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Friday, 31 August 2012

DESIGN: Formality and Comfort

An historical house in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, where views from all the windows are remarkably 18th century, all houses in the neighbourhood are of the same period and stand proudly in their manicured gardens. 

I thoroughly restored the house - adding an elevator which became invisible, a stable wing was made habitable, two new staircases were added - while paying the utmost respect to this gem of colonial architecture.
On the dining room wall hangs 1820's scenic French wallpaper--carefully restored; Eau de nil silk taffeta blinds in the window; a good quality linen tablecloth; a comfortable 18th century chair in striped velvet - Et voilà.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

GARDENS: Gardens of Persia by Penelope Hobhouse

GARDENS OF PERSIA is the first book to explore the evolution of the Persian paradise garden from its ancient beginnings to today's modern designs...

The magical Garden of Fin, Kashan, Iran 

Naranjestan garden in Shiraz
The mausoleum of Ne'matollah Vali, Mahan, Iran

Bagh-e Shahzadeh [Prince's Garden], Mahan, Iran

Monday, 27 August 2012

Friday, 24 August 2012

BOOKS: Evelyn Waugh 'Winner Takes All'

Extract from 'Winner Takes All':

Throughout the peevish months of waiting Mrs. Kent-Cumberland had fortified herself with the hope that she would have a daughter.  It would be a softening influence for Gervase, who was growing up somewhat unresponsive, to have a pretty, gentle, sympathetic sister two years younger than himself.  She would come out just when he was going up to Oxford and would save him from with either of the dreadful extremes of evil company which threatened that stage of development-the bookworm and the hooligan.  She would bring down delightful girls for Eights Week and Commem.   Mrs. Kent-Cumberland had it all planned out.   When she was delivered of another son she named him Thomas, and fretted through her convalescence with her mind on the coming hunting season.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

INSPIRATION: The stupendous Villa Farnese at Caprarola in Lazio, ITALY

The Helicoidal staircase is a favourite design of mine. There is another like it in the Vatican and also Palazzo Barberini in Rome...the latter by my beloved architect Borromini.

Friday, 17 August 2012

TRAVEL: The Alps

Glorious -The Alps in summer when the sun shines:
 Gstaad in Oberland, Canton de Berne, Switzerland
A club on top of a mountain
Lucerne Festival: Canton de Lucerne. The Concert Hall designed by Jean Nouvel - a wonderful space, the auditorium has excellent acoustics....Mahler cancelled and replaced by Incidental music to Goethe's - "Egmont" op. 84, Beethoven, and Mozart's Requiem in D minor K.626 -- the orchestra mediocre and the masterly Claudio Abbado (whom I worshipped in Salzburg) not on form.

Nordic kitsch
A dancing gentleman  
Left: Productions from 1999-2010 Bregenzer Festival on Lake Constance, Austria: this festival deserves to be even better known... 
Only in the open air, by a lake, could such a production succeed.

Umberto Giordano’s opera about the poet André Chénier, is set against the background of the French Revolution. A most astonishing and unforgettable production.  A gigantic figure of Marat rises out of Lake Lucerne....victims of the Revolution, played by acrobats, are thrown into the water…extraordinary choreography by Lynne Page, directed by Keith Warner of Wagner fame...the costumes by Constance Hoffman are lush, ironic, and appropriate. The set by David Fielding is a miracle of engineering and ingenuity, the lighting by Davy Cunningham a marvel.  The orchestra were hidden in the concert hall behind the staggered seating and open to the sky and, surprisingly, the excellence of the acoustics or the singing, was in no way diminished.  Each of the singers had tiny microphones, visible only when seen on video.   
Death with a sickle haunts the opera

A production, so full of delightful tricks and surprises that were never gratuitous….Marat’s eyes light up and close, a singer appears in his open mouth, crowds rush up and down the staircases, over his shoulder, on to a platform held by a giant hand that swung away for more action on the side... Marat's torso opens wide...a giant knife pierces his side...all these miraculous coups de theatre enhanced the drama and made for constant excitement - a triumph!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

POETRY: Aya-Sophia by Osip Mandelstam

In Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, the church, then mosque and now museum Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) still looms large.

Aya-Sophia - here the Lord Ordained
That emperors & nations should halt!
In fact your dome, a witness said,
Hangs from heaven by a chain.

All ages take their measure from Justinian:
Diana, from her shrine in Ephesus, allowed
One hundred & seven green marble pillars
To be pillaged for a foreign god.

How did your bountiful builder feel
When - with open hands & lofty spirit -
He set the apses and the chapels,
Pointing them to West & East?

A splendid temple, bathing in the world -
A festival of light from forty windows;
Under the dome, on pendentives, the four Archangels
Sailing onward, lovelier than the world.

And this sage and spherical building
Will outlive nations and their centuries.
Nor will the seraphs' resonant sobbing
Warp the dark gilt surfaces.

Osip Mandelstam [1912] translated by James Greene  

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


The Holocaust documentary SHOAH [calamity in Hebrew] was made long ago in 1985.  It is harrowing but mandatory viewing.  It is by Claude Lauzmann - no archival records or film footage - utterly absorbing and informative. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

FABRICS: Shades of Grey are all the rage!

Left: John Stefanidis Fabrics: 

'Baskets' in Slate 

Right: John Stefanidis Fabrics

'Lucy' in Dove Grey  

Left: John Stefanidis Fabrics:

'Shades' in Charcoal

Right: John Stefanidis Fabrics

'Rice' in Charcoal 

Available from:

London:        Tissus d'Helene, Chelsea HarbourLondonSW10 0XF
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7352 9977

Miami:            Monica James, 40 NE 40th StreetMiamiFL  33137
Phone: + 1 305-576-6222

Los Angeles:   Harbinger, Almont Yard, 636-A North Almont DriveCA 90069
                        Phone: +1 310 858 6884

Friday, 10 August 2012

DESIGN: Durries

Durries are the best summer rugs
--crisp and fresh--
cotton under bare feet is incomparable.

Above: The simplicity of stripes and chevrons - designed for a terrace in Greece
On the floor of a bedoom in Greece,
blue and white durrie from Jaipur

These durries were made to order and have an individuality not always found in shops, which are often too faded, the colours too pastel, of poor design, etc.  They are nothing like old durries which, at one time, were made in the jails of Northern India]. 

A simple design, in cream and terracotta, for an apartment in Athens 

A durrie for a guest bedroom on a Greek island

A durrie designed for a bedroom in Florida.
Note - John Stefanidis fabrics 'Flowers' and 'Floral' adorn the bed and stool

Details of durries designed for an island house in Greece

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

DESIGN: Marble

Piazza del Popolo
Granito rosso
One of my treasured possessions is a piece of red granite [right] from Aswan in Egypt, which was given to me by an antique dealer in Rome and came from the Egyptian obelisk placed in 1589 in Piazza del Popolo, Rome, and was brought by Emperor Augustus to adorn the Circus Maximus.

Marble is one of the most noble of materials known to man. The Greek quarries of Paros, Pandelis, Carrara marble from Tuscany, amongst many others, are a part of our history from antiquity to the present day.  There are two books which aesthetes and designers should possess: Marmi antichi published by Leonardo-de Luca, a comprehensive documentation of quarrying marble in antiquity, and the use of Roman marbles in Mediaeval times, The Rennaissance, and the XVI to XIX centuries.   It is marvellously annotated [in Italian] with colour photographs, etc....invaluable.

Very glamorous and equally useful is Delle Pietre Antichi, a treasure on Roman marbles, by Faustino Corsi, published by Franco Maria Ricci.

Monday, 6 August 2012

FILM: Tolstoy's War and Peace

One of the greatest novels of the 19th century, War and Peace was made into a film and received an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1968 [during the Cold War].  Brilliant acting, stunning cinematography with epic battle scenes and spectacular, glamorous balls. Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. Natasha Rostrova is played by a delectable and heart rending Lyudmila Savelyeva.    

Friday, 3 August 2012

TRAVEL: July Contrasts

CONTRASTS are the spices needed in the ragout of life...

From the wilds of the west coast of Scotland and the stags who waited patiently for my return, to the pleasing comfort and luxury of Robin Birley's new club 5 Hertford Street, London W1 ,which has the prettiest of rooms to eat in - light and airy - and a sensational shell-work bar, fish on silver wallpaper, flowers and charming pictures, a courtyard where you can SMOKE and in the basement, the most beguiling, exotic nightclub LouLou's, named after Robin's first cousin, Lou Lou de la Falaise.  The club, designed by Rifat Ozbek of fashion fame, is a WOW - original, stunning and luxurious - all a Cosmopolitan could wish for... a new jewel in the capital's weighty crown.

Contrasts with Constable country in East Anglia and Ely Cathedral... 

In Cambridgeshire, I visited the august Ely Cathedral [The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely]. The first Christian building on the site was a monastery founded by St Æthelthryth [Romanised as 'Ethelreda'] in 673 AD.  A new Benedictine monastery was built in 970AD and became a cathedral in the same year.  The building of the present cathedral, in Romanesque style was started, and continued, throughout the 12th century.  The magnificent lantern dates from the 14th century and was followed by a proliferation of gothic style.  On the day I visited this magnificent and inspiring building it was being prepared for a 'happy clappy' youth festival which I trust will make good Christians of the jeunesse dorée of The Fens - the notices, psychedelic lights, ribbons strewn on monuments and all the accompanying brouhaha did nothing to respect the awesome holiness of this great cathedral.  I trust the Acting Dean, Canon David Pritchard is aware of what appears to the visitor to be mild desecration!  

And on to an eightieth birthday party at Holkham Hall in Norfolk.  The park, with its majestic Ilex trees, and the house a triumph of 18th century  neo-Classicism.
                       then Canada for work...

Apollo Belvedere from Liebieghaus
Frankfurt am Main. C.1490
New York, New York, very quiet in high summer but vibrant and metropolitan nevertheless....A wonderful show of Renaissance sculpture at the most agreeable of museums, The Frick, 1st E. 70th Streetthe Russell Page gardens have now reached maturity.
Antico: the Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes, to paraphrase the Director's Foreword: the Renaissance passion for the revival of antiquity is superbly exemplified in the work in the work of Mantuan court sculptor Pier Jacapo Alari Bonacolsi, aptly nicknames "Antico".  The bronzes are perfectly shown and it is he that pioneered and developed ground-breaking technology.
Left: Hercules and the Nemean Lion, and Right:  Hercules and the Lernaen Hydra, c. 1496, Bargello, Florence

For the first time in many years I did not stay at The Carlyle Hotel on 76th Street [of John and Jackie Kennedy fame], but with my friend-------  Carolina Herrera
[keep tabs on her new store in Mount Street, London, W1 and new shop soon to open at Brompton Cross, London SW3 in October 2012]. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

EVENTS: London's 2012 Olympics

THRILLING and MOVING TO WATCH THE DISPLAY OF EXCELLENCE achieved only by hard slog and ruthless training...and how about the opening ceremony, so many happy faces--not to mention Thomas Heatherwick's SENSATIONAL cauldron [see my blog entries of Jan 12 and July 12, 2012] .