Leaf through the editorial pages of Country Life circa 1970 and the text to image ratio is roughly 80:20. Pick up a recent copy of the magazine and it’s more like 20:80. Philosopher of Medicine and BBC New Generation Thinker Dr Charlotte Blease muses, “We are bombarded by media now. There are a million other distractions besides sitting reading a magazine article. And we’ve become used to a smorgasbord of appetisers served up to us that satisfies our attention and kills the appetite for something larger and meatier. Consequently there’s a competitiveness in grabbing our attention immediately before someone or something else does that.”
Dr Blease argues, “Tweets are the ultimate informational candy. Tweets as sweets? Cognitively they’re like a carb overload. They rot the brain. They’re informational infantilism. McMedia.” On that note, for the attention span challenged, welcome to the first McReview by Lavender’s Blue. It features Callow Hall in Derbyshire. A relaxing hotel, handy for visiting country houses such as Calke Abbey and Alton Towers. There. Dunnit. Lived up to our reputation as self styled Snappy Wordsmiths. Even managed a callow pun in that 15 word review.
Of course if it wasn’t a McReview, we would talk about Callow Hall’s quirks such as how the bedrooms are named after previous owners, like Dorothy and David. Castle Leslie is another example of this trend. A different country house trend and not any less eccentrically egocentric is to name bedrooms after places visited by the owning family. Two Northern Irish houses come up trumps. Mount Stewart and Clandeboye. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in Amsterdam, Hague, Rome or Paris at Mount Stewart? And the bedroom corridors of Clandeboye read like BA departure lounges: Burma, Canada, France, Italy, Killyleagh, Muttra, Ottawa, Paris, Rome, Russia, Shimla, St Petersburg and Walmer. Ok, maybe not Killyleagh.
Formerly a printing works, it’s an essay in 1930s refinement. Strong bands of render alternate with rows of long glazing between brick panels. It occupies an entire urban block so all four-and-a-half elevations are on display, each masterfully handled. The main entrance has been strategically relocated to the shortest façade which forms a canted bay with two of the longer elevations. At five storeys over basement, The Buckley Building is a typically low rise Derwent affair. The floorplates are large though, accommodating some 500 square metres of ground floor retail and 7,500 square metres of offices on the other floors. A functionless atrium and superfluous columns have been removed.
The refurb spiritedly recaptures the spirit of the aged original. Over to Matt Yeoman, “The design intent was to create a refined industrial aesthetic throughout. Crittall windows have been retained and restored. The internal brickwork was partly grit blasted and exposed. We’ve also exposed the concrete soffits on all the floors.” Now for Simon Silver, head of regeneration at Derwent London, “We dropped the raised ground floor by half a floor to create the classic lofty and welcoming Derwent reception. It’s reminiscent of a grand and timeless warehouse.” An eight metre long concrete reception desk and steel wall cladding inspired by the work of Richard Serra and Carlo Scarpa continue the industrial aesthetic.
A cat slide roof covered with great sheets of glazing swoops down the upper two floors transecting the north facing elevation and flooding the galleried offices with natural light. Most of the fourth floor is set back from the building line to accommodate south and west facing terraces. Richard Buckley always maintained that “design is a sensual experience and can create emotion across all human activity”. He could easily have been talking about The Buckley Building.
Gold frankincense and myrrh. Historically, royalty and rich aromas go together. The launch of the Clive Christian Perfume House in 1999 heralded the return of luxury perfume to the world stage. As custodian of a British perfumery first established in 1872 and uniquely granted the image of Queen Victoria’s crown, Clive Christian has revived the original values of the perfumery, creating only pure perfumes with complex formulae that use the rarest ingredients in their most concentrated forms.
Applying his philosophy of design without reference to cost, he became the creator of No.1 The World’s Most Expensive Perfume. It costs a six figure sum and that’s not including decimal points. The eponymous brand is synonymous with British luxury, from cabinetmaking bespoke oak libraries for anonymous clients to producing hand cut crystal perfume bottles with imperial crown stoppers for celebutantes.
This vision of luxury perfume culminated in the release of the Original Collection headlined by No.1. Understated yet distinctive, No.1 for Men is a refined perfume rich with ancient Indian sandalwood. In contrast, No.1 for women is serene and sophisticated with ylang ylang at its heart. The fragrance releases a gentle Tahitian vanilla, an ingredient which takes six months to crystallise and gain the desired delicate spice. Katie Holmes chose No.1 as the wedding perfume for her marriage to Tom Cruise. At least that decision made good scents.
Its memorable garden front has graced the glossies for almost five decades now. The signature doorcase – topped by a semicircular shell encased in a triangular pediment balanced on scroll brackets – has become a motif for luxury. Owned by the Livingstone brothers who recently snapped up Cliveden, it retains a welcoming family feel on arrival. And on departure, expect to be laden with shortbread and Hildon sparkling. Days earlier, Dave and Sam Cameron had enjoyed the five red star hospitality of this hotel which glimmers on the edge of the New Forest, where staff outnumber guests three to one. Welcome to Chewton Glen.
Henri Cartier-Bresson called the camera a “sketchbook”. Summer sun, nature’s ultimate photographic colour enhancer, wasn’t around but nonetheless Chewton Glen appeared in a mellow glow. After glamorous host manager Juliet Pull whisked us on a tour of bedrooms and suites, some chintzy, some contemporary, all with secluded balconies or terraces, then up to the treehouse lodges, a little closer to heaven, it was off to the spa. For lunch. The Molton Brown designed treatment rooms – padded cocoons in trademark brown tones – were tempting as was the neoclassical 17 metre pool. But the only thing better than swimming is eating lunch watching other people swimming. Preferably synchronised.
The menu promotes less alcohol, more alkaline, intake. A spa buffet as organic as the hotel architecture. Vegetarian foods plus salmon and prawns; wholegrain instead of processed food. Basically less acidic food such as meat and dairy. Your pH balance will be maintained, boosting health and upping energy levels. Lentil, tahini and seaweed; jicama, endive and ewes curd; carrot and sweet pepper slaw. Nothing tastes as good as healthy, Chewton style. Washed down with Night Vision, a blend of carrot, orange and lime. No wonder people choose to get married in the hotel’s kitchen garden. Old habits die hard – a coffee to finish – but this being The Glen, it’s served with buffalo’s rather than cow’s milk.
Don’t let the health buzz end there. Follow Chewton Bunny, a stream gambolling through the 60 hectare estate, briskly past the croquet lawn haha, aha, leisurely through a pond strewn meadow, dashingly across a hairpin bend road, longingly past a house called Squirrel’s Leap, gingerly down a tree lined ravine, and finally stretched out before you will be Christchurch Bay, Highcliffe to the right, Barton on Sea to the left. Beyond lies the Isle of White. The world’s your oyster.
Lavender’s Blue is as ever the brilliant violet coated edition of a universal fact and, as such, it rivets mankind, bringing nice and pretty events. At once, venerable member of the landed gentry, 10th generation descendent of Sir Henry Tichborne, Gabriel de Freitas, châtelaine of Beaulieu House north of Dublin (a precious 17th century artisan mannerist gem in stone). Better known as the vivacious racing car driver Gabriel Konig, she talks cars, cares, careers and country houses.
“I’m Sidney Waddington’s daughter and inherited this house in 1997. Our family has lived here since 1650 and we now run the house for visitors and events throughout the year. But the tourist season is the only time that we’re actually open to the public. It was my mother’s house. It was my mother’s family house, not my father’s, and she ran it with my help really from 1990 when my father died. Then when she died six years later I came back here to live because you cannot run this place from elsewhere. You have to be here and you have to, you know, be part of it.
The house appears to be a great attraction from the tourist industry point of view. So much of its charm is the fact that it’s a lived in home. It’s not a museum. And that is frightfully important. It’s one of the things that practically everybody remarks on but most especially visitors from abroad. The Americans particularly. They love that. They know it’s not a mausoleum.
We have wonderful rooms, reception rooms, which we can use for events today so we are actually very fortunate. So many houses don’t have the rooms that we have that we can encompass so many people to seat for dinner or lunch and, eh, the hall will take two or three hundred, you know, if it’s cleared for a party.
It is hard work. We love it. I love it. And my partner loves it too. And I think what we like about it is we do so many different things. We’re not just stuck doing one job. You go from one thing to another thing to another thing.
I also in my earlier life raced cars. Not a normal, not a usual occupation for a woman but there are a few who have raced very successfully and I had a wonderful few years when I raced all over the world and in later years I raced what are called historic cars for fun. My Blydenstein Vauxhall HC Viva with a unique Lotus engine is now in Beaulieu Car Museum in the former stables next to the house. That was a helluva car.
I didn’t race in Ireland at all actually because we all had to leave. There wasn’t any racing here. Mondello hadn’t been built. So there were only the road races which weren’t that many and I think Kirkistown was probably going and Bishopscourt in the North. But again they weren’t, you know, fully developed and Bishopscourt was then still being used as a back up air base too.
So we all had to go to England and I never had the right car to come here until I had the Camaro and I brought it over for the Phoenix Park in 1972 and then as I was over here I went to Kirkistown. And the car was very quick. It was ideal on the fast circuits, particularly the ones in the North. It was quick enough at Mondello too.
We hope that we will be able to get the house to survive and still be able to live in it. It’s a very happy home and I think people feel that. Yeah.”
Beaulieu and cars clearly go together. Such evocation. Nearby is the coastal village of Termonfeckin. Only in Ireland. Family names include Nesbit (her father); Joceline (her aunt); Penderel (her sister); Patience (her grandmother). And then there’s the angelic Gabriel. A short while after this interview, she passed away peacefully in her sleep, aged 71. Gabriel is survived by her partner Malcolm Clark (another great racer in his day), her daughter Cara, and her grandchildren Rollo and Sidney. Her funeral was held at the heavenly little church looked down upon by the tall sashes of Beaulieu House staring out below burnt orange brick bands, whispering walls, history calls, high above the green banks of the Boyne.
When Linda Evangelista uttered the immortal words that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 she probably was draped across a Savoir bed. “It would be easier to think of famous people who don’t sleep on one of our beds!” says Savoir Beds’ chief executive Alistair Hughes. “After all, our raison d’être is to be the best beds in the world.” Nowadays you are more likely to be holding a laptop than court in bed but Savoir continues to instil a sense of majesty in the piece of furniture on which you spend one third of your life.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, Savoir has launched a limited edition of the Royal State Bed. Designer Mandeep Dillon looked to Hampton Court Palace for inspiration. The result is a half tester, a reinterpretation of the palace’s Angel Bed. Its side curtains are flat, not gathered, and padded to give a tailored finish which accentuates the five metre height of the bed. A high base and mattress maintain the regal proportions. It takes craftsmen over 600 hours to make the Royal State Bed – 70 hours alone go into the crest embroidery. Taking account of the workmanship, the visible materials (silk damask drapes) and the hidden (blond Latin American horse tail and Mongolian cashmere wool in the mattress), little wonder it costs six figures, a king’s ransom, to buy.
Alistair started working life as a management consultant before deciding he “wanted to do something different”. We are on a tour of the “bedworks”, surely London’s most pristine workshop. Craftsmen are tidily engaged in intricate tasks, box springs and toppers under construction resembling abstract artworks. “A workshop should be clean,” he believes. “How can you produce something great if the environment is cluttered? It would reduce efficiency, otherwise. Besides, we still get clients coming to visit us here. People like to see us at work.” For those who don’t make it to the bedworks, there are showrooms on Wigmore Streetand on the King’s Road plus a concession at Harrods. The company which was first started in 1905 to produce beds for the Savoy Hotel has gone worldwide. “We’re opening our third Chinese showroom this year,” Alistair confirms.
He bought the company in 1997 when ownership of the Savoy Hotel was being broken up and has gradually rebuilt the brand, opening a further bedworks in Treforest, south Wales. “Heritage, quality and craftsmanship” are what make Savoir tick – and ticking. “Our beds are fitted to clients’ needs, just like a Savile Row suit. Every bed is ‘bench made’.” In the UK mattresses tend to be zipped and linked for double beds, each side different. Americans apparently prefer whole mattresses. The Trellis Ticking, woven from linen and cotton, was designed by the founder’s wife Lady D’Oyly Carte and is still used. “It’s a fantastic industrial design,” enthuses Alistair. “The grid pattern enforces symmetry and provides a structured guide for where to stitch on other parts like the handles.” She clearly wasn’t just a pretty name.
“We’re not wedded to the past though. We exploit what’s best, embracing advances in technology where appropriate, while using natural materials.” Headboards are totally bespoke and unusual requests range from designs in the shape of burlesque dresses to airplane wings. “However most people opt for the house style they see in our showrooms,” he says. “I like very simple things myself. In St Petersburg, gold claw feet are popular. Horses for courses – the sky’s the limit!” Many of the supremely high quality fabrics used are from John Boyd Textiles mill in Somerset. Savoir has worked with most top designers. Nina Campbell and Mary Fox Linton are just two of them. Check the mattress label the next time you’re in a top hotel and there’s a good chance it will be Savoir. Chewton Glen and Home House are just two of them.
The business model is that, again like a Savile Row suit, work only begins when an order is received. “We don’t keep stock,” says Alistair. At completion of each stage of manufacturing a double check is made. The bed is then fully assembled, checked a final time and photographed as a reference for setting it up. If its onward journey is far, a wooden carrying case is made. “There are 700 springs in a single bed,” explains Alistair. “Three sizes of wire are used depending on the firmness of mattress required: 1.6 millimetres in diameter for a firm mattress; 1.4 millimetres for medium and 1.25 for soft. That’s only 0.35 millimetres difference between the two extremes and yet it makes such an amazing difference.” Spooky, Alistair’s Boston Terrier, has her own bed in the bedworks. Savoir, of course.