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Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Luxury People Town Houses

Musée Nissim de Camondo Paris + Winter

L’Assez Grand Trianon
It’s time to get MAD (Musée des Arts Décoratifs) and go Camondo. The 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris (1960) states, “The building and its contents were left to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs by the Comte de Camondo in 1936, in memory of his son Nissim, killed during the 1st World War. The visit will fascinate amateurs of 18th century furniture and works of art. The museum is arranged as an elegant 18th century home, and is furnished with remarkably sure taste and objects of great beauty.” An explosive profusion of riches.

It’s international art dealer and collector Charles Plante’s favourite house museum. Amsterdam boasts Museum van Loon. Barcelona has Casa Amattler. Lisbon, Medeiros e Almeida House. London, the Wallace Collection. Musée Nissim de Camondo was designed by architect Réne Sergent taking inspiration from Le Petit Trianon in Versailles; it backs onto Parc Monceau in the 8th Arrondisement. In Letters to Comondo, 2021, artist Edmund de Waal describes Parc Monceau as being “… in the English manner with a little lake and bridge and smart flowerbeds full of annual flowers that need to be tended and renewed and weeded so that there are always gardeners head down and meandering paths…”

This three story house built in 1911 to 1914 by divorced financier Moïse de Camondo is separated from the street by a typical Parisian courtyard. The stern steel coloured paint of the casement window frames contrasts with the welcoming honeyed hue of the stone façade. A relatively flat front – a three bay central set back flanked by single bay chamfered links leading to single bay projections – conceals an intricate layout: a butterfly plan spreads out to the rear towards Parc Monceau. This arrangement creates a jigsaw to be filled with geometrically varied rooms within the confines of the external walls.

All three floors are on show from the functional (bathrooms with porcelain sanitaryware by Kula) to the decorative (the Porcelain Room with more Sèvres than a Rosalind Savill book launch) and a collection of salons in between all linked by a fantastical marble staircase hall. The Buste de Négress by sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire in the dining room is just one of a myriad pieces of period art. Being here. Doing it. Incessant winter rain emboldens the colour of the stonework, softens the light, intensifies the ambience, creating ghosts in the shadows.

Such beauty from such tragedy. In 1944, Nissim’s only sibling, Béatrice, the last surviving Camondo, and her family were killed by the Nazis for being Jews in 1944. The Camondo family tree was ripped asunder, a dynasty destroyed. The house museum resonates with happier times though. A menu card for déjeuner on the dining room table is dated 2 June 1933: “Melon glacé; Filets de soles Murat; Pouleta pochés à l’estragon; Ris créole; Pièce de boeuf à la gelée; Salade de romaine; Petits pois à la Française; Paillettes au parmesan; Fromage; Granit à la cerise.” Lunch, 11 years earlier…

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Design Luxury People Restaurants

Le Louis Vins Bar + Restaurant + Rare Champagne Paris

The Beautiful Changes 

It was the best of times, then it got a little bit better. We’re on the uprise. “You will die!” expresses our recommendation earlier that day. We do. Le Louis Vins. Heaven is a place on earth in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Le paradis, c’est les autres. “I booked a table for you at Louis Vins. An exquisite restaurant in the 5th close to Notre Dame. Let me know when you get there. Bisous.” Co owner Bertrand greets us, “It’s all about the wine!” Well yes it is, especially when you’re serving Rare Champagne, but later it turns out it’s all about the wine and food. And people. And décor. And ambience. And style. This is, after all, le Paris, a beautiful city full of brilliant people. Bienvenue. La cave has gone all ground floor. We’re raring to go. On it like a Renoir bonnet. Nancy Mitford wrote in her 1954 biography, “Madame de Pompadour excelled at an art which the majority of human beings thoroughly despise because it is unprofitable and ephemeral: the art of living.” We’re all on for a bit of Pompadour circumstance.

A chouqette’s throw from the Seine Embankment, the Latin Quarter earns a mention in the 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris, 1960, that tale of one city, “The legends and memories of the old district of the medieval schools, the highly interesting church of St Séverin and the small religious building of St Julien-le-Pauvre, the wonderful view of Notre Dame from the Square Viviani, the Museum of Cluny and the magnificent building in which it is housed, lend a special charm to this tour.” Louis Vins’ canopied façade lines the historic Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. By happy happenstance, Shakespeare and Company bookshop is close by.

“We sell happiness!” smiles Bertrand Guillou-Valentin, “till 2am.” The menu is divided into Entrées, À Partager Pour l’Apéritif, Plats and Desserts. There are plenty of carnivorous thrills but as always we go pescatarian. “Pour nos amis végétariens la cheffe se fera un plaisir de proposer une alternative, il suffit de demander.” Tonight, Rare Champagne and more vintage than Rétromobile accompanies them all. Les jeunes endives en salade, Roquefort, noix et pommes Granny Smith (chicory salad, Roquefort, walnuts and Granny Smith little New Yorks). Les poireaux vinaigrette en mimosa, oeufs de harengs fumés (leeks in mimosa vinaigrette, smoked herring roe). Les noix de Saint Jacques justes saisies, dans un bouillon detox au curcuma et aux petits légumes (seared Saint Jacques scallops in a broth, turmeric and miniature vegetables). Les poires carmélisées, brownie aux noix de pecan et crème fouettée (carmelised pears, pecan nut brownie, whipped cream). It’s all incredibly bistronomique.

We’re whisked off on a whistlestop tour of the wooden panelled restaurant and the stainless steel fitted kitchen. A sign is scrawled across a door, “Skinny people are easier kidnapped. Stay safe, eat croûte au Louis Vins.” Co owner Chef Mélanie Serre compliments and complements Bertrand’s vinological verve. Son of a restaurateur and grandson of an oyster farmer from the Oléron Island on the French Atlantic coast, Bertrand was born and bred and bound to open somewhere like Louis Vins. It’s impossible to leave without downing a Pornstar Martini: “Vodka Mamont infuse à la vanille, fruit de la passion, sucre vanille, shot de Champagne.” The creator of the cocktail Douglas Ankrah is a friend of Bertrand and Mélanie. At this rate of consumption, we’re gonna end up seriously unkidnappable. The bar and restaurant live up to their catchphrase: “Au Louis Vins le service est toujours impeccable.” C’est la vie. La vie en Rare Rosé. Life à la mode.

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Art Design Fashion Luxury People

The Pink Coat + Mary Martin London

A Blush of Winter

“Your writing brings my events alive – it’s like being there. You do with your writing what I do with my fashion. You bring things alive! Everyone keeps asking who is this talented writer who writes so movingly and wittily about your shows Mary. I just loved your piece ‘The City Doesn’t Sleep Tonight’. Everyone does! Everyone in Ghana was asking who is doing all this wonderful writing? And I say, it’s you! Lavender’s Blue!” Mary Martin 2022.

“We came from somewhere and we are tending somewhere, and the spectacle is glorious and portentous.” Marilynne Robinson, 2012. Call it history, call it couture. The new Queen Charlotte is breathing life into costumery. The new Queen Elizabeth is promenade royally ready. “No Irish people – Irish or Anglo Irish – live a day unconsciously… for generations [they] have been lived at high pitch.” Elizabeth Bowen, Bowen’s Court and Seven Winters, 1942. A few London Welsh do too.

The Pink Coat is really heavy; it’s like an old fashioned military coat. It’s the opposite of throwaway fashion; this coat is designed to last and last. My clothes are all so sustainable. There’s faux fur running down the back of it to keep you warm when you sit down! Janice, with her red hair, looks great in it.” Mary Martin 2022.

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Architecture Art Design Fashion Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Luton Hoo Bedfordshire + Katie Ice

The Franco Files

Hoo’s Who. Seriously. It’s that good. The revivification of Countess Markievicz. Luton is the new Paris. Katie Ice swapped a (not so plain) runway for the (plane) runway. The revolution has begun. Game on. As for that legendary niche leap…. the model as ballerina! The hotel’s all it’s cracked up to be and more. Postcard home material. Luton Hoo is to Luton what Versailles is to Paris. Luton Hoo. The country house that looks like a French hotel and is now a Frenchified hotel. Just when things couldn’t get more glamorous, they do. Katie pulls up in a chauffeur escorted Bentley. She looks, as ever, as if she has just stepped off a Parisian photoshoot. Turns out she has. Lady in red and fuchsia pink. Louis Roederer Brut Premier filled volutes in hand, with a lust for living and a gusto of giving it our all, we breeze through the French doors and begin dancing like dervishes across the lawn, spinning in wonder at the infinite beauty of the place and life itself. Is it a lawn? No, it’s a dancefloor this evening. Is that a path? No, a catwalk. A niche? Podium. Pleasure Gardens? Pleasure Gardens. Luton Hoo is a playground for the beautiful and restless.

The estate is some 400 hectares (the same size as Castle Leslie in County Monaghan) with boundary belts of woodland cushioning the impact of the M1 and Luton Airport a couple of kilometres away. It’s amazingly tranquil with lots of wildlife – muntjac deer graze in the grasslands in full view of our bedroom balcony. The River Lea runs along the whole length of the estate and widens in two places to form lakes. We make a variety of photogenic horticultural discoveries from the elevated formal terrace to the sunken rock garden. The 1760s Robert Adam designed stable yard lies south of the house set back from the avenue amongst woodland. A monsoon erupts as we ensconce ourselves in Adam’s Brasserie in the converted stable block. Knickerbockers-returned-to-their-former glory. The walls are hung with stills of actors from the many films set at Luton Hoo: Stephen Fry in Wilde; Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral; Julianne Moore in Surviving Picasso; Sophie Morceau in The World is Not Enough; Jonathan Rees Myers in Vanity Fair.

In 1767 John Stuart the 3rd Earl of Bute, who’d been Prime Minister for barely a year, employed architect Robert Adam to design a country house for his newly acquired estate. Robert Adam (1728 to 1792) was the Robert Adam (1948 to still going strong) of his day. The following century, it was Smirked (Sir Robert Smirke gave it a Greek revival makeover) under the direction of the 3rd Earl’s grandson, burnt, and then re-Smirked (new owner businessman John Leigh rebuilt it much the same as before). At this time, the Ionic portico dominated entrance front resembled that of Mount Stewart in County Down. South African diamond magnate Sir Julius Wernher and his wife Lady Birdie bought Luton Hoo at the turn of last century. The pair really went to ville, appointing The Ritz Paris refurb architects Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis (who’d met at the École des Beaux Arts) to transform the house into a Louis the Hooey château with more oeils de boeuf than a cattle mart. It became a country Haussmann.

Elite Hotels acquired Luton Hoo in 1999 and following a restoration and rejuvenation of the house and estate, opened it nine years later to paying guests. The greatest change to the main house was raising the roof from single pitches to mansards – how terribly French! This allowed the insertion of dormer windowed guest rooms on the second floor. In addition to the 38 bedroom suites in the main house, architect Andrew Clague designed a standalone neo Georgian block hidden in the woodlands to provide another 38 suites. Further guest accommodation was created in the converted stables. The Aurora Group bought the hotel and estate in 2021.

Robert Adam architecture; Capability Brown parkland; Fabergé eggs; Gobelin tapestries; Grinling Gibbons woodwork; John Sargent portraits… all the class signifiers are ticked and present. If it was good enough for Queen Mary… There’s even a sapphic staircase. The bulk of the Wernher Collection, more than 650 works of art, is how housed at Ranger’s House in Blackheath. Over Buffalo mozzarella with avocado, Giant Israeli cous cous and mint, and Chocolate orange tart with fresh macerated strawberries served in the drawing room, Katie exclaims, “I love Paris!” In England she models for Mary Martin London. “Mary is like Vivienne Westwood. She is creating fashion for everyone. Mary and Vivienne are both wildly talented – and eccentric! I love hats like my mum. I love when people wear heels, when they dress up. I’m originally from Kielce – it’s such a huge leafy city. I miss Poland but I love England.  I’m very sentimental.” It’s all a bit like The Hotel, Elizabeth Bowen’s novel published in 1972, “Gratifying how one’s intimate world contracted itself, how one’s friends always wove themselves in! Society was fascinating, so like a jigsaw puzzle!”

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Architects Architecture Country Houses People

Emo Court Laois + James Gandon

Let Them Eat Hake

“They all knew each other, or about each other,” suggests Mark Girouard in his chapter “A Country House Childhood” in Town and Country, 1982. He’s referring to the Anglo Irish. That was even the case in the 19th century. “The owner of Ballyfin saw his neighbour’s property Emo Court and wanted that,” confirms award winning architect John O’Connell who runs an international Grade 1 Conservation Practice based in Dublin. No surprises there, for Emo Court is an architectural masterpiece. It’s one of the Big Houses of Ireland, the size of a terrace of Dublin townhouses. A copper dome on the middle of the roof lends it a municipal air. Its architect, London born James Gandon (he would move to Ireland when he was 40), designed some of Dublin’s great public buildings: his Custom House and The Four Courts still grace the banks of the River Liffey. James Gandon didn’t just inspire Ballyfin. Attempts have been made to emulate his Dublin Custom House at least twice: Doolin + Butler’s 1912 University College Dublin and Jones + Kelly’s 1935 Cork City Hall.

“It’s a railway station in disguise!” John jests. “The volume of the library is Rome come to Laois. The interior is like being inside a very public building.” In the late 18th century landowner John Dawson, 1st Earl of Portarlington, was running in the same social circle as James Gandon. In 1790 he commissioned the architect, who had trained under Sir William Chambers, to design a country house on his estate. John notes, “The Earl was a great sponsor of Gandon.” The construction of the house continued after the death of both client and architect. The 2nd Earl engaged London architect Louis Vulliamy alongside Dublin architects Arthur and John Williamson. Elevation and profile ink and watercolour drawings by the Williamsons dated 1822 survive in the Irish Architectural Archive. The 3rd Earl commissioned Dublin architect William Caldbeck to complete the house. Despite these multiple hands at work across eight decades, Emo Court resonates complete neoclassical perfection. On a grey rainy day its copper dome still shines bright as a green beacon of good taste.

At one time, only The Phoenix Park in Dublin was a larger enclosed estate in Ireland than the 4,450 hectares of Emo Court. In 1920 the 6th Earl sold Emo Court to the Irish Land Commission who in turn sold it on to the Jesuits along with 100 hectares. Almost half a century later, the splendidly monikered  Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison, an English financier, snapped it up for £42,000. He enlisted the London architect Sir Albert Richardson to restore the house. In 1994, the Major presented Emo Court to President Mary Robinson who received it on behalf of the Irish nation.

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Architecture Country Houses People Town Houses

The Cootes + Mountrath Laois

Puntsland

It’s one of the most architecturally interesting towns in Ireland. Nearby is the early Georgian Roundwood House. Contemporary architect John O’Connell says, “Roundwood is so intact. It’s like a doll’s house.” There’s a reddish terracotta rendered multi pointy gabled three storey with attics house in the centre of the town partially concealed behind a cobweb of telegraph wires on Patrick Street overlooking the River Whitehorse. It looks late 17th century or at youngest early 18th century. “That is where the Cootes, the local landowners, used to live,” John explains, “before they came into money and moved to Ballyfin.” Mountrath has that beautiful planned look to it: three identical villas grace the Abbeyleix road and another three jazz up the Portlaoise road. The Earls of Mountrath, family name Coote, made sure of that. The first historic monument to hit you if you are idling time pre Ballyfin is St Peter’s Church, the stone walled beacon of Protestantism. It’s an early 19th century cruciform. Samuel Lewis records in his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland that the Earl of Mountrath donated the site in circa 1796 and the church was consecrated in 1801, before being enlarged 31 years later.

Samuel Lewis describes the town as follows, “This place, called also Moynrath, or the ‘fort in the bog’, became, in the beginning of the 17th century, the property of Sir Charles Coote, who, although the surrounding country was then in a wild state and overspread with woods, laid the foundation of the present town. In 1628, Sir Charles obtained for the inhabitants a grant of two weekly markets and two fairs, and established a very extensive linen and fustian manufactory, which in the war of 1641, together with much of his other property here, was destroyed. His son Charles regained the castle and estate of Mountrath, with other large possessions, and at the Restoration was created Earl of Mountrath, which title, on the decease of Charles Henry, the 7th Earl, in 1802, became extinct. The present possessor is Sir Charles Henry Coote, Premier Baronet of Ireland. The town, which in 1831 contained 429 houses, is neatly built, and has been the seat of successive manufactures; iron was made and wrought here till the neighbouring woods were consumed for fuel, and on its decline the cotton manufacture was established; an extensive factory for spinning and weaving cotton is carried on by Mr Greenham, who employs 150 persons in the spinning mills, and about 500 in weaving calicoes at their own houses; the average quantity manufactured is from 200 to 250 pieces weekly. Stuff weaving is also carried on extensively; there is a large brewery and malting establishment, and an extensive oil mill; and the inhabitants carry on a very considerable country trade.”

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Luxury People Restaurants

Chez Bruce Wandsworth London + Lavender’s Blue

Words Are Mysteries

“My business partner Nigel Platts-Martin and I opened Chez Bruce in 1995. From the outset it was our intention to serve the very best food and drink but in a relaxed, informal, yet thoroughly orchestrated environment. Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to collect many prestigious awards and industry gongs, but it has never been our inclination to rest on our laurels. Restaurants aren’t about celebrity chefs, managers, owners or design; they’re about customers. In our kitchen, wine and dining room departments we only strive to improve. If one’s passion is truly rooted in the business, there’s no other option,” summarises co owner Bruce Poole. An Olympian 27 years after opening (restaurant years are counted in dalmatian years), Chez Bruce is certainly not resting on its many well deserved laurels. And today really is all about us, the customers.

Chasing the constellation around the world, it was inevitable we’d end up lunching at Chez Bruce, the closest Michelin starred restaurant to Chez Nous. Head Chef Matt Christmas, deliverer of well seasoned catholic French cuisine, and Head Sommelier Victor Barré, eclectic collector of good wines, bookend the meal while filling the lacuna with classic indulgences. Starry touches are the freshly baked warm parmesan biscuits with sourdough and rosemary focaccia at the primacy effect (start of a meal) and mandarin and shortbread party favours at the regency effect (end of a meal). Kingsdown sparkling water reminds us of Deal in Kent. Albariño is a catalyst for Spanish memories. Starter: Miso glazed aubergine with ginger, puffed wild rice, sesame, shiso and soy. Main course: Roast cod with truffle mash, leeks, garlic, parsley and soy. And pudding: Prune, almond and Armagnac tart with clotted cream. Truffly petit fours are one of many delights that delay our departure. As Mylène Farmer would sing,Fixement, le ciel se tord.”

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Architecture Art Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Hôtel Chateaubriand Paris +

We Don’t Have Beef

Hôtel Chateaubriand is the sister of Hôtel Washington in the golden triangle at the very heart of the French capital. Romain Rio Hotels, the best of Paris. They’re located off Champs Élysées. The 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris (1960) describes that most famous of avenues, “Leaving Clemenceau’s statue to the right in the square of that name, we cross the Avenues des Champs Élysées, and not without turning to enjoy the view towards the Invalides. To the left stands the Marigny Theatre built in the reign of Napoléon III. Close to this is La Bourse aux Timbres – the Stamp Market – where collectors meet on Thursdays and Saturdays.”

The Guide continues, “You pass a number of drinking fountains; these, like many others in Paris were the gift of a generous English philanthropist, Sir Richard Wallace (1818 to 1890), and are named after him. Sir Richard spent a number of years in Paris and gave away a large part of his fortune for charitable purposes. He was a popular respected figure, and received many honours both in France and in England. Turning to the right you follow the Avenue Gabriel opened in 1818. Shaded by magnificent trees, the gardens which you follow lie at the back of the handsome mansions of the Faubourg St Honoré. The first of these on your way is the Élysée. Its fine railings were wrought in 1905. To the right, there is an attempt at a natural garden; the paths meander between undulating lawns with trees rising here and there. To achieve this effect Haussmann cut down many of the fine rows of elms. Turn to the right when reaching the Concorde.”

And now for that heavenward grand tour of Le Chateaubriand, floor by floor, room by room. Deuxième sous sol: archives, bureaux, lingerie, vestiaire du personnel. Premier sous sol: bureau, chambre 10, cuisine, salle à manger. Rez de chaussee: accueil, chambre 20, chambre 30, hall d’entrée, jardinet du premier sous sol, petit salon, grand salon. Premier étage: chambres 101 de 105, jardin. Deuxième étage: chambres 201 de 205. Troisième étage: chambres 301 de 305. Quatrième étage: chambres 401 de 405. Cinquième étage: chambres 501 de 505, terrasse. Sixième étage: chambres 601 et 602.

The interior decoration of this fine Haussmann building isn’t for minimalists. It’s even more spruced up in the festive season. Romain Rio explains, “Like a score, Hôtel Chateaubriand draws harmony from every detail from the imposing chandelier in the patio to the velvet and crocodile lounge chairs in the sitting room… through the powder pink doors coming straight from a Venetian palace to the black fire surround from the palace of Versailles to the bull’s eye window… note the 18th century portraits, the collection of beetles… in this place I reinvent the story of each object, making it timeless yet wildly contemporary.”

The grilled and gated and gilded entrance hall leads into a spacious reception area linked to a basement dining room by a winding staircase overlooking the patio, or glazed courtyard, to the rear. A pair of antique doors opens into the lift: it’s like being encased in a beautiful wardrobe. Clive Staples Lewis would approve. Timber panelled walls and a trio of bowler hat lamps are reflected in a gilt framed hostess mirror. Soothing classical music serenades guests as they ascend – at least in this case – to the penthouse suite.

Ah the penthouse suite! Occupying the lion’s share of the top floor of a Haussmann building: this is what life’s all about. The walls are hung with stretched silk hand painted in places. An enormous gilt picture frame doubles as the bedhead of the equally enormous bed. The en suite bathroom is a pleasure of black marble with an electric shuttered window, not that you’d want to block the view spying on the mansarded neighbours opposite. Everybody in Paris is always saying “C’est la vie.” At Hôtel Chateaubriand it’s, “Vraiment, c’est la vie!”