The Pink Panther + The Goring Hotel London Afternoon Tea

Piece of Cake

The Goring Hotel Union Jack © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sapphires or rubies? To tiara or not tiara? The Lanesborough afternoon tea or The Goring afternoon tea? It’s a close run thing, but The Goring steals the crown. It has the stamp of royal approval. Literally. ER is stamped on the top of the chocolate and toffee filled meringue. Plus The Goring, London’s last family owned five star hotel, boasts a garden to turn The Lanesborough green with envy. It’s a spatial rarity for central London and even more so considering Victoria Station is only 300 metres from the front door. Not that you’d ever guess, gazing out at the calm grassy oasis.

The Goring Hotel Veranda © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Look out for The Pink Panther’s gloves in a frame in the sitting room. The idea is he has stolen most of the paintings. That’s why there are empty frames on the walls.”

The Goring Hotel Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Afternoon tea is served in the darkly atmospheric sitting room and an adjoining gallery-like space lit by windows along its full length. We’re in the latter. The custard yellow walls match the veranda awning and the William Edwards fine bone china and the honey glace and pear mousse to come. A Chinese couple are at the table on one side of us; a pair of Indian sisters on the other. There’s not a Middleton in sight. Afternoon tea by definition is a luxury, floating superfluously as it does between lunch and dinner. Best served with a frivolous glass of Bolly from a jeroboam doing the rounds.

The Goring Hotel Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“This amuse bouche is pea mousse, crème fraîche and smoked salmon. It’s unusual and I’m sure it’s good for you. Enjoy.”

The Goring Hotel Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Goring Hotel Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Goring Hotel Lavatory © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We choose The Goring Afternoon Blend tea. It’s mellow Assam and second flush Darjeeling; no milk required. A three tier stand rising from a savoury base to a sweet top arrives. Tradition is adhered to but there are variations. Curried cauliflower finger sandwiches are a welcome surprise. It’s the attention to the most minuscule of details that defines The Goring. Scones in scrupulously folded linen napkins. Perfectly soft miniature rugby balls of Devonshire cream. Sandwiches meticulously laid out in rows of brown | white | brown | white | brown.

The Goring Hotel Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Try something you haven’t tried before. If you would like to change the tea and try another one, just tell me. If you would like some replenishment of anything always ask me.”

The Goring Hotel Sandwiches © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Yippee! It’s bottomless, and we mean bottomless, afternoon tea. Utopia, unlimited. Except for the Bolly. Ok, utopia, slightly limited. The Goring lives up to and surpasses its rep as the most quintessentially English hotel in London, starting with the red liveried doormen beyond the reticent Edwardian façade, flowing through the David Linley designed hall and ending with loo humour. The loos. Grey and white marble basins by Drummonds. Who else? Hand lotion by Asprey. Praise be. Amusing Auguste Leraux cartoons lining the walls sadly aren’t appreciated by all. Or at least not by a certain Ted Patton of Kew Gardens. A framed letter expressing his concerns that their allegedly outré content would shock female staff takes pride of place next to the cartoons. George Goring has scrawled on it, “Close your eyes, girls!!” Not so much publish and be damned as post and be damned. Mr Patton’s letter is set to entertain gents going about their business for years to come. As we said, quintessentially English. No wonder The Goring is so popular.

The Goring Hotel Afternoon Tea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We cater for around 45 afternoon teas every day. Today we have 49. In June and July it can be 50 or more.”

The Goring Hotel Pear Mousse © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Hotels, Luxury | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saint Hill Manor + Standen House + Ockenden Manor Afternoon Tea

To The Manor Born | Hearts and Crafts | Strawberry Fields

Standen House Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Somewhere between London to Brighton, anywhere lost in rural Sussex, deep in the midst of nowhere lies Ockenden Manor. A Grade II* Elizabethan house, it’s now a privately owned hotel (that’ll be Pontus and Miranda Carminger) with a Michelin baubled restaurant. Screech of breaks. Jerk of handbrake. Afternoon tea emergency. It’s been a long morning. Lady Diana Cooper couldn’t resist swinging by a pair of open gates in the country. Neither can we. So it was impossible not to zoom up the drive of Saint Hill Manor, the wedding venue and Scientology HQ, with the subtlety of a Wagner opera. Georgian splendour with a Monkey Room painted by Winston Churchill’s nephew and an ostentatious orangery all overlooking rolling parkland? We’re down with that. Saint Hill Manor is enough to make anyone begin to think Kirstie Alley and John Travolta may have a point.

Standen House at Dusk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Next pit stop, neighbouring Standen House. Philip Webb’s swansong to the Arts and Crafts movement. A symphony in (Horsham and Keyner) brick. And sandstone. And oak weatherboarding. And clay tiles. And mustard coloured roughcast. The servants’ wing is as big as the family’s. It’s one L of a house. Now National Trust, the original 19th century owners must have had a pretty high staff-to-Jacques-croquet-player ratio. The William Morris pimped interior is a veritable forest of timber panelling and leafy wallpaper. Fortunately we know our Strawberry Thief from our Willow Bough thanks to an Irish Georgian Society London Chapter study day at the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.

Standen House Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Saint Hill House Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Saint Hill House Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Saint Hill House Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ockenden Manor Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Back at the last manor of the day, after a 22 minute whiz through the South Downs from Standen, the voice of a waiter announcing the arrival of the sugared strawberry appetiser is music to our ears. Afternoon tea at Ockenden Manor is on its way. Sussex cheddar sandwiches zhuzhed up with homemade piccalilli compete with smoked salmon to hit the high (crust free) note. Homemade scones with clotted cream and raspberry slash redcurrant (not strawberry!) jam contribute to a mellow-day. A harmony of sweets follows. Lemon drizzle cake, chocolate éclairs, strawberry shortcake and petit fours: all of Mrs Beeton’s  boxes are ticked. At Lavender’s Blue, we pride ourselves on originality of word, image and thought. Mostly. This one is plagiarised. Below is an adapted cut and paste job from our favourite hotelier-turned-MD-soon-to-be-restaurateur’s review of a lively supper last summer at The Ivy Chelsea Garden.

Ockenden Manor Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Doorwoman: warm, welcoming and gregariously friendly
  • Reception: great welcome, big smiles and efficient
  • Bar: it might not be a school night but it’s our chauffeur’s day off (return visit required)
  • Room: perfect layout and comfortable seating areas, spacious, adequate (not too bright) lighting – and still in essence a country house – phew!
  • Waiters: just utterly divine – in looks, style, knowledge and personality
  • Loos: lovely design and everything worked (not us, the area!)
  • Food: good choice, perfectly cooked, baked and presented, adequate timing between servings – and did we mention this is still in essence a country house? – double phew!
  • Wine: see entry for ‘bar’ above
  • Could be our new (country) favourite!

Ockenden Manor Hotel Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There’s so much more to Ockenden but we’re as stuffed as the taxidermy at Standen, as full as Saint Hill’s bookshelves. For architecture devotees, the building is a bubbling laboratory of samples through the centuries, well worth analysing. And what about the cutesy chocolate box village of Cuckfield beyond those open gates? But even an indoor | outdoor swimming pool – the laps of luxury – tucked into the walled kitchen garden can wait. Designed by John Cooper Associates, the contemporary spa pavilion is a rhapsody in (copper coloured) steel. And Parklex 1000 Natural Boak. And glazed curtain walling.

Ockenden Manor Hotel Afternoon Tea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

 

Posted in Architecture, Country Houses, Hotels, Luxury | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Zaha Hadid Design + Porcelanosa Vitae

Water Feat | Always Ahead of the Curve

Anne Davey Orr & Zaha Hadid's Red Metropolis © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The art and architecture worlds were shocked by the death of Pritzker Prize winner Dame Zaha Hadid last Easter. Age 65 is young to die and even more so for an architect. That’s the age when many of the greats’ careers are really taking off. The Zaha Hadid Design Studio in Clerkenwell, that well of London overflowing with creative, showcases her designs from paintings to shoes to sculptures to maquettes. And, as it transpires, bathrooms. Porcelanosa, the super high end bathroom company handily next door, has taken over the basement display space.

Zaha Hadid Design Gallery © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s a chance to see her last work before the final curtain fell on Zaha’s glorious career as the world’s best female architect. A career which, ironically, only got going full steam in the UK following the brouhaha over the disastrous design competition for Cardiff Bay Opera House. Cardiff’s loss; rest of the UK’s gain. London’s slick Olympics Aquatic Centre and Serpentine Sackler Gallery would follow. As would a flow of high profile international projects. What a curriculum vitae! Masterpiece Fair 2016 posthumously commemorated her non architecture talents. Porcelanosa is celebrating the future of the polymath’s legacy: bathroom architecture. Arbor vitae must keep growing. Zaha’s professional confidant Patrik Schumacher has stepped up to run the architecture practice.

Zaha Hadid Clerkenwell © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Vitae is a collection of handcrafted ceramic pieces created by Zaha Hadid Design for Porcelanosa’s specialist bathroom company Noken. Maha Kutay, Director of Zaha Hadid Design, at the design launch: “Being an architectural practice and working on hospitality and residential projects, it was only natural for us to look at developing a bathroom range to complete our interiors. The design has been informed by a fluid language connecting each piece visually to create a wholesome experience.”

Porcelanosa Vitae Bath Zaha Hadid © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Porcelanosa Vitae Basin Zaha Hadid © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Lebanon born architect joined the practice straight from university. Initially involved in architectural projects, her career veered into design. “I’ve worked on the Roca showroom in London, various exhibition and fair stands such as Design Miami and Design Miami Basel, and products such as the Citco marble collection.” Zaha had a fearsome reputation but Maha says working for her was rewarding. “She kept you on your toes. She knew exactly your potential and pushed you to achieve this.”

Porcelanosa Vitae Sanitaryware Zaha Hadid © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

High tech advancements haven’t watered down the cutting non edged design of Vitae. Quite the reverse. Zaha’s practice has always been at the forefront of the interface between architecture, landscape, geology and importantly, technology. Computer systems enabled her early designs to be executed. Technology had to catch up with Zaha, not the other way round. “Zaha Hadid’s vision redefined architecture for the 21st century, capturing imaginations across the globe. Her legacy endures within the DNA of the design studio she created.” Magistra vitae.

City of Towers Zaha Hadid © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Architecture, Art, Design, Luxury, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fronteira Palace Gardens Lisbon + The Black Swan

The Knowing and the Now | The Last Battle You’re Free

Fronteira Palace and Gardens Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Nestled in the Monsanto Hills, on the city’s edge, glimpses of modernity far below, sits the Fronteira Palace. The seat of the Marquesses of Fronteira, it is Portugal’s premier example of a 17th century Italianate palace and gardens. A tapestry of sunburnt red walls, yellowed white trimmings, cerulean blue screens and enigmatically black loggias elevates the elevations from architecture to art. This being Lisbon, tiles are aplenty too. Or azulejos as they’re locally named, lifting the prosaic to the mosaic. Founder Dom João de Mascarenhas, 2nd Count of Torre and 1st Marquess of Fronteira, was clearly good with colour.

Fronteira Palace and Lake Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan’

Fronteira Palace Garden Front Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Following the 1755 earthquake which smashed up the family’s city centre home, the former hunting lodge was upgraded to palace. At this time, the 5th Marquess Dom José Luis de Mascarenhas added a family wing perpendicular to the gated entrance. And that was that. And this is now. If architecture is frozen music, then Fronteira Palace is frozen history. But there are bills to be paid. “Very few family owned historic houses in Lisbon are open to the public,” says the guide. “The main rooms are hired out as they are for weddings. We don’t clear the furniture away. The family wing is completely private.”

Fronteira Palace Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Fronteira Palace Terrace Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle’

Fronteira Palace Balustrade Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The gardens are the stuff of Capability Brown nightmares. A maximalist dream of terraces and terracotta, clipped bushes and stone tushes, box hedging and bucks’ antlers, urns and turns, airs and parterres. In their midst, unbeknownst to the casual wanderer, a red eyed red beaked black swan, a magnificent beast, a silent risk, patrols his territory: the lake and then some. “He attacks people!” warns the guide. This palace is now the black swan’s hunting lodge. The hunted has become the hunter. Ha! An epistemological fourth quadrant – this one has legs.

The Black Swan of Fronteira Palace Lisbon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Architecture, Art, Country Houses | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Medeiros e Almeida House Museum + Café

The Shock of the Old and the New

Medeiros e Almeida House Museum Lisbon Exterior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s the Van Loon Museum of Lisbon: historic interiors with contemporary interventions. A strictly guarded circuit ensures visitors view all three floors, six centuries, 27 galleries and 2,000 objects in a mannerly fashion. “To the left!” “Up the stairs!” Turn right!” “Down the corridor!” Like another of its cultural continental cousins, the Baccarat Museum, the Medeiros e Almeida House Museum fills a Parisian (style) townhouse. Originally built for a lawyer in 1896, the house was bought by António Medeiros e Almeida 47 years later.

Medeiros e Almeida House Museum Lisbon Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Medeiros e Almeida House Museum Lisbon Bust © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Successful businessman António and his wife Margarida emerged in the mid 20th century as great European collectors. On a quest for beauty, the glamorous pair filled their home with fine and decorative works of art. Following Margarida’s death in 1970, and with no children, he established a foundation to keep the eclectic collection intact. António added an extension covering the garden to accommodate yet more art. He died aged 90 in 1986 and at the turn of the 21st century his wish came true. The Medeiros e Almeida House Museum was opened to the public.

Medeiros e Almeida House Museum Lisbon Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A glass fronted café spills out onto a courtyard between the old and new wings: a leafy oasis in the business district of Barata Salgueiro. Perfect for whiling away the daylight hours over a frothy coffee (€1.50) and savoury twiglets (grátis). Post tour, of course. A magnet on the café’s fridge door spells ‘Food with Art’. Always back a winning formula.

Medeiros e Almeida House Museum Lisbon Bed © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Belcanto Restaurant Lisbon + José Avillez

When the Hallelujah Chorus Sang

Rt Hon Jacqui Smith and Tessa Jowell © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I’ll eat when I’m dead,” quipped Daphne Guinness, heiress-turned-chanteuse. We haven’t cooked since the war but we’ve certainly dined out on that. Quo vadis? Quo Vadis. Hello Kitty Fisher’s. Blue Fin seafood. Annabel’s. The incredibly Social Eating House. Intertwining wining and dining otherwise known as ‘spending the nephew’s inheritance’. First there was the Astrid Bray hosted Christmas party at Daphne’s. Next came the Launceston Place midsummer soirée with good stock (company and gravy) and theatrical staff. Epigram anyone? Yep, both Princess Diana haunts. We’re following in her footsteps, even photographing Prince CharlesLe Caprice to go. Completely up our own rue.

Belcanto Lisbon Exterior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Provenance matters, whether antiques or antipasti, dated or stated or possibly slated. So it was good to indulge in whipped Elveden beets at the MABA (Middle Aged British Artists) adorned Hix Soho. The farm shop on the Guinnesses’ Elveden Estate is a destination in itself. For the carnivorously inclined, Glenarm Estate produce pops up several times on Hix’s menu. The walled garden at Glenarm Castle is a destination in itself.

Belcanto Tuna Tartar Cone © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Escaping what Lord James Bethell called “the chilling effect of the referendum on social calendars” at Westbourne’s groovy fifth inaugural garden party, waving goodbye to The Right Honourables Tessa and Jacqui, we’re off to hot hot hot Lisbon. Well, not before stopping for nocturnal wanderings in the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum. It’s not every night we get to enjoy noirish canapés next to the mesentery of a sheep with several globular cysts attached to the tissue by long pedicles.

Belcanto Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

With the rhetorical daring of Mrs Merton’s interrogation of the millionaire Paul Daniel’s wife Debbie Magee, what first attracted us to the lovely Belcanto? Answer: wherever there’s a Michelin star there’s Lavender’s Blue. Make that two and we’re there with bells on ding-a-ling. Belcanto is the first restaurant in Lisbon to receive two Michelin stars. José Avillez is the first Portuguese chef to achieve this accolade. The hot to trot 36 year old has created a paradise for pescatarians with sophisticated palates. He does, after all, have over 1,000 miles of coastline to explore. Piscean provenance ain’t ever a problem. In his own words:

Belcanto Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“My life is cooking. Because of that, many of my memories are tied to tastes. I was born and raised in Cascais, near the sea. The memory of being that close to the sea is very strong and is really a part of me – it defines me. I truly love cooking fish and seafood. Let me say I believe that in Portugal we have the best the sea has to offer in the world. I love creating dishes with the taste of the sea. At Belcanto, we use algae codium which has a very strong taste of the sea. I loved eating it on the beach at Guincho.” Such joy, joy, joy.

Dip in the Sea Belcanto © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belcanto Sea Bass © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belcanto The Garden of the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belcanto is in Chiado, Lisbon’s most exhilarating neighbourhood. Chiado is a cultural mix of the old and new, the traditional and the adventurous, a distillation of the best. Easily a metaphor for José’s cooking. Outside may be sweating 30 degrees but inside a coolly slick gastronomic and sensory performance is underway. There are just 10 tables for the chef to impress with his pedigree. Table to tableau. Thank goodness for the high waiter to customer ratio as we eat more courses on the tasting menu than Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel Quo Vadis has had film versions. The bill comes to €759.50. Say bon. Not exactly cheap as frites, but it’s a special occasion, a Lisbon treaty.

Belanto Red Mullet © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Behind an unassuming white exterior lies the understated white interior. A blank canvas. It’s the food that delivers the colour | shock | humour | art. Palette to palate. An exploding olive, “a tribute to the great chef Ferran Adrià” explains our waiter, sets the scene. José trained at elBulli, Ferran’s legendary triple Michelin starred Catalonian restaurant. Said olive is served in a 2cm diameter frying pan. Similarly, caviar topped edible stones crack open in a flow of volcanic lava. Textures and tastes and experiences and expectations are reinvented. Foraging in flowers for tuna tartar cones for starters. “You tell me!” smiles our waiter when asked what the indefinable taste is in the pudding. “How is your mushroom?” he later laughs. Rosemary ash butter tastes like fag butt ends. This is haute haute haute cuisine. And we’re loving it. All 3.5 hours.

Belcanto Pumpkin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belcanto Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Birthplace of fashion designer Cruz Bueno, it’s good to see the cool cool cool citizenry of Lisbon that have hung around in the sizzling heat live up to our soignée sartorial expectations. And there’s not a pickled dead sheep in sight. There’s more art in simply eating. Portugal is having a fashion moment according to Knightsbridge’s top kitchenware store Divertimenti. This Christmas’s essential stocking filler is a cabbage bowl designed by Portuguese artist Bordallo Pinheiro. Caldo Verde, cabbage soup, is a national dish. Our Divertimenti bowl is purely ornamental, unused of course. Bathos to pathos.

Belcanto Mandarin Sorbet © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Fashion, Luxury, People, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lisbon + The Doors

The Passages of Time

Lisbon Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lisbon, where even the doors are hot.

Posted in Architecture, Town Houses | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Altis Grand Hotel Lisbon + San Jorge Roof Terrace

Summertime Gladness

Altis Grand Hotel Lisbon Roof Terrace View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lisbon’s mercurial mix is intoxicating, and made all the more sparkling by its simultaneous and very definite continental dynamic. John O’Connell, designer of ‘The best room in London’ according to The Times, doesn’t hold back, “Lisbon is like Paris in the 1930s. It’s so adorable. And I mean Paris! And I mean adorable!” Elizabeth Bowen drawled, “Paris is always a good idea.” Turns out so is Lisbon. Subdued restaurants, subtropical evenings and a subversive attitude make Lisbon in summer a sexy option. While the locals head for the hills, we head for the beach. We’re smitten by the sultrier side of the city. Lisbon in August is playful, an attribute exaggerated by the soaring temperatures. The weekend exists as a narcotic and we’re aching for it. When it comes, the nightly daiquiri on the five star 20th century iconic Altis Grand Hotel’s San Jorge roof terrace kicks in, before we kick up our heels dancing downtown in Bairro Alto.

Lisbon Coast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lisbon Sunrise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Elevador se Santa Justa © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Hotels, Luxury | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Syon House + The Young Irish Georgians

Adam Fortune | Do Look Now

Syon House Front Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Where better to be on a sunny Sunday morning than Syon House in leafy southwest London? Rolling bucolic parkland, pretty birds tweeting in the ancient oaks, wild flowers springing in the meadows, and planes thundering overhead to Heathrow. Aside from the flight path latticing the blue sky with white streaks, all is calm. Dr Adriano Aymonino, former Head of Research at the intriguingly named Commission for Looted Art in Europe, is our leader. Us, being in this case, the Young Irish Georgians. Private apartments are included on the tour.

Syon House Porte Cochère © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We will discover that so much about the interior decoration is lost on the casual 21st century visitor. The nuances, the symbolism, the references that would have been read by Georgian guests. It’s like reading ShakespeareAdriano is no mere guide. He’s our translator, helping us decipher the intricate language of 18th century design. It helps that his doctorate was on the 1st Duke of Northumberland who transformed Syon House in the 1760s. Adriano’s book is due out soon. “My heart lies at Syon,” he confesses.

Syon House Floor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The 1st Duke was the greatest patron of the 18th century when you add all his houses together. Syon House is the most famous neoclassical house in the world,” argues Adriano, “and the Long Gallery is easily Robert Adam’s most spectacular interior. It is the most complex Georgian room in England.” Standing outside, the house is remarkably simple, stark almost, save for the toy battlements. All that will change when the front doors are flung open and Adam’s circuit of staterooms is revealed.

Syon House Capital © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Adam was a very clever businessman. He wanted to conquer the mid 18th century British market, dispelling the old Palladian architects by selling a new language. Adam claimed to be faithful to classical antiquity. That was not quite true as his could style could be eclectic but that’s how he marketed it. His language works, though, from St Petersburg to the USA. It’s a quotation architecture of ornament, statues, relief and sarcophagi.” Adriano identifies two layers of quotation: the Roman originals from the Grand Tour and later published engravings. “A paper architecture!”

Syon House Statue © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The plasterwork frieze in the Piranesiesque Great Hall incorporates a vase, the symbol of friendship and welcome. It’s part of the language of iconographical consistency, we learn. Together with the layering of quotation, Adam creates a jigsaw puzzle of classical references rid of Renaissance influences. It’s a game of recognition, providing meaning to the more sophisticated guest. A triumphal procession has begun. The Great Hall is the introduction to the public circuit. A ‘Roman villa’ built round a courtyard.

Syon House Wall Hanging © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The paintings at Syon House aren’t part of Adam’s concept. They come from the family’s central London townhouse of Northumberland House. It was demolished towards the end of the 19th century.

Adriano Aymonino Syon House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Each room is intended to be a single hall, the opposite of Palladianism and its consistency of rooms such as at Chiswick House or Holkham Hall,” expounds Dr Aymonino. “Rather than a simple whole, each unit is different from the other. There is no better example in Britain of this than the transition from the Great Hall to the Ante Room next door. This is the Adam principle of contrast, movement, variety in a house. So you have this kind of wow effect! The sequence of classical orders is the only unifier, the element which gives logic to the circuit.” The Young Irish Georgians are primed to spot Doric in the Great Hall | Ionic in the Ante Room | Corinthian in the Dining Room | Composite in the Red Drawing Room and so on and so forth.

Syon House Private Apartment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Poor old Sir William Chambers. His Palladianism soon became as passé as postmodernism is today, bless. We are ushered into the Ante Room. “It’s very exuberant, the Versace of Syon!” Absolutely. “Adam is a great genius decorator. Syon’s architecture is a collection of Roman typologies. The Dining Room is based on a basilica. But the Drawing Room is the least classical. With its red brocade silk walls there is not much space for quotations. Just the coffered ceiling.” Comfort over style. Sir William Chambers criticised the roundels in the ceiling for looking like floating dinner plates. Architects bitching? Shock, horror! The forerunner to 21st century Design Review Panels.

Syon House Courtyard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Syon is the result of the Grand Tour industry. The statues would have been as recognisable as Warhol is today,” Adriano continues unabated. “He was first and foremost a decorator concerned with ideal beauty, harmony, proportion and decorum. I will never be tired of explaining the importance of printed sources. Far from Rome? Just open a book of prints!” With bated breath we enter the Long Gallery, the most important room in the house in our leader’s opinion.

Syon House Corridor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The 1st Duke commissioned Adam to revamp this Jacobean long gallery. “Anyone else would have physically divided up the space. It is very difficult to master. There is the risk the eye gets bored of repetition.” Instead, Adam treats it as a columbarium with niches and massive piers providing rhythm. A visual trick on the ceiling is that the pattern of circles set in octagons continues incomplete to either side. “This counteracts the narrow width and low ambient. It’s like a carpet on the ceiling!” Once again, there are plenty of 18th century publications on Roman columbaria. Painted roundels over the bookcases show the ancestral glories of the family from Charles the Great to the 1st Duke and Duchess – who else? It was carried on in the 19th century by future family members. “This is a different layer of complexity,” observes Adriano. “It’s a very clever use of English family history with references to Roman antiquity.”

Syon House Bust © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Late afternoon, after lunch, we will wander through the private apartments, unaccompanied, unroped, unAdamed but – oops! – not unalarmed.

Sèvres Urn Syon House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Over scampi and chips in The London Apprentice pub – appropriately rebuilt in the 18th century, while admiring the view across the Thames towards Kew, Adriano relates he’s half Roman, half Venetian. “Venice has become such a difficult place to visit. So crowded. It’s not a real city anymore – ordinary shops now just sell masques to tourists. February is the best time to go, even if it is foggy then.” Goodness. Ever been chased by a cloaked red dwarf? “No, but you could still fall in the canal.”

Syon House Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Architects, Architecture, Country Houses, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prince Charles + Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt

By Royal Appointment

Christ Church Spitalfields Weathervane © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“10 minutes.” Frisson of anticipation. High flying MD Sara Nilsson DeHanas rocks up off the red eye Eurostar, suitcase in tow. Johannesburg this evening but in the meantime there’s a rendez vous with a Crown Prince to be had. Salut! Some meetings are unmissable. Reverend Andy Rider reminds us we’re in a place built to worship the King of Kings. “And a future king is on his way.” Phew, no pressure then. A chauffeur drops off the Lord Lieutenant of London. Police are everywhere. The eight bells are chiming. A choir gathers on the steps of the church. This is big.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Five minutes.” Excitement mounts. Stewart Grimshaw of The Monument Trust, benefactor of Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt, is at hand, impressed by the finished restoration and conversion to additional church space, community use and café. “It’s wonderful The Wallace Collection is free for visitors,” he says of another Monument Trust funded project. Artist Emily Wolfe arrives. She painted a window scene, cleverly elongating the staircase landing of the Crypt with an imaginary vista. “It was a great commission.” Another artist arrives. Nikki Cass admires her own stained glass in the chapel. “I’m so pleased how well the light falls on it.” Totes agree.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Prayer Chapel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Emily Wolfe Artist © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sara Nilsson DeHanas @ Christ Church © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Two minutes. The Prince wants a tea. Earl Grey with honey.” Flurry of activity. Cups and saucers all round and quickly. Then in walks someone familiar. Do we know him? Is he family? Yes, Royal Family. Here’s a man, sorry, prince, comfortable in his own skin. He makes a beeline for us, recognising the fleur de Lys tie. “Very tactful,” he smiles. Gazing round: “The oak is simply sublime. Wonderful. What’s that?” pointing to a tiny hatch door in the apse wall. “Is that for Harry Potter to walk through?” He’s great company, witty, warm and relaxing. Little wonder Prince Harry is good fun. Like father…

Lord Lieutenant of London & Bishop of London @ Christ Church © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architect Biba Dow is given a two minute slot to explain a decade’s worth of work. Time is precious. Even past retirement age, the Prince is clearly in high demand. Andy makes a speech. We hear the bit about the Crypt not being possible without architects and planners being in the congregation. And his thanks to The Monument Trust. And thanks to Prince Charles. The Bishop of London prays majestically. Everything is dreamlike. Minutes last for hours.

Prince Charles & Bodyguard © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Time for His Royal Highness to unveil the plaque we’ve had a hand in designing. “This Crypt will allow many more activities to be performed at Christ Church, serving the community… It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve been to Christ Church. The Crypt looks like the best place to eat in London!” Plaque revealed. Applause. The private secretary beckons. His press officer calls. The black Jaguar pulls up at the bottom of the steps of the church. Prince Charles declines, instead strolling down Commercial Street with his bodyguard. Clarence House can wait.

Rev Andy Rider & Prince Charles © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Architects, Architecture, People, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment