Friday, 19 December 2014


A few favourite images collected throughout the year of our design travels.  The season is a culmination of our hopes, dreams and desires and for many, dreams that have been shattered.
My contribution is a simple desire to express hope through beauty... to erase sorrow for a fleeting moment... to reignite latent dreams through inspiration....

Thanks to all our readers for another successful year of Raconteur.  We wish you all a peaceful and joy filled holiday season.  May 2015 be kind to you and your families.

There is something infinitely more intriguing about dereliction,
  the sense of what might have been, what was and what is yet to come
envisioned through the eyes of the romantic...

Charged with scarcely concealed emotion, a portrait of Mrs Mary Robinson,
Sir Joshua Reynolds,1873-84,  The Wallace Collection

Betimes Books, The hotly debated cover of their limited edition Christmas volume
which is an original drawing by artist Gérard Ramon.
I love the cover (as opposed to others in the office) and dipping into short stories.
Imagine my delight to find one is written by an author who is also my husband!

One from a series of panel of silk embroidery on linen depicting Mary and the angel
V and A exhibit

A winter brunch in celebration of my elder son's fifteenth birthday

A summer visit to Kew Palace.  This garden is my dream, intimate and romantic

On the same day at Kew, a passion flower photographed in one of the vast greenhouses.
Oh to have an orangery swathed in them...

A bride soon to appear at the doors swathed in roses; St Peter's church Winchester

Our darling Greta at her last picnic on St Catherine's Hill.
Mascot to the design business for fourteen years.  Oh, how we miss her...

The Nativity, Pierro della Francesca, 1406 at The National Gallery.
Like contemporary culture, this painting of the nativity shows the artist integrating myriad influences; from his own region of Italy with familiar scenic touches, from painters in the North of Europe with cooler tonal characteristics and the longer leaner human form, the use of oil paints instead of tempura, the imperfections apparent from "zealous over cleaning in the 19th century" according to the catalogue entry.  
Perfection made manifest in a fallen world.  

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Cars to make you smile

Get behind the wheel of a vintage Mercedes and I challenge you not to smile.  One of my first grown-up cars was a 1967 Mercedes 200.  I loved that car so much I did not notice the rusting bits around the rear wheel covers, the expensive petrol or the bouncy springs in the seats.  The minute I got behind the wheel, which was probably more akin to the experience of navigating a slow moving barge, I couldn't stop grinning and I still smile whenever I think of that lovely car with its faded blue naugahyde bench seats, its cream leather steering wheel, the side mirrors so wide they might have been made to pull a boat.

I spend most of my working day thinking about and planning interiors.  Looking back on my favourite cars I realise that the reason I loved them - or not - was ultimately because of their interiors and how I experienced them.

We had a Jaguar XJ6 when our eldest son was a baby.  My husband used to call this our gentlemen's club on wheels.  When we replaced it for a practical Golf, after one too many noughts at the petrol pump, our son actually cried, "I miss the Jag".  I distinctly remember the polished walnut panelling on the dashboard, the tightly woven woollen carpet and floor mats and the feel of the door; solid, heavy, safe, the quiet hum of the engine.  In comparison, any other motoring experience was bound to be a bit of a let down.

Another favourite was the 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer we drove when we moved to the States.  My husband bought it online from an antique car dealer in Atlanta before we left. I'll never forget it.  "Big Jeep" as it was known to our family, was special because of its rarity, the caramel leather interior, the early eighties fashionable shag carpet and even the partly unreliable electric windows, which made a wheezing sound as they meandered up and down.  We covered many thousands of miles in the Wagoneer across that vast country.  When we left and the Wagoneer went to a chic young couple who planned to give it a new engine and use it for the beach, my then six year old daughter chased "Big Jeep" down the street in tears as it drove away to a new life.

Slightly further afield, a bit more gratuitous motor eye candy courtesy of our mechanic and owner of Silchester Garage, Paolo. 

Another steering wheel ready for action.  Handsomely made in black and chrome with its gearstick on the column.

Racy bucket seats in my favourite faded caramel leather, the perfect contrast to the glossy cherry red exterior paint finish.

This 190 SL evokes images of Audrey Hepburn swishing around the curves in the Coté d Azur.

The combination of glossy red paint, fins and chrome is unbeatable.

The legendary Pagoda...  A removable hard top to die for... a little glimpse of red leather seats.

Surely the perfect Christmas gift for beloved?

Although Silchester Garage restore cars from all over the world they still keep our decidedly more modest estate car roadworthy... Thanks to Paolo, Matthew, Simon, James and Lynn for your mechanical magic... 

A 1954 Buick Skylark Convertible, sold at the Palm Beach auction in 2012 for $118,000 before buyer's premium...  I think of Eartha Kitt's iconic 1953 song Santa Baby

With that I'll say goodbye, slightly shame-faced for having mentioned Christmas before December (and on Thanksgiving to our American relations).  I simply could not resist that song....  Before that, I'd like to invite you to post comments and/or photos of your favourite twentieth century motor cars/interiors.  I'd love to share them.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Interior Design - Is it Fashion?

Yesterday afternoon I was introduced to a woman who is reinvigorating my IT skills, which may sound dull but was surprisingly stimulating.  To see the world through another person's eyes is always an opportunity to change the landscape if you will, of one's perspective. As we shook hands she smilingly said;  "So, you are an interior designer, you look like a designer."  She was referring to my dress; a vintage French tweed hacking jacket paired with a yellow and white broad pin striped Charles Tyrwhitt shirt, ancient polished lace up boots in cognac leather by Joan and David couture, a woven Turkish leather belt, a tortoise shell resin bracelet given me by a loyal client, a paisley Bora cashmere scarf and a pair of my elder son's cast off khakis!

A Charming illustration from The Gentleman's Gazette

It is a constant surprise to me that I can remember this laundry list for years, yet I may not remember most of what I was so kindly taught in two hours of private IT tutoring!  I will have taken just a minute or two lunging at my wardrobe, bureau and dressing table like a fencer, to retrieve these items because I don't like spending much time dressing, too much to get on with…  I'll grab a bag and an extra pair of shoes as I'm running out the door.  There's nothing original about taking tweeds out of the field and into the boardroom, or the drawing room for that matter...

A guest suite in a tower room we created for Mugdock Castle.
Note in the fore and background, the full tailored curtains made from Italian summer wool suiting trimmed with English Crewelwork.  A masculine and elegant solution.

The point of this peek into my wardrobe is that sartorial details inform the interiors we create.  Especially when looking at clients' homes or commercial spaces, these bits of information will filter back to be transformed into a design.  Apparently this is so for many designers as increasingly the relationship between fashion and interiors is blurred.  I'm not a slave to fashion in our interior design work.  One's interiors don't alter with the same frequency as one's wardrobe.  However, dominant influences in our environment do inform.  Fashion garners vast amounts of pictorial and conversational time/space.

Ted, Alex, Holly and Guy from Dashing Tweeds during the London Tweed Run, 
a fabulous contemporary take on a sartorial and interiors staple!
Some thoughts from this conversation… Many of us use suiting material for upholstery as it is strong, smooth, fluid and elegant.  Since I saw Nicholas Haslam's use of scarlet wool melton for curtains in an entrance hall in New Orleans I found myself longing to recreate this in a room.

His idea nods to designers like John Fowler who, after the war, had little more than their ingenuity and rationed and recycled fabrics to create interiors.

We've long appropriated Welsh blankets for curtains - or as in the twin beds in my daughter's bedroom vintage woven blankets from Harvey Nichols into pretty and practical bedskirts.

A recent joyful find, indeed the final spark of inspiration for the blog this month is a young bridal wear designer just embarking on her first collection.  The construction of a bridal gown is akin to making curtains for a Grade I listed house; many hours of engineering, followed by intricate construction and hand sewing and metres and metres of fabric, made to look effortlessly beautiful...

Nina Rose's first collection.  I adore the line of her gowns.

A John Fowler sketch for curtains at Brook Street.  Note the dressmaker details.  
As with all of our curtains, his were hand sewn...

Madame Gres trained as a sculptor before becoming a couturier. She opened her atelier Gres, in Paris in1942, and was known for the flowing structural drape of her gowns. Many were made in jersey, comfortable, cheap and easy to source after the war, like Coco Chanel.  She was often commissioned by Givenchy, and known for being a vociferous critic of the burgeoning market in ready to wear.  

The draping of her gowns was magnificent - how I'd love to wear one of her designs today

This photo is of of Watts of Westminster Jura, one of the sexiest, most sumptuous striped velvet fabrics we have ever used, here pictured in a somewhat faded version of its original exuberant colours, on a canapé in an issue of a magazine that I sadly cannot remember… I wish Watts still produced this!

Since its inception Prince Charles has been an advocate for and supporter of the Wool Council's "The Campaign for Wool", which has been a potent reminder of the suitability of this particular fabric for interiors use.  There was an excellent selling exhibition at Southwark Cathedral through last weekend during Wool Week if you had the chance to pop in…  Here a couple of favourites...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Cave dwelling with a difference

September always starts with a roar as we struggle to meld the soft patina of summer holidays in to the quickened reality of autumn commitments.  It is a month that demands a poised diary as every day is a mixture of deadlines, design events and new projects.  Feeling a bit like a Formula One Driver who can't slow down enough for the next chicane, part of me longs for the simple pleasures of summer, so I thought it might be worth a last look over our shoulders as we hurtle into autumn...

When on the super fast track, my thoughts most often turn backwards to a time and place where things moved necessarily much more slowly.  The ancient city of Matera, in southern Italy, is a place filled with constant reminders of ancient times, where in the sassi, the most ancient area of this fantastical place, the houses are carved into the soft tuff rock, cave dwellings, where these bizarrely hewn hollows have been continuously lived in for many thousands of years, as long ago as 15,000BC.

Ancient frescoes in the Crypt of Original Sin near Matera

Carved out of Tuffa, the ancient dwellings of Matera

The Museum in Matera, a series of galleries clothed in these incredibly rich faded frescoes 

A family in Matera before the government stepped in and moved them to public housing

A pair of timber doors recede into the scene

In our ever present curiosity about the world, we have turned even these most humble dwellings into modern fantasies of the simple life.  In the eighties, residents who had left as children came back as squatters and stayed as hoteliers with a twist.  A shining example of this is pictured below. Tony Perottett, in a winter issue of The Smithsonian, says, "You know that travellers tastes have come full circle when they are clamouring to live like troglodytes".  Whilst there is a shred of truth in this statement, I don't think the troglodytes would have enjoyed the luxuries of plunge baths, concierge service, starched linens and gourmet peasant cuisine on tap!   We have moved on a bit from the days of Dynasty where couture shoulder pads jostled with bottles of Cristal on Concorde to arrive in time for a party in the Carribean…  There are scores of eco holidays available worldwide where we applaud the reed bed drainage system, try to use the same towels all day to ease the burden of water usage and sing the praises of local cuisine.  It is big, responsible business.  I think it is more than a reaction to our wanton wastefulness in the seventies.  I think it is the body and spirit truly craving a closer proximity to the natural world.  And I think it is lovely.

A bedroom at Le Grotte della Civita in Matera, beautiful and authentic yet far more luxurious than any local would have experienced...

Therein lies my fascination with Matera.  Part of me yearns for a simpler life.   My own getting closer to the natural, primeval world was camping in Cornwall this summer, lingering late over the glowing embers of the campfire watching the sun set then stars emerge, or on the rainy nights cosy in the tent with a cup of tea and my book by torchlight.  Rising with the sun and slowing down as it set.  That is luxury in our post industrial world and it is also coming full circle.

A day at Lantic Bay

My Dream tent, courtesy of Ananbo Papier Peint Panoramique

Friday, 27 June 2014

What's Beneath Our Feet

A floor can be just as provocative or beautiful as a painting.  Mosaic floors are beautiful to look at, tell a story and are heaven to walk on, the tiny mosaic pieces at slightly different levels, creating movement and sensation in three dimensions.  One of the most durable and lasting forms of floor, mosaics have been in evidence for thousands of years; made from pebbles, then tiny squares of glass, stone, terracotta and other materials.

Many exquisite examples still exist from the ancient world of Mesopotamia, the Roman world and beyond.  The significance of their pictorial message varied greatly over time and place but the intricacy of the work certainly suggested wealth and permanence in the places they were used.  Here are a few examples close to home and further afield.

Littlecote House, the Elizabethan house near the river Kennet in Wiltshire, where Henry VIII wooed Jane Seymour, is the site of a Roman floor, rediscovered in 1727 by the steward of Littlecote. The Orpheus Mosaic is almost all that remains of this hall.  Its symbolism was forbidden due to legislation against pagan ritual around 400AD.  Most of the buildings in the complex were either destroyed or fell into decay.

The Beauty of Durres, The National Museum, Tirana, 4th century BC. 
This intricate pebble mosaic was found deep in the foundations of a private house, 
apparently the floor of an ancient bathing/resting chamber.

The extraordinary fourth century mosaic floor still in place beneath the stones at the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem, commissioned by Helena, Constantine's mother.

Uncovered in the 1950s, this villa boasts incredibly complex depictions of animals, figures and geometric patterns.  This floor is intriguing because at first glance it could be an embroidery or weaving.  Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily.

Palace of The Grand Master of the Knights of St John, sacked by the Turks, nearly destroyed by an explosion in the mid nineteenth century, and eventually rebuilt around 1940 by Italian occupiers, the mosaic floors from Kos are a central feature in this palace of medieval origin which has been a museum since the end of the second world war.

 Moved to the Palace of The Grand Master of The Knights of St John, 
this Byzantine floor is from Kos, thought to be the birthplace of Hippocratos.

A detail from the old testament floor mosaic at The Cathedral at Aquileia. The story of Jonah and the Whale is depicted in the pavement.  Dating from the 4th Century AD, the floor was only excavated in the early 1900s, discovered as often is the case beneath successive layers of flooring.

This geometric pattern is familiar to all of us, and seen in mosaic form at Delos.  

Tunisian floor mosaic depicting farm life, 4th Century at the Barda museum, Tunis.

From recent excavations of an ancient villa in Urfa (the ancient settlement of Edessa) Turkey, "Villa of the Amazons", a border detail of 5th/6th Century Byzantine mosaic unearthed during works.  Twelve rooms are paved in these mosaics.  Interestingly, just a few miles away is the oldest recorded site of Gobekli Temple, dated 9000 BC - with evidence of terazzo like floors, precursors of mosaics!

The border detail depicting the duck is pertinent to my family as we are nursing a wild duckling separated from its family.  Its current home is not nearly as elegant - a nesting box with heat lamp and a grass pen in the garden that resists all attempts at interior design and decoration!  
What a memento a floor like this would be of our time with Jerri the duck...