Architecture Design

Tullan Strand Bundoran Donegal + Lavender’s Blue

A Fantasia in the Icelandic Manner on Irish Themes

The Wild Atlantic Way lives up to its name. Next stop the Faroe Islands (800 kilometres to the north) then Iceland (1,100 kilometres northwest). The only access to its golden strand is down a rocky precipice before crossing a rivulet. The tide dramatically swoops in by dozens of metres every few seconds. Horses majestically gallop through the low waves with a backdrop of the shadowy Wardtown Castle. Raven haired surfers adventurously ride the crashing white waves. High above the beach, fairy bridges and a wishing chair are more than the stuff of legend. The outline of buildings follows the silhouetted mountainous scenery. Everything and everyone are all about wild abandon.


Boa Island + Lakes Fermanagh

Not the Giant’s Causeway

In the land of Lack and Garrison and Lusty Beg and Belleek and Mulleek and Boho (silent “ho”) lies Boa (silent “a”) Island. The road bisects the swan lakes.

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Park Chinois Restaurant Mayfair London +

Orient Impress

Twixtmas, the most delicious portmanteau since banoffee. It takes a lot to sway us away from our usual Chinese cuisine hideaway in Mayfair (Hakkasan) but the allure of another basement of delights on the far side of Sexy Fish (Park Chinois) proves too much. Macallan Highball, Moulin Rouge and Negroni de la Maison cocktails get the party going. Now that the short lived Duddell’s is history, Park Chinois could well be our second favourite Chinese restaurant in London.

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Downing College + University Arms Cambridge

What Has Been Will Be Again

The late David Watkin, Professor Emeritus of History of Architecture in the Department of History of Art at Cambridge University, was a super fan. He wrote at least two books on the architect: Quinlan Terry (2006) and Radical Classicism The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2015).

Pastiche is a criticism often levelled at neoclassical architects but rarely at Modernist practitioners. Sammy Leslie, châtelaine of Castle Leslie, gives a sharp riposte to any suggestions of pastiche aimed at the traditionally designed houses by Dawson Stelfox of Consarc Design Group in the walled estate of her County Monaghan castle. “They’re original designs, not copies. For example, although they’re village houses, the bay window idea comes from the castle. The development is all about integration with the existing village. It’s contextual. These houses are like fine wine. They’ll get better with age. There’s a fine line between copying and adapting but we’ve gone for the latter.” And as Ecclesiastes 1:9 notes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Professor Watkin certainly believed in the aging Cabernet Sauvignon argument, and, evidently, the Oxford Comma. “Quinlan Terry notes that the Psalms are a patchwork of Moses and the Prophets; that in the New Testament the apostles constantly quote the Old Testament; and that Shakespeare can only be understood properly when one realises that he is frequently quoting earlier writers. Aristotle claimed in the Poetics that imitation, mimesis, is the common principle of all the poetic arts. He believed that the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood and distinguishes us from the animals. For him, poetry is the imitation of life through rhythm, language, and harmony. The inventive response to precedent as well as the role of imitation are demonstrated by the fact that three major works of Quinlan and Francis, Hanover Lodge, Kilboy, and Ferne Park, have all involved their making sympathetic yet imaginative and large scale responses to earlier buildings, which, in the case of Ferne, they had designed themselves.” Jeremy Musson admired Kilboy in Country Life (2016) “Kilboy is a masterpiece, a highly crafted interpretation of the Palladian tradition that cannot fail to impress.”

Critic Jonathan Meades as ever gets it right. He writes about the “worldwide scream of accusatory architects: ‘Pastiche!’” in his essay France in Pedro and Ricky Come Again (2021). “The architectural doxa decrees that pastiche is a Very Bad Thing Indeed. The collective convention forgets the history of architecture is the history of pastiche and theft: von Klenze’s Walhalla above the Danube is based on the Parthenon; G G Scott’s St Pancras borrows from Flemish cloth halls; Arras’s great squares are imitations of themselves.” And in his essay Obituaries in the same collection: “Architecture like poetry is founded in copyism and plagiarism – both vertical, looting the past; and horizontal, stealing from the present. The obscure past, of course, and the geographically distant present.”

Quinlan Terry has designed several infill buildings in the sedate setting of Downing College, Cambridge. David Watkin writes, “The Fellows of Downing College voted for the appraisal of Quinlan Terry’s Howard Building (1986 to 1989) in 1983, not so much because he promised classical forms, but because they were persuaded that any building by him would be solidly constructed and would have a long life. Cambridge was by now acutely aware of the structural and environmental faults of the structural and environmental failures that afflict High Tech modernist glass buildings – James Stirling’s famous History Faculty Building (1964 to 1967), for example, was visibly decaying and surrounded by a wire fence labelled ‘Dangerous Structure. Keep Out.’ Members of the History Faculty came within one vote of demolishing it and replacing it with something more sensible.”

But demolition of the prominent neoclassicist’s buildings has indeed occurred. Professor Watkin again, “Terry also provided Downing College with a modest, one storied, freestanding Junior Combination Room that resembles a garden pavilion, as well as Richmond House, a range of shops and offices that fits effortlessly into Regent Street, next to the college.” The three storey plus attics Richmond House on Regent Street backing onto the grounds of Downing College is safe for now. But the single storey Butterfield House as the Common Room became known as is for the chop. Inefficiency of volume is the justification. Kathryn Ferry notes in Bungalows (2014), “The first book specifically dedicated to bungalow design was published in 1891 by the architect Robert Alexander Briggs.” Architects of the moment Caruso St John have secured planning permission to replace the 1987 building with a larger three storey block. Caruso St John’s design is still inspired by William Wilkins’ college buildings but is a much more streamlined toned down lower key less prescriptive interpretation compared to its predecessor on this site. Unusually, the replacement stone faced building will incorporate a hardwood panelled pediment over the second floor.

Two presumably more permanent 20th century additions to Downing College are Howard Court and Maitland Robinson Library. Again, the Professor Emeritus is full of praise: “Terry’s Howard Court at Downing College, a three storied range of chambers 11 bays long, continues the Doric colonnade of the Howard Building at right angles to it but as an open internal passageway. Casement windows on the top storey echo those in the nearby buildings from 1930 to 1932 and 1950 to 1953 by Sir Herbert Baker and A T Scott. A generous building of Ketton stone with widely spaced windows below broadly projecting Tuscan eaves – a development of Terry’s houses in Frog Meadow in Dedham – Howard Court is popular with the undergraduates who live in it.”

“Terry built the square planned Maitland Robinson Library (1990 to 1992) at Downing College of loadbearing Ketton stone,” explains David Watkin. “Its many Grecian references remind one of Wilkins’s scholarly knowledge of Athenian architecture, and include a powerful Greek Doric portico inspired by the gateway into the Roman Agora (10 BC) in Athens, and Wilkins’s own unexecuted Greek Doric porter’s lodge for Downing College, inspired by the Propylaca in Athens (439 to 432 BC). Additionally, the portico of Terry’s library, especially in its relation to the rest of building, echoes Wilkins’s now demolished portico of about 1805 at Osberton Park in Nottinghamshire. The metopes in the Doric frieze of the library are filled with large scale carved symbols representing the subjects taught and studied in the college. The doorcase in the portico combines Greek work, including canted architraves, with references to Michelangelo’s elegant doorcase in his Medici Chapel in Florence (begun 1520). The capriccio of Athenian references includes the octagonal tower surmounting the library, inspired by the Tower of the Winds in Athens (1st century BC), and the eastern portico, which is indebted to the now destroyed Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus (319 BC) on the Acropolis. The top lit octagonal staircase hall contains panels of stucco decoration designed by Francis Terry and inspired by those of the Ata Pacia in Rome.” Andreas Papadakis writes in Classical Modern Architecture, 1997, “The entrance door is a combination of Greek key pattern with splayed architraves.”

He jumps to Quinlan Terry’s defence once more: “Criticism of the Howard Building came from the distinguished critic Gavin Stamp in the Architects’ Journal in March 1988, even though he had previously written in praise of Terry’s work in Architectural Digest. His condemnation of the handling of the classical language in the Howard Building and of its ‘sham’ features were refuted, respectively, in two accompanying essays by the distinguished historian Sir John Summerson, and by the architect Léon Krier. Summerson explained, ‘I had an opposite opinion to Stamp where the exterior is concerned. My own first view of the building gave me a rare shock of pleasure. Here was a façade with something to say in a language that I happen to understand and love. The general proportions and the distribution of openings seemed absolutely right: the Corinthian order took my fancy – it has been carefully studied.’ Krier claimed that ‘if applied universally, Stamp’s criticisms would indeed have to condemn the majority of classical buildings in Cambridge and the world. It is that kind of moralistic radicalism that established and maintains Modernism’s intolerant reign.’ Stamp’s article, and the essays by Summerson and Krier, were reprinted for an American audience in the journal Progressive Architecture, in July 1988.”

Opposite Richmond House and overlooking Parker’s Piece is the University Arms, one of few hotels in Cambridge. Neoclassical architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki, the latter best known for fitting out The Ivy restaurants, revamped an existing Victorian and Edwardian building that had 1960s extensions. John Simpson really came to the public’s attention, or at least the coffee table magazine reading public’s attention, in 1991 with the house he designed for his parents. Ashfold House near Cuckfield, West Sussex, popped up absolutely everywhere from House + Garden to the Daily Mail Book of Home Plans. Clive Aslet lavished praise on the villa; his opening line in Country Life was, “Ashfold House is everyone’s dream. Later in the decade, Andreas Papadakis describes the building as, “A small country house, compact and practical for everyday use, but with the grace and proportions of an 18th century residence.” It is something of a reduced cross between Pell Wall Hall and Pitzhanger Manor given a cloak of Palladianism. University Arms, with its bulky new porte cochère bulging onto Regent Street, is definitely more on the Quinlan Terry end of the stylistic spectrum than the Caruso St John end.

The best place to take in a panorama of Cambridge, old and new and somewhere in between, is from the 360 degree viewing platform on top of the 800 year old tower of Great St Mary’s University Church. Immediately below the parapets are The Guildhall, King’s College and Chapel, Michaelhouse Centre and the Wren Library. Downing College blends afar into the honeyed blur of the city.

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Chichester West Sussex +

Signs of the Times

On the eve of the 17th Sunday after Trinity, or as one entrant in the Visitors’ Book of the Pallant House Art Gallery put it, “37 days till Halloween”, we spend the day in Chichester. Pronounced “Chai-chester” if you are from Belfast (Chichester Street is one of the city’s main thoroughfares). Londoners put the hitch into “Chitch-ester”. The city is logically and legibly laid out: North, South, East and West Streets crisscross at Chichester Cross.

The laneways snaking round the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity are pure Miss Marple territory. The red brick Deanery with its façade spanning pediment gable is one of many historic residences under the shadow of the spire. The cathedral itself is an absolute medley of periods and styles with a very deliberate Romanesque vault system and simply divine medieval tracery. Recent additions include a portly stone head of The Queen, part cherub part gargoyle, looking down on commoners traipsing through the main entrance.

Every street is a revelation. There’s Chichester’s narrowest house at 6a North Pallant with its skinny one bay façade and entrance door squeezed to the left of the bay. Then there’s the Queen Anne townhouse reborn as the Pallant House Art Gallery. It has a smart restaurant in the 2006 wing designed by Sir Colin Wilson and Long + Kentish. A current exhibition of 80 miniature works of art by the likes of Damien Hirst, Augustus John, Paul Nash and Rachel Whiteread fills a model art gallery, an architectural maquette, with transparent gable end elevations designed by Wright + Wright architects.

There are wide townhouses of Henrietta Street Dublin proportions with double pile roofs and deep returns. There are white brick terraces with paired entrance doors. It rains, it shines, we come close to missing our train (The Foundry pub is temptingly close yet mercifully next to the railway station) all full of the joys of a day well spent. And everywhere in this most civilised of cities are enough signs of the historic times to compete with a Harry Styles song.

The plinth of the statue of St Richard Bishop of Chichester,1245 to 1253, near the entrance to the cathedral: “Thanks be to Thee my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which Thou has given me, for all the pains and insults which Thou hast borne for me. O Most Merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly.”

A plaque in the cathedral: “Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester 1955 to 1977, was in the forefront of the 20th century renaissance of church patronage of contemporary artists. As Vicar of St Matthew’s, Northampton, he had commissioned a ‘Mother and Child’ by Henry Moore and a ‘Crucifixion’ by Graham Sutherland. For Chichester he commissioned the Sutherland painting, the John Piper tapestry, the Marc Chagall window and copes by Ceri Richards. Hussey was responsible for introducing Geoffrey Clarke’s cast aluminium works such as the furniture in this chapel, the lectern at the shrine and the pulpit. He also commissioned major works of choral music including Berstein’s Chichester Psalms and Albright’s Chichester Mass. Hussey himself amassed an important collection of modern art which he left to the Pallant House Gallery. There may be seen sketches for the Piper tapestry and Feibusch’s Baptism of Christ, as well as another version of the Sutherland painting and works by others including Ivon Hitchens.”

The painting Noli me Tangere by Graham Sutherland, 1960, inside the cathedral: “This painting depicts the moment when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb of Christ empty, but encounters the resurrected Christ and mistakes Him for a gardener. Sutherland presented Dean Hussey with two paintings; Hussey selected the one he felt most appropriate for the cathedral setting, which features Christ in a gardener’s straw hat. The second painting remained in Hussey’s private collection, now at the Pallant House Gallery.”

The Chagall Window in the cathedral: “This window designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq was unveiled by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent and dedicated to the Bishop of Chichester at 12 noon on Friday, 6 October, 1978. It was commissioned by Dr Walter Hussey shortly before he retired as Dean. The theme of the window is Psalm 150: ‘O praise God in His holiness – Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.’ The triumphal quality of this chant is expressed by the dominance in the composition of the colour red (red on white, on green, on yellow) broken up by a certain number of green, blue and yellow blobs. This is the first time that Marc Chagall has conceived a subject composed entirely of small figures: it is the people in festive mood glorifying the Lord, exalting His greatness and His creation. The musicians are playing the instruments referred to in the Psalm: horn, drum, flutes, strings and cymbals. A man juxtaposed with an animal at the right hand edge of the composition holds open a little book, indicating that the word too participates in this hymn of praise. In the centre two figures hold up the seven branched candlestick, while David, author of the Psalm, crowns the whole composition playing upon his harp.”

Another 20th century insertion into the cathedral: “The High Altar and Piper Tapestry 1966. Considered the spiritual heart of a church, the High Altar represents the ‘holy table’, a sacred place for gifts and prayers to be offered to God. The tapestry, set behind the High Altar, was commissioned by Dean Hussey from the British artist John Piper and was installed in 1966. It consists of seven panels, each one metre wide and five metres high. Using bold colours and striking imagery the central subject is the Holy Trinity, to which the cathedral is dedicated.”

The most famous memorial in the cathedral: “The Arundel Tomb circa 1375. This tomb monument is widely identified as being that of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (died 1376) and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster (circa 1372). It was first erected at Lewes Priory and was moved to Chichester following the priory’s dissolution in 1537. The hand joining pose of the figures is rare and was restored in 1843 after much research. The tomb is best known today through Philip Larkin’s poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ (1955).

One of our best architectural finds in Chichester: “Welcome to St John’s Chapel. This Grade I Listed Building is no longer used for regular worship but is one of over 330 churches in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. Despite its nonconformist appearance St John’s Chapel is in fact Anglican. It was opened in 1813 to overcome the shortage of accommodation provided by the city’s seven tiny parish churches. It was not a parish church but a proprietary chapel which, although firmly part of the Church of England, was built and run as a commercial venture. Its Trustees, in addition to paying the Minister’s and organist’s salaries and keeping the building in repair, had to pay dividends to the shareholders and keeping the ‘business’ afloat was a constant struggle.”

“With no income from a parish or financial support from the Diocese the Trustees’ income had to come from sale and rent of pews and the generosity of the congregation. Worshipping at a proprietary chapel was an expensive alternative to a parish church! St John’s was designed by the London architect James Elmes (1782 to 1862) who carried out a body of work in and around Chichester between 1811 and 1814 when he was also surveyor to Chichester Cathedral. The wealthy bought or rented spacious box pews situated in and beneath the gallery. These pews were only accessible from the side porches. However the 1812 Act of Parliament authorising the chapel required at least 250 free seats to be provided for the use of the poor. These were open backed benches in the centre of the chapel and as they could only be reached from the front door the classes were kept strictly separated.”

“A three decker pulpit was a most essential attribute of a Georgian church or chapel and was used for the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. The lower desk was occupied by the Parish Clerk who had the job of leading the congregation in the responses and Psalms. The Minister would occupy the middle desk from which he would read the service but after the third collection and the prayers he would ascend the stairs to the pulpit to preach his sermon. From this vantage point he would have a good view of those in the gallery as well as those sitting below and could also watch the clock set in the west end gallery in order to time his sermon. The pulpit of St John’s is made of American black birch and was originally laid out on the more usual east west axis. At some time it was realigned north south and examination of the lower desk reveals the fact that there was originally a door on the north side.”

A jolly plaque over the front door of the Council House and Assembly Room, “Licensed in pursuance of Act of Parliament for music and dancing.” This building is one of the most architecturally important in Chichester: “The Council House was erected in 1731 by public subscription at a cost of £1,189. It was designed by Roger Morris (1695 to 1749), the architectural associate of the Earl of Pembroke, who, with the 3rd Earl of Burlington, was the leader of the Palladian movement which set the standards for nearly all English architecture in the second half of the 18th century. The Assembly Room was added to the east of the Council House from the designs of James Wyatt (1746 to 1813). It is approached from the landing of the Council House, through an anteroom, formerly a civic apartment. It is a spacious room of three bays lit by three windows. There are niches over the original fireplace.” And finally, a race down the ages of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity.

  • 2025: To mark the 950th anniversary of the cathedral’s move from Selsey to its forever home, there will be a festival of music and art.
  • 2021: Lavender’s Blue make a pilgrimage to the oldest city in Sussex.
  • 1960s: Modern artworks by among others Ursula Benker-Schermer, Hans Feibusch and John Piper are commissioned.
  • 1930: St Richard’s shrine is restored.
  • 1866: The cathedral reopens after repair.
  • 1861: The tower and spire collapse.
  • 1660: Restoration begins on the cathedral.
  • 1642: Parliamentaries ransack the building during the English Civil War.
  • 1538: St Richard’s shrine is wrecked during the Reformation.
  • 1530: The large scale paintings by Lambert Barnard are completed.
  • 1400: The spire, cloisters and bell tower are constructed.
  • 1276: The body of St Richard is moved to the retroquire after being canonised by Pope Urban IV 14 years earlier.
  • 1100s: Much of the eastern end of the cathedral is destroyed by a series of fires.
  • 1108: The cathedral is consecrated.
  • 1075: The bishopric and cathedral are moved to Chichester and building work commences.
  • 681: The monastery founded by St Wilfried in Selsey becomes the first cathedral in Sussex.

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Ballyfin Laois + Lavender’s Blue

Haven is a Place on Earth

After Ladytown and Gingertown and before Demesne and Borris in Ossory. Past the ‘Squirrels Crossing’ sign next to Deadman’s Inn. Guided by 1,000 flickering lights, all the stars and planets aligning, we finally arrive at Ballyfin. Dawn is gone and noon is soon. Slowly, majestically, breathtakingly, theatrically, on adverb overload those black and golden gates glide back to reveal another world. To quote Elizabeth Bowen in her 1955 novel A World of Love: “a new world – painted, expectant, empty, intense.” A world of everything. She called these estates “house islands” in her 1942 autobiography Bowen’s Court and Seven Winters. Ballyfin’s walled demesne is more like a “house principality” with hundreds of newly planted trees, dozens of revived vistas and tens of augmented avenues. Two butlers and a manageress stand to welcoming attention on the wide steps of the house. Symmetrically. Later she will whisper “it’s because you love heritage” which is possibly the best excuse ever for a quadruple room upgrade. We’ve luxed out! Our car, keys, suitcases, worries disappear. All we are left with is our anticipatory sense of awe and a louche lust for life. And complimentary glasses of Champers.

There are no equals. Parallels don’t exist. Period. It’s Poles apart. Ballyfin loads the super into superlative. It sticks the hyper up hyperbole. Puts the eggs in ecstasy. And then there are those golf buggies lined up above the haha. Aha, pure unadulterated genius! Pray tell, channelling our outer Tamara in a Green Bugatti, how else are we to explore the 250 hectare estate? Zestfully zipping round from tower folly (lake to left) to picnic chalet (lake to right) to stable yard (lake above) to walled garden (lake below) to boathouse (oops lake straight ahead, all 11 hectares of it), Ballyfin is a deliriously glorious and indulgent playground for rich and cultured adults. This world is our oyster and nobody else’s. We’ve checked in; we’ve checked out. Naturally, on cue ducks waddle ‘cross the lawn to the fountain. A duck is the hotel motif. Ballyfin really is a haven for wild animals and Wild Geese and wild guests. On that (latter, louder) note, why does nowhere ever advertise for “noisy rooms”?

In the 1820s, Sir Charles Henry Coote commissioned multigenerational practice Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison to design a new house on his recently acquired estate. “The ubiquitous Sir Richard Morrison,” as Mark Girouard calls him in Town and Country, 1992. “The son went by the rather wonderful name Vitruvius,” Randal# McDonnell, Earl of Antrim, tells us. Absolutely everybody and we mean everybody raves about the result. Frank Keohane, author of the latest addition to The Buildings of Ireland series, Cork City and County, 2020, believes, “… the interiors are furnished to a degree of perfection and luxury that perhaps only the Morrisons could achieve at this period.” The Irish Architectural Archive (Nick Sheaff et al) published in its 1989 thesis on the Morrisons: “The grandeur and variety of the whole conception and the richness and quality of the decoration are unparalleled in Irish county house architecture.” What Francis Scott Fitzgerald calls “honeyed luxury” in his 1992 novella, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.

Esteemed architect John O’Connell advised on heritage and conservation matters relating to the restoration and rejuvenation of Ballyfin. He relates, “Vitruvius was incredibly inspired by everything he saw, although he was frail – he had weak lungs and died aged 44. Ballyfin vies with Baronscourt in County Tyrone but outstrips it. The Cootes saw Emo Court, the neighbouring estate to theirs, and wanted that. They allowed the Morrisons free rein. Ballyfin is the equivalent of the Czar’s Palace with knobs on, the Villa d’Este of Ireland!” Henry James calls the Villa d’Este one of the “operatic palaces” in The Wings of the Dove, 1902. John notes, “As does happen, the Cootes fell on hard times.” The next owners, the quadruple barrelled Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley family, sold Ballyfin to the Patrician Brothers and after a few decades as a college, a shining Knight and a Madam (to borrow the title of an Irish Knight’s spouse) came to the rescue of the fading pile: Chicago businessman Fred Krehbiel and his Irish born wife Kay. Sadly, Mr Krehbiel passed away in June 2021. They were accompanied by a crack team of specialists, all top of their game, to achieve the greatest ever revival of an Irish country house. The nine year rebuilding took several years longer than the original construction period. “Fred and Kay travelled all the time,” remembers John, “and brought to Ballyfin all of their experiences. They bought really good paintings and furniture for the house. There’s a pair of mirrors by Robert Adam in the Saloon. For them, this larger investment was about the apotheosis of the big 19th century house.”

Of course, John led the brilliant restoration of Fota in County Cork, another Morrison house. Ballyfin is hewn from local Clonaslee sandstone. We recall Oscar Wilde in his 1882 essay The House Beautiful: “The use of the natural hues of stone is one of the real signs of proper architecture.” The reconfigured 20th century wing, part hidden from the avenue by an enormous holm oak tree, is of reconstituted stone. The entrance front of the main block is dominated by a three bay giant Ionic order portico; the rear, by a four bay pedimented breakfront. No boring white window frames here: dark stained timber window frames offer a monochromatic sharpness to the exterior as precise as an architectural print. It was Dorinda, Lady Dunleath, who first alerted us to the aesthetic superiority of dark window frames, referencing the National Trust village of Kearney a few kilometres south of Ballywalter Park on the Ards Peninsula, County Down. Five blind windows perfect the symmetry of Ballyfin’s façade.

A bookcase in the Library is jammed full of awards. Relais and Châteaux Garden Trophy 2014. Relais and Châteaux Heritage Trophy 2017. AA Hotel of the Year 2019. Travel and Leisure World’s Best Hotel Awards 2017, 2018, 2019 and… surely 2021! There have been successful Irish country house hotels before, but when it comes to Ballyfin, there have been no prequels. We idly wander through the chain of reception rooms; in The Diamond as Big as Ballyfin “the upholstery consisted of 1,000 minute and exquisite tapestries of silk, woven with jewels and embroideries, and set upon a background of cloth of gold”. Oscar Wilde again, “And now books: an old library is one of the most beautifully coloured things imaginable; the old colours are toned down and they are so well bound, for whatever is beautiful is well made.” One stack of books, a snoresville of Parliamentary Debates, isn’t what it seems: the titles are merely book spines concealing a jib door into the Conservatory. Marlfield House in Gorey, County Wexford, finally has some competition; talented architect Alfred Cochrane’s glass act being the defining country house transparent moment of the 20th century. Some visual jokes are more recent like the suit of armour sporting Vilebrequin boxer shorts on a half landing.

The vastness of the estate swallows everyone up. Deep in the Irish midlands, we’re lost below the shadowy climbs of Slieve Bloom. John observes, “Jim Reynolds designed an incredibly well prepared landscape in the context of John Sutherland’s 19th century parkland.” This includes the extraordinary cascade flowing down the hill from John’s Claudian temple to the terrace in front of the garden elevation of the main block. “Claude Lorrain was a great 17th century French painter who created huge enigmatic landscapes embracing the whole of the Greek and Roman worlds,” John reckons. “The Claudian landscape became the ideal 18th century English landscape – spare, Protestant-like.” Only at pre dinner drinks will we meet the Irish, American and French occupants of the other 19 guest rooms. Thankfully everyone has rigidly stuck to Oscar Wilde’s maxim: “People should not mar beautiful surroundings by gloomy dress…”

The hotel years. What gives? Nothing. Not us. We’re staying put. Or rather going Coote Suite tout suite. Holed up in the Sir Charles Coote State Room thank you very much, which we’re reliably informed is the only ground floor suite in the main house (the Viceroy Room is 20th century). And boy, do we only do main house. It’s taken us quite a few generations to escape the servants’ wing and we’re certainly not voluntarily returning there anytime soon. Ballyfin mostly doesn’t do modern, phew. An ancient stone sphinx guards our bedroom window (not that we’re completely averse to night time visitors). We’re in the noisy room (us, not the environs). How many doors does a suite need? There’s the jib door below the flying staircase landing pushing through the wall thickness to the main bedroom door; curved doors to the cloakroom and bathroom lobby; then a cast iron door creaking into the bathroom. “This bedroom was Sir Charles’ office and the bathroom was his gun room,” explains John. “The arrangement was very strategically planned so that he could watch over the avenue and the yard.” The ceiling is a riot of much arching, apsing, cornicing, coffering, coving, dentilling, detailing, resetting and vaulting. A handwritten card from General Manager Peter White is propped on top of the Fornasetti set of drawers. The fourposter is a plotted knotted tented oriented plateau of impossible indelicacies! Elizabeth Bowen’s A World of Love is relevant, “The fourposter, of a frame immense, was overdraped with more of the damask stuff…” A huge marble bath with bronze lion head taps (Drummonds naturally, a reminder of home) overlooks the lower ground floor courtyard with its ever flowing fountain. Draped over the bath are the heaviest white towels and bathrobes imaginable.

Candlelit dinner is served in the Dining Room. Wow! Weyhey! Yeah! Suddenly, unexpectedly, the cascade beyond our window erupts and alights in a flow of waves and an impossibly surreal pyrotechnic display of Jamesian Catherine wheels. The John O’Connell Claudian Temple is ablaze! Nymphs and dervishes, thankfully no banshees or hobgoblins, flitter across the shadowy striped perfected lawn. A custom designed pescatarian tasting menu, sealed with fresh (mind your own) bees’ wax from the far side of the Kitchen Garden wall, guides us along the gastronomic voyage of a lifetime. There will be no sequels. In something akin to our 55 a day, breathe in: Chilled Apple Gazpacho (garden mint, apple compressed in lime); Lightly Cured Trout (garden turnips, lemon, hazelnut); Salad of Ballyfin Seasons; Cod Cooked in Rapeseed Oil (black olive, saffron, fennel); Roast Garden Swede (lentils, herb purée, black garlic); Cashel Blue (onion and sesame sable, Ballyfin honeycomb); Vanilla and Mascarpone Parfait (toasted macadamia, honey truffle). Breathe out.

Wild Geese Wine is a speciality of the Dining Room. Ballyfin abounds with informative historical snippets and the Wine List is no exception.  “Many émigrés achieved fame and distinction fighting in the armies of France and Spain, others as scholars in Irish colleges from Rome to Prague to Seville. Others, still, entered the wine trade in Bordeaux and established great châteaux many of which still bear their names.” John Gebbie summarises the Flight of the Earls, as the enforced emigration is called, in his 1968 Historical Survey of a Parish of Omagh, “The O’Neill lands of this and other parts had become forfeit to the English king, James I, by the flight of the O’Neill leader, Hugh, to Italy, 1607, with consequent abandonment of his estates. These lands, together with O’Donnell’s, were a matter of 800,000 acres. (The six escheated counties thus involved were: Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh).” Louie Cullen writes in The Irish Brandy Houses of 18th Century France, 2000, “Irishmen were prominent in the trade of Spain and France in the 18th century; Irish names still survive in streets, trading houses and châteaux… wine châteaux carry the names Lynch, Kirwan, MacCarthy and Boyd.”

The tune “What a Wonderful World” floats through the light air. A bowler hatted musician is in his element showing off his talent on the ivories in the adjoining Saloon. “Hallelujah” follows our favourite “Moon River” then comes the Downton Abbey theme. A “rococo harmony” straight from The Diamond as Big as the Ritz delights. “Music, plangent and unobtrusive…” To recycle Henry James’ character Densher’s phrase in The Wings of the Dove, how “delightfully rococo”. Each piece is imbued with novel meaning and nuanced memory. We’re up for him playing the Victorian hymn “I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop” although we’d like him to skip the line “I’m satisfied with just a cottage below”. Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, once shared she was fascinated by properties “from palaces to pigsties”. We’ll settle for the former. Min did tell us Irish country houses held a special place in her heart; she was a member of the Irish Georgian Society. Long after our stay at Ballyfin, like Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s character John, we “remembered that first night as a daze of many colours, of quick sensory impressions, of music soft as a voice in love, and of the beauty of things, lights and shadows, and motions and faces”.

Head Chef Sam Moody runs the kitchen at Ballyfin; he cuts the mustard and knows his scallions: “The best meals start with the best ingredients and breakfast is no different. For 150 years or more the apple trees in our orchard have provided their fruit for the house. Apples are collected and pressed each autumn for you to drink throughout the year as Ballyfin’s famous apple juice. Some chickens are lucky enough to call Ballyfin Demesne home; you can stroll up to the top walled garden and collect a few eggs for breakfast and we will happily cook them. Honey is produced by our busy bees in the quiet northwest corner of the estate. Bernd Schuh looks after our bees and extracts the honey for you to enjoy.”

A breakfast menu snippet reads, “The popularity of blue and white china across the globe in the 1700s could not be ignored. America and Europe were flooded with imports from China that were incredibly popular. It was in 1784 that Josiah Spode I perfected the process of under glaze printing on earthenware with tissue paper transfers made from land engraved golden plates. Initially the designs were sympathetic reproductions of the Chinese porcelain that had been incredibly popular during the 1700s but soon Josiah launched original designs such as Willow, circa 1790, and Blue Tower, 1814. Our breakfast china has been selected for Ballyfin as a china typical of the period when the Cootes first welcomed guests to the house.”

The back stairs that once threaded together the service and polite rooms of the house now provide access to the basement bar and swimming pool in the rejigged 20th century wing. “The Ballroom above the swimming pool was the old refectory of the college,” relates John. “It is wide and long with a low ceiling so to foreshorten the space I have advised painting murals in the ceiling roses.” As Oscar Wilde taught, “About the ceiling: the ceiling is a great problem always – what to do with that great expanse of white plaster.” A snippet in a glass cabinet along one of the later wing corridors informs us, “This is part of the large collection of silver assembled by the Coote family over two centuries. The earliest piece here is a London coffee pot dated 1704 with the crest of the Earl of Mountrath. The latest is a cigarette box of 1907. The silver along with all the contents of the house left Ballyfin when the family departed in 1923. Since then much of the silver has been dispersed. Happily contents of this cabinet returned to Ballyfin in April 2014 when it was disposed of by Sir Christopher Coote. The oak iron bound silver chest in which the silver was stored is now in the Library.”

Another corridor snippet reads, “This piece of Bog Oak was found buried in a peat bog in County Offaly. Preserved from decay by the acidic and anaerobic bog conditions, it could be around 5,000 to 8,000 years old.” These remnants of history along the corridors are counterbalanced by more than a generous helping of modern art cool. Vying for attention are Irish and international paintings: ‘The Divination of Ugber’ by John Boyd (born 1957); ‘Lewis Mumford Says’ by American artist Blaise Drummond (born 1967); ‘Abstract Composition’ by Mainie Jellet (1897 to 1944); ‘Patient’ by Brian Maguire (born 1951); ‘Burning Building’ by Stephen McKenna (born 1939); ‘Bellacorick’ by British artist Hughie O’Donoghue (born 1953); and ‘Untitled’ by Ross Wilson (born 1957). We raise our filled flutes to Oscar Wilde’s observation that there is “nothing in life that art cannot raise and sanctify”.

And now for a vignette of Ballyfin style service. Barely have we gingerly opened our bedroom jib door than the butler comes running. It’s 7am on a Sunday morning. “Coffee?” Now that’s called mindreading. Especially when it means a full pot with plain and lemon shortbread served next to the specially lit fire in the Saloon. What Princess Michael wants, Princess Michael gets. We’re reminded of the composer Samuel Barber’s 1952 experience of Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal: “Joy of joys, peat fires are burning in every room… they call it turf… and burning it has an ineffable perfume, at least for me.” Forget spoons and mouths, we were born with silver trays on our knees. It does result in us being more stuffed that the Entrance Hall taxidermy for our 8am full omelette (salmon and whatsoever things are lovely) breakfast served once again in the Dining Room.

“Even the bill is beautiful at Ballyfin!” smiles the receptionist waving us off and it really is gorgeously presented and amplified by an embarrassment of party favours for the road. Let’s hope our bank manager concurs. The only peccadillo is this: every hotel from henceforth will be an anti-climax. For haven’s sake there absolutely are no equals. There were no prequels; there will never be any sequels. Right down to the three enigmatic cherry tomatoes. Ballyfin isn’t cheap but shrouds have no pockets. The 2020s are the new 1820s and Ballyfin is the only place to sizzle this season. It’s not just the fires that are roaring in these hallowed rooms.

Art Design Luxury People

Dame Rosalind Savill + Madame de Pompadour + Sèvres Porcelain + 500 Years of European Ceramics Bonhams London


Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, 1721 to 1764, became official mistress to Louis XV in 1745. Their patronage of the Vincennes / Sèvres porcelain manufactory, both jointly and individually, ensured its success. Its production is characterised by brilliant colours, daring design and an insatiable pursuit of novelty,” explains Nette Megens, Head of Department of European Ceramics at Bonhams. “Her purchases, which she made regularly, from 1747 until her death, and the factory’s products are the subject of a definitive new book by Dame Rosalind Savill: ‘Everyday Rococo: Madame de Pompadour and Sèvres Porcelain’.”

The Bond Street auction house gallery is aglow as Pol Roger Champagne and mince pies are served at an exhibition ‘500 Years of European Ceramics’ covering Italian, Meissen, Vienna and Sèvres porcelain to celebrate the book launch on the tercentenary of Madame de Pompadour’s birth. “This exhibition and book launch is organised by Bonhams and The French Porcelain Society,” introduces Nette. “If you’re not a member of the Society, shame on you! Ros wrote a seminal book 41 years ago on The Wallace Collection Sèvres and to her credit it has remained up there with the best of books on the subject. It’s sold out. This new book is of the same canon… ‘Ros’, as she is known to all, is exceptional, generous, charming, persevering and kind.” Addressing the author directly, “You are a demigod of competence darling angel, simply the best; we are all the keenest members of your fan club tonight!”

John Whitehead, authority on 18th century decorative arts and Committee Member of The French Porcelain Society, continues, “Ros is the greatest scholar blessed with an extraordinary talent for communicating. Her events at the Society are always a sell out and her enthusiasm is infectious.” Back to Nette: “The tone of this book is all about hearing her talk. It feels so personal and lovely… Now it’s time for the Dame!” Dazzling in a Sèvres pink coloured dress, Dame Rosalind Savill discusses her book. She was of course Director of the Wallace Collection London, 1992 to 2011, and is a specialist in French decorative arts, especially Sèvres.

“We are here to celebrate the 300th birthday of Madame de Pompadour. She kept youth on her side, right to her death,” notes Rosalind. Nancy Mitford rhapsodises in her 1968 biography, “Madame de Pompadour excelled at an art which the majority of humans being thoroughly despise because it is unprofitable and ephemeral is the art of living.” Rosalind again, “This book covers her daily routine and what she bought each year in court. The pieces vary from simplicity to embracing the wildest extravagance – a gamut of some of the best ever produced. You can’t help but be drawn into these beautiful but useful pieces. It is their quality, their specialness, that makes them exquisite. The colours are so unbelievable and unlike textiles they haven’t faded. This is the 18th century staring you in the face!” She points out the beauty of one piece decorated with peacock feathers resembling the Christmas street decorations outside on New Bond Street. And the functionality of another: a cup with a deep wide saucer for drinking hot milk in bed. “Madame de Pompadour was worn to a frazzle trying to keep the whole show on the road. Louis XV couldn’t bear not to have her by his side.”

Pierre Arrizoli-Clémentel, Directeur Générale du Châteaux de Versailles, summarises in his Forward to the book, “In these beautiful volumes Rosalind Savill has had the inspired idea of recording the annual calendar of Sèvres manufacture for the marquise’s incessant orders which reveals her true love of French porcelain.” Rosalind entices the reader with her opening line, “Imagine being 23 years old and suddenly isolated in the competitive, combative world of the royal palace of Versailles.” Such an imagination is brought vividly to life in two volumes totalling 1,232 pages weighing 7.5 kilograms. She elaborates, “It is possible to trace her annual purchases from the factory, month by month, revealing how these were often intimately connected to events in her life.” Intriguing chapter subtitles range from ‘Dairies and Milk Mania’ and ‘Washing, Hygiene and Health’ to ‘Pets: Dogs, Birds and Other Animals’ and ‘Letter Writing: Embroidery and Knotting’.

The work is polished and academic yet entertaining and full of fascinating anecdotes from “Madame de Pompadour helped make bathing popular” to “She remarked on the King’s tenderness towards his children, though she was critical of their looks.” Rosalind writes movingly of the impact of her female subject’s death: “Louis XV outlived Madame de Pompadour by 10 years, but nothing could replace his 19 year relationship with her. Voltaire wrote of how surprising it was that ‘a beautiful woman should die… in the midst of the most dazzling career in the world.” In the words of Nancy Mitford, “After this a great sadness fell upon the Château of Versailles.” The last paragraph pf ‘Everyday Rococo’ sets the scene for the title of these volumes, “She was perfectly in tune with the rococo period in which she lived, and enabled it to evolve and flourish. But mostly she was buying exceptional objects to enhance her everyday life.” Dame Rosalind Savill dedicates her brilliant publication to “my darling daughter Isabella Dove Savill.”

Architecture Restaurants

The Lantern Inn Martin Kent + Lavender’s Blue

Beaver Moon Under Water

Sliding doors. It’s the Pimlico of Kent. Nobody boards. Nobody departs. Until we arrive. Martin Mill railway station. It’s a fast hour and a half’s walk along deserted rural laneways from Deal or Dover or somewhere east coast. So we don’t board at Martin Mill but later we will depart for London from said eerily silent platform.

In 1946 George Orwell famously stipulated 11 criteria for his perfect London pub in a 1946 edition of the Evening Standard. We’ve filled the lacuna, stepped into the breach, and come up with 11 of our own for the perfect country pub. The difference is we’ve found our ideal destination. The Lantern Inn. Marty rocks.

  • The building should be around half a millennium in age.
  • The pub should be in a tiny historic village set in rolling countryside with just a hint of sea salt in the air.
  • There should be lit fires (“In winter there is generally a good fire burning”), low beamed ceilings, dark panelling, snugs, oil paintings of long forgotten gentry, and a piano (unlike the Moon Under Water).
  • An apartment on the first floor for guests should be similarly furnished to the pub downstairs.
  • The staff should be friendly and easy on the eye.
  • Food should be great in a relaxed sort of way.
  • Lunch can last all afternoon.
  • A cat called Boris roams freely from bar stools to dining chairs.
  • Like the Moon Under Water, there should be a “fairly large garden”.
  • A smugglers’ tunnel runs under the feet of unsuspecting guests.
  • It all oozes Orwellian “atmosphere”.

So what on earth happened to the dame who decided to up her game and wear a ship on her head to a party a century of two ago? There’s a print of her in the ground floor dining room of The Lantern Inn. No doubt she was thinking, well, let’s go all out patriotic and celebrate the latest naval victory in style. So she stepped out in her slightly over the top buffoned powdered and hopefully deloused and demoused wig? It turns out somebody has to wear something epoch ending. She ushered in the strict Puritanical Victorian no nonsense times quicker than you could chant “Yankee doodle went to town…”

Art People

Paris +

Smokin’ Hot

Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Dominique Bouchet Restaurant Paris +

Dining Fine

It’s a chic and intimate dining room. One party wall is exposed stone; the rest are off white. Abstract paintings hang at strategic intervals. The kitchen is a windowed enclosure at the rear of the room. Simply stylish; stylishly simple. Michelin veteran Dominique Bouchet’s latest restaurant is the perfect destination for a civilised lunch close to Parc Monceau. Between pan fried scallops (braised endives with orange butter) and trout cooked in low temperature (cold cream of corn and peppers, wasabi mayonnaise, golden brown brioche) the waiter serves “a present from the Chef: king prawn and cauliflower curd”. We avoid clichés like the plague but Dominique Bouchet knows his French onions. Chablis from Domaine Vincent Danvissat, 2017 rounds off a sophisticated lunch.

Architecture Art Design Luxury

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann + Champs Élysées Paris

The City of Light in the Season of Light 

At Christmastime it’s more like the City of Lights. Nowhere does festive decorations better than Paris and nowhere does Parisian festive decorations better than Galeries Lafayette Haussmann opposite the Palais Garnier. For the last 45 years, the store has suspended a Christmas tree from its vast stained glass Art Déco dome over the central galleried atrium. This year the pneumatic sundae cottage and lobster clad tree is accompanied by a space helmeted Santa Claus. Luxury fashion and interiors brands in the legendary store – 3,500 in total – include Alexander Turpault, Annick Goutal and Tara Jarmon. “One, Two, Three, Noël,” reads one sign. “Nous vous souhaitons de joyeuses fêtes,” another. Further to the west of Paris, in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe on Champs Élysées, Dior wins best temporary façade for its monochromatic monoflex.

Art Design Fashion Luxury Restaurants

The Ivy Chelsea Garden + The Ivy Asia Chelsea London

Tis the Season

They’re the Siamese twins of London’s restaurant scene. The Ivy Chelsea Garden is joined at the hip, or at least a party wall, to The Ivy Asia Chelsea. If you’re after understatement and don’t appreciate a heavy dose of bling, The Ivy Chelsea Garden’s more exotic neighbour isn’t the place for you. Everything is back lit from the green onyx floor to the Sumo wrestler guarding the staircase. A Samurai warrior makes for an unlikely companion in the bathroom. Green velvet jacketed staff glide around the red velvet cushioned chairs. Sexy Fish style popping candy profiteroles are the future, or at least they are in this piece of the East meets West London. Lunchtime dance music with the hottest babes in town: what’s not to love? It’s a familial formula that clearly works: The Ivy Brighton is gaining a co-joined Asian twin; so is The Ivy Castle View Guildford.