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Zaha Hadid Architects + Modern Art Museum Shanghai

The World From An Aeroplane Known

The only club you’ll find these days on Upper Street is the sandwich variety but what Islington lacks in nightlife it more than makes up for with the daytime artisanal individuality that’s packed into Camden Passage. This pedestrianised paradise may be parallel with Upper Street but that’s where the connection ends: the only chain you’ll find on Camden Passage is a handmade piece of jewellery. The Segal family run restaurant Frederick’s has graced Camden Passage for more than half a century. Its spacious light filled contemporary interior, lending regularity of form to fitness of function, comes as a revelation after the decorative three bay Victorian street front.

We’re here for lunch and a launch in the private dining room which opens onto an anticipatory strip of lawn. “This is our first event out for a year!” welcomes Patrik Schumacher, Principal, Zaha Hadid Architects. “We’ve gathered some friends to celebrate with us the remote opening of ‘ZHA Close Up – Work and Research’, Zaha Hadid Architects’ first exhibition in mainland China. We got our first professional breaks in China – we’ve so many projects there now.” During a Le Chêne Marchand Sancerre reception we’re treated to a live screening of the sell out exhibition at the Modern Art Museum Shanghai.

“The Chinese are just loving Zaha Hadid Architects’ work,” promises Shai Baitel, Artistic Director, MAM Shanghai. “This exhibition shows how it is global and timeless. The work is never compromising, always creating a new language. Today’s dessert is inspired by Zaha Hadid: geometric shaped pastries brushed with a very bitter Iraqi oil!” He proclaims, “Multisensory is all good!” as we receive a spray of Zaha’s fragrance.

Zaha continually pushed forward; she was always evolving,” Shai summarises. “Geography versus movement translates into this scent. It contains Indian and Saudi oud; the mixologist is French; and it is made in Italy. Zaha was enigmatic: she was very feminine but never married. This fragrance is genderless.” And what fills the air is an abstract fifth dimension built upon organisation and articulation; organised articulation; articulated organisation.Órla Constant has flown in from Lady Kitty Spencer’s wedding to join our table. “Kitty wore three wedding dresses on the day: all Dolce + Gabbana. She was like a sublime Cinderella!” As for Zaha: “I was so privileged to have met her. She’s left such a legacy.” Órla is Relationship Director of Centrepoint. “Prince William chose us as his first charity. He’s very emphatically linked to us and the young people. He’s an amazing ambassador. We’re really out there as a charity!”

Zaha Hadid Architects Director Woody Yao also joins our table. He’s back from the 10th anniversary of the opening of Roca Showroom in Imperial Wharf which he designed with fellow Director Maha Kutay. That opening party seems like a hot minute ago. “I joined Zaha’s practice in 1994,” Woody relates. “She was one of the most genius architects of all time. The way we move around is all about Zaha genius. She stuck to her authentic voice. Zaha inspired generations of architects. She’s in our DNA! Technology changes; so does the way we do drawings but we carry that same spirit. We’re more like a movement than a style.”

“Architecture frames social interaction,” writes Patrik in his 2012 Volume II The Autopoiesis of Architecture. “The design environment matters: it frames all interactions. Only on the basis of the designed environment as complex systems of frames can society be reproduced on the level of complexity it has attained.” One chapter is titled “World Architecture within World Society”. Today is a global adventure: the world from a virtual aeroplane known.  Everywhere outside Frederick’s­­­, floodlights rake the sky.

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Architects Architecture Art Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Ireland’s Blue Book + Bishop’s Gate Hotel Derry Londonderry

Merry Girls

“The sun always shines on the righteous!” claims hotelier Astrid Bray and sure enough the clouds fade to reveal an unblemished cobalt blue sky over the Capital City of Northwest Ulster. For once it’s not “foundering” as the locals would say. Depending on your persuasion, the name of this place is a four syllable binational portmanteau (Londonderry), a three syllable aristocratic surname (Londond’ry) or a rationalist nationalist two syllables (Derry). The city is one of two in Northern Ireland to share its name with its host county; Armagh does as well (Antrim doesn’t count as it is a mere town and county).

We’re here for Sunday morning sunny side up (eggs benedict with halloumi) breakfast at Bishop’s Gate Hotel next to one of the arched entrances to the Walled City. This much praised hotel is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book. We’re no strangers to the collection. Recent jaunts have included Belleek Castle, Ballina, County Mayo; Astrid’s favourite Bushmills Inn Hotel, County Antrim; Castle Grove, Ramelton, County Donegal; Coopershill House, Riverstown, County Sligo; Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan; Dunbrody House, Arthurstown, County Wexford; The Merrion Hotel, Dublin; and the truly majestic Marlfield House, Gorey, County Wexford.

Sisters Margaret and Laura Bowe are joint châtelaines of Marlfield. Laura is Chairperson of Ireland’s Blue Book. “Now entering its 47th year,” she explains, “our collection of properties and restaurants continue to offer luxurious, memorable and unique experiences across the length and breadth of the island of Ireland… We are very proud of our chefs and patron chefs, with many of our restaurants boasting one and two Michelin stars.”

Guests at Bishop’s Gate Hotel are greeted by a framed picture of a quote by the sage Madame Lily Bollinger, clearly not the abstemious sort: “I drink when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” Equally educational are a series of framed architects’ drawings illustrating the genesis of the architecture of the hotel and other significant buildings in Derry.

Originally two townhouses dating from the 1800s, the site was purchased by the Northern Counties Club at the end of that century. International architect Alfred Forman transformed the private residences into the members’ club. The new owners have retained a clubby feel to the hotel with well stocked bookshelves displaying photos of Northern Counties Club visitors such as Winston Churchill, William Butler Yeats and Derek Hill. And they serve great grub.

Like all cultural tourists to the city, we ask our waitress for directions to the Derry Girls mural. “Not a bother!” she enthuses. “Just like a lollypop lady I’ll direct you!” Her shortcut is through the rear of the hotel. “This room used to be a garden and that’s a covered up well in the corner. The house where the hotel is now was used to hold prisoners during the Siege of Derry. They were able to travel underground from here to a well on Shipquay Street and from there across to boats on the River Foyle to escape.”

Before the very much larger than life mural, we’re off for alfresco mid morning coffee in the Hidden City Café. Outside seating is in the adjacent Garden of Reflection decorated with Tim Ward’s glass artwork. The west bank enclave surrounding Bishop’s Gate Hotel has a real Georgian Dublin meets bohemian Galway vibe. So much history. But the question on everyone’s lips is when is the third television series of Derry Girls coming?

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Architects Architecture People

St Eugene’s Cathedral Derry Londonderry +

The Mother Church of Derry Diocese

It was as if the three greats of Irish ecclesiastical architecture were drawn over two centuries to this elevated site high above the River Foyle by some spiritual force. And one English great in the background. Building by James Joseph McCarthy. Spire by Edward Toye. Sanctuary by Liam McCormick. Inspiration by Augustus Welby Pugin. It’s a precipitous mountain of a church built in part of Newry granodiorite and Mourne granite.

A noticeboard outside the main entrance reads: “St Eugene’s Cathedral was solemnly opened on 4 May 1873. The cathedral cost a little over £40,000 to build, of which £4,000 was raised in America and the rest was donated by the people of Derry. William Roddy, Editor of the Derry Journal, said in 1899, “Do not let us forget that this is a cathedral built out of the pennies of the poor, the sixpences of those not quite so poor and the shillings of those we were better-to-do.”

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Jean-Georges + The Connaught Hotel Mayfair London

People in Glasshouses

A storm is forecast and The Dorchester roof terrace is closed so there is only one place to go for caviar lunch: The Connaught. What do Marlfield House County Wexford, George V Paris and The Connaught Mayfair London all have in common? A glorious conservatory. That liminal space between the great outdoors and the greater indoors. In The Connaught’s case, lit by interior architect John Heah’s new stained glass in the fanlights that matches the hue of the Negronis. There’s an abundance of stained glass too in designer Sir John Blundell Maple’s original Edwardian interior, even in the loos. New York based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s eponymous restaurant is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. The only clouds of mist that erupt are from Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s water sculpture in front of the hotel entrance.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses

Wilmont House + Sir Thomas + Lady Dixon Park Belfast

Magic Mushroom Off Season

Originally Belfast’s grandest pair of semi detached houses, built in the 1850s for banker James Thompson Bristow and his son, Wilmont House was combined into one house by the Dixon family in the 1920s. Its name comes from a previous house on the estate built by William Stewart circa 1740. Wilmont House is generally attributed to Thomas Jackson, a Waterford City born Belfast based architect. His prolific output was typically eclectic for its day ranging from the wedding cake gothic of St Malachy’s Church to the robustly rusticated Italianate Scottish Amicable Building. Wilmont House is much more reticent: balanced red brick elevations discreetly softened by sandstone dressings. If it falls under the Italianate genre, it only does so as a Belfast variant.

A high two storey main block, a low two storey ancillary block and a three storey campanile type tower all fit more or less into one rectangular footprint (except for south and east facing bow windows and north and south facing porches), neatly threading together the polite and service rooms of the house. Tall chimneystacks, some a storey in height, rising over slate hipped roofs, form a stimulating roofscape. Wilmont House is the centrepiece of a 54 hectare estate on the outskirts of Belfast.

Today, the estate is named after its last private owners Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon, shipowners and timber merchants, who bought it in 1919. This philanthropic couple handed over the house and its grounds to Belfast Corporation, the forerunner of Belfast City Council, just 40 years later. Conveyancing conditions included: “Not to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor upon the said land and premises or any part thereof” and “To use the house and lands for the greatest good of the Citizens of the City of Belfast and in particular to use the lands as a public park and public playing fields and not to erect buildings thereon except as may be necessary in connection with these purposes.”

The park was officially opened to the public in 1963 and the house was converted to a nursing home, so fulfilling Lady Dixon’s wishes. The following year a large rose garden was planted near the house and before long the estate became synonymous with the annual Rose Trials. The horticultural attractions were augmented by a Japanese Garden in 1990. While the park has flourished, the house has not, lying vacant for over three decades. Various attempts by Belfast City Council at reinventing the house have seemingly gone awry.

“Sadly what we look at now bears little resemblance to what the house was in its heyday,” Lady Dixon’s great great nephew Andrew Dixon told the Belfast Telegraph in 2019. “They [the Council] have said they would like to talk to the family. I have plenty of ideas on how it could be used and surely that’s more preferable than letting it go to ruin. I and my father Robin Dixon, Baron Glentoran, have already watched how another of the properties at Cairndhu in Larne has been handled and I would hate to see Wilmont House go the same way.” The Council responded, “We’re currently preparing an invitation for expressions of interest to go to the market to seek a suitably qualified developer for the restoration and regeneration of Wilmont House, to bring it into a new use.”

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Architects Architecture Country Houses

Drum Manor Cookstown Tyrone + Irish Georgian Society London + Ulster Architectural Heritage Society

Lambeg

“Ruins in Ireland have always been political in light of the country’s history,” lectured University College Dublin Professor Fiona O’Kane to the Irish Georgian Society London some years ago. “In contrast, they possess an insouciance in English paintings. Ruins can be framing devices to real landscape. But the perception of how Ireland is drawn carries a long shadow. There’s a constant iterative of land.” Nothing frames a real landscape better than the remains of Drum Manor outside Cookstown in Ulster’s “West of the Bann” territory. The description of a torn history.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s latest addition to the country house book genre is Kimmitt Dean’s The Plight of the Big House in Northern Ireland. The writer reports that then owner Augusta Le Vicomte and her second husband Henry James Stewart went to town and country on her inherited house, William Hastings of Belfast in 1869 “hugely extending the existing villa”. It was executed in that Hilary Mantel stoked Tudor soaked Elizabethan oaked castellated vein that architects so excelled at across 19th century Ireland. But then, he summarises, “It was acquired by the Forestry Service in 1964 with consequences for the house, being partly demolished in 1975 to leave the present shell.” The destruction in part of a big house.

At least the damson’d gardens and rolling parkland remain and are open to the public. A silent drum beats again. Balustrades and battlements and buttresses protecting nothing and going nowhere. Transoms and mullions holding air. Crocketed pinnacles pointing heavenward. Metre high green carpet pile. Pearl necklaced capitals. A damsel’d Ayesha Castle tower with no Enya to come to its rescue. And yet Drum Manor has fared slightly better than its neighbour Pomeroy House. All that remains of the latter is a derelict portion of the stable block outbuilding. An adjacent marking on the ground provides a ghostly outline of the house’s footprint encircled by forestry. The demise of a demesne.

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Architects Architecture Hotels Restaurants Town Houses

Scarborough North Yorkshire +

Big Red Riding Hoods

Everything’s different up north from the prices (lower) to the portions (bigger), from the hills (steeper) to the weather (colder). And of course not forgetting that fare (plenty of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and tea). Then there’s the ruggedness: a brooding dark stone cliff looms ahead and that’s just Richard and Samuel Sharp architects’ 1830s Crescent. England’s original seaside resort Scarborough embraces the coastline twice: North Bay and South Bay. Sandy rows. Separating the two bays is the precipitous Castle Hill which thanks to its multiplicity of castellated houses creeping up to the castle itself should be pluralised in name really. On the climb up to Castle Hill is St Mary’s Church where Anne Brontë is buried.

Agnes Grey House. La Baia. Colli Gham. El Eid. Greno. Helaina. Howdale. The Kimberley. The Paragon. The Ramleh. Rockside. The Thoresby. Wharncliffe. The Whiteley. Homes and bed and breakfasts. Deals Takeaway probably the best Deals in town. God is always greater than all our troubles. Peaches. Three course lunch 6.50. Tony Skingle is Elvis. Wanted Wanted Wanted Wanted. Signs and plaques and placards. And everywhere, the screeching cacophony of chips stealing herring gulls. Liverpool-on-Sea. Margate-on-more-Sea.

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Mary Martin London + The Collections

The Fashion Years

“We have seen that a Fashion utterance involves at least two systems of information: a specifically linguistic system, which is a language (such as French or English) and a ‘vestimentary’ system, according to which the garment signifies the world or Fashion. These two systems are not separate: the vestimentary system seems to be taken over by the linguistic system.” So wrote our favourite philosopher Roland Barthes in his 1967 revelation The Fashion System.

It’s like the arrival of the Queen of Sheba with the beauty of Queen Esther and the wealth of King Solomon. “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?” she cries, channelling her inner Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee in Some Like It Hot. Applying a blonde wig and beauty spot before donning a Mary Martin London little black number with extended faux fur later, she is soon standing over air vents and blowing kisses to admiring onlookers. Some like it very hot! She starts singing, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Super supermodel Katie Ice has entered the building.

Musical model Funmi Olagunju literally rocks up strumming her guitar. Lavender coloured clothes clad, she sings, “I only wanted to see you, laughing in the purple rain, purple rain purple rain…” Funmi shares, “Mary’s clothes are so crazy! They’re elegant and theatrical. They’re regal. She thinks outside the box!” Beautiful Natasha Lloyd bursts across our vision in a radiance of red. Crimson is the new black. She next models  the Queen of Africa dress. Over to Mary, “I’d just won African Fashion Designer of the Year and I felt like I was the Queen of Africa! The colourway in this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun.”

While getting ready, model Sienna Kinley advises on confidence, “You forget who you are. You go into fear mode. The mindset is to remind yourself who you are. Who you are is everything you need to be in this life. Everything you’ve been given is enough for you in this world. Sometimes you can forget that’s enough. Confidence is recognising who you are: you are a perfect being. All the gifts and talent you have are enough.” Makeup artist Sofia Mahmood adds, “Be creative. You need great patience to be a makeup artist. Patience with creativity.”

This Old Street London warehouse is rocking with a carnival atmosphere and a festival of talent. All of us are in front and to the side and behind the cameras as filming continues… yes, that film. In the midst of the mayhem and madness and fashion miscellanea, Mary emerges, as ever a human whirlwind of orders and changes and directions and laughter. “I don’t like ordinary,” she understates. Natasha reappears modelling The Hidden Queens Collection dress with its socially distancing crinoline.

The dresses of The Collections flow onto the film set amidst falling roses and oversized poppies. World class ballerina Omozefe (“just call me ‘Sue’”) performs pirouettes and shows photograph of herself with Margot Fontaine. “It was her last performance ever at the Royal Opera House! I have met Rudolf Nureyev twice. I love dancing to The Nutcracker, Carmen and of course Swan Lake.” Soon Sue is teaching model Hassan Reese some Pilates moves. “Pilates is similar to ballet – it’s about micro movements stretching muscles. You can’t get up on point unless your core being is very strong.”

Cleopatra, brought to life by model Natasha Lloyd, struts her stuff. Three times Taekwondo World Champion Carol Hudson, modelling herbaceous headgear, says with some understatement, “Mary’s clothes aren’t for the fainthearted!” Photographer Monika Schaibel agrees, “Mary has a vision and is always true to her vision. Amazing eye to detail. Her fashion shows are pure theatre – they’re art happenings.” Kiki Busari, modelling The Red Dress, adds, “I love the opulence. These dresses take you to a fantasy world. A world where you are empowered and strong.”

It’s like the creativity of King Jotham with the boldness of Queen Vashti and the power of King Xerxes. “Never try to explain your work,” once said our fav photographer of all time, Deborah Turbeville. So we won’t say we are a muse or the bridge between the bright lights or something else far more mesmeric and fantastic. Let the wrap party begin! To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, we all just want to be wonderful. “Fashion dissolves the myth of innocent signifies,” ends Roland Barthes, “at the very moment it produces them.” Super supermodel Katie Ice has left the building.

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Architects Architecture Design Luxury Town Houses

Duval House Battersea + Taylor Wimpey London

Gunpowder Grey Sky

One tower stands out on the ever changing skyline of the gap between Clapham Junction Railway Station and the River Thames. Monumentality, proportionality, spatiality and a roof terrace with killer views, HTA Design’s Duval House for Taylor Wimpey London and Wandsworth Council ticks all the boxes to come up trumps. Barely visible in the dense urbanity below lies Chelsea Harbour (London’s prime interiors destination) to the northwest and Northcote Road (London’s ultimate 15 minute neighbourhood) to the southeast.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses Hotels Luxury People

The Old Rectory + St Martin’s Church Great Mongeham Kent

Outer Upper Deal

“An exceptional level of hospitality and quality accommodation is assured at this 18th century country house bed and breakfast,” proclaim hosts Helga and Gordon Kitney. “Thoughtful luxury touches are provided at every turn. Nestled in the heart of a peaceful Conservation Area and less than two miles from Deal, The Old Rectory overlooks rolling countryside and St Martin’s Church with its Saxon origins. This picturesque setting is the perfect base for a relaxing short break on the East Kent coast.” Spread across the red brick house and coach house are The Empire Room overlooking the courtyard; The Polo Room with a coronet bed; The Attenborough Suite with an exposed brick wall; and The Maynard Suite named after villager Captain Robert Maynard who killed the pirate Blackbeard in 1718.

While the parish church next door dates back to Norman times, it has a more recent appearance due to a comprehensive restoration in 1851 by William Butterfield. The prolific Victorian architect is best known for his churches, whether new or reimagined, from Ascot to Ash, Belfast to Bristol, Country Dublin to Melbourne. St Martin’s Church is one of his more hidden gems. The village of Great Mongeham lies just beyond Deal and Little Mongeham, well, a little further. They’re pronounced “Munjum”. Despite being three kilometres inland, Great Mongeham was once a port. The ancient Mongeham Docks have long since silted up. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, often visited the village from her nearby official residence Walmer Castle.

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Architects Art Design Fashion Luxury People Restaurants

Sexy Fish Mayfair London + Annabel P + Mary Martin London + Peggy Gou + K Style + Maya Jama + Teddy Music + Gertrude Stein + Frank Gehry + Damien Hirst + Lavender’s Blue + Love + War + Peace

Annabel’s Party

Finally the limo pulls up on Berkeley Square and Annabel P dramatically disembarks dripping in diamonds. Cathedral school followed by the finishing variety has clearly paid off. It’s her role. Lavender’s Blue Directrice turned Diamonds Ambassadress turned Frontline Heroine has arrived. “Dahlings! One can never have enough class – or diamonds.” Clearly not. The doormen make way, the waitress beckoning to the best table in the house. Siberia where art thou now? “This is War and Peace!” Annabel declares scouring the wine list. “Champagne, dear Giuliano!” Meanwhile DJ Sophie ups the tempo downs the base. It’s a night off for Korean DJ Peggy GouK Style is so where it’s at right now – but Sophie is determined to bring the house down. This is going to be more disco than dinner.

Sometimes you really gotta go with it and order a pre dinner alfresco cocktail that matches the cushioned upholstery. Sea Breeze please or at least something ephemerally turquoise. Beetroot, carrot, ginger and orange detox elixirs soon cancel the boldness. For a hot minute. Annabel’s wearing Biba vintage, working it babes. Her fellow guest is as always rocking Mary Martin London head to toe. Annabel gets busy stirring up Insta Stories in between yellowtail tartar, smoked tofu and caviar followed by pink shrimp tempura. Maya Jama sends her love. Sexy Fish is after all the television presenter’s fav restaurant. Good friend Grime DJ Teddy Music of Silencer fame chimes in next. Everyone’s soon discussing menu tips. Mango and passionfruit, coconut and lemongrass or pineapple and mandarin sorbet? Decisions, decisions. “All three. Or is that six?” How does Gertrude Stein view dinner in her 1914 classic Tender Buttons? “Not a little fit, not a less fit sun sat in shed more mentally.”

Basement bound, a downward descent reverberating under a Frank Gehry crocodile past Damien Hirst mermaids before walking by those marbled bathrooms – salut Versailles – till the night relaxes into an embrace of unbelievably attractive seafood. Late call but Mary Martin London’s on the blower. “Fantastic! I cannot wait for our next interview. Let’s talk. I’m here and ready and want to talk about my amazing new dresses and fashion.” The limo pulls up on Berkeley Square and Annabel P dramatically departs dripping in diamonds and fantasy.

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Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Luxury People Restaurants

Hartwell House + Garden Aylesbury Buckinghamshire

Inside the Vale in Stone with Bishopstone and Hartwell Parish

National Trust country house tours are all jolly good but nothing beats the fun of actually lounging, dining, partying and hopping into bed in an historic property. Le grand expérience. We once lunched at Florence Court in County Fermanagh to celebrate the 7th Earl and Countess of Enniskillen returning some rather grand trinkets to their former home but that was a one off despite dining out on it ever since. In a marriage made in heaven, or at least a pairing in Britain at its finest, the dream comes true in the triumphant triumvirate of Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno; Middlethorpe Hall, York; and Hartwell House in the Vale of Aylesbury. National Trust houses where the four posters are for using. Well if Hartwell was good enough for Louis XVIII (he rented it for five years from 1809) it’ll suit us Francophiles thank you very much. Although His Majesty probably didn’t have to catch the train from London Marylebone. And so, we wave goodbye to the golden tinged terraces of NW1 on a blisteringly hot morn.

We’re tasked with capturing the spirit of the place, its current glory, its essence no less. The present is not a foreign country; they do things better here and now. Although Paris France is our next stop. As Gertrude Stein amusingly muses in Paris France, “You do not mention the relation of French men to French men of French men to French women of French women to French women to French children of French men to French children of French children to French children.” It’s worth mentioning the Frenchman who would become exiled sovereign as his plump features fill a bust and a statue and a painting at Hartwell. The Frenchman who looks down on the dining table of Apsley House on Piccadilly, London, in a portrait by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard. “But all art is erotic,” prescribes Adolf Loos in his 1908 lecture Ornament and Crime. Erm, not so sure, but we really do agree with his statement “Luxury is a very necessary thing.” And “An English club armchair is an absolutely perfect thing.” His words “Fulfilment awaits us” have a prophetic ring to them. Unerotic art, luxury and English club armchairs await us.

It’s also worth mentioning a certain French woman. A French woman who was Queen of France for 20 minutes. Marie-Thérèse Charlotte Duchess of Angoulême was the eldest daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The Dauphine joined her uncle to hold court at Hartwell. Her much maligned and misrepresented mother tried to set her daughter on the straight and narrow. On New Year’s Day 1784 the Queen, forgetting cake and remembering the poor, told Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, “The winter is very hard. There is a crowd of unhappy people who have no bread to eat, no clothes to wear, no wood to make a fire. I have given them all my money. I have none left to buy you presents, so there will be none this year.”

First impressions of Hartwell are grand, very grand. And very Jacobean. A feast of late 17th century transomed and mullioned oriels greets us as we swoop down the driveway round the turning circle with its life size statue of Frederick Prince of Wales on horseback and screech the breaks outside the entrance archway. But peeping past the very manicured bush (straight out of a David Inshaw painting) round to the garden front, there’s a perpendicular juxtaposition that would give County Down’s Castle Ward a run for its money. It’s Arcadian Palladian! The wealthy Hampden family built the original house before selling it to the even wealthier Lee family a couple of centuries later. In 1938 the house and 730 hectare estate was bought by conservationist Ernest Cook, grandson of the Victorian pioneer of package holidays Thomas Cook. Not that there’s anything package about bespoke Hartwell House. Ernest Cook saved the ensemble from certain ruin. Historic Hotels owner Richard Broyd would later acquire the leasehold which would in turn would be assigned to the National Trust in 2008 while allowing the house to still be run as a hotel. Lasting impressions of Hartwell are grand, very grand.

The dining room with its pendentive domes and matching Greek key cornice and carpet is more Soaneian than Pitzhanger Manor. The walls are painted lemon sorbet colour and the ceiling lemon ice cream. Contrary to appearances the dining room is 1980s not 1780s. It’s the creation of the architect Eric Throssell who converted Hartwell House from a finishing school to a hotel. A very clever creation at that. The architect amalgamated a closet, secretary’s room, south portico hallway and study to form a coherent space. The closet was reshaped to form an apse balancing that of the former study. French doors are wide open to the terrace. Dinner is served. The menu is elegantly labelled “Hartwell Bill of Fare”. Sourdough and fried tomato bread are followed by a starter of pan seared scallops, apple ketchup, compressed apple and oat crisp. The main course is pan fried turbot, leek spaghetti, sun blush tomatoes, British new potatoes and mussel cream sauce. Pudding is raspberry and elderflower tart, elderflower and mint sorbet. Taste good dining in a good taste dining room. Jacqueline Duncan, Founder of Inchbald School of Design, always reminds us, “I’m interested in taste.” A gentle breeze rustles through the dining room. Such peace and tranquillity. Yet under the fading light outside, tragedy is marked on the lawn. A tiny gravestone reads: “In loving memory of Charmian Patricia baby daughter of Captain and Mrs Conyers Lang died March 30 1924.” Beyond this gravestone, a walled cemetery abuts the estate.