Haven is a Place on Earth
Middag. To the beautiful south of Churchillplein lie the four inlets of Wijnhaven, Bierhaven, Rederijhaven and Scheepmakershaven. Due west of the latter haven along Leuvehaven is our destination. Seemingly giving up on multisyllabic Dutch mouthfuls, our hotel is simply and logically called Mainport. Inanimate nominative determinism. Top notch natch. This could be Liverpool or Rome, anywhere alone. Except it’s not. It is where it is, overlooking Oude Haven, Rotterdam’s oldest harbour.
Nacht. A civic commitment to the new is adhered to by architects MAS architectuur in this 215 bedroom hotel. All five stars of it. Lowland high life. The windows are massive as they should be, nodding to Dutch tradition and framing such envy inducing vistas and views and perspectives. Owner Karin Geurts has enlisted the help of designer Feran Thomassen to make the interior something to home tweet home about. The bedrooms are all blocks of pattern and enigmatic shadows. Enough monochrome madness to mask afterhours clandestinity.
Ochtend. As we hit contemporary architecture overdrive, overwhelmed by the scale of Rem Koolhaas’s De Rotterdam – Manhattan on the Maas, it’s time for a diversion due further west along the water via Coolhaven to Delfshaven. This intimate remnant of historic Rotterdam, missed by the Luftwaffe, is Dutch fridge magnet heaven. We’ve swapped stilts, pilotis, cantilevers and hangovers overhangs for crow-stepped gables, oversized sashes, canal bridges and – dada! – a windmill. All we need is blonde and beautiful clog clad locals and the cliché is complete. To quote Nicky Haslam as he serenaded the select audience in The Pheasantry Chelsea recently, “This has gone by rather too quickly!” We’re spinning with the stars above.
Holland Days Source
Neither a Monday evening nor (apropos to an Irish shindig) drizzly weather could possibly dampen spirits. Not when it’s a party hosted by the dashing Sir David Davies and the lovely Lindy Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava the artist otherwise known as Lindy Guinness. And it’s probably worth mentioning the setting: the mid Victorian splendour of Lindy’s Holland Park townhouse city mansion.
International banker and businessman Sir David is President of the Irish Georgian Society. In between rescuing companies and country houses, Sir David leads a high profile social life (he counts Christina Onassis among his exes). Like all the greats, he once worked at MEPC. This party is all about the launch of a book on his Irish country house Abbey Leix. And Averys champers served with prawns and pea purée on silver spoons.
Two vast bay windowed reception rooms on the piano nobile of the Marchioness’s five storey house easily accommodate 100 guests. One room is hung with her paintings. Renowned Anglo American fine art specialist Charles Plante is an admirer: “Lindy Guinness brings forth abstraction in painting that mirrors the cubism of Cézanne and Picasso. Her works are irresistible.” It’s hard not to notice the staircase walls are lined with David Hockney drawings. Lucien Freud was Lindy’s brother-in-law and old chums included Francis Bacon and Duncan Grant.
The party’s getting going. Interior designer Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill is admiring the garden. Sir David’s glamorous sister Christine and her son Steffan are chatting in the hall. They’re from Ballybla near Ashford County Wicklow: turns out they’re big fans of Hunter’s Hotel. Writer Robert O’Byrne is talking to designer, artist and collector Alec Cobbe in the drawing room. “I still live in Newbridge House when I’m in Ireland,” confirms Alec. BBC3 Radio broadcaster Sean Rafferty is busy playing down his former illustrious career in Northern Ireland where he’s still a household name. “You must visit my cottage in Donegal.” A party isn’t a party without Nicky Haslam. Perennially topping Best Dressed Lists, the interior designer extraordinaire smiles, “I didn’t realise I was such an icon to you young guys!”
Fresh off the treadmill finishing the definitive guide to Russborough, a mighty tome on another Irish country house, Abbey Leix was erudite architectural historian William Laffan’s next commission. Sir David Davies bought the estate from the Earl of Snowdon’s nephew, Viscount de Vesci, for £3 million in 1995. William’s book celebrates the restoration of the house and its 1,200 acre estate.
“Thank you to Lindy for inviting us to her home,” he announces. “It’s very much a home not a museum. Someone asked me earlier was this my house. I wish it was! The only thing better than a double first is a double Guinness! Lindy is a Guinness by birth and a Guinness by marriage. And thank you to William for all the hard work. I asked him to write 100 pages and three years later he’s written hundreds of pages! The photographs are beautiful but do make sure you all read a bit of William’s great text too!”
The Knight of Glin’s widow Madam Olda Fitzgerald, mother-in-law of the actor Dominic West, is present. Sir David continues, “Desmond Fitzgerald was a great inspiration to me. Bless him, bless the Irish Georgian Society. I feel very honoured to follow in his footsteps as President. There are three other people I wish to thank without whom the restoration of Abbey Leix wouldn’t have been possible. John O’Connell, the greatest conservation architect in Ireland. Val Dillon, the leading light of the antiques trade. John Anderson, former Head Gardener of Mount Usher Gardens and Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park. I had to prise him away from the Royals!”
“Bravo!” toasts the Marchioness. She also owns Clandeboye, a late Georgian country house in Northern Ireland. Its 2,000 acre estate is famous for yoghurt production. The party is a resounding success: the launch is a sell out. A (fine 18th century) table stacked high with copies of William Laffan’s Abbey Leix book at the beginning of the evening is laid bare. Fortunately a few copies are available at Heywood Hill, Peregrine ‘Stoker’ Cavendish 12th Duke of Devonshire’s Mayfair bookshop.
Towers of London
The collection of buildings that make up Guildhall could hardly be more eclectic. The Festival of Britain inspired Members’ Club by Sir Richard Gilbert Scott. The (rare) pseudo gothic Art Gallery also by Sir Richard. The medieval Great Hall with George Dance the Younger’s (rarer) Moghul gothic entrance. Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque St Lawrence Jury Church. The Private Dining Room of the Members’ Club has great views of these low rise buildings against a backdrop of skyscrapers.
Guildhall is his office and – it transpires – his midweek home. Chris Hayward, Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee of the City of London as of 2016 is clearly a busy man. There are more cranes piercing the horizon of the City now than in the 1980s. When the Elizabeth Line opens there’ll be more people, more pressure, more planning applications. “There’s nowhere like this in the world,” he believes. “The City is a major financial centre with medieval streets. It’s the powerhouse of Britain, the heart of economic growth, whatever they say in elections. Do you want to live in Frankfurt? I don’t!”
Chris refers to an extension of the ‘Eastern Cluster’ as the only part of the City suitable for more tall buildings, in order to preserve heritage elsewhere. “We could fill in the gap between the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater. The skyline works. In the Square Mile we can only go up, not out. I’m a strong advocate of clustering.” He acknowledges others’ mistakes of the recent past. “I want the new generation of tall buildings to be more outward looking, more approachable. For example, the ground floor of the Leadenhall Building is very permeable. They should also have world class public spaces in between. I don’t want the City to be the new Manhattan: too many skyscrapers in Manhattan interact poorly at ground level.”
Contrary to most media missives, London’s skyline isn’t changing in a haphazard way. The City has developed a complex viewing model and is undertaking world class wind modelling work. The future isn’t only about offices scraping the sky. “There’s a forgotten area of the City along the riverfront near the Tower of London,” he explains. “It’s pretty awful but I have a vision of an amazing mixed use scheme of tallish – not ultra tall – buildings. It would need a change of planning policy to allow for residential use. I’ve asked my officers to look at it. Hot off the press! That’s your scoop!” Chris is also keen to see retail planning applications coming forward as well. Rumour has it that Selfridges and Harvey Nics would jump at the chance of opening in the City.
No, not that Soho House. Really. There’s life beyond Barcelona, Berlin, Istanbul, Miami, New York and so on and so forth. Just so happens Birmingham’s very own Soho House is a museum not a members’ club. Not any old so so museum though. Soho House Birmingham was designed by two of architecture’s most oh so famous brothers. Wrong again, not the Adam family. Samuel and James Wyatt both revamped this Georgian gem.
Pie in the Sky | The Londond’ry Arms
In the property industry, for every floor you go up, a premium is added. Room with a view with a price tag. Presumably there’s a surcharge in the hospitality industry for a table with a view. The Hilton on Park Lane isn’t a universally beloved feature of London. Even the Queen has complained about its architecture (usually she leaves that to her eldest offspring). One way to guarantee the hotel doesn’t blot your horizon is to eat on the 28th floor. There you can see just about every other landmark from Battersea Power Station to Buckingham Palace (at Her Majesty’s displeasure). We’re looking down on The Lanesborough. We’re looking for Isabel. A frenetic excursion in Gurskyism.
The interior of Galvin at Windows by designer Keith Hobbs (who did up Nobu and Shoreditch House) is unfussy retro luxury: all husky creams and musky greens and dusky greys. A galvianised bronze ceiling sculpture unfurling like a giant Christmas cracker across the ceiling towards the view is the only bow to bling. That, and the chunky golden sculpture in the adjacent bar. More of that shortly. In this most English of settings, Chef Patron Chris Galvin has created seasonally inspired menus focused on modern French haute (no pun) cuisine. Head Chef Joo Won caters for an international audience. All Michelin starred of course(s). We opt for the menu du jour. Chris was, as you may know, the opening head chef of The Wolseley five or six years ago.
With a sense of abandon, we can but only reach for rococo hyperbole, revel in baroque pleasure and roll in art nouvelle cuisine. A radical polychromatic dream of texture and flavour. And that’s just the operatic note striking the end of the afternoon: passion fruit and dark chocolate truffle petit fours. Lady Londond’ry would approve. Mourne Mountains of diced and sliced and spliced squid, celery and seaweed come hither, as crisp as a County Down spring day. More than the title deriving mere pie, a main of vegetable tarte fine, cauliflower purée, roasted mushroom and onion juice is a distinctive essay in deconstructivism. That sculptural disruptor in the bar next door – all circles in metallic squares – transcends spheres as pink (think Diana in Savannah) praline mousse, chocolate ganache and (oh, our favourite!) marzipan ice cream. Sometimes, there’s art in simply eating.
Ok, so we’ve nabbed the best table in Galvin at Windows. Good. What’s the opposite of social Siberia? A bay window practically levitating over Hyde Park. Well, it feels like California till the auto blinds descend and the air con turns up a notch or 12. Actually the three pronged propeller shape of the Hilton, gloriously inefficient to build, does generally afford delicious views (who said the hotel’s architecture was crap?). The Thames is invisible, hidden in a sea of greyness and greenery, a chaotic urban mosaic. Wait a minute! What’s that shimmering reflection? We glimpse a pale sapphire pool cradled between the catslide roof of Montevetro and the witch’s hat roof of Chelsea Harbour Tower. There you go, the Thames reduced to a jewel. And, as it turns out, all for no extra than the table stuck next to the kitchen. It’s Good Friday. The Bishop of Stepney, who promotes the reenchantment of society, says, “Live well | Live life to the full | This life is not the end.”
Over dinner at Ashbrooke House, the very neoclassical dower house of the very neoclassical Colebrooke Park, the notable Fermanagh architect Richard Pierce remarks that, “Of course, William Farrell designed Regency gothic buildings too. St Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Monaghan is an example of his Regency gothic work.” Stylistically versatile, in other words.
Next to the triumphal arch is Colebrooke Park’s principal gatelodge. Kimmitt Dean gives it a mixed review in Gatelodges of Ulster, 1994: ‘In stuccoed brickwork with its fair share of Tuscan pilasters rather a poor relation of the chaste example at Ely Lodge. Single storey building on a T plan, its three bay front elevation dominated by a bow shaped hall projection. With its high ceilings and entablatured parapet concealing a hipped roof, it is truly an ungainly design. All the openings have classical surrounds but inexplicably the front door head does not line up with the rest. To compound an already unworthy design the pair of chimney stacks rise together diagonally in the most incongruous Picturesque manner. These chimneys are located at the junction of the back return and the main block, a favourite ploy of Farrell’s which he first employed in the two lodges for Ely Lodge…’
Stylistically eclectic, in other words. With a bulbous porch bursting forward to enthusiastically greet guests, this microcosmic mansion has a Grecian air save for the jolly Tudorbethan chimneys which met with Emmett’s consternation. Batty and delicious, Colebrooke Park Triumphal Arch Lodge is now an Irish Landmark Trust holiday home. John O’Connell – architect of among many other things the Montalto restoration, The Carriage Rooms and The Wallace Collection – calls it, “A very special holiday let.” And then some. The gatelodges of nearby Ely Lodge might still be there but the main house suffered a rather ignominious fate. It was blown up in 1870 to ensure the 4th Marquess of Ely’s 21st birthday went with a bang (demolition for structural reasons was the alternative less amusing excuse).
Deep Calls Unto Deep
Ship ahoy! All aboard! It was only a matter of thyme (with Botanist Islay gin and lemon wheel) until we joined The Haves and The Have Knots. Sunborn great. Others… actually make ours a mocktail (fresh kiwi, green tea syrup, ginger ale, apple and pineapple juice). On deck. Caesar salad with warm prawns too. Leaving our landlubberliness behind, we’re chillaxing on London’s only docked yacht hotel. Sunborn is bombastically blingtastic as yachts ought to be. Not plain sailing. All that glitters is gold, Franki’s incense and mirror. Busy topping up our tans, this one’s picture heavy and scripture reliant. Make waves. Oceans arise.