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Royal Ascot + The Duchess of Cambridge

Berserk in the Berkshire | A Missing Glass Carriage | Courses for Horses | The Tori Party

The Season is in full swing. Tuesday morning of Summer Solstice week: a chauffeur driven Merc screeches to a halt outside The House of Lavender’s Blue. Closing one’s own car door is so last century. And really, with train strikes all too common these days a uniformed driver is a necessity not a luxury. After gliding past Wentworth Estate, sailing by Guards Polo Club then gaping at the largest white portico ever facing a roundabout somewhere in Sunningdale, noon Champagne is on ice for us at the Royal Berkshire Hotel. Bling to king.

A glass carriage suite of Rollers soon pulls up beside the lawn to whisk us all – a highly fashionable set is emerging – off to the Royal Enclosure of Royal Ascot. Today is The Queen Anne Stakes, the opening contest of the five day meeting. Three maids stand to attention welcoming us into our double penthouse private box. Ding-a-ling. You can get the staff these days! Ollie Dabbous and other Michelin star studded chefs are going the distance at this year’s meeting. A hot and warm and cold buffet begins, platefuls of luxury signifiers:

  • Lavazza coffee
  • Beetroot and Beefeater Gin cured salmon, tonic jelly
  • Goat’s cheese, red onion and squash tart
  • Ginger and soy roasted salmon, pineapple relish
  • Aubergine and courgette involtini, basil pesto
  • Hot smoked trout, pickled celeriac, saffron potato, fennel
  • Warm Jersey Royal potatoes
  • Grilled squash, caramelised onion, broccoli
  • Tomato tartare, marinated Tomberries and baby mozzarella
  • Shredded summer salad, balsamic dressing
  • Traditional trifle, lemon posset, Cassis torte, chocolate Mogador, English strawberries, pouring cream
  • Duttamor, Winslade, Trufflyn and Blue Monday cheeses, apricot and ginger jelly, selection of artisan biscuits
  • Lavazza coffee and Charbonnel + Walker petit fours served in miniature top hats

The clock strikes two: it’s time for the Royal Procession. The Royal Landaus led by four Windsor Greys commence their stately journey along the celebrated Straight Mile. Since 1825, this procession has signalled the start of the Royal Meeting. The Coldstream Guards play the National Anthem. We stand to attention on our double penthouse private box terrace, joyously waving our Union Jacks.

Half an hour later, the First Race is off. With a total race value of £600,000 The Queen Anne Stakes naturally attracts the best milers in Europe and beyond. Meanwhile, we’re given free rein in our double penthouse private box. By mid afternoon, the party is in full throttle. The terrace is now an impromptu catwalk for models and influencers and influential models jockeying for position, snapping, being snapped and snapping being snapped. A blazing turn of foot isn’t confined to the racecourse below. We’re all winners: check out thoroughbred Lady Tori Nash mid strut; no dodgepots here! The wealth of millinery and feast of floristry has gone to everyone’s heads. Literally. That, plus the haze of topped up coupes and flutes and tulips. Afternoon tea is served:

  • Fortnum + Mason tea infusions
  • Smoked salmon, lemon crème fraîche, egg and chive, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
  • Buttermilk scones, Highgrove preserve and Cornish clotted cream
  • Chocolate wagon wheel, mixed berry tart, pistachio and rose financier, honey and lemon Madeleine, red velvet cake

Lord Glitters wins The Queen Anne Stakes in a thrilling finish! Did we mention we’re watching the race from a double penthouse private box? It’s so hard to prise ourselves away from this party in the sky but really we should hit our stride. Our favourite soprano Eves fills the big screens, belting out an aria. “What feathers in our hats!” Eves later laughs. Frankie Dettori, the Royal Meeting’s most successful current jockey, rides by. It would be rude to keep Ben our chauffeur waiting but it would be even ruder not to meet our future queen. Here she comes, winning the style race hands down, real pedigree, what a beauty, her eyes sparkling under a flying saucer hat. Such grace! Such poise! Such fragrance! Her majestic Royal Highness, Catherine the Great. It’s a photo finish followed by a bloody sunset over The House of Lavender’s Blue.

Art Luxury People

Royal Ascot Berkshire + Lavender’s Blue

Ride on Time

Guess where we’re off to?

Architects Architecture Art Design People

Carlo Scarpa + Banca Popolare + Castelvecchio Museum Verona

Strings Attached

The paradox. His architecture is so legible yet he defies classification. His work is half a century old yet timeless. His influence is widespread although he wasn’t especially prolific. His oeuvre is so Italian but he still inspired a generation of Irish architects. His personal rhetoric has universal relevance. Born in 1906, Carlo Scarpa lived, studied and worked in and around Venice all his life. Two of his projects in Verona, though, demonstrate his true brilliance. One, an augmentation of a bank. The other, a reawakening of a castle museum. Both reveal his sensitivity towards materials and textures as well as his ability to create memorable forms and spaces. It’s time to place him in the pantheon.

Of Banca Popolare, Carlo’s 1970s block is contextual in massing if not design. Or at least not detail. He was clearly unafraid of decoration. At a 1973 lecture, Carlo argued, “Why gilding? Gilding is not done in order to waste or squander money. For that matter, we wear rings of gold, not iron. Gold shines also in the dark, even in pitch darkness, if there is the slightest ray of light… So you go for precious metal, for what is rightly called tinsel. But if the form is good, if the objective results are developed in such a way that there is nothing to object to critically, this works to the advantage of the end result.” The gilding on Banca Popolare is subtly applied to just the base and capitals of the clerestory columns.

Stepping back into Piazza Nogara, taking in the full breadth of the building, it becomes apparent that Carlo is really presenting a reinvention of the palazzo façade. Looking beyond the vitrine windows and Frank Lloyd Wright style oeils de boeuf, the elevational plane is classically divided into a base, middle and clerestory. The bold proportions and monumental scale may channel Charles Rennie Mackintosh but little wonder Anne Davey Orr, former Publisher and Editor of Ulster Architect, remarks, “I’m sure Carlo Scarpa was influenced by his 16th century Venetian predecessor Andrea Palladio.” Banca Popolare is both emphatic and empathetic. And more contextual than it would first seem.

One motif that Carlo made his own is what could be called a “strings course” – parallel stepped lines, when sectioned forming ziggurats. It pops up everywhere in a multiplicity of forms: coffer, cornice, cutaway, parapet, plinth, porch. At Banca, he employs the motif as a giant T shaped corbel, aesthetically, if not functionally, supporting the vitrine windows.

“Thus his first major project was the castle at Verona,” explains conservation architect John O’Connell who is busy working in Beijing, London, Paris and Ireland. “It was very badly bombed by the Allies! He applied his very severe and practical approach whereby ‘The past is the past and if it has disappeared can now be rebuilt’. All or most museums of the western world have been inspired by his work but in particular this project. Carlo was the master of the whole museum world post World War II. He’d a very rigorous approach towards presentation and conservation employing simple and very high quality interventions.” Carlo’s new building elements assimilated in the architecture of Castelvecchio may have mellowed with age, but they still represent a revolution in the perception and display of artworks. His use of polished concrete for interiors is a forerunner to the early 21st century popularity of this material.

King Vittorio Emanuele III opened the 14th century castle turned museum in 1926. But it wasn’t until half a century later that the building’s potential was truly realised. While other Modernists jettisoned the past, Carlo’s work from the postwar era to the late 1970s venerated and transformed it. And Castelvecchio was no exception. He maintained the structure’s original integrity whilst developing an unfolding sequence of spaces and voids and vistas and objects, ceaselessly theatrical, masterful, virtuosic, populated with asymmetric incident. There’s an endless play between past and present, architecture and art.

Historical and aesthetic clarity is achieved through the coexistence of overlaying fragments of construction, selective excavation and creative demolition. This approach reaches a climax in the setting of the statue of Cangrande I Delia Scala. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “destruction of the room as a box” is taken to its ultimate conclusion. Who else but Carlo Scarpa would envisage “construction of the void as a gallery”? Demolishing the end bay of the Napoleonic wing in the courtyard, he dissolves corners to position the statue on a cantilevered platform. This complex spatial organisation thrillingly delivers visibility above and below ramparts and across and around boardwalks. Such movement – there is nothing static about Cangrande on his horse. The outer Roman tiles on the roof above are pared back to expose an underlay of green copper. Implied delamination of existing solid form leads to a richly layered materiality throughout the building.

“Stones at the top of the building can continue upwards a little, and I would like them to vibrate in the light of the sky,” Carlo lectured. “Then the sky can enter in so many ways and I would almost obtain a ‘quivering of form’, like the Ancients. And so, with a sunset grey or red, whatever it will be, I will feel their light penetrating within. In this case, the reference is to Andrea Palladio who laid his stones at a distance of two and a half or three centimetres with gaps remaining. This is what I discovered one day and what caused me to explain, ‘Good Lord, how beautiful, how expressive it is, what meaning it gives!’” An exaggeration of this effect is the medieval butterfly parapet of Castelvecchio which carves the sunrise grey or blue over Verona.

John recalls, “He enjoyed a small but very high status practice and would have met all the ‘Stars’ from Le Corbusier to Louis Kahn.” Early on in his career John met Louis, describing him as charming, self effacing, very humble. “Carlo was Professor of Architecture in Venice. This role allowed him to think everything out first, to distil ideas through academia. There is a distinct geometry to his work. He was the successor to Josef Hoffmann.”

Pantheon placement continuing, “Carlo’s pupil Gae Aulenti was a superb architect. Her greatest work is the Quai D’Orsay in Paris. Some say she was appointed because her views on life were in line with the then President Mitterrand. It is excellent – well conceived and executed. The National Art Museum project in Barcelona is commanding but weak in parts. Not her fault as the building is a late 19th century bombastic structure and the collections are mixed or of varied quality! A must, and to be seen.”

“Back to Carlo Scarpa,” breathes John. “His most engaging and demanding project is the Memorial Chapel commissioned by the Brion family outside Venice near Verona.” It’s a commemoration of death in concrete and water. The curtain wall is pierced with two interlocking unglazed oeils de boeuf framing a view of the meditation pavilion: a metaphorical section of Andrea Palladio’s interlocking columns on the loggia of Andrea Palladio’s Palazzo Chiericatti in Vicenza where Carlo played as a child; an eternal love symbol; a cross eyed bull. “Also of great importance is his extension to the Canova Museum in the Veneto as well.”

How would John O’Connell sum up Carlo Scarpa? “He sought and I believe achieved a way of detailing and using modern materials so that they conveyed the value and spiritual quality one finds in Italy with the sense of craftmanship so vital and valued in the heroic architecture of Europe from Ancient Greek times to the pre industrial world.” International architect Alfred Cochrane, currently hot in demand from Beirut to Rome, is another admirer: “Carlo Scarpa! A genius! A god in the Seventies architecture firmament.” Pantheon placement complete.

Architects Architecture Design People

Carlo Scarpa + Corridors + Stairs

Dinner in The Garrick Beneath the Watchful Eyes of Mrs Bracegirdle

There are Carlo Scarpa corridors and there are corridors. The former enliven the journey. There are stairs and there are Carlo Scarpa stairs. The latter bring you a little closer to heaven.

Architecture People

Verona +

Throwing a Shade on the Admiral

An interrogation of the Rogation. An amplification of sorts.

Art Country Houses

Giusti Gardens Verona + Summer

A Maze

“The Giusti Gardens are very simple and rather English!” exclaims architect John O’Connell. “So beautiful, not heroic, just green. They have lots of trees, paths and shade, and were much admired by Mozart and Goethe though not at the same time.” What did Johann Wolfgang von Goethe have to say on Giusti Gardens in his Italian Journey? “… where huge cypresses soar into the air like awls. The yew trees, which are clipped to a point, are probably imitations of this magnificent product of nature… judging from the date when the garden was planted, these cypresses must already have reached such a great age.” Diana and Apollo | a grotto and a belvedere | a precipice and a pavilion | a labyrinth and a tower | lizards and lemons. Amazing.

Architecture Art Luxury People

Verona + Charles Dickens

Greater Expectations

Some of the greatest novelists have also written books about their travels. George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris is an easy read, although it might put you off a visit to the French capital, or at least its cafés at any rate. Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens is another searingly honest experiential travelogue. His response is mixed but one place that gets his approval is Verona. Great!

“I had been half afraid to go to Verona, lest it should at all put me out of conceit with Romeo and Juliet. But, I was no sooner come into the old market-place, than the misgiving vanished. It is so fanciful, quaint, and picturesque a place, formed by such an extraordinary and rich variety of fantastic buildings, that there could be nothing better at the core of even this romantic town: scene of one of the most romantic and beautiful stories.”

“Pleasant Verona! With its beautiful old palaces, and charming country in the distance, seen from terrace walks, and stately, balustraded galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of today, the shade of 15 hundred years ago… With its fast-rushing river, picturesque old bridge, great castle waving cypresses, and prospect so delightful, and so cheerful! Pleasant Verona!”

Architecture Fashion

Verona + Prego

Parlo Italiano

Who needs a translator when you know the Italian word “prego”? If in doubt, use it. The various meanings of prego cover: “After you” | “Come in” | “Don’t mention it” | “You’re welcome” | “How can I help you?” Welcome to the language of the city where mini minarets masquerade as chimneys and obelisks parade as finials.

Architecture Town Houses

Verona + The Doors

Shakespeare + Co

More than Juliet balconies.

Art People

Juliet’s Balcony Verona + One

Liberty Blue

It’s not a Juliet balcony but it is Juliet’s balcony.

Architecture Town Houses

Verona + Lavender’s Blue

Palladio Palladian Palladium

It’s really about having a sense of proportion these days. As Reverend Jonathan Aitken told us recently, “Above all, it’s a journey.” Verona is worth a worthy detour along the way. Fine Art Dealer William Thuillier calls it “the most beautiful city”. Pictures from Verona.

Architecture Hotels Luxury Town Houses

Lady Verona Residence Verona + Lavender’s Blue

Expounding Riddles With The Harp

Everything tastes better in a palazzo with a campanile.

Architecture Luxury

Verona + Summer

Slender is the Night

Leaving new scenes behind, venturing forward, encountering newer and newer scenes, blissfully aware of our environs, a rapid diorama, we arrive at last in Verona. The celestial light of late sunset casts shadows in the water; for a vanishing moment the ravishing confusion of architecture is engoldened. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed in his Italian Journey, “In a country where everyone enjoys the day but the evening even more, sunset is an important moment.” The darkening cloudless sky finally surrenders to cobalt damask. There is no evening breeze to stir the trees. Just a balmy stillness broken by the clink of glasses and echo of voices. Locals dine outside, nonchalantly ambivalent to the Roman and Renaissance and romantic backdrop, like marionettes against a crowded theatre set. Ours is a panoramic literature: sights cut, dried, and dictated. Italy, where beauty is the norm. As picturesque as it is spectral.

Architecture Town Houses

Veneto + Lavender’s Blue

Lassoing the Moon

“Life was a perpetual holiday in those days.” The Beautiful Summer by Cesare Pavese

Art Luxury People

Eves + Mulberry

La Traviata

Eves Opera Singer © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Scandinavian sopranos can be so quintessentially English.

Architecture Luxury People Restaurants

Soif Bistro + Wine Bar Battersea Rise London

A Thirst for Life

To have one great local French restaurant is jolly lucky. To have two is lottery level luck. Sinabro and Soif almost face each other across Battersea Rise. In between is a branch of franglais Côte Brasserie. Round one corner on Northcote Road is the ultimate Parisian bakery Les Merveilleux de Fred. Round the other corner is the French owned Deli Boutique on Webb’s Road. No Parisian neighbourhood is complete without a boulangerie and a lingerie. Battersea fits the City of Light mould. The lacy window displays of Amelie’s Follies can be seen from Deli Boutique.

It’s no coincidence. London is officially the sixth largest French city with a population of some 400,000. That makes it more garlic Gallic than Calais and Lille together. Battersea has a particular concentration due in part to two good local French schools. So, Sinabro is run by husband and wife team Yoann Chevert and Sujin Lee. Soif was opened by business partners Ed Wilson and Oli Barker. They have pedigree: Terroirs wine bar and restaurant in Covent Garden and East Dulwich plus Brawn on Columbia Road. Ed and Oli specialise in organic natural wines and earthy French regional cooking with a hint of fusion. Paris is always a good idea; even more so when it’s in Battersea.

Green asparagus? Slow cooked egg? Brown shrimp? So far so good Soif. Then out of the blue an impromptu orange wine tasting ensues. It would be rude not to plunge in with full gusto. The rather wonderful staff suggest sampling Piquentum Malvazija | Cambridge Road Cloudwater | Occhio di Terra Malvasia. They’re of a year: 2017. Vintage. Best going for all three. When on Battersea Rise in Paris


Eves + Lavender’s Blue

A Muse

Eves Soprano © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Some sopranos always hit the high notes.

Architecture Country Houses Luxury

The Summer House Hampshire + Summer

Strawberry Thrill | A Crumpled Festoon

In season, The Summer House comes into its own. It’s time for Earl Grey in the octagonal Gothick dining room with the French doors flung open to the allure of summer.