick O’Donnell recognises the influence of Flemish town halls in the architecture and lots more besides. “This is a secular gothic rather than ecclesiastical. There are also tones of Scottish Baronial. The rhythm of a central tower with balancing towers either end of the façade was very popular during this period.”

In the corner of this cloistered existence, a door leads down a stone lined corridor to Le Gothique. The bar and restaurant spill onto the enclosed garden on clement days like today. The pram count is surprisingly low; quietude pervades. It’s hard to imagine while we’re scoffing salade niçoise and downing lemonade that this oasis of calm wasn’t always so tranquil. Orphans once lined up in this outside space to be hosed down with cold water as part of the harsh regime. The ghost of an orphan named Charlotte Bennet who accidentally burned to death here in 1901 is rumoured to haunt the cloisters, a small lonely figure appearing at dusk before fading into the shadows. If these walls could cry…

Le Gothique Chapel Wandsworth London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Irish Guards + John Copeland Blakley

You Just Can’t Lay Down and Die

John Copeland Blakley Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Be born, die; plant, pluck up; kill, heal; break down, build up; weep, laugh; mourn, dance; throw stones, gather stones; embrace, don’t embrace; get, lose; keep, cast away; rend, sew; keep shtum, speak; love, hate; make war, make peace. Supplement to the London Gazette 1 January 1949: ‘New Year’s Honours List. Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, St James’s Palace, SW1. The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the British Empire Medal (Military Division) to John Copeland Blakley, Irish Guards.’ John Blakley’s active service covered Italy, Norway, Libya, Palestine and Suez.

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Landmass London + 76 Ladbroke Grove

White Cube

Landmass London 76 Ladbroke Grove Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ever on the quest for luxury, Landmass London’s dapper Managing Director Alan Waxman has a fresh take. Luxury has a new: “Most designers and developers give people what they think their clients want. If you’re cutting edge you give them what you think they should have. That’s the ultimate luxury.” His latest scheme 76 Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill is a case in point. Everything is bespoke right down to the Fendi towels emblazoned with the house number. Luxury has a price: £6.95 million.

Landmass London 76 Ladbroke Grove Rear © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Typical of London, the site is tight. Two basement levels optimise available space. “Everyone says this house is like the Tardis!” Alan reveals. A three storey above ground end of terrace replaces a ramshackle two storey house. “There’s always a story when it comes to buying a site,” he says. “I met a girl at Annabel’s and we swapped numbers. I invited her out for lunch which quickly turned into a business lunch when she mentioned she wanted to sell her house. We called over to the house which was in a bad state of repair, climbing over dustbins to get inside.”

Landmass London 76 Ladbroke Grove Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Full height voids add a sense of drama and airiness to the interior of architects McCusker Storey McIntosh’s replacement building. “At Landmass we concentrate on how to use the space and light,” relates Alan. “Our aim is to get the wow out of the property. We spend an enormous amount of time planning space and volume without any consideration to finishes and specification. They come later. It’s very much less is more. We’ve used the same white wall colour and the same timber flooring throughout.” The one exception is the snug dark cinema. “Panels of wallpaper and tiles are used as sexy features. That’s the Landmass signature. I believe I’m the only developer in the world to have trademarked his concept: Volumetric Design.”

Landmass London 76 Ladbroke Grove Stairwell © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I’ve an 11 second rule,” he explains. “That’s all the time I have to make people comfortable with my product after they’ve walked through the front door. First impressions are very important for both people and properties.” At 76 Ladbroke Grove, the front door opens into a full depth open plan living area which bursts into a double height void overlooking the angular walled garden to the rear. Landmass London’s wow in action. Downstairs, dashing winemaker turned sommelier for the evening Ben Walgate serves Gusbourne Brut Reserve in the top lit basement kitchen. “Gusbourne is a small exclusive vineyard in Kent,” he comments. “This English sparkling wine is a classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.” Luxury has a taste: Gusbourne.

Landmass London 76 Ladbroke Grove Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Heal’s London + Design Ireland

Shillelaghs and Shenanigans | Erin’s Green Valleys | An Irish Spring 

Heal's St Patrick's Day Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s time to knot the William Evans of St James’s shamrock ties. From St Patrick’s Eve to St Patricks’ Evening, west Britain comes to the West End. Ukuleles tuned, Lavender’s Blue enjoy high church and high jinx. St Patrick’s Church is gleaming, no, really gleaming, seriously gleaming, super gleaming, following a recent restoration. Marble practically flows down the steps onto Soho Square. It’s more Italianate than the Vatican City; more Romanesque than the Sacred City. St Patrick’s was the first church in England dedicated to the Patron Saint of Ireland. Shamrocks are blessed and given out after Mass for the Solemnity of St Patrick. This is the last church in London to carry out the tradition. The principal celebrant is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, former head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Next stop, dining at the O+C Club to end St Patrick’s Eve. Pumpkin gnocchi with herb cream sauce and parmesan is followed by seared scallops with crab and ginger. And of course the club specials – Saint-Véran 2012 and the pudding trolley. His Eminence is off to The Garrick.

Heal’s lives up to its rep on St Patrick’s Evening as the shop that likes to party, throwing an Irish hooley up there with Finnegans Wake. We’re on it like a car bonnet. Sadly teetering on the edge of living memory, Tottenham Court Road was once lined with smart furniture shops. Heal’s, although missing its original concave shop windows, remains standing tall and proud. It’s the launch party of Design Ireland, a showcase for Irish products. Rathbornes 1488 takes pride of place. It’s the oldest candle company in the world. For over half a millennium, Rathbornes has illuminated the homes, churches and lighthouses of Ireland. As well as Brown Thomas in Dublin, Rathbornes’ products are now stocked in Fortnum + Mason and Heal’s. The DJ ups the beat. Tonight Lavender isn’t blue; Lavender’s green.

Rathbornes 1488 Candles @ Heal's © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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