Tyrella House and Tyrella Beach

Demands of the Temple of The Sun at Baalbec | Let the Heavens Open | Blockbuster

Tyrella House Sham Fort © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It was always going to be a raucous affair: dinner with Westbourne and Lavender’s Blue intern Annabel P at Il Pirata in Shepherd Market. Boom. Torrential rain merely exhilarated bacchanalian spirits while devouring tapas alfresco. So did an octopusfest of salpicón de marisco and pulpo a la gallega. Shepherd Market is round the block from the Queen’s birthplace in Mayfair. Like Her Maj, it’s close to the madding crowd yet discretely detached. Capital royal discretion continued when the divine Princess Alexandra popped by Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt. Oh, yes. Of course it’s rude to namedrop but the Westminster Property Association lunch with Lord Adonis at the Grosvenor House Hotel was rather fun too. Next, town and country came together in the bumptious dining room of the Garrick Club, recently spruced up by Christopher Vane Percy, over supper with the great Irish philanthropists Martin and Carmel Naughton. Finally, acoustic levels are a little lower dining like lords (bands of ermine at the ready) inside Tyrella House which hugs the south coast of County Down. After the turbulent intensity of autumnal London living and Spanish travelling, a late blossoming of Ulster quietude ensues. Long table à deux please. Calling it the Sandringham of Northern Ireland may stretch the royal metaphor a trifle far. Plus it’s much prettier.

Tyrella House Grounds © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Surprisingly Tyrella House isn’t covered by Burke or Brett. Lavender’s Blue gladly fill the gap, plug the hole, step ointo the breach. Surprising, that is, considering it’s a roomy building of historical, architectural and social significance, twice as deep as it’s wide, lumber rooms uncounted, holding court amidst low lying greenery. First glimpse (through a verdurous vista) from the sweeping driveway past the hillside sham fort (every entrance should have one) is of a squarish main block five bays side on, four bays frontal. A neoclassical beauty; architecture’s acme: Augustus’s vision and Maecenas’s taste and Dostoevsky’s nuances set in stone. The house’s character changes when viewed from the garden. The far side, which will be moonlit later, is elongated by a long lower less imposing wing. This arrangement has adapted well to Tyrella’s 21st century modus operandi. The main block is open to paying guests under the gilded parasol of The Hidden Ireland while the owner, David Corbett, lives to the rear. Another of the group’s seaside properties, almost dipping its toes in the water of Woodstown Bay, is the supremely suave Gaultier Lodge, where the owners live most of the year below the guest rooms in a lower ground floor. “Houses in The Hidden Ireland,” explains David, “must be owner occupied.”

Tyrella House Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Princess Diana famously quipped “three’s a crowd” but clearly squires of 18th century Ulster disagreed. Tripartite windows were all the rage. Their legacy is a series of glazed triptychs framing views of the countryside. And draughts – ménage à froid. The entrance front of Tyrella has pearly twin sets. Fellow Mournes mansion Ballywillwill House likewise has four. Clady House Dunadry has five; Glenganagh House Ballyholme, six; Drumnabreeze House and Grace Hall Magheralin neighbours, eight; Craigmore House Aghagallon, 10; Crevenagh House Omagh, numberless. Tyrella’s windows are even more special, stretching head to toe, and like Montalto’s, skirt the driveway. Standing in the regal dining room is like “Hardwick Hall more windows than wall”. Soon, silverware will sparkle in the candlelight. Pictures and conversations will merge. Sitting in the princely drawing room is like being immersed in Elizabeth Bowen’s description of her home, “The few large living rooms at Bowen’s Court are, thus, a curious paradox – a great part of their walls being window glass, they are charged with the light, smell and colour of the prevailing weather; at the same time they are very indoors, urbane, hypnotic, not easily left.” Lying on the queen size bed as the internal pale transitory colours of the hour fade, dreams past and future are present. Outside, framed by the curved sashes of the half oriel window, across silent lawns, the tamed headland lies submerged in shadow, the ridge of the Mournes melting into silver drifts of cloud alight with gold, lilac, mauve and pink lining.

Tyrella House Entrance View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The original architect isn’t known but whoever he was, the outcome is a meeting of métier and form, augmented and mellowed through the ages. According to illustrious architect John O’Connell, “This is a very accomplished Georgian box, as they used to say.” Architectural aficionado Nick Sheaff reckons it is “an incredibly elegant country house, and in some ways it reminds me of James Gandon’s Abbeville”. Better known as Charlie Haughey’s old gaf. Charles Plante, the celebrated director of Charles Plante Fine Arts, says, “I love the front dripping with ivy and the chic Regency bow window.” Three arched openings – a window on either side of the entrance door, are framed by a slim Doric portico celebrating the triglyph’s verticality, the architrave’s horizontality and the proportional totality of the order. Not dissimilar really to the central arrangement of Clandeboye’s garden front. “It’s Tuscan Doric,” confirms Country Life contributor Dr Roderick O’Donnell. “Tuscan is rural, countrified, perfectly correct for this type of house. The window proportions are dictated by the portico. That’s particularly attractive.” A stained glass window of the Craig family crest in the study is a leftover from previous owners. Notable family members included the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Sir James “Not an Inch” Craig (1st Viscount Craigavon) and his architect and yacht designer brother Vincent who combined both his skills at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club Ballyholme. The 3rd and last Viscount, Janric Craig, born in 1944, sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. A retired accountant, he has a handy flat on Little Smith Street, Westminster.

Tyrella House Garden View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Vincent clearly employed his skills closer to home as well. At home. Tyrella features his signature idiosyncratic fenestration. No fewer than four oeils de boeuf grace the garden front. Charles Plante reckons, “The garden front is charming. The bull’s eye window in the gable is really special.” Most extraordinary of all, amidst the blaze of Arts and Crafts stained glass, is the first floor upper casement window which projects at an acute angle to appear permanently ajar. Zany stuff. “Vincent more than likely introduced the ceiling beams and light fitting to the hall,” suggests David. “And he designed the hall fireplace. It’s very Malone Roadsy!” This airy space is painted a deep ochre which Charles Plante calls “John Fowler orange”. Upstairs Free Style panelling looks suspiciously Vincentian. A bit of Cadogan Park here, a bit of Deramore Park there. So does the recently reinstated conservatory. “The conservatory is actually almost entirely new except for the brickwork. It took three years to recreate. The pale green paint inside is the original colour.” Maybe Tyrella House isn’t quite the chunk of Georgiana it first appears to be. “The middle bit behind the new Regency addition,” he explains, “is William and Mary.” The house used to be even bigger. “My father demolished about a third of the house – the cream room, jam room, butler’s pantry, the dark kitchen and so on.”

Tyrella House Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella was the seat of Reverend George Hamilton and his wife Ann Matilda (daughter of the 5th Earl of Macclesfield) at the close of the 18th century. Rural legend has it that the Reverend used the stones from the old local church to rebuild the house in 1800. Arthur Hill Montgomery bought the estate in 1831 aged 36. Six years later, Samuel Lewis records in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, “Tyrella House, the handsome residence of A H Montgomery Esq, is beautifully situated in a richly planted demesne of 300 acres, commanding extensive views over the bay, with the noble range of the Mourne Mountains in the background, and containing within its limits the size and cemetery of the ancient parish church.” Arthur was the fourth son of Hugh Montgomery of Greyabbey House down the road. Bill Montgomery, a great-great-something-great-grandson of Hugh, still resides at Greyabbey with his wife Daphne. Their daughter is the actress Flora Montgomery who’s married to the owner of 1 Lombard Street restaurant. “I hate to disappoint you,” David says on the subject of ghosts. “All the people have sold the house and went on to do something else. Spent money on it, changed hands. I don’t miss ghosts, wouldn’t want one.”

Tyrella House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s time for that dinner in the spirit free dining room. Plat du jour du nuit. Such joy. A love song to Northern Irish cuisine. Spinach and ricotta tartlet | stuffed sea bream | mascarpone, raspberry and lemon tart. Fitzrovia’s Pescatoria relocated. Best seafood since the roast fillet of curried cod with oyster mushrooms and herb butter sauce at the O+C. Or the sous vide salmon cooked by Paolo Pettenuzzo at the C P Hart party. The diver scallop crudo, cucumber, black radish, jalapeño and lime ice at the London Edition Berners Tavern springs to mind. Or even the creamed cheese and smoked salmon Westbourne breakfast with Natalie Elphicke OBE. Chatting about Conservative housing policy, Chief Exec of the Housing Finance Institute Natalie summed it up as, “Something old, something new, something borrowed – Lord Adonis, who’s turned blue.” Stop! Tangent alert! What’s the story? Oh, Renideo Pinot Grigio 2009 and St Jean Pays D’Oc 2012 over dinner at Tyrella House. The dining experience isn’t always this peaceful according to David. When Country Life visited in 1996, dinner was interrupted by ebullient bovine neighbours nosily emerging from between the rhododendrons. Country Life published “during dinner a herd escaped and raped the garden like a Mongol horde”. David smiles, “Overweight marauding rogue cattle licking the dining room windows wasn’t the look we were going for at all!” At least Country Life did also mention the flourishing polo school at Tyrella.

Tyrella House Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Conservatory © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Nursery Wing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Twin Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Double Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Tea Set © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Strand © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach Mournes © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach Newcastle © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Descendants of the last owners, the Robert Neill and Sons Ltd dynasty, recall early 20th century life at Tyrella, in a Lavender’s Blue exclusive. Coline Grover says, “I lived in the house with my grandparents, and relatives various, from 1940 until they sold it in 1949, and moved with them to Old Forge House in Malone, south Belfast. Tyrella House was wonderful with a swing house underneath the nursery wing. It was incorporated into the property and had two marks on the ceiling where if you went high enough your feet touched the ceiling! And there was a rock garden with a two storey playhouse called Spider House.” Coline’s cousin-in-law Ian Elliott adds, “The Georgian house had a boudoir and some lovely Arts and Crafts additions – and that fabulous view to the Mournes. It was bought by the Neill family – brothers Jack, Samuel and William – as part of their businesses (coal, construction, farming etc) in the 1920s after the 1st World War. They already owned East Downshire Fuels in Dundrum as well as Neill’s Coal in Bangor, Kingsberry Coal and Bloomfield Farm (where the shopping centre is now). The family circle elected Billy Neill to live and farm there with his wife Vera. She was formerly Phelps from Kent, a direct descendant of Jane Lane who helped Charles II escape from the Battle of Worcester in the 1640s. They raised their three children (including Berry) there. The Corbetts (whiskey distillers from Banbridge) have owned it since 1949.” Coline’s brother Guthrie Barrett concurs that “Billy Neill sold Tyrella in 1949”.

Tyrella Beach Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I haven’t been back to Tyrella House since 1949,” says nonagenarian Beresford Neill, otherwise known as Uncle Berry. He lives in Malone now. “A most wonderful childhood. Absolutely beautiful. Tyrella was completely and utterly the back of beyond. For goodness sake, it was completely feudal. There were no neighbours. We had our own entrance into the church next door and our own pew.” Berry’s on a roll: “My father got married in February 1917. He bought the estate: 300 acres; a 3.5 acre walled garden; 48 rooms.” Althorp has 90 rooms. Although what constitutes a room is a moot point. Lumber rooms, anyone? “There was no electricity. In 1906 a gas heating machine was installed. It had huge pipes and a great big cage in the kitchen. There was no telephone until 1933. How mama coped I don’t know. We’d a cook, housemaid and three gardeners. There were three bathrooms – one for staff, two for the family. We always had dogs – mostly Labradors. There was a large wood to the side of the house and a rock garden. The rocks were transported in 1890 from Scrabo to Tullymurry by train, then by horse and cart. It was a tremendous effort!”

Mountains of Mourne Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Berry reminisces, “In 1944 I enlisted as a private soldier in the Rifle Brigade. It’s now called the Rifles. It was a very swish regiment. After the War I got transferred to Ballykinler Camp. I spent the whole of 1946 there. I’d a marvellous time! I could walk over the fields from Tyrella to Ballykinler in 10 minutes.” Life wasn’t uneventful, even at isolated Tyrella. “We had the most enormous beech tree but a storm split it down the middle. It was sawn up by a gardener of course but a stump remained. One quiet Sunday afternoon I decided to blow up the remains of the tree. I thought I was the last word in explosives! I got seven anti-tank mines, made a fuse, and set them off. Bang! The birds stopped singing. Silence. Then… tinkle tinkle. The windows shattered. Sheer bloody stupidity! I should’ve opened the windows first!”

Tyrella House View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We don’t usually open to paying guests in November,” signs David, due to ignorant comments about temperature levels inside the house midwinter. Some people really don’t get it, do they? First of all, welcome to Northern Ireland. The clue is in the first part of the Province’s name. Mind you, Huntington Castle in the south of Ireland suffers from the same issue. Secondly, if you want over-insulated overheated rooms check into a hotel. Don’t stay in an Irish country house. They don’t do double glazing or underfloor heating. But they do have lashings of character, history and art; uncompromised aesthetics; and endlessly entertaining hosts. What about open fires in marble surrounds? De rigeur. Like those other majestic Hidden Ireland gems, Hilton Park and Temple House, heavy curtains and concertina shutters in Tyrella’s guest bedrooms put to sleep any worries of chilly discomfort. A newly installed biomass boiler also helps. “I’ve still kept the 1906 boiler with its original instruction manual. It’s beautiful – like a beast of a furnace on the Titanic.”

Tyrella House Spider House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

And bags at dawn. Peering over the bedroom landing, the oval staircase resembles a gargantuan pencil sharpening, a bannister bordered carpeted curlicue, a variation on the Fibonacci spiral. Downstairs, breakfast is laid out country house style – buffet on the sideboard. “I do recommend Lindy Dufferin’s Greek Style Yoghurt,” says David. Distinguished historian Dr Frances Sands announced recently at 20 St James’s Square: “Breakfast was the only meal of the day you served yourself. That’s why there is side furniture in the breakfast room. If there is no separate breakfast room, really then the dining room should be referred to as the eating room. There was a huge fear of odour in Georgian times. The eating room would’ve had no curtains, carpet or silk wall hangings. Seating would’ve been leather.” The dining room or should it be eating room was once the billiard room according to the host of Tyrella House.

Tyrella House Sea Bream © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It is impossible to leave Tyrella without mentioning the beach. The Mountains of Mourne thrillingly tower over miles of unspoiled golden strand between Clough and Killough (interchangeable townlets after a G+T). “It is no secret that Northern Ireland is home to some of the world’s greatest writers,” brags the local tourist board, “Lavender’s Blue, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Louis MacNeice and of course, C S Lewis.” This part of County Down was C S Lewis’s childhood holiday destination and provided literary fodder for Narnia: “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards, which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge.” Coline Grover concludes, “Tyrella Beach never changes of course.”

Tyrella House Dinner © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Credits Guthrie Barrett, David Corbett, Ian Elliott, Coline Grover, Berry Neill

Tyrella House Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Lucinda Mudge + Take What You Want

Art Attack

Lucinda Mudge Contemporary South African Artist @ Lavender's Blue

“It’s such a lovely part of the world,” says the artist Lucinda Mudge over a long lunch in the Guggenheim Bilbao where she’s now exhibiting. “We live in a natural dune forest in Keurboomstrand outside Plettenberg Bay. We designed and built our own house. We are surrounded by trees and dense indigenous bush. It is an extremely attractive place to live.” That’s the beautiful side of living in rural South Africa. But there’s a darker, more sinister side. “When my husband is abroad working, and it’s just me and the children, I’m aware of how isolated we are and how susceptible to burglary or violent crime. I go through this checklist before I go to bed: lock the doors, turn on my walkie talkie as there’s poor cell reception, keep the landline near the bed, and so on.”

Beams.On. © Lucinda Mudge @ Lavender's Blue

This dichotomy directly translates into Lucinda’s art. Take ‘Doors.Locked’, one of 26 ceramic vases from her show ‘The White Tiger and Other Stories’ at Knysna Art Gallery. On one side it’s a beautiful black and gold object “decorated with the sort of thing a magpie would collect”. She laughs, “I make glitzy vases. They’re quite bling!” But the other side menacingly has her security checklist inscribed into the clay and painted with a honey glaze. ‘I Will Kill You And Then I Will Eat You’ reads another piece. “I incorporate headlines and quotes from local news stories into my vases.” She sees what she hears. She makes what she sees. Duality of experience. “I like playing off the two.” Beauty | Ugliness. Reticence | Confrontation. Abstract | Message.

Like all the best ideas, Lavender’s Blue for one, the inspiration for Ms Mudge’s vases has roots in Battersea, south London. “My husband and I moved to London straight after getting married in South Africa,” she relates. “I managed to secure a contract as a photographer to Ralph Lauren and I worked for him on a freelance basis for the four years we lived in Battersea. I joined an evening class in pottery – next door to Edmund de Waal but I never met him – and it was there that I learned about using slip as a means to decorate.” Lucinda had previously studied fine art at the University of Cape Town.

“I was not exhibiting in London,” Lucinda recalls. “In retrospect I can see I was internalising a lot, and absorbing a wealth of information. My time in London helped me to see more clearly when we returned to live in South Africa again. I saw inequality in a new and ugly way. I think that when one lives in a country where generally speaking people are pretty well looked after, such as the UK, it is hard to conceive the reality of the lives of underprivileged people elsewhere in the world.” Aut Visum Aut Non.

Lucinda Mudge You Had It Coming © Lucinda Mudge @ Lavender's Blue

No doubt her vase ‘If I Ever Had to Run For My Life I Would Probably Die’ has a story to tell. Hard hitting stuff, yes, but much of it’s delivered with humour. Her piece ‘How Glorious To Be Filthy Stinking Rich’ features a middle finger provocatively pointing upwards. There’s an underlying satire – jokes with a jag. As lunch draws to a close late afternoon, Lucinda confides she did experience the dreaded home invasion only recently. “I was upstairs when I heard someone prowling around below inside the house. Filled with trepidation, I ran to the top of the stairs and came face to face with the intruder. It was a baboon! They’re scared of male humans but not females, so I growled in a deep voice and did my best male impression!” The baboon, a beautiful but potentially dangerous creature, fled. Life in Keurboomstrand continues for the artist Lucinda Mudge, ever vigilant, ever observing, ever commenting through her rather wonderful art.

I Told You Not To Call Me Baby! © Lucinda Mudge @ Lavender's Blue

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Bilbao + The Hermitage

Winter Refuge

Bilbao Hermitage © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No, not that Hermitage.

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao + Making Africa A Continent of Contemporary Design

Seeing is Believing

Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bilbao. The museum with a city attached. And what a museum! The moated mountain of metal that is the Guggenheim. Looking (hyphen optional) shipshape. It’s approached by foot along Abandoibarra (the riverside walk) under Louise Bourgeois’s arachnid sculpture Maman that resembles for all the world – Starck on steroids – an inflated Juicy Salif Lemon Squeezer. Art or design?

Bilbao Basque Country © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

While the museum’s regenerating ‘effect’, a left bank titanium quarter, inspired a rash of grimly unsuccessful cultural projects (nobody mention Sheffield’s National Centre for Popular Music), imitators failed to register the added ingredients to Bilbao’s mix. Not one but a multiplicity of super-architect projects (Calatrava, Foster, Hadid, StarckStern plus Isozaki’s two fingered 22 storey cloud bothering salute), a 15th century historic quarter, dramatic scenery, sunshine (mostly), great cuisine and good looking locals all complement the world’s most photographed museum. It’s hard to disagree with Victor Hugo, “Everyone who has visited the Basque Country longs to return; it is a blessed land.”

Isozaki Gate Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design’ is the latest exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao. It’s curated by Petra Joos at the Guggenheim and Amelie Klein of Vitra Design Museum. The exhibition seeks to illustrate how design is steering change in Africa and presents the main protagonists of this new design epoch. Its context is globalisation through technology, especially the internet. “A part of this development is a new and open understanding of what design is,” explains Mateo Kries, Director of Vitra Design Museum. “It’s no longer limited to the creation of furniture, products, typography or fashion, but is very closely interwoven with the fields of photography, art, architecture and even urbanism.” He believes while this change is happening around the world today, it most clearly manifests itself in Africa.

View from Guggenheim Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mateo’s counterpart Juan Ignacio Vidarte at the Guggenheim concurs, “It is in the intersection of innumerable creative fields… that design holds a position as the focal point for multidisciplinary work. ‘Making Africa’ successfully portrays the image of a continent that is beginning to move at this very moment.” ‘C-Stunners, 2012’, eyewear sculptures by the Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru in the show’s Prologue section, are a metaphor for what’s to come. Who’s examining who? “We’re mutually examining ourselves,” responds Amelie. “The exhibition isn’t a totalising vision. Rather, a supplementary vision. Not an exhaustive dialogue – a starting point for our thoughts. One possible way, another way, of looking at the continent.” The exhibition cleverly conveys the diversity and complexity of Africa. After all, this is a landmass with a population of one billion.

Barceló Bilbao Nervión © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Skyline © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Guggenheim Bilbao Atrium © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Guggenheim Bilbao Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

C-Stunners 2012 by Cyrus Kabiru © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lucinda Mudge_edited-1

Western misconceptions are diminished. Laughter replaces misery. “Something I got obsessed with is people dancing to Pharrell William’s video ‘Happy’!” smiles Amelie. “I really watched those videos, I dunno, for nights and nights in a row! There are dozens from Africa. Yet in our Westernised minds the continent is always struggling.” She selected the work of young South African photographer Jody Brand which depicts not only African street style but party life and in doing so, reflects a changing society. Jody’s images show there’s much more than struggle to Africa.

Scary Beautiful 2012 by Leanie van der Vyver © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Like Mateo, Amelie believes “the continent is at the forefront of global technological change”. She continues, “Modernism was the result of change in Europe 100 years ago. What will we see coming out of this change?” The politics of representation are never far away. Who’s allowed to speak about Africa? The curators engaged in an intense three year long preparation to qualify. Their exhibition includes 75 recorded interviews with artists and designers. “In reality of course,” concedes Amelie, “there are millions and billions of different Africas. How can we speak about one Africa? From Cairo to Cape Town, there’s a lot in that!”

Guggenheim Bilbao Exhibition © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘Making Africa’ attempts to answer many questions but the curators want visitors to go away asking new questions. And preferably seeing Africa in a new way or ways. “You will see art in this design show,” warns Amelie, “but I’ve used every single piece to make comment on design. That’s the thread that keeps everything together. I can make an argument for every single object on a key design issue.” One such issue is social and political commentary. Leanie van der Vyver’s ‘Scary Beautiful, 2012’ is a design statement – or is it art? – on cruelty in women’s fashion. Think ribcage crushing corsets or neck elongating braces. Leanie worked with shoe designer René van der Berg to create a pair of impossibly tall reversed high heels. Despite limiting the wearer’s mobility and controlling her silhouette to the extreme, the shoes are actually wearable. Seguing her fashion interest into design work, Leanie asks the viewer to look anew at (not so) everyday apparel and what it represents.

Making Africa © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The 120 contributing young makers and thinkers are a savvy and politically astute lot. They are a critical generation not afraid to speak out, freer, perhaps, of the burden of colonialism. ‘Making Africa’ doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the continent. South African artist Lucinda Mudge isn’t one to pull punches. Her hard hitting vases display home truths. “I use headlines from local crime story reports,” she says. ‘I Will Kill You and Then I Will Eat You’ is emblazoned on the side of one of her vases. The other side, slogan free, is beautifully decorated in gold. Violence and beauty. One artist, duality of voice. Nothing is simply black or white. It’s a comment on not looking, on looking the other way. There’s more than one way to view a situation, a design, an artwork, she’s saying. And a continent.

Making Africa Guggenheim Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Basque Country is famous for its nationalistic stance, but hosting ‘Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design’ demonstrates its global outlook. The exhibition explores what’s beyond modernism, while liberating visitors from Western myopia. Africa. The continent with a vision attached.

Guggenheim Bilbao Making Africa Artists © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley


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Bilbao + Night

Earlybird Specials | Imagine Dragons

Bilbao Udaletxeko Zubia By Night © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Twilight’s gone. While the city sleeps, we explore its streets like curious cats. The reflection of golden illumination from street lamps relieves the velvety darkness of the River Nervión. We prowl riverside along Paseo de Uribitart. Ascending Villarías Kalea, shop windows display goods but nobody’s browsing. On the far side of the river, in the mediaeval Casco Viejo, the scent of bread escapes from bakeries. The bells of the Cathedral of Santiago don’t peal. We slink past the Dog’s Fountain on Txakur Kalea. A lone jogger runs by. Dawn’s begun.

Bilbao Statue By Night © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bilbao Shop By Night © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bilbao Ayuntamiento de Bilbao Oficina de Información General By Night © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Bilbao Dog Fountain By Night © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Bilbao + Winter Gardens

Reinventing the Past | Gogglebox | People in Class Houses

WInter Gardens Bilbao Style © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

They’re flavour of the year with London planning authorities. Developers take heed! Winter gardens. That is, inset or projecting balconies encased by glass openings that offer users the chance to enjoy them all year round. Quite so. Bilbao, needless to say, does them best.

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Bistró Bilbao Guggenheim + Vitra Design Museum Curator Amelie Klein

Design Heart

River Nervión Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The view is distracting – locals basking in the sun along the River Nervión. Where are we? Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. The food is even more distracting – Michelin star quality Basque gastronomic delights. Round the coast, San Sebastián boasts more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere outside the 94 departments. But Amelie Klein in full throttle is a major distraction. Design. Boom. Her favourite subject. Well it should be. She’s curator of the Vitra Design Museum. A buslady’s holiday it is, then. On sensory overtime, we’re all ears. But first the lunch at the Guggenheim:

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Restaurant View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Cocktail aperitif (Coctel aperitivo)
  • Vegetables, sautéed potatoes and greenbeam cream (Verduras, patatitas salteadas y crema de vainas)
  • Baby squid on crunchy noodles, red onion and green pepper (Chipirón, sobre fideuá crujiente, cebolla roja y pimiento verde)
  • Raspberry ice cream, citrus fruit yoghurt and crispy stones (Helado de frambuesa, yogur de cítricos y peidras crocantes)
  • Homemade bread, coffee and petit fours (Pan artesano café y petit fours)
  • Red wine (Tres Ducacdos DO Rioja)
  • White wine (Viña 65 DO Rueda)
  • Mineral water (Agua mineral)

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Talking of distractions, Parisian songstress Taali M bursts into song. “I’m gonna stand on the shoulders of giants.” Where were we? Ah yes, the food. All sublime – except perhaps we’ll skip on the vinegar tinged nougat canapés next time. “We have to rethink what design is,” Amelie informs us. “It’s important for design to take responsibility for society, for people, and not for the market. Is it art? Is it design? I don’t care! Design and art should be making bold statements about the future. Where do I come from? Where am I going? Who am I? If artists don’t make bold statements, if not them, who? Otherwise we will be stuck where we are. Period.” Taali M: “Stand tall and rise above it all.”

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Restaurant Squid © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Amelie keeps going, “Design is more than chairs! It’s analogue and dialogue. We must speak about communication, systems, complexity – design is more than just objects. Critical design enhances change as it could or should be in the 21st century.” We agree modernism has gone. What awaits? Existential concerns aside, it’s 25 degrees outside. Hot, distractingly so, even in Spain, for late autumn. Where will we go? “Stand tall so tall I’ll be tall,” ends statuesque six foot beauty Taali M to applause.

Parisian Singer Taali M © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Bilbao + Santiago Calatrava

Basque in Sunshine

Bilbao Airport by Santiago Calatrava © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ongietorri. To be frank, it’s all Gehry’s fault really. He’s to blame. One evening we’re in Sexy Fish admiring his crocodiles, the next we’re in the No.1 Lounge at Gatwick North Terminal. Off to see the superarchitect’s museum and then some. Bilbao bound for a solstice centred sunny sabbatical. Chocs away. Lavender’s Blue has gone green, white and red. Gero arte.

Bilbao Airport © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Scott’s Restaurant + Sexy Fish Mayfair

The Way We Live Now

Sexy Fish Restaurant Menu and Doorman © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The only thing better than octopus, squid and creamed spinach at Scott’s is octopus, squid and creamed spinach at Scott’s followed by matcha and ginger marble cake at Sexy Fish. Oh yes, that essential October invite to Sexy Fish. The restaurant with the name(s) attached. Nobu meets Chiltern Firehouse. So hip it hurts. Owner Richard Caring reputedly forked out £30 million on the Martin Brudnizki designed interior. Shell and hardcore. Newport Street Gallery meets Bilbao-on-sea. Damian Hirst mermaids; Frank Gehry crocodiles. Sexy Fish. Names, names. Trinny, Saatchi, Tatler, dining on an Esmeralda onyx floor under Vanity Fair’s style editor-at-large Michael Roberts’ seaweedy ceiling. Everyone Everything is larger than life. Restaurant as nightclub. Kitchen as theatre. Loo as black marble mirrored narcissist-friendly sanctuary. Model staff | model guests | model behaviour. Mostly. This is Lavender’s Blue.

Sexy Fish Restaurant Mayfair © Mark Brumell @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Irish Georgian Society + 20 St James’s Square Westminster

Adam Fine House

20 St Jame's Square Apse © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s a bit like painting a Siamese twin onto the Mona Lisa. And plonking a hat on her head. That’s what happened in architectural terms more or less (mostly more) at St James’s Square off Pall Mall. Number 20, Robert Adam’s 1770s townhouse was duplicated side on (throwing in an extra middle bay between the two for good measure) and heightened by an attic storey plus mansard thanks to Mewès and Davis in 1936. It looks like the three bay three storey original façade has taken steroids to become a seven bay five storey palazzo. Two faces in Portland stone, both beautiful, one a grisaille. Number 20 is currently a double page thrill in Country Life, sexy images of Adam interiors splashed across a centrefold. Its four bay doppelgänger, Number 21, is 20th century offices. The Irish Georgian Society London Chapter gets a privileged evening sneak peak of 20 St James’s Square before it changes hands.

20 St Jame's Square Overdoor © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor of the Adam Drawings Project at Sir John Soane’s Museum, leads the tour with added artistic insight by Irish Georgian Nick Sheaff. Fran arrives armed with copies of a few of the 8,000 Adam drawings under her management. “It’s very unusual for an Adam townhouse to have been built from scratch,” she says, holding court on the steps. “It was difficult to obtain a plot. This one is generously long and wide for London.” Following the unravelling of an entail – very Downton Abbey – the alliterative Sir Watkins Williams Wynn got his way. He promptly demolished the existing building and employed “the greatest architect of the day”. Fran highlights that “the house hasn’t changed much since the Adam engraving in the Soane. Number 21 is a whole different story…”

20 St Jame's Square Overmantel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We’re going to move around as if we’re guests of Sir Watkins,” Fran announces. Invisible sedan chairs pull up and we’re off. “Every single square inch of the entrance hall is Adam. His hallways should be cool, masculine, stone. Strong colours are Victorian. This scheme is calm, demure, authentic.” Holding court on the stairs, Nick tells us the baronet’s salary was £27,000 a year. Not bad. No wonder he was able to splash out on the “grandest staircase in any London townhouse” according to Fran. “Let’s progress as guests into the first of three first floor reception rooms.” We’re in the ante room: “a rather nice space articulated by resonances of Wedgwood’s jasperware”.

We’re lead through the ante room into the first drawing room but there’s a technical hitch. No lights. The Irish Georgians’ 21st century solution – waving mobile phone torches – allows the Adam splendour to be viewed surprisingly authentically. “This is where we will dance, talk and play cards!” Pointing to the wide shallow chimneypiece in the flickering light, Fran observes “this is deeply reminiscent of the work of Piranesi”. The period gloom soon wears thin. “We’ve languished in the dark quite long enough.” The double doors of the second drawing room are thrown back. “Adam’s interior becomes more and more elegant building to a crescendo at the back of the house!” she exclaims. “The second drawing room is fairly bling – the gilding is later. Aren’t the painted door panels rather wonderful? All this decoration would’ve been ruinously expensive!”

20 St Jame's Square Cove © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The ceiling design makes the barrel vault appear heavier,” she remarks. “It alludes to Kenwood’s great library but the barrel vault and apses there are much more depressed. It is a huge misconception that Adam always designed carpets to match his ceilings. There’s often a resonance in the geometry but they generally don’t copy each other.” Great windows closed to the south. “Adam’s rebuilt screen is rather wonderful,” Fran observes, holding court over the yard. “Now we’re going to have an intimate reception in Lady Williams Wynn’s dressing room off the second drawing room. We are very close friends of her ladyship.” This mesmerisingly imaginative tour continues with a health warning about the repro work to the rear of Number 20: “Feel the jar as you step from original Adam to Adam style.” After all this first floor socialising, Dr Sands will lead us downstairs to the eating room and afterwards we will be serenaded by silent harps in the music room.

20 St Jame's Square Serlian Opening © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Interior mood shots: 1/60, F14, 10,000 ISO
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