Another Night on the Tiles | Encaustic Humour
Back at Jumeirah’s Grosvenor House Apartments, yes hot to foxtrot in Mayfair, General Manager Astrid Bray introduces WW1 Centenary Works the latest exhibition of artist in residence Mark Humphrey. Fires roar casting dancing shadows across the charcoal grey and burnt amber upholstery of the atrium. “I first came across Mark Humphrey’s work at the new St James Theatre,” Astrid announces. “There was this amazing marble staircase. It blew me away! I said I’d really like to meet whoever designed it. A few phone calls later, a Christmas tree commission followed, and two years later Mark is still our exciting artist in residence!” After several of Grosvenor’s trademark cheese and asparagus cones are consumed, South Ken bound it is, as the theme of art, hotels and a Lake Wobegon High reunion takes over.
The Exhibitionist Hotel, London’s latest, may be a pair of twin four storey early Victorian terraced houses but it’s not stuccoed in the past. Its façade has been fashionably Fa’ow Ball’d a shade of Vole’s Breath or Elephant’s Back or Banker’s Wife’s One Shade of Grey with details like the Doric porticos and piano nobile balustrades picked out in crisp folded linen white. Neighbours are as
eccentric eclectic as the interiors. The polychromatic stonework of the Natural History Museum looms over Queensberry Place; opposite the hotel is the byzantine brickwork of Institut Français. A few doors down lurks the intriguingly named College of Psychic Studies. Several streets away in Roland Gardens lingers Anoushka Hempel’s Blakes Hotel where the whole boutique rage took off.
The name Exhibitionist Hotel shrieks streaks of “clothes optional” but while there are no shrinking violets at the opening, the only wallflowers being fabric, it’s actually a play on nearby Exhibition Road plus having lots of its very own gallery space. Has anyone else a loaded pistol? Yes. Le Gun. The art collective takes the hotel by storm with large scale drawings and murals. Standing sentinel at the door is a mannequin suitably unclothed except for a lampshade on his head. It’s an artwork by Jimmie Martin, otherwise known as Jimmie Karlsson and Martin Nihlmar. Queen of pop Madonna commissioned Jimmie Martin to design a golden throne for her Super Bowl half time performance and it’s easy to see why. They don’t hold back. “We paint on things to create progressive art,” says Jimmie. “Bondage meets luxury I guess!” Martin adds, “Upcycling antiques at our studio on Kensington Church Street, that’s our thing.” London based Jimmie Martin and Squint designed the penthouse suites.
Hotel founder Manhad Narula commissioned designer Steve Crummack to oversee the interior concept. “Cool pieces and vintage furniture,” is how he sums it up. “We wanted to retain the period feel while also focusing on the weak points and having fun with them.” That explains the psychedelic fake flower faux grass filled lift rising to hippy heaven next to the drawing room marble fireplace. “You can see right through the reception desk,” he laughs, “so that leg candy is visible!” Steve designed the three basement suites. “They have their own private entrances so you can have fun, invite your mates over for a party. The suites pay homage to the era of fabulous travel!” In the ground floor Abstract bar, cocktails prepared by mixologist Isaac Muigai vie with installations for colourfulness. Rough Luxe is so last year. Lux Lisbon and Art Luxe are so now, so so now. Drown your joy in beauty. A pair of female legs stick upright from an urn. Has a guest made an exhibition of herself? Zany has a new.
You Got a Fast Car
Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce. Fast cars. Keep up. Snaidero OLA Kitchen 1990, Juventus Stadium 2008, Calligaris Orbital Table 2011, Millecento Residences 2012, Sergio Pininfarina Concept Car Ferrari 2013, Fuoriserie Bike 2014. Steady excellence. Keep going. It was only a matter of time, time being of everyone’s essence, waiting for no woman, until Pininfarina was asked to design the fleet of trains travelling up to 200 miles per hour that link the UK to continental Europe. The French – and Belgian – connection. All aboard the Eurostar. Happy 20th birthday.
City lights lay out before us | We don’t need anything or anyone
It’s the unveiling of the first new state of the art e320 train. The world class Italian design house has gone full steam ahead with the interior design covering styling, engineering and livery to boot. Pininfarina’s brand values, as ever, are at work and play here: creativity, experience, innovation. Nothing jejune. Nothing ersatz. Nothing déclassé. Nada. That hasn’t changed since 1930. Unlike the number and whereabouts of the employees. The company now has a workforce of 3,000 across Italy, Germany, Sweden, Morocco, China. Bigger picture, devilish detail. After all, Pininfarina has in the past gone micro, designing an exclusive bottle of Chivas 18. Back to macro, delivering it large.
Is it fast enough so you can fly away | We’ll do it all everything on our own
A double decade ago, Eurostar really was the most momentous event in the history of cross Channel travel since Blériot wobbled his way over the white cliffs in 1909. At first departing from Waterloo, the smart move was to relocate to St Pancras, a destination itself with two of London’s finest hotels at the end of the line. Beautiful staff line the platform as a DJ and poptastic quartet perform. More seats, more room, more fun. Pininfarina has given Eurostar all that pizzazz. Business class culinary director Raymond Blanc says salut.
Leave tonight or live and die this way | Just know that these things will never change for us at all
Over to Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic: “We’ve changed the way people think, live and work between the cities of London, Paris and Brussels. So far we’ve carried 150 million passengers. Eurostar has doubled the size of the market between our three cities. Our DNA is product innovation and customer service. We aim to make travelling a pleasure, an experience in itself.” Next year, Eurostar will travel direct to Lyon. The following year, Amsters. A star is reborn.
Maybe together we can get somewhere | Let’s waste time
Atlanta. Hotlanta. Leave sultry Sunday Funday we’re-off-to-balmy-Piedmont-Park behind. Hop on the next flight out of the capital of Georgia, bumping along over the alligator swamps. Y’all this is the only way to make it from Lavender’s Blue to Savannah blue. Savannah Hilton Head International: as trim and prim as a spanking new golf resort. Grab a cab and speed along the highway past preened lawns greened by sprinklers, screened by clipped bushes, neat verges, shuttered existences, everything manicured to within an inch of its life.
Turn right off the highway. Screech of breaks. Wham bam thank you ma’am! A change of gear literally, historically, metaphorically. A contrast as sharp as the right turn. Do the time warp. Welcome to the urban jungle that is Savannah. The antebellum and great antebellum mansions between pastel washed clapboard townhouses and horse drawn carriages clip clopping along cobbled boulevards fanned by the river breeze make for picture perfect views framed in 1,000 postcards. Yet it is the lush verdant vegetation above all else, the layer of nature that hangs over and creeps round this genteel city four square, that makes it so special.
Spanish moss forms an overhead tapestry of heavy green drapes and swags interwoven with patches of intense blue sky. A pink azalea carpet sweeps across the squares while wisteria climbs up buildings like wallpaper, dogwood blossom providing extra pattern. Ivy acts as leafy borders. Eat at The Lady and Sons, pray at Christ Church compline, love. But this visit was years ago. The immediacy of the past, the distance of the present. Deep calls to deep. That is all we have. The future is not ours.
In the now not the not yet, who better to talk to about Southern planting than the owner of Recreating Eden Landscape Design. Former model, cat lover and Lavender’s Blue reader Sandra Jonas has been designing noteworthy landscapes for over two decades. Gardens, parks, historic sites, cemeteries and even Olympic equestrian competition courses have benefitted from her talent. A graduate in Landscape Design from Radcliffe College Cambridge Massachusetts, her award winning work has been celebrated in Atlanta Homes, Better Homes + Gardens and Southern Living. Sandra’s own garden is a learned essay in four seasons centred on the vistas and verandas and virtues of Hamilton House, her 1840s antebellum home in Hogansville.
“Some of the most beloved and ubiquitous spring plants in Georgia are the big blousy Southern azaleas, or rhododendron indica,” she says. “Every spring garden tour is timed for their bloom. They are spectacular. Larger gardens will have at least one Southern magnolia, magnolia grandiflora, the plant that defines the South. Larger gardens may use these plants as hedging material. They have dense evergreen lustrous foliage and flowers the size of dinner plates with a fragrance that isn’t too sweet or powerful nonetheless.”
Sandra adds, “Then of course there are the camellias, which, depending on the variety bloom from autumn to spring. Right now camellia sasanqua is the star of the garden. The wonderful thing about the climate here is that gardens planned with care can have plants to delight every month of the year. Most historic Southern gardens feature a ‘camellia walk’ leading from the house to the kitchen. The kitchen was located some distance from the house so that a fire wouldn’t destroy the house. These sheltered walks were probably meant to keep the food warm rather than necessarily for the comfort of the slaves who cooked and served it. Usually there would be fig trees and muscadines, wild grapes, that would be made into preserves and wine for winter. As for the gardens I’ve seen in Savannah, they mostly use plants to frame the architecture, which is sensational, and anchor the houses in the landscape.” Tara!
Destination known. Another evening, another ambassador. Diplomatic community. Greek Ambassador to the UK Konstantinos Bikas co hosted a party along with his cohort the Governor of Crete Stavros Arnaoutakis at the National Geographic Store opposite Harrods and basking in the afterglow of The Lansbury. It was the London Launch of a celebration of all things Cretan. Incredible Crete.
Stavros commented, “Over half a million people from the UK have visited Crete this year. Tourism makes up 70 percent of our GDP. We have 1,000 kilometres of coastline and one third of all five star hotels in Greece are on our island.” Woody Allen ponders in Love and Death, “I wonder if Socrates and Plato took a house on Crete during the summer?” The island is after all where the first civilisation in Europe began and later home to Titus, recipient of an epistle from St Paul.
The accompanying photographic exhibition illustrated the built and natural wonders of Crete. The ghost of Crete. Shot in 1905 and then again 101 years later. Previously the only evidence of the rural legend of the Cretan wildcat was a couple of pelts purchased at the turn of last century by palaeontologist, zoologist and ornithologist Dorothea Bate. An expedition by the Natural History Museum of Crete and the University of Perugia rediscovered the Cretan wildcat in 1996. One was captured, photographed, studied, tagged, released and tracked for a few months across its habitat on Psiloritis Mountain.
Notes were swapped at the soirée on the travels and travails of reportage with The Fly Away American, a Texan turned serial expat. Snappy wordsmiths at work. Isle of Olive (say it quickly) did the catering. “We’re based in Broadway Market,” said
Christie Turlington Paulina Filippou, who owns the company with her husband. “And sell a range of natural Greek products.” The healthiness of the Mediterranean diet was on display. Dittany by Votania, artichokes, cheese, tomatoes, olives and olive oil by Lyrakis and of course, no meat. Nothing tastes as good as skinny Dakos. Destination next also known. The Tom Dixon lunch @ The Mondrian.