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Architects Architecture Country Houses Hotels Luxury People

Rathmullan House + The Tap Room Donegal

Aalto Pitch | Lucid Camera | A Play on Words | Studium et Punctum

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“The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both,” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida.

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“Ireland is a staging point beyond Europe and the New World,” Professor Finola O’Kane of University College Dublin told us. Nowhere does it feel more so than in Donegal. A place of wild geese: the constant iterative of land carries a long shadow. A depth of field. Like its distant neighbour Castle Grove, Rathmullan House has been a hotel for more than half a century now. The house was originally built in the 1760s by the Anglo Irish Knox family (really Scots Irish as they hailed from Scotland but the term Anglo Irish is liberally applied to Plantation settlers). Anglo Irish: aristocrats | no portmanteau | universally accented | no translations. Rathmullan House later became the country retreat of a Belfast merchant family. The Batts doubled the size of the house in 1870.

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Its long Victorian stuccoed façade is anchored by a central canted bay window and one at either extremity. This proliferation of projections is rivalled only in the Province by Benvarden House in Ballymoney with its two bows and two canted bays. At Rathmullan House they act as framing devices, freezing the corrugated surface of Lough Swilly below the tattered theatre of a thundery sky mid afternoon. Honeycomb punctured vertical bargeboards peek out from the side elevation dormers, silhouetted against a sky turned powder blue. All changes again with the descent of a crimson tinged sunset: bloody inland.

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“Every photograph is a certificate of presence.” Roland Barthes

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An enfilade of five antique filled commodious yet intimate rooms stretches across the façade. “Almost all the furniture was auctioned when the Batts sold the house. There are just two original items. My grandmother bought the tub chair and the painting of Charlotte Sarah Batt was bought by a lady who discovered it was too big for her home so returned it to Rathmullan House!” says Mark Wheeler who runs the hotel with his wife Mary. “Henry McIlHenny bought much of the furniture for Glenveagh Castle.” Luscious plasterwork, some polychromatic, adds richness to the rooms.

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In 1966 the first generation of the current hotel owners, Mark’s parents, employed the architect Liam McCormick to add a dining room extension with tented ceilings. “Liam was a great sailor,” explains Mark, “and the ceilings are hung with the silk used for yacht sails. Their shape was inspired by the Indian arches in the Rajah Room.” The dining room is formed of interlocking octagons, pagoda-like structures taking the Victorian chamfered bays to their logical geometric conclusion. “The hotel is a popular wedding venue for architecture students,” smiles Mark, “ever since Liam McCormick’s Burt Church won building of the year!” He also designed a smattering of cuboid holiday pavilions in the wooded grounds.

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Such is the Photograph: it cannot say what it lets us see.” Roland Barthes

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Rathmullan House was a departure from his oeuvre. Before his death in 1992, Liam would complete 27 churches in Ireland. Each is recognisably by his hand: with one sweep he felled the cluttered gothic norm with a spare modernist form. Abstraction wasn’t Dr McCormick’s primary goal, “I wouldn’t say it’s studied. My resolution of problems tends to have a sculptural end. I grew up in a physically dramatic countryside; this sort of background inevitably comes into play when I design, and the churches have nearly all been in a rural setting.” The stark white shapes are as integrated into the Donegal vernacular as whitewashed cottages, their outlines as distinctive as Muckish Mountain. The closest of Liam’s seven Donegal churches to Rathmullan are Donoughmore Presbyterian to the south and St Peter’s Milford Catholic to the west.

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Enough waxing lyrical taxing diction. Pizza awaits us in the vaults of Rathmullan House. A stone oven baked base piled high with wild and exotic mushrooms, fior di latte mozzarella, marinated friarielli, garlic, parsley and aged Pecorino to be precise. And then a moonlit walk along the two mile beach at the end of the garden. A rare curlew’s forlorn and faintly human sound assumes an eerie resonance across the still sand. The freedom of the country, far away from the London vertigo.

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“Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.” Roland Barthes.

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Categories
Restaurants

Kitty Fisher’s Mayfair + Shepherd Market London

Generations Come and Generations Go

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Oh. Em. Gee. Whizz. After months of talking about going, we simply rock up on a random Wednesday night with a zest for life but no booking. Reservations at the tiny restaurant (just 40 lucky customers at any given time) are infamously hard to come by. We’re in luck. No tables free, but the bar along the window is ours. We’re perched on stools like Nighthawks. Perfect for spying on our usual Shepherd Market hangout Le Boudin Blanc. Skipping the light fantastic cocktails (Good Kitty, Bad Kitty but no Hello Kitty) we head straight for a bottle of Voignier Le Paradou 2015 (£30). Dry with a hint of honeycomb.

Kitty Fisher’s is all about plates. Courses are just so passé. The menu is concise: five small plates | five medium plates | four large plates | four sweet plates | one cheese plate. Yet there’s plenty to satisfy a pescatarian and carnivore. Whipped cod’s roe, bread and fennel butter (£7.50) is chef Tom Parry’s four fingered salute against mediocrity. A textural contrast of creaminess and crustiness. Taleggio, London honey, mustard and black truffle (£9) is a bitter sweet symphony of wood fire grill smokiness. The last of the savouries arrives. Burrata, beetroot and radicchio (£12.50) is a colourful collage of purple and white. Cambridge burnt cream (£7) isn’t an undergrad’s baking error but a Cointreau and cinnamon crème brulée smoothly nestling under a crackly golden lid. These plates aren’t for sharing. They’re far too good for that.

Named after a Georgian lady of the night, the restaurant is aptly boudoir-like with dark purple walls and red lamp shades and background jazz music. Dining extends underground, down the dogleg staircase, past the pumpkin stacked kitchen window. Trumpers accessorised loos are at the far end. Incidentally, we note that currency signs have vanished from fashionable menus as swiftly as pounds disappeared out of the wallets of Kitty Fisher’s gentlemen callers. Laterally, history repeats itself.

Categories
Architects Architecture Country Houses

Charlton House Greenwich London +The Young Irish Georgians

The Wind Returns Again

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The Young Irish Georgians’ trip. We’re not that young. We’re off to a Jacobean House. And at least one of us is Dutch. How terribly Irish. Autumn falls. Days shorten. Frieze’s here. Today, a carpet of golden leaves gently billows round Charlton House. The house is in Greenwich but forget the fashionable part. Charlton Village’s charm, to put it politely, is faded, a bit frazzled. A ski-slope roofed pepperpot pavilion heralds the house’s presence at the top of the hilly high street. This Grade I listed lodge, possibly once a summerhouse, is now a public convenience (or inconvenience – it’s shut).

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“The lodge is widely attributed to Inigo Jones. Of course it is – he did most of Greenwich! Someone once attributed the lodge to him and it stuck.” Aimee Felton, Associate at Donald Insall Associates should know. She is undertaking a conditions survey as part of a long term masterplan for the house and estate. “A variety of historic fabric is remaining. Some in my opinion was later heavily edited by the various occupants. And heavily rebuilt following bomb damage.” This is most obvious in the north wing where the original imperial red brick and whitish grey stone has been patched up with metric red brick and yellow stone. These mid 20th century repairs included placing the sundial upside down.

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“It’s the best Jacobean house in London and is of pivotal importance to its era,” Aimee declares. A southern Temple Newsam. “It displays a full modern appreciation of flow and sequence of rooms. An H plan was so innovative. There are lots of Jacobean houses of E plan and E with a tail, but not H. Charlton is first in its class: to walk in through the front door – and see its garden beyond. The axis through the building is what makes it so special. The kitchen was always on the north side of Jacobean houses to cool dairy produce and meat, with bedrooms above as heat rises. But this house is laid out to take in the views to the north towards the river and to the west to the King in Greenwich. This is a really bold statement and the only Jacobean house facing north.”

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The first floor long gallery stretches the full length of the north elevation. Like much of the house, the long gallery is a puzzle. “The floor and ceiling are original,” Aimee highlights, “but the panelling isn’t. Charlton has some of the best fireplaces of the Jacobean era. The long gallery marble and slate one is odd but exquisite.” No architect is recorded. “There is incredibly scarce information both on the Jacobean era and Charlton. You’ll notice I say… attributed to… we suspect that…a lot.” At least there’s a dated keystone of 1607 and the staircase is engraved 1612.

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Built by Sir Adam Newton, tutor to James I’s son Prince Henry (teaching must have paid better in those days), Charlton House was last lived in by the Maryon-Wilson family. Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson sold the house to Greenwich Council and auctioned the contents in 1920. The house has been used ever since by various community bodies. Donald Insall Associates are tasked with applying a holistic approach to its fabric and future use or uses. Furnishing rooms in the original period like a National Trust house is not an option. “There simply isn’t enough Jacobean furniture,” says Aimee. “Even the V+A wouldn’t have enough and any pieces it has are so special they’re kept in glass cases.”

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There’s plenty of pictorial evidence of how the rooms were furnished in the latter Maryon-Wilson years. Aimee smiles, “If you can’t find a decent photo of a country house look in Country Life because someone is always bragging about their home!” Charlton House is no exception. Black and white Country Life images of the early 1900s show the interior chockablock with Chippendales and brown furniture and taxidermy and tapestries. This eclecticism is reflected in plasterwork additions. She points out the ceiling in the Henry Room isn’t original. “The cornice is beyond wrong! As offensive as the ceiling is, it’s a nice ceiling, but one that’s just not for this house. Just because it’s not right, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be preserved to show history. Everyone has their oddities and we just move on.” Much more in keeping with the original architecture is the 1877 extension to the south. Unsurprisingly, really, as it was designed by the great Arts and Crafts architect Norman Shaw. “Jacobean with a Shaw twist,” is how Aimee sums it up.

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Frieze is the international art show that consumes Regent’s Park every autumn. Jacobean furniture may be in short supply but we discover a source of art from the period: The Weiss Gallery’s ‘A Fashionable Likeness: Court Portraits 1580 to 1625’. There are enough gentlemen and ladies choking on their lacy antimacassars (or at least that’s what their collars look like) to coverthe walls of Charlton House’s long gallery. On the subject of fashion, the blue velvet jacketed chef Giorgio Locatelli is busy setting up tables in his eponymous temporary restaurant. Just like its permanent namesake, lunch at Locanda Locatelli under the canvas of Frieze Masters is the epitome of Milanese cooking:

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Categories
Design Luxury

Bourne + Hollingsworth Fitzrovia London

Most Flaunted

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Oracle of our orbit, balancing on a notional pedestal, we don’t need a doctorate in aesthetics to enjoy Bourne + Hollingsworth’s revamped salon. It’s the antithesis of a mesmeric void. Kaleidoscopic covered antique chairs and floral banquettes fill the space around the marble bar. Pink is the new black. As (once upon a time) MP Keith Vaz would say, “Let’s get this party started!” A quirky basement cocktail bar, it’s the perfect hideaway for a cocktail inspired foray into the far precincts of the mind. A shadowy cavalcade of pedestrians parades by at street level, marching marionettes unaware of the subterranean soirée underway underground. It’s time to let our hair down over a Rapunzel cocktail (a refreshing mix of Polish vodka, lemon, mint and a ginger kick). A Pink Mojito (agave tequila, fresh lime and mint coloured with cranberry) judiciously coordinates with the fuchsia hued fabric wallpaper. A Heisenberg Daiquiri (Jamaican rum shaken with Chartreuse, lime and blue falernum) is art in a glass. Unlike Oscar Wilde, we can live with the wallpaper of this haunt. Actually, we don’t want to leave.

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Categories
Restaurants

Church of the Nazarene + Fresh Ground Battersea London

Free Fearless Flourishing

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“Wherever we step, we are stepping on holy ground.”

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A glorious revival has taken place at Clapham Junction. Once the Wandsworth Board of District Works, this mid 19th century stucco fronted portico adorned pediment splatted building has been restored with more than a dash of panache. Its owners, the Church of the Nazarene, commissioned architectural design consultants Studio A Plus to turn all four floors into useful spaces serving the community. Front of house is Fresh Ground, a café occupying the original lobby, waiting room and clerk’s room. Back of house, the beautifully intact former boardroom lit by a roof lantern is now a multipurpose hall.

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“Don’t let the struggle crush you; let it form you.”

Fresh Ground’s suntrap terrace fronting Battersea Rise is the perfect spot for spying on the red corduroyed yellow pullovered tassel shoed uppity middle classes at play in Vagabond Wines opposite on Northcote Road. Less Up the Junction, more The Upmarket Junction. Fresh Ground knows its clientele, from the pram lift off the pavement to the dog bowl at the top of the steps. This is, after all, Nappy Valley Central. Play to Pilates to prayer – all needs are catered for. And great coffee for the thirsty.

“You say we’re amazing.”

The breakfast and lunch menu is a healthy mix peppered with veggie and gluten free options. Dishes are named after families connected to the church. The Phineas comprises folded eggs and asparagus on toasted sourdough with halloumi, smoked salmon or bacon. The Andrew consists of Mediterranean vegetables, sundried tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese on garlic infused flatbread. Main courses hover round the £7 mark. So fresh ground coffee and a very ample portion of goodness on a plate for less than a tenner. Service is fast, friendly and efficient. Parents, au pairs and pets will approve.

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Over to Reverend Jason Nike: “So, in a nutshell, the Church of the Nazarene has been on Battersea Rise since 1915. It opened as the headquarters of the International Holiness Mission, who merged with the Nazarenes in the mid 1950s. The Fresh Ground project was initiated in 2008 when the Church gave us the remit to look at how we could best serve the local community. At the time of writing we have around 20 groups – fitness clubs, children’s activities, charities and small businesses – using the building. All profits over and above running costs are reinvested in local charities. Two such charities we are currently working with are Wandsworth Foodbank and the night shelter charity Glass Door. Church is weaved in and through all of this.”

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