Adventures in The Urban Jungle + C P Hart Bathrooms

Underneath the Arches

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Lights! Models! Guest list! There’s a clash of fabulous invites but we’ll always have Home House. Bathroom showrooms are the new members’ clubs when it comes to fun times. We’re off to the opening of a door. Albeit a rather fine bathroom cabinet door. This is, after all, C P Hart. And we’re all for doing our bit for the environment. The party is Adventures in the Urban Jungle: The Bathroom Transformed. Very green. Disruptor alert.

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The C P Hart showroom is enough to make Flanagan and Allen burst into song: “Underneath the arches | We dream our dreams away | Underneath the arches | On cobblestones we lay.” This cavernous store fills a run rabbit run warren of railway arches south of Waterloo. Oh no, time for another Flanagan and Allen rendition: “Anytime you’re Lambeth way | Any evening, any day | You’ll find us all doin’ the Lambeth walk.”

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The brick vaults and hanging lightbulbs are as deconstructed as Kuskus Foods’ root vegetables served in Thurlby Baston baskets. Who needs to dine at The Ritz or The Carlton when you can balance on a bath or sit on a cistern eating Joy of Taste’s crabsticks and caviar? New room set: House of Hackney’s leafy Palmeral wallpaper is the perfect backdrop to designer Christian Sieger’s characterful Dornbracht brassware. The Urban Jungle is all about celebrating light, air and greenery in urban living. Colourful tribalism in; white minimalism out. “Maybe it’s because we’re Londoners…”

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Gerard Brooks + Christ Church Spitalfields Organ

Building Bridge’s

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There must be weirder ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than stuck inside a church organ, but there can’t be many. Balancing on planks between 2,000 precious pipes was a catwalk cakewalk compared to hanging off nave-top ladders to get a decent shot of the crown and mitres. This organ’s a massive two storey structure. Lavender’s Blue commissions have ranged from supermodels to super models, redaction to red action, beds to dog beds, but never capturing images of the innards and outtards of one of the finest Baroque church organs in England. All at the behest of one of the most distinguished organists in England. It was a first.

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After a half century silence and a £1 million restoration, the organ is back in tune. International concert organist Gerard Brooks, Organ Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Director of Music at Methodist Central Hall Westminster and Curator Organist at Christ Church Spitalfields, related, “Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, the 18th century organ originally built by Richard Bridge was magnificently restored by William Drake.” Richard Bridge was the greatest organ builder of Georgian England. Handel played the instrument when visiting friends in the neighbourhood.

An inaugural performance was held to mark the launch of a double CD with a wonderfully illustrated sleeve. Yes, that photography session. A Giant Reborn features Gerard Brooks playing Baroque music by the likes of Purcell, Prelleur, Stanley and of course Handel. Introducing the evening, Reverend Andy Rider declared, “Christ Church is the best place to be in London before Christmas! This is a very special night in lots and lots of ways. It is the first recording of the Richard Bridge Organ in 300 years.”

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“When it was completed in 1735 it was the largest organ in the country. It is now the largest surviving Georgian organ in existence,” explained Gerard. “This organ is made for music as envisaged by composers of that period – there are relatively few like it. You are hearing what 18th century ears would have heard. The keyboard goes down to Bottom G so music written in the lower register can be played. Prelleur was the first organist of this church. Handel knew Richard Bridge and spoke very highly of him.”

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Mount Stewart Greyabbey + Lady Rose Lauritzen

Long Shadows Cross the Lawn

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Not many country houses are closely associated with their female lineage. Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, County Down, is an exception. The last two centuries have been dominated by the ladies of the manor. First there was the triple barrelled Lady Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart; then her high flying daughter Lady Mairi Bury; and now her glamorous granddaughter Lady Rose Lauritzen. National Trust owned for the last two generations, the house and garden have been relaunched with an all guns blazing £8.5 million restoration under the watchful eye of Lady Rose. Now spending six months a year at Mount Stewart, her ladyship reveals,

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“I came here when I was a week old ‘cause I was born in London in the middle of The Blitz and then came over with a nanny on the boat a week later ‘cause everyone was then working in London. My mother had been driving ambulances and then I came back here – this is where I lived. I went to a lovely day school in Holywood called The Warren which I absolutely loved. That was really nice and then I was sent off to boarding school which I hated every second of. I wanted to be here!”

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“My grandmother really brought us up. My mother was very young and my father was in the army so they were always travelling round and I saw an enormous amount of my grandmother who read to us, told us stories, kept us at work. I mean, one of our main jobs was watering the terrace. You know, we were tiny with heavy watering cans – such hard work! She kept everyone working in the gardens: housemaids, guests, everyone, even if they didn’t want to!”

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“It really has needed a huge restoration for 30 years. Now it’s been done we’re all delighted. It’s very exciting! It was last redecorated in the Fifties by my grandmother and then my mother used to keep up the structure of the house. She mended the roof – she mended everything because in those days we had our own carpenter, our own electrician, plumber, wrought iron man, our own blacksmith. It was totally utterly self sufficient. She kept it up till she gave the house to the National Trust in the late Seventies, whenever it was, and then obviously you don’t have a team of maintenance people and there’s no money.”

“So it really needed a huge restoration. Now it’s been done. We’re all delighted about this – very exciting. Teams of experts had been coming over and looking at the paint and looking at the fabrics and textiles and they mended and restored it. I’d redone some of my rooms, and bedroom, and I’d redone the sitting room with this lovely material Venetian silk and things like that. But they’ve restored it beautifully, and we’re all very excited about it.”

“The central hall now is exactly the way it was till I was in my twenties. I suppose it was my mother who repainted this hall the wonderful Chinese pink but this is how I remember it and it looks I think absolutely sensational. The gallery above which we always called ‘the dome’: no guest, no one ever went into the dome itself. Only the housemaids and the children used to take shortcuts through there and then peer through the balustrades to look at what was going on. And now that’s all beautifully done I think oh yes I remember all of us up there looking down and spying.”

“The drawing room is my favourite room in the house. It might be large but it’s the cosiest. You know, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s full of sunlight and in the past it used to be full of flowers and then obviously all the dogs were running round, jumping on the sofas too. So it was like the family room. It was where everyone, all the guests, everyone congregated here.”

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Tir Nan Og is the family burial ground made by my grandmother for the family and it means Land of the Ever Young and it’s got a wonderful view over the garden and she had all these statues made. It was all her sort of idea. The first to be buried here was my grandfather and then my grandmother. They have very ornate carved stones with all their favourite things on them like my grandfather, everything to do with flying, playing cards, all sorts of things, and my grandmother with her parrots and her dogs and her garden.”

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“When my grandmother died, the little cockatoo was distraught so it plucked all its feathers out so we had this oven ready bird with a crest and when I first brought my husband to Mount Stewart we were all so used to it we’d forgotten what it looked like and he practically fainted! You know, you suddenly walk into the house for the first time and it was in the central hall and it was in its aviary. There was this blue skin with a beak and this huge crest!”

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“My mother is the most recent to be buried at Tir Nan Og and we designed the stone so that it’s got the Stewart dragon looking duly fierce because he has to protect the family and then it says beloved daughter of Charles and Edith Londonderry because she was the favourite daughter. And then the other side says devoted to Mount Stewart which she was. I wanted her to be bigger than her sisters but smaller than her grandparents and a different coloured stone so it’s a pinkish stone. I think it’s actually very pretty. You know often we come up here and just sit and you know you relax your mind and it’s so soothing to the soul up here and I know that those who’ve gone before us are resting in peace and they’re in a happy place.”

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Christmas Champagne Breakfast + sketch Mayfair

The Morning and Night Before Christmas

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Afternoon tea and champers are, by definition and nature respectively, not before noon. But this is sketch Mayfair, the restaurant-cum-bar-cum-gallery which invents the rules. Or abandons them altogether. Case is a case in point. Lower is the new upper. What’s not to love sipping like dowagers while untying ribboned cheesy toastie sliders. Bûche de Noël anyone? The zany interior has gone even more cuckoo now that the season to be very jolly is round the corner.

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Opening the front door of sketch is like entering C S Lewis’s wardrobe. Florist Carly Rogers has gone to town – and country – with a snowy forestscape called Hollow Way. Carly says she “takes inspiration from across the creative world: painting, fashion, interiors, pottery, textiles, architecture and more!” So the eclecticism of sketch is the perfect partner for her displays. Fairies by florist JamJar float around the ceiling of The Glade, sketch’s bar. As Elizabeth Bowen would say, “Upstairs is crazy with dreams or love.” In The Lecture Room, the first floor restaurant of sketch, Tony Marklew’s rose strewn Christmas tree Let It Snow fits neatly under the domed ceiling.

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Merchant Taylors’ Hall City of London + The World Boutique Hotel Awards

Guild Secrets | Articulate Laurels | Materiality

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Tonight’s the night! We’re down at the seat of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, one of the 12 Great Livery Companies of the City of London. This medieval guildhall, protected from the proletariat by a cloistered courtyard overlooked only by the neon glory of 99 Bishopsgate, endows picturesque scenery on the international awards ceremony celebrating brilliance in luxury boutique hotels and villas. It’s the gala evening, the very grandest of City Livery dinners. The jetset have flown into town. We’re so excited we just can’t hide it! We just can’t get enough:

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Select industry players, 200 of us, are black tied and white laced and ball gowned, ready for pleasures in the night. An enigmatic entrance off Threadneedle Street, a discreet doorway to decadence, leads into a long hallway lined with old masters of old masters and deadly 15th century hearse cloths illuminated by Grecian sconces. A vaulted gallery spills into the floodlit garden and flows into the great hall, its beauty blurred by the suffusing warmth of a thousand candles. The architecture is a highbred of Queens: Elizabeth, Anne, Mary and Elizabeth again.

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“Be amazing!” declares guest speaker Tim Dingle. “If you want to be successful you can genuinely change the world. Don’t survive, thrive!” The awards recognise an academy of excellence amidst these suitably collegiate surroundings. “Liking your blog very much by the way,” says Mercedes Alonso. Scarlet Bray agrees. Wallpaper*, Elite Traveller, Spear’s Magazine, The Financial Times and The Telegraph: everyone is here. Clare Island Lighthouse, a clifftop six roomed hotel, scoops a prize, adding prestige to our emerald isle. Barry and Roie McCann are thrilled!

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Echo Valley? Echo Valley? Norm and Nan Dove’s British Columbian ranch is amazing. Cowboy hats at dawn. Summertime in Goa, an exclusive use hilltop villa, wins Asia’s Most Romantic Retreat. Actually Asia features heavily. Our Man in India Alfred Tuinman is pleased. So is Suzanne Vertillart Chayavichitsilp. Africa is big this year. We’re dreaming of being washed ashore to Sea Monkey Villa, Mahé Island. Lovely to meet Christabel Milbanke-Brayson. Lyton and Eroline Lamontagne look resplendent.

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There’s at least one UK winner: Hotel Gotham in Manchester gets the vote for World’s Best New Hotel. The top prize for World’s Best Boutique Hotel goes to Secret Bay Hotel, Dominica. All the hotels and private villas, the finest on earth no less, are illustrated in a glossy book, a coffee table essential. Sponsor Elisabeth Visoanska’s synergistic products mean we’ll all be looking particularly fresh for the next while. The Parisian cosmetician believes, “Preserving one’s youthfulness does not mean stopping the course of time; it means living life with continually growing passion.” We’d like to propose our own toast to Most Fun Boutique Hotel Reception Staff. And the winner we know, we know, we know is… The Capital (on Basil Street, a ruby’s throw from both Harrods and Harvey Nics). Sweet memories.

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Sanderson Hotel London + The Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea

Friday Afternoon Adventures  

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Sometimes the weekend starts a little sooner than anticipated. We’ve disappeared down the bunny hole to a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea Party in Sanderson. The hotel where larger than life Philippe Starck first played with surreal scale in London – a pair of sofa lips swears to swallow us in reception – is just the setting to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel. This really is hard work as we’re with three lawyers, an investment manager and a banker. Beats the boardroom. Sugared almonds over Alan Sugar.

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Everyone should eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work. We will not set out every jot and tittle of our dilettantish ponderings, save to remark on the curiouser and curiouser culinary revelations as we peak over the palate piquing afternoon tea. “EAT ME!” shrieks the goat’s cheese croquet monsieur and white crab éclair and cucumber and cream lime sandwich and smoked salmon quail’s egg and caviar scotch egg.

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DRINK ME!” screams the White Rabbit Tea infused with white grapefruit, white chrysanthemums and vanilla. The afternoon turns tipsy topsy turvy after a glass of PerrierJouët. A Sanderson Cocktail – an imaginative melange of lychee juice and lime laced with melon liqueur, Aperol and Beefeater Gin – magically transports us into early evening.

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Sitting in the canopied Enchanted Garden of Sanderson, we’re cosily oblivious to the monsoon unfolding overhead. Amidst carousels and birdcages, we’re like the Cheshire Cat who got the cream (clotted with raspberry preserve on fluffy scones. When Alice in Wonderland ate the cakes, they made her smaller. We live in hope. Perhaps we’ll have just one more chocolate coated coffee flavoured pocket watch macaroon. And another Queen of Hearts Oreo cookie soldier stuffed with strawberries. Maybe the last red velvet ladybird cake. Rude not to. The cake of good hope. Mondays are for martinets. Life is the cards you’ve been dealt.

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The International Property Awards + The Music Box Southwark

The London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square Gala Dinner

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“My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen and very special guests…” Taylor Wimpey Central London’s latest scheme has won a High Commendation Prize at The International Property Awards. The awards are sponsored by The Telegraph with Emirates as the official airline partner and H R Owen as the official limousine partner. SPPARC Architecture’s innovative design – luxury apartments balanced over a music college – received the accolade in the category for multiple unit residential development in the UK. The official announcement was made following the five star glitz of a black tie champagne reception and gala dinner at the Marriott Hotel in Mayfair. The Chairman (Earl of Liverpool), Chairman of Judging Development (Lord Caithness) and Chairman of Judging Real Estate (Lord Best) were assisted in the decision making process by a panel of no less than 90 leaders in their fields. Lord Caithness stated, “Research is our biggest resource. We are looking for the best architects, the best developments… Over 2,100 companies participated. Our judges love it but it’s hard work, identifying the very best in the UK. Now in their 23rd year, The International Property Awards are the largest and most prestigious in the world.”

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Rathmullan House Donegal + The Tap Room

Aalto Pitch | Lucid Camera | A Play on Words | Studium et Punctum

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“The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both,” Roland Barthes.

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“Ireland is a staging point beyond Europe and the New World,” Professor Finola O’Kane of University College Dublin told us. Nowhere does it feel more so than in Donegal. A place of wild geese: the constant iterative of land carries a long shadow. A depth of field. Like its distant neighbour Castle Grove, Rathmullan House has been a hotel for more than half a century now. The house was originally built in the 1760s by the Anglo Irish Knox family (really Scots Irish as they hailed from Scotland but the term Anglo Irish is liberally applied to Plantation settlers). Anglo Irish: aristocrats | no portmanteau | universally accented | no translations. Rathmullan House later became the country retreat of a Belfast merchant family. The Batts doubled the size of the house in 1870.

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Its long Victorian stuccoed façade is anchored by a central canted bay window and one at either extremity. This proliferation of projections is rivalled only in the Province by Benvarden House in Ballymoney with its two bows and two canted bays. At Rathmullan House they act as framing devices, freezing the corrugated surface of Lough Swilly below the tattered theatre of a thundery sky mid afternoon. Honeycomb punctured vertical bargeboards peek out from the side elevation dormers, silhouetted against a sky turned powder blue. All changes again with the descent of a crimson tinged sunset: bloody inland.

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“Every photograph is a certificate of presence.” Roland Barthes

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An enfilade of five antique filled commodious yet intimate rooms stretches across the façade. “Almost all the furniture was auctioned when the Batts sold the house. There are just two original items. My grandmother bought the tub chair and the painting of Charlotte Sarah Batt was bought by a lady who discovered it was too big for her home so returned it to Rathmullan House!” says Mark Wheeler who runs the hotel with his wife Mary. “Henry McIlHenny bought much of the furniture for Glenveagh Castle.” Luscious plasterwork, some polychromatic, adds richness to the rooms.

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In 1966 the first generation of the current hotel owners, Mark’s parents, employed the architect Liam McCormick to add a dining room extension with tented ceilings. “Liam was a great sailor,” explains Mark, “and the ceilings are hung with the silk used for yacht sails. Their shape was inspired by the Indian arches in the Rajah Room.” The dining room is formed of interlocking octagons, pagoda-like structures taking the Victorian chamfered bays to their logical geometric conclusion. “The hotel is a popular wedding venue for architecture students,” smiles Mark, “ever since Liam McCormick’s Burt Church won building of the year!” He also designed a smattering of cuboid holiday pavilions in the wooded grounds.

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Such is the Photograph: it cannot say what it lets us see.” Roland Barthes

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Rathmullan House was a departure from his oeuvre. Before his death in 1992, Liam would complete 27 churches in Ireland. Each is recognisably by his hand: with one sweep he felled the cluttered gothic norm with a spare modernist form. Abstraction wasn’t Dr McCormick’s primary goal, “I wouldn’t say it’s studied. My resolution of problems tends to have a sculptural end. I grew up in a physically dramatic countryside; this sort of background inevitably comes into play when I design, and the churches have nearly all been in a rural setting.” The stark white shapes are as integrated into the Donegal vernacular as whitewashed cottages, their outlines as distinctive as Muckish Mountain. The closest of Liam’s seven Donegal churches to Rathmullan are Donoughmore Presbyterian to the south and St Peter’s Milford Catholic to the west.

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Enough waxing lyrical taxing diction. Pizza awaits us in the vaults of Rathmullan House. A stone oven baked base piled high with wild and exotic mushrooms, fior di latte mozzarella, marinated friarielli, garlic, parsley and aged Pecorino to be precise. And then a moonlit walk along the two mile beach at the end of the garden. A rare curlew’s forlorn and faintly human sound assumes an eerie resonance across the still sand. The freedom of the country, far away from the London vertigo.

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“Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.” Roland Barthes.

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Kitty Fisher’s Mayfair + Shepherd Market

Generations Come and Generations Go

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Oh. Em. Gee. Whizz. After months of talking about going, we simply rock up on a random Wednesday night with a zest for life but no booking. Reservations at the tiny restaurant (just 40 lucky customers at any given time) are infamously hard to come by. We’re in luck. No tables free, but the bar along the window is ours. We’re perched on stools like Nighthawks. Perfect for spying on our usual Shepherd Market hangout Le Boudin Blanc. Skipping the light fantastic cocktails (Good Kitty, Bad Kitty but no Hello Kitty) we head straight for a bottle of Voignier Le Paradou 2015 (£30). Dry with a hint of honeycomb.

Kitty Fisher’s is all about plates. Courses are just so passé. The menu is concise: five small plates | five medium plates | four large plates | four sweet plates | one cheese plate. Yet there’s plenty to satisfy a pescatarian and carnivore. Whipped cod’s roe, bread and fennel butter (£7.50) is chef Tom Parry’s four fingered salute against mediocrity. A textural contrast of creaminess and crustiness. Taleggio, London honey, mustard and black truffle (£9) is a bitter sweet symphony of wood fire grill smokiness. The last of the savouries arrives. Burrata, beetroot and radicchio (£12.50) is a colourful collage of purple and white. Cambridge burnt cream (£7) isn’t an undergrad’s baking error but a Cointreau and cinnamon crème brulée smoothly nestling under a crackly golden lid. These plates aren’t for sharing. They’re far too good for that.

Named after a Georgian lady of the night, the restaurant is aptly boudoir-like with dark purple walls and red lamp shades and background jazz music. Dining extends underground, down the dogleg staircase, past the pumpkin stacked kitchen window. Trumpers accessorised loos are at the far end. Incidentally, we note that currency signs have vanished from fashionable menus as swiftly as pounds disappeared out of the wallets of Kitty Fisher’s gentlemen callers. Laterally, history repeats itself.

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Charlton House Greenwich +The Young Irish Georgians

The Wind Returns Again

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The Young Irish Georgians’ trip. We’re not that young. We’re off to a Jacobean House. And at least one of us is Dutch. How terribly Irish. Autumn falls. Days shorten. Frieze’s here. Today, a carpet of golden leaves gently billows round Charlton House. The house is in Greenwich but forget the fashionable part. Charlton Village’s charm, to put it politely, is faded, a bit frazzled. A ski-slope roofed pepperpot pavilion heralds the house’s presence at the top of the hilly high street. This Grade I listed lodge, possibly once a summerhouse, is now a public convenience (or inconvenience – it’s shut).

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“The lodge is widely attributed to Inigo Jones. Of course it is – he did most of Greenwich! Someone once attributed the lodge to him and it stuck.” Aimee Felton, Associate at Donald Insall Associates should know. She is undertaking a conditions survey as part of a long term masterplan for the house and estate. “A variety of historic fabric is remaining. Some in my opinion was later heavily edited by the various occupants. And heavily rebuilt following bomb damage.” This is most obvious in the north wing where the original imperial red brick and whitish grey stone has been patched up with metric red brick and yellow stone. These mid 20th century repairs included placing the sundial upside down.

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“It’s the best Jacobean house in London and is of pivotal importance to its era,” Aimee declares. A southern Temple Newsam. “It displays a full modern appreciation of flow and sequence of rooms. An H plan was so innovative. There are lots of Jacobean houses of E plan and E with a tail, but not H. Charlton is first in its class: to walk in through the front door – and see its garden beyond. The axis through the building is what makes it so special. The kitchen was always on the north side of Jacobean houses to cool dairy produce and meat, with bedrooms above as heat rises. But this house is laid out to take in the views to the north towards the river and to the west to the King in Greenwich. This is a really bold statement and the only Jacobean house facing north.”

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The first floor long gallery stretches the full length of the north elevation. Like much of the house, the long gallery is a puzzle. “The floor and ceiling are original,” Aimee highlights, “but the panelling isn’t. Charlton has some of the best fireplaces of the Jacobean era. The long gallery marble and slate one is odd but exquisite.” No architect is recorded. “There is incredibly scarce information both on the Jacobean era and Charlton. You’ll notice I say… attributed to… we suspect that…a lot.” At least there’s a dated keystone of 1607 and the staircase is engraved 1612.

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Built by Sir Adam Newton, tutor to James I’s son Prince Henry (teaching must have paid better in those days), Charlton House was last lived in by the Maryon-Wilson family. Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson sold the house to Greenwich Council and auctioned the contents in 1920. The house has been used ever since by various community bodies. Donald Insall Associates are tasked with applying a holistic approach to its fabric and future use or uses. Furnishing rooms in the original period like a National Trust house is not an option. “There simply isn’t enough Jacobean furniture,” says Aimee. “Even the V+A wouldn’t have enough and any pieces it has are so special they’re kept in glass cases.”

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There’s plenty of pictorial evidence of how the rooms were furnished in the latter Maryon-Wilson years. Aimee smiles, “If you can’t find a decent photo of a country house look in Country Life because someone is always bragging about their home!” Charlton House is no exception. Black and white Country Life images of the early 1900s show the interior chockablock with Chippendales and brown furniture and taxidermy and tapestries. This eclecticism is reflected in plasterwork additions. She points out the ceiling in the Henry Room isn’t original. “The cornice is beyond wrong! As offensive as the ceiling is, it’s a nice ceiling, but one that’s just not for this house. Just because it’s not right, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be preserved to show history. Everyone has their oddities and we just move on.” Much more in keeping with the original architecture is the 1877 extension to the south. Unsurprisingly, really, as it was designed by the great Arts and Crafts architect Norman Shaw. “Jacobean with a Shaw twist,” is how Aimee sums it up.

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Frieze is the international art show that consumes Regent’s Park every autumn. Jacobean furniture may be in short supply but we discover a source of art from the period: The Weiss Gallery’s ‘A Fashionable Likeness: Court Portraits 1580 to 1625’. There are enough gentlemen and ladies choking on their lacy antimacassars (or at least that’s what their collars look like) to coverthe walls of Charlton House’s long gallery. On the subject of fashion, the blue velvet jacketed chef Giorgio Locatelli is busy setting up tables in his eponymous temporary restaurant. Just like its permanent namesake, lunch at Locanda Locatelli under the canvas of Frieze Masters is the epitome of Milanese cooking:

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