Mary Martin London + Maryland

The Free State | Her Bright Materials

Mary Martin Fashion Designer © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Over numerous cups of coffee in her first floor kitchen, much laughter, and more than a few facetime calls with her numerous celebrity pals (putting the M into M People), the award winning fashion designer and creative extraordinaire shares her innermost thoughts with Lavender’s Blue.

Mary Martin at BFI Film Awards © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I’m Mary Martin London. Welcome to Maryland. My work is like an image of myself: a bit eccentric, a bit crazy, but sophisticated. It’s me, it’s my personality, it’s what I feel inside. A lot of passion goes into what I’m doing. I inhabit a world called Maryland. My inspiration is God. You know, my mother and father were ministers and I thought to myself: the first thing I learnt in the church was in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and basically God made us in his image. So I figured if God is the creator of heaven and earth, and he’s made us in his image, I am a creator as well. God is my creator and my inspiration.

Lavender's Blue Set © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Now my latest collection which I’ve done is called Blood Sweat and Tears and it’s really been blood sweat and tears and I wanted to dedicate this collection to the slaves because they worked hard for us to be here now. And you know you have to give a salute to those slaves who worked and were beaten and killed. You know we are still fighting the racism and everything else so I think to myself – I always have to remember where I came from: my ancestors were from Africa. This men’s collection is actually a salute! I did a screen print for my men’s collection called Slaves in the Field. You see the eyes coming through the trees. People are looking for them so I put the army print on the back.

Mary Martin London Bomber Jacket © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Reclaiming Urban Jungle is one of my fabric patterns. It is inspired by the Amazon Rainforests. In current times we have become more aware of the effects of fast fashion on climate change. The beauty of nature of this print takes the form of abstract art in nature and surrealism. Reclaiming Urban Jungle represents the marriage of surrealism and the tropical rainforest. The lion is the King of the Jungle but in the jungle there are no crowns so the lion has a crown of bananas. I built up the leaves drawing them in layers and used special paint for screen printing.

Mary Martin London Jacket © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The first collection I actually put together which was called the Fairytale Collection was big fluffy dresses. I did it all by hand couture. The reason I did it by hand was it was very therapeutic. So basically, I was working with my hands and it was helping me get through things. It was really really helping me and I thought, ok, make it the Fairytale Collection! I actually went to Ghana to do the Mercedes Fashion Week. I did the show over there and it was like – wow! – everybody was so in shock at the clothes I had brought, and that was the start. That was the key for me.

My favourite colour is actually blue. My mum’s favourite colour was blue because she always loved The Queen and The Queen’s mother and she always used to wear a lot of blue and that’s the reason I like blue. It was the only colour I used to see growing up. My mother and father came over to England in the Fifties and basically my mother wanted to be an actress and my father was an antiques dealer and he used to go around and come back with old clothes. We had a 10 bedroom house on the river and in the top of the attic my mother had a room full of beautiful dresses. I used to love the clothes up there. Me and my sister – we used to jump up and down for joy! It was like an in-house fashion show up in the attic.

Nobody knew me and my sister used to go up there and try on all the clothes and all the shoes. We loved dressing up; we loved glamour. They were big for us but we loved the clothes, the shoes. And that’s when I fell in love with fashion! Next year, now that I’m graduated, I want to celebrate and you know I really want to show people what I care about inside me. I want to show people what a show is all about. Just look out for the Mary Martin London brand!

Maryland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Melba Moore is my favourite singer in the whole world.”

Mary Martin London Men's Collection © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A few days later, over smashed avo at BFI Bar + Kitchen on London’s Southbank, following the première of her friend Director Stephan Pierre Mitchell’s film Deleted, Mary Martin shares more of her innermost thoughts with Lavender’s Blue. The fashion designer is cutting a dash rocking head-to-toe military combo gear complemented by one of her own tops. Working the asymmetric for sure.

Mary Martin London Fabrics © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I just made this top this morning. It has a mustard coloured velvet sleeve and a khaki lurex sleeve. The sleeves contrast with the gold and black stretch cotton bodice. I work with the fabric – I create and just surprise myself! I see myself as a fashion artist. I’m gearing up for a solo exhibition and a catwalk show. I’m seeing tulle hanging from the ceiling and my screen prints framed as art on the walls. I’ll do my collections the way they should be. And I’ve dreamt of the dress of all dresses. All the lights will be on it. This dress is going to be magnificent!”

Mary Martin London Dresses © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Oranmore House + Garden Ballymena Antrim

Good Natured

Oranmore House Garden Northenr Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Of course, the drawing room mantelpiece has some rather fetching garniture. A pair of Staffordshire dogs are very on period. Books on steeplechasing ride high over the piano under a painting of ‘Beef or Salmon’, a past winner of the equine Hennessy Gold Cup. Framed like a moving triptych by the sliding panes of the canted bay window, ginger Freddie, one of three cats, nonchalantly meanders across the lawn paying scant attention to the chicken coop. Welcome to Oranmore House, a country estate in miniature.

Oranmore House Garden Ballymena © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Every Irish city or town has one: the best address. Dublin has Ailesbury Road; Belfast boasts Malone Road; Omagh’s got Hospital Road; Ballymena’s is Galgorm Road. Oranmore House is one of the late 19th century gentleman and lady’s residences flowering Galgorm Road. But with its single storey symmetrical frontage, it could just as easily be one of those low lying seaside villas in Monkstown or Killiney, south County Dublin. A taller two storey ancillary wing nicely inverts the usual architectural order of things. The drawing room is one of two principal reception rooms with deep coved ceilings flanking the entrance hall. There are two guest bedrooms on the ground floor and eight other guest bedrooms scattered across the first floor and a converted stable block to the rear.

Oranmore House Ballymena 1910 © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Oranmore House Ballymena © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Oranmore House Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Oranmore House Ballymena Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Oranmore House has opened to paying guests, fast becoming a byword for sumptuous hospitality. The social scene of Ballymena rotates round Oranmore House on a Saturday evening. Birthday parties fill the major and minor dining rooms; the drawing room reverberates to the sound of clinking glasses and guests’ laughter. Outside, beyond the pools of light cast by the tall sash windows, a red squirrel energetically scrambles up the Victorian monkey puzzle tree.

Oranmore House Ballymena Freddie © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Deal Town + Pier Kent

A Diction

Sunset Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Words do come easy to us. There are plenty to play with in Kent’s prettiest town. Take house names. The quizzical Fanny’s Dilemma. The often out of season Christmas House. Then there’s the nautical: Dolphin Cottage, Sea Haze and Lighthouse Cottage. The meteorologically optimistic Blue Skies. The whippersnapper Tally Ho Cottage. Puns aplenty, not least The Little Deal Cottage. Fancy a tipple? The New Inn has been old for at least a couple of centuries. After the didactic? Down a pint in The Just Reproach. Le Pinardier wine shop smacks of the French connection (Calais is a smooth pebble’s throw from Deal). There’s the ever amusing Ticklebelly Alley. Short Street lives down to its name, being a mere three buildings long. Whatever the syntax, Deal is the last word when it comes to oozing charm. All that’s missing is Grey Gardens. That cottage is on its way. Words do come easy to us.

Sea Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

En route to white cliffed Walmer, we stroll past the mid 20th century Deal Pier with its early 21st century pavilion café. Sunset, super moon, sunrise. A tripartite fusion of light. Back a few weeks, over afternoon tea in Northern Ireland’s Rowallane Gardens, architect John O’Connell had admired his compatriot’s work. “Niall McLauglin’s pavilion exerts a superbly robust simplicity.” Eventually we rock up to the pearly queen gates and hoary hedges of Walmer Castle. The monument has an illustrious past – and present (us). The Duke of Wellington (the one aristo who doesn’t need a genealogical number) died at this castle. He was born at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin (admittedly when it was a private residence). A life bookended by beauty. Walmer Castle was the home of the alliterative Lady Lettice Lygon in the early 20th century. In the following decades, The Queen Mother took up residence every July in her role as Lord Warden of the Cinq Ports. Queen Victoria stayed a few times, calling it a “curious old castle”.

Coast Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pier Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pier Promenade Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pier Bay Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Pier Pavilion Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Houses Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Townhouses Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Seafront Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

House Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lane Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Laneway Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Townhouse Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Walmer Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Queen Mother's Garden Walmer Castle Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Walmer Castle Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Greenhouse Walmer Castle Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Conservation Area Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Black Douglas Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Esplanade Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Black Douglas Menu Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Black Douglas Food Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Black Douglas Artwork Deal Town Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Black Douglas Bathroom Deal Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I cook very good fish,” affirms the incredibly vivacious Lady Dalziel Douglas. Her Christian name has that strangely silent Scottish “Z”. Like Culzean. Or Menzies. As Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde once quipped, we can resist everything except temptation. And that includes very good cooked fish. “Deal is mad!” she exclaims. Dalziel is our hostess at The Black Douglas which overlooks Deal Pier. It’s named after her ancestor who was a gallant supporter of Robert the Bruce, fighting in 70 battles. “For much of the year we have Deal to ourselves.” The Black Douglas is part restaurant, part home, part gallery. A more recent ancestor is Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s beau. “That’s my son Sholto’s wall,” she says, pointing to a display of some rather fine artwork. “He’s 12 now. Sholto is named after Bosie’s father.” The pan fried seabass filets are served with homemade aioli.

The Black Douglas Pudding Deal Kent © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Non je ne regrette riens!” wails a recording of Edith Piaf across the dining room. Le Chat Noir film posters follow the French theme. “Padam padam!” thunders the Parisian chanteuse as chocolate rose and almond tart puddings appear. The bathroom is a refuge of English humour. There’s a placard of fishing hooks labelled “Assorted Tackle” hanging over the basin. That pales in comparison to the whoopsie wallpaper: it’s enough to make a vicar blush. “Let’s go to The Boho for a nightcap!” beckons Lady Dalziel Douglas. The Bohemian to you. Words.

Lady Dalziel Douglas © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Posted in Architecture, Design, Luxury, People, Restaurants, Town Houses | 4 Comments

Antrim + Down Coasts

Dockers and Carters

Whitehead County Antrim Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Once a place to leave, not to live, never mind visit, least of all for a luxury travel experience, how times have changed. The east coast of Northern Ireland (Counties Antrim and Down with Belfast sitting over their boundary) not only has Game of Thrones backdrops like the Dark Hedges and Ballintoy Harbour – it now offers thriving upmarket hospitality for the discerning visitor. County Antrim’s coastline is rugged; County Down’s is greener. There are plenty of scenic moments from the candy coloured Victorian villas of Whitehead to the crashing waves of Whitepark Bay.

Giant's Causeway County Antrim Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

As old as the island itself, Northern Ireland’s original God given tourist attraction has received a manmade upgrade. The Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim is a spear’s throw from Ballintoy Harbour. It’s a geological wonder of around 40,000 polygonal basalt columns rising from the splashed edge of the Atlantic. A visitor centre designed by award winning architects Heneghan Peng is formed of rectangular basalt columns propping up a grass roof. Architecture as land art. Nearby, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a popular walk (not for the fainthearted) over a 30 metre deep oceanic chasm.

AB @ Giant's Causeway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Welcome to the Emerald Isle!” beams Hammy Lowe, founder of Spectrum Cars, a family owned executive chauffeur service based in the historic walled town of Carrickfergus north of Belfast. “Spectrum Cars was formed in 1997 to meet demand from visiting business executives for reliable and security conscious transfers for corporate clients,” explains Hammy, “including big hitters like the Bank of England. We swiftly adapted to the burgeoning tourism market and added driver guided tours of the 50 kilometre long Causeway Coast. Recently we added Game of Thrones tours. The jewel in our crown is that we are the approved transport provider for the five star Merchant Hotel in Belfast.”

Causeway Coast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

County Antrim Coast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge Causeway Coast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge Country Antrim Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Galgorm Hotel Ballymena Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Galgorm Resort Ballymena Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ballygally Bay Causeway Coast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ballygally Castle Hotel Causeway Coast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Titanic Museum Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

AB © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Titanic Museum Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

SS Nomadic Titanic Museum Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

White Star Line Tableware Titanic Museum Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Titanic Museum Interior Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Titanic Bedroom Titanic Museum Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belfast City Hall View from Grand Central Hotel Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Anne's Cathedral Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Spectrum Cars’ new collaboration is the Toast The Coast tour led by World Host Food Ambassador Portia Woods stopping off for culinary delicacies in County Antrim seaside resorts. It starts with brunch in The Bank House, Whitehead. All the brunch courses are local produce from traditional soda bread (given a sharp twist with chili and pepper) to Irish black butter (darkened with brandy and liquorice). Tapas and gin tasting follow at Ballygally Castle Hotel, a haunted building dating back to 1625. Several of the world’s biggest music and film stars have travelled in Spectrum Cars but Hammy is the soul of discretion. When pushed, he confides, “A clue to our most famous client is she is the female lead role in the movie Mamma Mia!”

Belfast Cathedral Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hammy notes, “The development of the Titanic Museum in Belfast at a cost of almost £100 million has been a tremendous boost to the Northern Ireland tourist economy.” Next to the museum, the shipyard drawing office, the birthplace of many a ‘floating hotel’, is now a hotel itself. Belfast boasts three restaurants with a Michelin star – no mean feat for a smallish city with a rocky past. It’s become something of a foodie destination. Local chef Michael Deane has no fewer than six eateries including the Michelin starred Eipic, named after the Greek philosopher Epicurus who rated pleasure highly. True to form, the hef declares, “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times: in water, in olive oil and in Champagne!”

Grand Central Hotel Cocktail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

CNN Travel Reporter Maureen O’Hare who hails from Northern Ireland reckons “the food scene is really good in Belfast”. Michelin starred Ox overlooks the River Lagan. “Ox is my favourite restaurant,” Maureen shares. “It’s pure quality and class on every level.” The interior has a reclaimed industrial aesthetic. Art is reserved for the plates, not the walls. Oscar + Oscar designed the interior of Ox as well as Ox Cave, the bar next door. Architect Orla Maguire says, “We’re very proud of both – we have been lucky to work with some extremely talented clients. Ox Cave is one my favourite places to go in the city… its Comté with honey truffle is amazing.” Oscar + Oscar were also responsible for the interior of Il Pirata, a rustic Italian restaurant in east Belfast’s most fashionable urban village, Ballyhackamore.

The Merchant Hotel Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The best view of Belfast can be captured from the Observatory, a lounge and bar on the 23rd floor of Grand Central Hotel. St Anne’s Cathedral (which has been gradually constructed over the last 100 years) and City Hall (an Edwardian architectural masterpiece) are two of the landmarks visible far below. The owners of the luxurious Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort in Ballymena, County Antrim, have opened Café Parisien opposite the City Hall. History buffs will recognise the name: Café Parisien on the Titanic was its inspiration. Oranmore House is an elegant country house with just 10 guest bedrooms on the outskirts of Ballymena. Montalto House is one of the grandest country houses in County Down set in 160 hectares of rolling parkland. Distinguished Irish architect John O’Connell and his team have restored the 18th century mansion and designed new neoclassical buildings. The gardens are open to the public and Montalto House is available for parties and weddings.

Cafe Parisien Belfast Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Northern Ireland may be the least populated of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom, but that hasn’t hindered the rise of some 100 golf courses. Hammy believes, “Northern Ireland is like paradise for golfers. Many of them are keen to visit Holywood Golf Club where US Open champion Rory McIlroy honed his skills.Royal Portrush is a must for a round on a links course and was the 2019 venue for the British Open. Equally attractive is Royal County Down with a most unique setting between sea and mountains. Try it on a windy day! A lesser known but recommended course is Royal Belfast with its 19th century clubhouse.” From golf to gastrotourism, urban culture to country estates, Northern Ireland’s east coast is finally a luxury travel destination.

Royal Belfast Golf Club Northern Ireland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Deal Town Kent + The Doors

The Importance of Being Very Earnest

Deal Town Kent Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Douglas isn’t just the capital of the Isle of Man. But Deal sure is the capital of Kent.

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Ox + Ox Cave Belfast

Strength and Honour  

OX Restaurant Belfast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We’re talking lunch and dinner in the same restaurant but not on the same day. Four flights; two meals. Throw in a couple of winter storms and it’s all about dedication to the cause. Ox is one of three restaurants in Northern Ireland’s capital to be sprinkled with Michelin stardust. Just in case you didn’t get the memo, a mini Michelin man patrols the drinks trolley beside the entrance door.

OX Cave Belfast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The menu (printed on recycled crispy brown paper which looks good enough to eat) reads: “Ox is committed to developing close relationships with local suppliers; menus are created around the best available seasonal produce. As a result, each dish leaving the kitchen is thoughtfully designed so every element on the plate has an integral role in showcasing winter’s larder.” What’s in this season’s larder then? It’s well filled to include: Black Garlic | Blood Orange | Butternut Squash | Cabbage | Carrot | Celeriac | Celery | Chestnut | Chocolate| Coconut | Curry | Fig | Golden Beetroot | Halibut | Jasmin| Jerusalem Artichoke | Mustard | Onion | Passion Fruit | Pine Nut | Prawn | Rhubarb | Salsify | Truffle.

OX Restaurant Belfast Brickwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

And what about winter cocktails? Exiles + Elderflower (Exiles, St Germain, Killahora apple, lemon juice) and Symphonie of Apples (Symphonia No.2 Apple Gin, Drambuie, lemon, sparkling apple) are two that jump off the drinks menu. “Winter Wines from Interesting Places” include Cypriot and Hungarian elixirs. The Irish theme comes into its own with gin and soft drinks. Images of rambling country houses are conjured up by Bertha’s Revenge of Ballyvolane House in County Cork and Shortcross from Rademon Estate, County Down. Equally evocative are Kombucha from The Bucha’s Dog in County Antrim and Poacher’s Wild Elderflower Tonic Water from County Wicklow. As for the winter tasting menu with matching wines dinner:

OX Restaurant Belfast Soda Bread © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

OX Restaurant Belfast Dinner © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

OX Restaurant Belfast Foam © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are lots of Michelin signifiers: a generous staff to customer ratio; industrious napkin folding; coloured and crackled textured plates; heavy cutlery; amuse gueules intervals; sweet versus savoury surprises; and foam. And course after course of course of edible art. The menu is honest and concise. It knows what it’s doing and what it’s using to do what it’s doing. Lunch highlights include lightly toasted soda bread (the recycled crispy brown paper making another appearance), cheese dill cappuccino with purple beetroot and passionfruit sorbet with salt caramel. Sommelier recommended accompanying wines range from lemonish Japanese Grace to full bodied French Viognier.

OX Restaurant Belfast Caulifower © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The interior is as now as the menu. Both Ox and its neighbour, the bar Ox Cave, have a stripped back industrial aesthetic. There’s a strong sense of materiality from the exposed pipes and brick walls to the tiles (gunpowder grey in Ox; duck egg blue in Ox Cave) and timber floors. Art is reserved for the customers’ fashion plates. It’s a no nonsense approach that suits Belfast. The interiors are by Oscar and Oscar. Established in 2011 by Martin Barrett and Orla Maguire, Oscar and Oscar is an interior design and architecture studio based in Belfast. “We’re very proud of Ox and Ox Cave,” says Orla. “We have been lucky to work with some extremely talented clients.”

OX Restaurant Belfast Lunch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Martin explains, “Ox dining room is designed to be a relatively mute backdrop to the cooking of co-owner and Chef Stephen Toman. That being the case, it needed to be as characterful and complementary as the crockery that would contain the food itself. The character contains a palette of materials, warm and rich and confident in its simplicity. The space itself strikes a confident note by making both the kitchen and the city view the centre of attention. The dining room, as the space between these resonating notes, holds this tension and blends it in a delicate and respectful balance.”

OX Restaurant Belfast Petit Fours © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ox Cave provides the space for Ox to let its hair down,” notes Orla, “and is an informal setting for wines carefully selected by co-owner Alain Kerloc’h to be enjoyed without self consciousness and pretence. Ox Cave can be enjoyed either after dinner or as an evening out in its own right. It is the more extrovert of the pair of spaces yet is both warm and totally unpretentious. Ox Cave is Belfast’s nod to the Parisian ‘zinc bar’.” Orla finishes, “Deep rooted in our values is the belief that good design can make us all a little happier.” We’re more than a little happy to lunch and dine at Ox with postprandial sipping in Ox Cave.

OX Restaurant Belfast Staff © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Montalto House + Estate Ballynahinch Down

A Dawning of Clarity Upon Complexity

Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Map © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Braving Storm Ciara, on a blustery photogenic winter’s day, architect John O’Connell and his client Managing Director David Wilson lead a two-to-two private tour of Montalto Estate: The Big House; The Carriage Rooms; and the most recent addition, The Courtyard. It’s an extraordinary tale of the meeting of minds, the combining of talents, a quest for the best and the gradual unveiling and implementation of an ambitious informed vision that has transformed one of the great estates of Ulster into an enlightening major attraction celebrating old and new architecture, art and landscape, history and modernity. And the serving of rather good scones in the café.

Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Lake © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Philip Smith has just completed the latest book in the architectural series of the counties of Ulster started by the late Sir Charles Brett. Buildings of South County Down includes Montalto House: “Adding a storey to a house by raising the roof is a relatively common occurrence that can be found on dwellings of all sizes throughout the county and beyond. But the reverse, the creation of an additional floor by lowering the ground level, is a much rarer phenomenon. This, however, is what happened at Montalto, the original mid 18th century mansion assuming its present three storey appearance in 1837, when then owner David Stewart Ker ‘caused to be excavated round the foundation and under the house, thus forming an under-storey which is supported by numerous arches and pillars’. Ker did a quite successful job, and although the relative lack of front ground floor fenestration and a plinth appears somewhat unusual, it is not jarring, and without knowledge of the building’s history one would be hard pressed to discern the subterranean origin of this part of the house.”

Montalto Estate Ballynahinch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The author continues, “Based on the internal detailing, Brett has suggested that William Vitruvius Morrison may have had a hand in the scheme, but evidence recently uncovered by Kevin Mulligan indicates the house remodelling was at least in part the work of Newtownards builder architect Charles Campbell, whose son Charles in September 1849 ‘came by his death in consequence of a fall which he received from a scaffold whilst pinning a wall at Montalto House.’”

Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rewind a few decades and Mark Bence-Jones’ threshold work A Guide to Irish Country Houses describes Montalto House as follows, “A large and dignified three storey house of late Georgian aspect; which, in fact was built mid 18th century as a two storey house by Sir John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira; who probably brought the stuccodore who was working for him at Moira House in Dublin to execute the ceiling here; for the ceiling which survives in the room known as the Lady’s Sitting Room is pre 1765 and of the very highest quality, closely resembling the work of Robert West; with birds, grapes, roses and arabesques in high relief. There is also a triple niche of plasterwork at one end of the room; though the central relief of a fox riding in a curricle drawn by a cock is much less sophisticated that the rest of the plasterwork and was probably done by a local man.”

Montalto House Ballynahinch Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Some more: “In the 1837 ground floor there is an imposing entrance hall, with eight paired Doric columns, flanked by a library and a dining room. A double staircase leads up to the piano nobile, where there is a long gallery running the full width of the house, which may have been the original entrance hall. Also on the piano nobile is the sitting room with the splendid 18th century plasterwork. Montalto was bought circa 1910 by the 5th Earl of Clanwilliam, whose bride refused to live at Gill Hall, the family seat a few miles to the west, because of the ghosts there. In 1952, the ballroom and a service wing at the back were demolished.”

Montalto House Ballynahinch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Old Photograph © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Porch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Bay Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Mirror © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch © Curtain Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Chinese Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Niche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Montalto House Ballynahinch Ceiling © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Conservatory © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Gable © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Brickwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Windows © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Artwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Carriage Rooms Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Chairs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Books aside, back on the tour, David Wilson considers, “You need to stay on top of your game in business. Montalto House was our family home – we still live on the estate. It’s personal. You have to maintain the vision all the time.” John O’Connell explains, “The baseless Doric columns of the entrance hall draw the exterior in – they are also an external feature of the porch. The order is derived from the Temple of Neptune at Paestum. Due to the ground floor originally being a basement it is very subservient to the grandeur upstairs. There are a lot of structural arches supporting ceilings.” A watercolour of the Temple of Neptune over the entrance hall fireplace emphasises the archaeological connection.

The Stables Montalto Estate Ballynahinch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Upstairs, John’s in mid flow: “And now we enter a corridor of great grace and elegance.” The walls are lined, like all the internal spaces, with fine art, much of it Irish. David points to a Victorian photograph of the house: “It used to be three times as large as it is now!” The house is still pretty large by most people’s standards. Three enigmatic ladies in ankle length dresses guard the entrance door in the photograph. Upstairs, in the Lady’s Sitting Room which is brightly lit by the canted bay window over the porch, David relates, “the plasterwork reflects the original owners’ great interest in flora and fauna”. John highlights “the simple beauty of curtains and walls being the same colour”. Montalto House can be let as a whole for weddings and parties.

The Courtyard Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Pergola © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Onward and sideward – it’s a leisurely walk, at least when a storm isn’t brewing – to The Carriage Rooms. While John has restored Montalto House, finessing its architecture and interiors, The Carriage Rooms is an entirely new building attached to a converted and restored former mill. “In the 1830s the Ker family made a huge agricultural investment in Montalto,” states David. “They had the insight to turn it into a productive estate. The Kers built the mill and stables and powered water to create the lake.” White painted rendered walls distinguish John’s building from the rough stone older block. The Carriage Rooms are tucked in a fold in the landscape and are reached by a completely new avenue lined with plantation trees.

The Courtyard Montalto House Ballynahinch © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I didn’t want to prettify this former industrial building,” records John. “It needed a certain robustness. The doors and windows have Crittall metal frames. Timbers frames would not be forceful enough. The stone cast staircase is a great achievement in engineering terms – and architectural terms too! The new upper floor balcony design was inspired by the architecture of the Naples School of Art. Horseshoe shaped insets soften the otherwise simple balustrade.” In contrast the orangery attached to the rear of The Carriage Rooms is a sophisticated symmetrical affair. “It’s where two worlds meet. This gives great validity to the composition,” John observes. Much of the furniture is bespoke: architect Anna Borodyn from John’s office designed a leaf patterned mobile copper bar. A formal garden lies beyond glazed double doors. The Carriage Rooms can be let as a whole for parties and weddings.

The Courtyard Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Justifiably lower key is the design of The Courtyard, a clachan like cluster of single and double storey buildings containing a café, shop and estate offices. It’s next to the 19th century stable yard. John’s practice partner Colin McCabe was the mastermind behind The Courtyard. Unpainted roughcast walls, casement rather than sash windows, polished concrete floors and most of all large glazed panels framed by functioning sliding shutters lend the complex an altogether different character to The Big House or even The Carriage Rooms. The Courtyard harks back to the Kers’ working estate era. “We wanted to create a sense of place using a magical simple vocabulary,” confirms John, “and not some bogus facsimile”. A catslide roof provides shelter for a barbeque. An unpretentious pergola extends the skeleton of the built form into the garden.

The Courtyard Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Cafe © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We have over 10,000 visitors a month and employ 80 people,” beams David. The 160 hectares of gardens and woodlands have entered their prime. A new timber temple – a John O’Connell creation of course – overlooks the lake. Contemporary neoclassicism is alive and very well. The Beautiful. The Sublime. The Picturesque. As redefined for the 21st century. Montalto Estate hits the high note for cultural tourism in Ireland, even mid storm.

Montalto Estate Ballynahinch Cafe © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Rockport Lodge + Mount Druid Causeway Coast Antrim

A Penchant for the Peculiar

Ballintoy Beach Causeway Coast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are two distinguished Georgian houses along the Causeway Coast with unusual fenestration. Rockport Lodge just beyond Cushendun appears to have missing windows on the canted flanks of its outer bay windows on the south elevation. Mount Druid high above Ballintoy appears to have the middle windows missing in its two bay windows on the north elevation. Forget the wild weather resistance of yore: a modern sensibility would be to capture from all angles such a view sweeping down to the incredibly untouched Ballintoy Harbour. Mount Druid’s mildly idiosyncratic face to the world (the entrance front is actually the more regular five bay south elevation looking into the hill) is austere – an attribute noted by writers as being highly suitable to this bare landscape. White painted walls against the dark hill add to the stark grandeur of Mount Druid. Waves lap up to the white painted walls of Rockport Lodge. It too has a more conventional entrance front, four bays facing westwards inland.

Ballintoy County Antrim © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sir Charles Brett includes both houses in Buildings of County Antrim. On Rockport Lodge, the once Belfast based full time solicitor part time architectural writer records, “According to Boyle, in 1835, the house ‘the summer residence of Major General O’Neill is a modern two storey edifice, and very commodious’. It was valued on 9 August 1834 at £20.13.0 of which £2 was added ‘for vicinity to sea, being a good situation for sea bathing’… soon after the name of General O’Neill was struck out, and that of Matilda Kearns substituted. Her name in turn was struck out in 1868, when Nicholas Crommelin moved here from The Caves, the house being valued then at £38.”

Ballintoy Harbour © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ballintoy Harbour Causeway Coast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rockport Lodge Cushendun © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Five Big Houses of Cushendun is a smaller book written by Sir Charles Brett. It includes Rockport Lodge: “The handsome white painted house, hugging the shoreline, can be dated with some accuracy to 1813. It does not appear on William Martin’s conscientiously detailed map of 1811 to 1812; but Ann Plumptre, who was here in the summer of 1814, wrote that Cushendun ‘is an excellent part of the country for game; on which account Lord O’Neill, the proprietor of Shane’s Castle’ [in fact, his younger brother] ‘has built a little shooting box very near the shore, whither in the season he often comes to shoot’. It stands between Castle Carra and the sea. The south front facing across the broad curve to the village, consists of three canted bays, set in a zigzag under the wide eaves, leaving triangular recesses in between: five 16 pane windows on the ground floor; three more, and two oculi, in the upper floor. The entrance front, of four bays, has wide Georgian glazed windows and a pleasing and unusual geometrical glazing pattern in the recessed porch.”

Rockport Lodge Cushendun Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The entry for Mount Druid in Buildings of County Antrim reads, “A remarkable house, on an extraordinarily prominent (and exposed) hillside, looking out due north across the North Channel to the cliffs of Oa on Islay. The house is of two storeys, on a generous basement, with tiny attic windows in the gables; in principle, seven bays wide, with generous canted bays facing north – but the central face of each bay is blank – as Girvan says, ‘giving a very bleak effect, not inappropriate to the inhospitable position.’ Between the bays, a tall round headed window lights the upper part of the staircase, an oculus above and below. The remaining windows are 15 pane Georgian glazed. There are six chimneypots on each stack; the doorcase in the square porch in the entrance front facing south is modern.”

Mount Druid Ballintoy © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There’s more: “The vestry minute book for the parish contains the following uncommonly useful entry: ‘There was 40 acres granted by Alexander Thomas Stewart Esq of Acton to Reverend Robert Traill and his successors, Rectors of Ballintoy, in perpetuity, for a glebe, in the townland of Magherabuy on the ninth of August 1788. Rent £25.5.0. In May 1789 Mr Traill began to build a Glebe House and got possession of it on the 14th November 1791 – changing the name of the place from Magherabuy to Mount Druid, on account of the Druid’s Temple now standing on the Glebe.’ Unfortunately, despite this wealth of documentation, there is nothing to say what builder, mason, carpenter or architect was involved: no payments appear in the vestry book since Mr Traill evidently paid for the house out of his own pocket.” The similarities between the two houses may not be entirely coincidental. Charlie wondered if  Rockport Lodge could be the work of the same architect or skilled builder as Mount Druid?

Mount Druid Ballintoy Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Bank House + Marine Parade Whitehead Antrim

Unprovincial Province

Antrim Coast Irish Sea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Whitehead is off the main road from somewhere to anywhere. You have to choose to visit the town rather than drive through it. This quality has helped preserve it as an untarnished Victorian and Edwardian enclave. Some of the finest villas line the waveswept Marine Parade looking out over the Irish Sea. Local watercolourist Audrey Kyle was inspired to paint the fruity candy coloured terrace (lemon | lime | peach | blueberry) in the centre of Marine Parade. No wonder: a strong winter’s sunrise drenches the pointy gabled houses in an artist’s dream of deep hues.

Causeway Coast Antrim © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Marine Parade Whitehead Antrim Coast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Whitehead Antrim Outdoor Swimming Pool © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Marine Parade Whitehead Antrim © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Until recently, Whitehead was not synonymous with gastrotourism. That all changed with the opening of The Bank House. You guessed it, a café and deli plus gift shop in a former bank. Owner Sinead Moane lives in the rambling red brick original bank manager’s house next door. “The Bank House is the first stop on Toast to Coast, a guided food tour of the Causeway Coastal route,” she explains over vegetarian brunch.

The Bank House Brunch Whitehead Antrim © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Everything is locally sourced. Providential provenance. “The Orchard Twist apple and blackcurrant juice comes from Armagh,” says Sinead. That’s the county famous for orchards. “The yoghurt is from the Clandeboye Estate. Next is Fivemiletown goat’s cheese.” Traditional soda bread is given a sharp twist with added chilli and pepper. Irish black butter is a less well known delicacy. “It includes brandy and liquorice,” Sinead confirms. The Bank House has transformed Whitehead from a detour to a destination.

The Bank House Whitehead Antrim © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Bushmills + The Doors

Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Bushmills Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Petty Session Court House, built by the Macnaghten family in 1834, a pub and two cottages.

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The Windsors + Frogmore Cottage Windsor

Fit for a Princess

Windsor Park © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Reel life.

Frogmore Cottage Windsor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Carlton Crescent Southampton + Samuel Toomer

The City and the Pillars

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton Architecture © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

What does Pevsner have to say? “The most spectacular piece of Regency development in Southampton… The Crescent starts at London Road and curves northwest, composed in the main of broad three bay three storey stuccoed detached houses linked together by screen walls, mostly sufficiently close to each other for the street, except in a few places, to appear as a piece of unified townscape. The houses vary in detail but are mostly the same in general composition, typical of Southampton with their elements of classical decoration almost without refinements…”

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton Building © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton Townhouse © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A little piece of Brighton gone west; a miniature Regent’s Park flown south. On the cusp of the maritime city’s decline as a spa resort and its rise as a merchant port, riding the crest of this wave, businessman Edward Toomer (1764 to 1852) fortuitously bought land to the southwest of the verdant pearl that is Asylum Green. Even more fortuitously, his son Samuel (1801 to 1842) was an architect. This provincial John Nash was responsible for designing many of the houses on and around Carlton Crescent.

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton Balcony © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The area has a unified appearance, thanks in no small part to being wilfully stuccoed to the nines (except for tile hung flank walls and returns), but was actually developed over two decades beginning in 1825. It is first mentioned in that same year in the Hampshire Chronicle, “Carlton Crescent has this season made its appearance and contains eight handsomely built residences; being detached, these will, when finished, form by far the handsomest line of houses in Southampton.” They still do.

Carlton Crescent Conservation Area Southampton © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Rare Champagne + La Dame de Pic Four Seasons Hotel 10 Trinity Square London

Lotto and Cavagnole and Faro and Lansquenet

Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square Tower Hill London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Writing in Edwardian Architecture, Alastair Service describes the host building and its place in the architectural lexicon: “The commission for the Port of London Authority building was won in a competition of 1912 by Edwin Cooper (1873 to 1942), who had recently started a personal practice after working in a series of partnerships. Cooper’s success in the competition of 1911 for the St Marylebone Town Hall was, however, more significant for the future. Reviewing the entries for the competition, the editor of one architectural magazine wrote, ‘We cannot help asking ourselves whether all these colossal columns, domes, towers, groups of sculpture and other imposing features are felt by their authors to be the only natural and inevitable expression of the necessities of the case.’

Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Such criticism of extravagant building was in harmony with general feeling at the time. And the St Marylebone Town Hall built to Cooper’s designs shows a greatly simplified use of Classicism, emphasising the volumes in Holden’s [architect Charles Holden] way, rather than creating broken Baroque outlines encrusted in sculpture. The mention of Holden’s name is no coincidence. More than anyone else, it was his work that bridged the gap between the attempts at a Free Style and the varieties of Edwardian Classicism.”

Entrance La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The streamlined architecture of Marylebone Town Hall (long deprived of its sainthood), as Alastair Service observes, is more in keeping with a modern sensibility but the bombastic brilliance of Edwin Cooper’s portico is well suited to a Four Seasons flag. It mightn’t have been purpose built, but if those two other bastions of Beaux Arts architecture (The RAC Club and The Ritz) can be beacons of high end hospitality, why not the Port of London Authority building?

Column Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

La Dame de Pic restaurant is at the end of a short corridor off a vast domed rotunda lounge in the heart of the Four Seasons Hotel. It’s Anne-Sophie Pic’s first foray into the UK. She is the world’s most decorated female Michelin starred chef. Her third generation three Michelin star family owned restaurant is in Drôme; she also has restaurants in Lausanne, Paris and Singapore. Anne-Sophie says, “I know there is no feminine or masculine cuisine but my cuisine is very feminine because I put a lot of intuition, my feelings, into it.” Head Chef Luca Piscazzi brings these feelings to fruition.

Statue Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

White truffle – it’s in high season – is flaked over the cheese and mushroom gnocchi starter. Acquerello risotto main course is flavoured with pumpkin, bergamot and Yellow Bourbon coffee. Poached pear infused with sansho and ginger is decorated with argousier honey and beeswax. Each course is an adventurous fusion of taste and an avantgarde work of art. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant had barely opened before it snapped up a Michelin star. A second followed in hot pursuit.

Entrance Hall La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Fresco Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lantern La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Flowers La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Butter La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bread La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mushroom La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chantilly La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square may be quite close to the Tower of London and very close toSamuel Wyatt’s Trinity House but its immediate environs are surprisingly discreet. That doesn’t stop the 80 cover dining room being full on a midweek lunchtime. The interior is all about spare luxury. White walls and a tiled dado under a mirrored strip matching mirrored columns are softened by leather banquettes and a cluster of snugs below a central gigantic Chinese lantern.

Petit Fours La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

La Dame de Pic has joined an exclusive set of shops and restaurants in London stocking Rare Champagne. Nicolas Marzolf of Liberty Wines is the UK and Ireland Brand Manager of Piper-Heidsieck and Rare Champagne. While Piper-Heidsieck Champagne is Pino Noir dominant, Rare Champagne is 30 percent Pinot Noir and 70 percent Chardonnay. “Liberty Wines have a warehouse in Clapham,” he explains, “so an order placed by 3am can have a same day delivery by noon.” Harrods, Hedonism and Selfridges are shops selling Rare Champagne. It’s served in Core by Clare Smyth, Claridge’s, Scott’s and Sexy Fish restaurants.

Rare Champagne La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The two vintages available at La Dame de Pic are Blanc 2006 and Rosé 2008. “These are two very different Rare Champagnes,” notes Nicolas. “The year 2006 was warm – winter was pretty mild and there was a summer heatwave. You can see the fullness of the sun in the ripe fruit taste. The year 2008 was cold which resulted in a very delicate cuvée – graceful and not too full bodied. You always have the same aftertaste in all our Rare vintage: duality of warmth and minerality.”

Rare Champagne © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

He continues, “The noble origin of Rare Champagne dates back to a presentation to Marie Antoinette and expresses its revolutionary spirit against the trivialization of vintages. Over the last four decades, Rare Champagne has declared only 11 vintages. The tiara adorning the precious bottle features the triumphant vine prevailing over the whims of weather. The bottle design, called Pinte Majeure, is asymmetrical as it was originally mouthblown.” Today, the soft curves of the design pay tribute to Marie Antoinette, thelast Queen of France and the first modern icon, renowned for her ability to set new standards.

Nicolas Marzolf and Jan Konetzki La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“This is about more than just drinking Champagne,” relates Nicolas. “We are launching a luxury brand in the UK and Ireland. A luxury lifestyle – the Champagne experience. It’s about having nice glasses, nice places. The luxury way to entertain. And La Dame de Pic is the perfect place to enjoy Rare Champagne!” The celebrated sommelier Jan Konetzki, Director of Wine at Four Seasons, adds, “Rare Champagne is a great partner with La Dame de Pic’s food.”

Rotunda Bar La Dame de Pic Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Shard + Shangri La Hotel London

Curtins Closing

The Shard London View The Barbican © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The last hurrah. Armed with a camera, a lust for life and a lack of vertigo, it’s all about a 26 second ascent to the 34th floor of The Shard, roughly halfway up the UK’s tallest cloudscraper. The vertically ever decreasing floorplates of architect Renzo Piano’s glazed spike mean there’s increasingly a ravishing view from every direction: out, up, down, and of course, voyeuristically from the loos. The framing’s all terribly well conceived. London is all aglow; it’s rainbow’d. “The photographer is supertourist,” writer Susan Sontag believed, and where better to indulge in a spot of supertourism than the Shangri La Hotel in the English capital? Especially an end of epoch party from noon to sunset. Ms Sontag again, “Photographs really are experience captured.” Canapés as photographic art. Well, what isn’t? “Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art.” She’s on a (camera) roll. “Photography is a kind of overstatement, a heroic copulation with the material world.” Click, click, slicing the flow of quixotic times passing. Susan Sontag once scribed, “Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” Some captured endings are as sharp as the tip of The Shard.

The Shard London View St Paul's Cathedral © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Shard London View Thames © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Shard London View Southwark Cathedral © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shangri La Hotel The Shard London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Shard London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shangri La Hotel The Shard London Champagne © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shangri La Hotel The Shard London Canapes © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shangri La Hotel The Shard London Party © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Shangri La Hotel The Shard London Canape © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Mary Martin London + Fashion Fusion Citation of Honour

Just Like That

Mary Martin London Fashion Designer © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It is just an ordinary Wednesday night at Mary Martin’s. Poland’s top model Katie and fellow runway success Yasmin from Sierra Leone and Lebanon are swapping notes and tips and dresses and jewellery. Dring dring. The phone goes. Afrobeats is blasting. Dring dring. It’s Teedum Nke-ee Mr Nigeria on the line. Good news from Ghana. In absentia, Mary has just been awarded the highest recognition in African fashion: the Continent’s Citation of Honour. And? “We admire you for your accomplishments, consistent efforts and contributions to the fashion industry both home and on the international stage. We say AYEEKOOO!”

Posted in Art, Fashion, People | 5 Comments