Reconstruction of the Country House
I am not an invention of your twilight hours
Clerkenwell has more architects per square metre than anywhere else in London. Take Bowling Green Lane. Tis the address of heavyweights Zaha Hadid, CZWG, Ian Simpson and Wilkinson Eyre. The density of pubs and restaurants is equally high. Handy presumably for wining and dining clients. This is after all the birthplace of the gastropub and the home of Exmouth Market. Round the corner on the corner of Northampton Road opposite a corner of leafy Spa Fields, an attractive 20th century Georgian revival block (as double fronted as the fireplaces inside) has been reborn as B&H Buildings with more than a sniff of Greenwich Village Manhattan sidewalk. What’s not to love? Clerkenwell links central London to the east end. Kind of. It was discovered by early loft pioneers before most Shoreditch hipsters were even born. A variegated skyline harks back to earlier glories: the 2000s polemical pyramidal Park Hut; the 1960s cliff face of Michael Cliffe House; the 1880s bastioned basilica of Our Most Holy Redeemer; the 1890s shadowy chateau of Kingsway Place; the 1790s spiritual spire of St James.
I will make you feel young again
While there’s a smattering of architects at the launch and a plethora of alpha types wearing Omega watches, a broader social mix – beta, zeta, eta, theta – reflects the appeal of an all day brasserie and bar from the people that brought us Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar, Reverend JW Simpson, Blitz Party and Prohibition. Fewer beards more socks less attitude than Hoxton. The brand’s offices are upstairs, hence the name. “If you don’t feel decadent you’re doing something wrong,” maintains that sage of New York, Sonja (JP) Morgan. Haut monde, beau monde, demimonde, tout le monde. It’s time to mingle; bring on that decadence. Whether vernissage or finissage, tastemakers or savants, we’re trailblazing our esoteric odyssey through town. The Music Box (golden section) apartments launch hosted by Gordon Ramsay. The Wallace Collection’s Great Gallery (golden frames) reopening. Wrong for Hay’s press lunch at 35 Queen Anne’s Gate (golden postcode). The Wish List (golden wonder) after party at Ognisko Polskie Club. Brunch at Sinabro on Battersea Rise (golden egg cocotte). Fortieth Anniversary of the Destruction of the Country House Exhibition (golden age) at the V&A. On canapés overdrive, little wonder The September Issue is always the fattest.
I am the child of a lost era
Ah! Country houses. The V&A exhibition featured Breathless Beauty, Broken Beauty by Vanessa Jane Hall, a hauntingly evocative video triptych of country house ruins and restorations. Her cryptic murmurings provide our standalone quotes. We have form. “The interiors of the B&H restaurant and café capture the idea of an abandoned country house where the gardens and staterooms have slowly grown into one another,” explains Lou Davies of Box 9 Architects. An inside-out outside-in design emerged from her collaboration with the in-house creative team and Lionel Real de Azua of Red Deer Architects. Lionel calls it “a dramatic transformation” although the spaces are purposely not overdesigned. Trailing creepers and hanging baskets frame wicker seats grouped around cast iron tables. A white marble mosaic bar looks good enough to dance on. Head Chef Alex Visciano, former Sous Chef at the Connaught, delivers some fine culinary moments. Cod tempura bites with pea sauce and red bell pepper and thyme cake. Yum. Cider Rose (Somerset Cider Brandy, blackberry and champers) and Eton Fizz (Rathbone Gin, strawberries, lemon, honey, Greek yoghurt, egg white and soda). Complex cocktails, easy to drink. What’s the verdict on B&H Buildings? The jury’s in. No double takes. Or mixed metaphors. Just oxymoronic single entendres. B&H stands for burgeoning brilliance and a harbinger of happening.
And in my heart I will paint these ashes as shining white snowflakes