Bookazines, Netflix binging and two tone kitchen cupboards are all fashion moments of early spring. Closer to home, bathroom trends from the lips of Hansgrohe are floor level continuous surface showers, transparent glass taps and wood is big, especially if you splash out £80,000 on a timber bathtub like those in the One Tower Bridge penthouses. In a saturated market, Hansgrohe rises above the rest. Ever since 1901 when Hans Grohe himself pioneered bathroom sanitation in his Black Forest HQ, the company has taken design seriously. It regularly holds design competitions. Past winners include Ian Shrager. It regularly wins design awards. So far, 400 and counting.
Lavender’s Blue dinner with erstwhile Skins actress turned intern Annabel P and Westbourne groovers. What could possibly go wrong? A photo shoot interrupted by overzealous security? Been there. An alfresco meal last September in torrential rain? Dunnit. Wakening up in a foreign country on a school night? Got the T shirt. The tantalisingly talismanic invitation postscript “Bring Passports” has long entered Lavender’s lexicon. Of course it hasn’t all gone stomach up fruit shaped. Summer garden partying with the former Home Secretary is all it’s cracked up to be. So it’s time for more cloche lifting frisson as the froth on the social frappuccino set forth with customary braggadocio brio. Nascent or arrived? Either way we’re on our way. Soho hum. A glorious gallimaufry of tapas is to come. Or “Very Significant Canapés” in Westbourne parlance. The Michelin recommended Tapas Brindisa filling the ground floor of a gorgeous Georgian house in London’s wild West End. “Small plates using terrific produce and that great atmosphere you get when places are packed out,” schmooze the Guide Inspectors. The latter comment is something of an understatement. Tapas Brindisa is manic in a good way although maybe that is just our table. Beautiful staff weave their way through the tables as choreographed as Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, balancing plate after plate of piscatorial palate pleasure. Torrential rain aside, outside, mishap free insider fun.
Anne was born in Downpatrick and spent her early childhood in Killyleagh, County Down, a town dominated by a fairytale castle built in 1180 and strategically located overlooking Strangford Lough to defend the town against the Vikings. It was adapted in the 1850s by the architect Sir Charles Lanyon. The castle has a colourful history which includes murder, a contested inheritance and a Judgement of Solomon. It’s now inhabited by the Rowan Hamilton family and is marketed as a self catering destination. Anne remembers going with her mother to the castle’s market garden to buy vegetables.
While at Edinburgh she was elected President of the Sculpture and of the Drama Society whose former President was the playwright John Antrobus. She wrote and produced two plays one of which is now in the archive of the Traverse Theatre in the city. Anne’s interest in theatre stems from her association with the legendary Mary O’Malley, founder of the Lyric Players Theatre Belfast, as a scene painter. In later years Anne was elected to chair the theatre’s board, setting in motion a review of its governance.
Anne took a sabbatical when her children Leon and Mary-Ann were born and moved to County Kilkenny with her husband the architect Harry Orr. There, she revived her art practice setting up Legan Castle Design Studio. She won an Irish Arts Council Travel Award to study traditional mosaic making in Ravenna’s Accademia di Belle Arti and exhibited during Kilkenny Arts Week. Her exhibition about The Troubles, titled Images of War, transferred to The Glencree Centre for Reconciliation in Wicklow through the sponsorship of the journalist Kay Hingerty and the encouragement of the late Jack White, Head of Programmes at RTE, who opened the exhibition.
When Plan magazine needed a Northern Correspondent, Anne was approached. That association led to the publication of a brochure for the Festival of Architecture in Belfast for the Royal Society of Ulster Architects which subsequently evolved into the Ulster Architect magazine of which Anne was the founding editor. In the 1980s she purchased the magazine and set up a company to ensure that it would continue in publication. As publisher and editor of an architectural magazine she covered all the main building projects in the UK and Ireland with an eye to the visual arts and heritage projects. She personally interviewed high profile people including Max Clendinning, Edward Cullinan and Richard Rogers as well as covering stories throughout the UK and in Belgium, Canada, Germany, Holland, Italy and Norway. Her company was selected to take part in an entrepreneurial programme between University of Ulster and Boston College. Anne spent six months in the media department of a large advertising agency, Hill Holiday Connors Cosmopolous.
My Favourite London Hotel… Because I live in London I don’t often stay in hotels in the city but I did stay in the Tower Hotel at Tower Bridge when my daughter was married in London. It’s in a spectacular location with magnificent views of the bridge and the River Thames. Quite a few years ago I found The Manhattan Hotel in Covent Garden almost by accident. Named after Lord Louis Mountbatten, in the opulently relaxed colonial interior, you could almost transport yourself to India as it was when he was the last Viceroy. It’s now part of the Edwardian Hotels group so has probably changed somewhat since then.
My Favourite London Restaurant… I always take advice from my brother Damien and his wife Imelda when they come to London. They are both great foodies who keep me on my toes gastronomically. They lived in London before moving to France about 20 years ago but still visit regularly. So I don’t really have a favourite but I have had really good experiences with them at Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly which is a slice of medium priced Paris in London, and Vinoteca, Beak Street, Soho. Great atmosphere in both and good value.
My Favourite Local Restaurant… My favourite food is Middle Eastern so I like Beyrouths in Streatham Hill which serves simple Lebanese food, great mint tea and delicious homemade lemonade. For French food I found three courses recently at Côte Brasserie on Battersea Rise faultless. The subdued interior in muted green is cleverly lit to soften the glow over the clientele and again good value.
My Favourite Weekend Destination… It used to be Ragdale Hall Health Hydro and Thermal Spa in Melton Mowbray where I took my family one year for a total chillout divorced from the commercialism of Christmas. Now I think it is Kelly’s Hotel in Wexford, Ireland. Architecture as such has bypassed it in that it has grown like topsy over the years due to its popularity, particularly with families. Situated right on the beach on the Wexford coast, it has one of the best private art collections in Ireland, a selection from it hanging on the hotel’s walls: Hockney, Picasso, Miró, and good contemporary Irish art as well. Sculpture defines the surrounding gardens and the collection is catalogued in a book which can be purchased at reception. The labels of their own very good wine collection and the menus for their creative and wonderful food are designed by the artist Bill Corzier.
My Favourite Country House… While I am drawn to return to the Villa Saraceno, one of the mansions designed by Andrea Palladio near Vincenza in the Veneto in northeast Italy which inspires a deceptive sense of grandiose living, the less grandstanding Rathmullan House in County Donegal wins me over largely because of its location on a seemingly endless beach – blue flag and with spectacular views of the Fanad Peninsula. It was built in the 1760s and is a typical Georgian house of the period used as a bathing house by the Bishop of Derry. One of Ireland’s leading architects, Liam McCormick, designed a new pavilion extension in 1969 and the hotel has been extended several times since then. In spite of that it still feels like visiting someone’s home because many of the original features of the house have been retained and the staff are wonderfully friendly.
My Favourite Building… I have written about many buildings over the years for various publications so I have a number of favourites including Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and the buildings of the architect who most influenced him, Louis Henry Sullivan – an almost forgotten figure – known as the father of the skyscraper which he saw as very specific to America. Although seldom credited with it, he coined the phrase ‘form follows function’. Louis’ Transportation Building for the Chicago World Fair of 1893 is a wonderful expression of architecture on the cusp of change and the National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna in Minnesota of 1908 has been described as the most beautiful bank in the world. Tragically his life ended in poverty and alcoholism. My favourite building by a living architect is Ted Cullinan’s Downland Gridshell, Weald and Downland Open Air Museum of 2002. It’s a wonderful organic expression of contemporary design using traditional techniques. Ted is founder of Cullinan Studio. I sat beside him at a dinner at Queen’s University when he talked about admiring the traditional blue barns he observed on his way in from the airport. A puzzled look fell over the surrounding faces. Was this part of our architectural heritage we had missed? Was it not a case someone asked of whatever paint fell off the back of a lorry at the time they were being painted. Like the time I was suggesting programme ideas to the BBC in Belfast. I’d noticed all houses on the Shankill Road were painted dark reds, browns and ochres but houses on the Falls Road seemed to favour more pastel colours such as light grey, pale blue and yellow. Was this evidence of a significant cultural difference we should be looking at? Someone asked me had I never noticed what colours the ships in Belfast docks were painted. Aha – no expression of social significance involved at all.
My Favourite Opera…Mozart’s Magic Flute. I have loved Mozart since my school days when I did a study of Symphony No 41, better known as the Jupiter – his last. On a visit to Italy after the Venice Opera House had been burned down, a French opera troop presented a very modernistic version of The Flute in a specially constructed temporary theatre in Venice. Travelling by motor launch to this very French off-the-wall interpretation heightened the whole experience making it unforgettable. La Fenici was reconstructed “as it was, where it was,” as he said, to the designs of architect Aldo Rossi before he died.
My Favourite Artist… I have two: Peter Doig because he imbues his landscape paintings with a sense of ‘presence’. There is a feeling of ‘the hour before the dawn’, of menace and the unknown with an uncategorisable technique. My second favourite is the East German artist Anselm Kiefer. I went to his retrospective at the Royal Academy last year and was almost speechless at the breadth of his work. Mostly I admire him for how he stepped up to German history with all its connotations and for his continued experimentation with various forms of expression and media.
My Favourite Scent…Jo Malone at the moment but I have been a follower of Estée Lauder for years mainly because my mother used her fragrances.
My Favourite Fashion Designer… I like classic clothes and good tailoring so I have a soft spot for Jean Muir. I also like the simplicity of Armani. When I am in Donegal I call on Magee to have a look at their tweeds. My mother gave me a magnificent tailored coat in a beautiful mix of Donegal tweed which, unfortunately, I need to lose a few kilos to wear.
My Favourite Charity… I support The National Brain Appeal and was delighted that a watercolour I donated to an exhibition at the Oxo Tower last year sold in aid of the charity.
My Favourite Pastime… Definitely reading and – running almost neck and neck – drawing.
Howick Place possesses a transitional character wedged between the stripy red brick and Portland stone of Westminster Cathedral and the glass cathedrals to commerce straddling Victoria Street. Religion, consumerism and London’s 21st century temple for thespians, St James Theatre, make unlikely but compatible bedfellows in the £2 billion renaissance of Victoria. Developers Doughton Hanson and Terrace Hill’s offering is an office led mixed use scheme inches away from the headquarters of Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford and Jimmy Choo.
In another unlikely but successful catholic ménage à trois, their nine storey building references Ashley + Newman, Lutyens and Mies. The red brick recalls Ashley + Newman’s neighbouring Schomberg mansion block. The grid colouring of pale stone banding and black metal window frames resurrects Lutyens’ monochromatic chequerboard Grosvenor Estate which heralded the arrival of modernism. As for Mies, he would have approved of the grid cruciform and expanses of glazing. Traditional railings keep the scheme grounded.
“Key for us was creating a building that would sit comfortably with the high quality older architecture that borders the site,” explains project architect Jonathan Carter of Rolfe Judd, “whilst also delivering a space that is cutting edge and responds to the transformation of the wider area.” Volume and void optimise lightness and airiness through transparency of container to contents. Part of the lower ground floor offices rises to double height allowing natural light penetration. The street level windows become a clerestory. Part of the first floor offices overlooks a double height reception carving out a glass cube. A living wall climbs up the light well. The grid extends above the parapet to frame the street corner roof terrace.
“The reception is a large space with plenty of visibility from outside,” elaborates design consultant Joanna White of Joanna White, “so it was important to consider the exterior and interior together and to respond sensitively to the streetscape, architecture and materials. We picked up on the texture of the adjacent listed buildings, the earthy colour of the red brick and the darkness of the exterior frames.” Joanna completes the religiously disciplined palette. A separate entrance leads to 23 luxury residential lets on two penthouse levels. Roof terraces abound. Far blow, the capital snakes out in a labyrinth of Lilliputian living.
The architectural demands of this strategic site for an inspirational urban composition demonstrate the role of architecture as the guardian of the public realm, something too readily dissolved by the alternating demands of capitalist and bourgeois values. In a gesture of patronage beyond guardianship, artist Yinka Shonibare, famed for his Fourth Plinth Nelson, was commissioned to encapsulate the spirit of Howick Place.
This isn’t a tale of two pities. At last! A country house in Ireland not being converted into flats or a hotel or worst of all abandoned? Rather, being returned to its original use? Well, that is a good news story. Ok, it’s a country house historically if not geographically cause it’s plonked in Ballyhackamore, Belfast’s very own East Village, off a busy dual carriageway, but still. Restoration is ongoing – already, correctly detailed skylight windows in the stable block and proper cleaning of the sandstone suggest it’s all going to be terribly smart. Consarc are the architects of its revival. Ormiston House had a narrow escape. Planning permission was granted in 2010 to carve it up into 20 frightful flats. Thank goodness for a knight and madam in shining white armour in the form of the owners of Argento Jewellers. Past distinguished owners include Sir Edward Harland of Harland + Wolff fame.
With a burst of turn of the century optimism, the Northern Ireland Assembly bought Ormiston for a whopping This Boom Will Never Bust £9 million. Late 20th century uses had included a boarding house for nearby Campbell College and a police station. The final sale price to Peter and Ciara Boyle was a few quid over £1 million. Scottish architect David Bryce’s 1860s baronial pile is back in town. A grand 57 square metre staircase hall accessed through north and south lobbies sets the tone. Back of country house essentials such as a pastry kitchen and boot room aren’t forgotten. The four staircases will be put to good use, linking two floors of formal reception rooms, informal entertainment suites and bedrooms to a turreted top floor of two airy eyrie guest rooms.
Twilight. The seeping of day into night. Flux made manifest. A liminal state, a period of transformation, both optical and psychological. As light fades, our eyes play tricks on us, inventing horizons, altering distances, rediscovering amethyst tinged silhouettes and moonstone obliquities. We become more obscure to ourselves as well. Soon we will be diner, dancer, lover. But in this viridian moment, the last territory of the light, the cobalt night is not so much young as hardly begun.
There’s palpable tension in this transition between our day and night selves, a metaphoric transformation from clear definition to suggestion. In Laughter in the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov’s doomed character Albinus experiences it on a visit to his mistress. ‘Lights were being put on, and their soft orange glow looked very lovely in the pale dusk. The sky was still quite blue, with a single salmon coloured cloud in the distance, and all this unsteady balance between light and dusk made Albinus feel giddy.’
For lost souls, the magic hour passes unobserved, pre empted by the explicit reds of sunset; or its nuances eclipsed by the acid glow of streetlights. F Scott Fitzgerald beautifully captures the melancholy of fading day in The Great Gatsby when his narrator observes, ‘At the enhanced metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.’
Twilight. A hymn for vespers. Victor Hugo and Les Chants du Crépuscule. A habitual sense of belatedness. The time when the power of reason wanes and fantasy weaves its own tales. Full of frisson, danger, desire. Moral and social structures loosen as the first stars appear. Under the diffusion of smoky mauve light there is heightened sensitivity to the promise of life; anything is possible in this magic hour of nocturnes and nostalgia. Grasp it, for the intensity is almost tangible; feel it, before going forth into the night; derivative yet original, living in the unregretted present yet loving the lingering evening of the past.
A rondo is a piece of music in which the main theme keeps recurring between different episodes. Antonio Diabelli’s Rondino was written for the piano in the 18th century. essentially a ternary or three element form, two repeats elongate this rondo into a five part composition. It opens in mezzo piano, rising through a crescendo then a forte section, before softening through a diminuendo back to mezzo piano.
Rondino is typical of the classical era of the arts. It is symmetrical with a regular rhythm set in harmonised yet contrasting elements strung out and repeated. Articulated notions of Beauty, the Sublime and the Picturesque underscore the symbolic sensibilities of the piece. This is a work from a maestro at the height of his creative gamesmanship.
The same could be said of Russborough, an Irish neoclassical house designed by the virtuoso architect Richard Castle. The Palladian ideal of dressing up a farm axially to incorporate the house and ancillary buildings into one architectural composition flourished in 18th century Ireland, especially under German born Castle.
The central block of Russborough is seven bays wide by two storeys tall over basement. Bent arcades link two identical lower seven bay two storey wings. This five part superfaçade is constructed of silvery grey granite. Straight retaining walls extend from the wings to terminate in gateways at either extremity, like encores. Little wonder Johann von Goethe called architecture “frozen music”.
Awesome, yes. But it combined form with function from an 18th century perspective. One wing contained the servants’ quarters and kitchen; the other, the stables. The two gateways led to the separate stable yard farmyard. In the central block, the high ceilinged piano nobile was used for public entertaining. The low ceilinged first floor was for private family use. The basement housed vaulted wine cellars and yet more servants’ accommodation.
Such is the genius of the place, and its architect, that this arrangement has adapted well in subsequent centuries. When Sir Alfred and Lady Beit flung open their doors to the great unwashed in 1978, a neo Georgian single storey visitors’ centre was neatly inserted behind the eastern colonnade. The west wing was restored in 2012 and discreetly converted into a Landmark Trust holiday let.
Contemporary composer Karl Jenkins has brought Palladio back to the forefront of orchestral music. Laterally Literally. Inspired by the 16th century Italian architect, Palladio is a three movement piece for strings. Completed in 1996, Karl was influenced by Palladian mathematical proportionality in his quest for musical perfection.
Palladio’s pursuit of perfect proportions can be traced back to the Vitruvian model of ‘man as a measure for all things’. He reinterpreted the architectural treatise of Vitruvius, a 1st century Roman architect, for a new audience. Vitruvius believed symmetry and proportion created a harmonic relationship with individual components and their whole, either in music or architecture. He developed ratios based on the human body which were later used by 18th century composers. Michelangelo’s Vitruvian Man illustrates the concept.
Like other Roman architects, Vitruvius revered the work of Ancient Greek scholars. Their macro theses argued that the entire cosmos vibrates to the same harmonies audible in music. Pythagorean formulae quantified the relationship of architecture, music and the human form. Even the cyclical nature of the resurgence of classicism, skipping generations like beats, only to be revived in repetition and reinterpretation, has balance and form.