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Coal Drops Yard + Coal Office Restaurant King’s Cross London

Beyond the Espérance Bridge

At the close of last century, the land behind King’s Cross and St Pancras Railway Stations was promoted as the biggest development site in Europe. Over the post millennium decades new places and spaces have taken shape between and inside retained and restored structures. The cast iron frames of gasholders continue to provide a robust architectural presence. An ankle height plaque on one of their columns reads: “Erected 1864. Telescoped 1880.”

Next to the gasholders is Coal Drops Yard, a collection of former industrial buildings transformed by designer Thomas Heatherwick into luxury shops (such as Le Chocolat by Alain Ducasse, Astrid and Miyu jewellers and Tom Dixon’s flagship store), galleries and restaurants. Overlooking Coal Drops Yard and backing onto the canal is a row of gorgeous converted commercial buildings. On the ground floor is designer Tom Dixon’s studio and – whoop whoop! – an Israeli restaurant. Further to the north are some of the most exciting new schemes in London. Not least Allison Brooks Architects’ Cadence tower of apartments over offices. The historic arches of the area are reinterpreted in bézier arched window openings on various levels of the 15 storey tower and adjoining lower blocks to striking effect.

Coal Drops Yard was built in the 1850s close to the canal and railway tracks to receive, sort and store the coal that powered Victorian London. Two decades later the coal trade shifted south of the canal and the buildings found alternative industrial uses. Glass bottle manufacturer Bagley, Wild and Company took over one of the buildings. Little did cousins William and John William Bagley know that a film studio in what was once their warehouse would retain their surname. Better still, the next use, a nightclub, would as well. Bagley’s occupied the three storey eastern block of Coal Drops Yard. It held the biggest and best raves in Nineties London with capacity (often exceeded) of 2,500 partygoers. Each floor would have a different music genre blasting to the beams. Pure ecstasy!

Next door to Tom Dixon’s studio, Coal Office is a collaboration between him and businessman Chef Assaf Granit (who owns the Michelin starred Machneyuda in Jerusalem). Over Saturday brunch at the restaurant bar overlooking the open plan kitchen we chat to Head Chef Dan Pelles. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York before working for five years at the nearby triple Michelin starred restaurant Jean Georges. His cooking is rooted in Israel and across the Levant: Dan is from Tel Aviv.

We name drop Shila (pronounced like the female name “Sheila”), our favourite Tel Avivian spot for lunch, especially on the Ben Yehuda Street terrace. “Shila is a great seafood restaurant,” Dan agrees, and referring to the owner Chef, “Sharon Cohen is a good friend. Israel is so so tiny – everyone knows everyone! Have some chilli olives.” We’re keen to understand what Israeli cuisine is all about.

“In New York there’s Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy,” he relates. “So many cuisines are separately defined. Not so much in Israel. In the Forties and and early Fifties Israel was filled with immigrants from Yemini to European. I have a Scottish grandmother and a Moroccan grandmother. It became a melting pot – the common language is food. There’s no other place like it in the world. Israeli cuisine is a blend of international traditions with healthy and fresh local ingredients. My Scottish grandmother made black pudding; my Moriccan grandmother cooked octopus. I eat both!”

“This dish has three types of aubergine.” Tarterie Oto (aubergine tartare, white and black aubergine cream, parsley and chilli aubergine) is served. The weekend brunch menu is divided into Small Plates, In Between Plates and Big Plates. We opt for ample sized Small Plates. Tapogan (salmon sashimi, potato crisp, horseradish crème fraîche, chilli oil, dill) is followed by Salat Dla’at (Delicat pumpkin, dandelion, Galotyri cheese, apple balsamic vinaigrette). Dan’s prestigious training and experience shines through in every dish. Alma White 2021 from Dalton Winery, Galilee, is the perfect accompaniment to the savouries. “Do you want an Israeli passion fruit dessert wine?” tempts Dan when sea salt caramel ice cream on carmelised pretzel arrives.

The sharply defined interior right down to the wine glasses and cutlery is designed by Tom Dixon. We interviewed the designer for Select Interiors Winter 2008. This glossy Irish magazine was published by Brigid Whitehead. Here’s the copy: We keep hearing the word ‘maverick’ bandied about in the media, especially on American television channels. Vice President hopeful Sarah Palin can barely make a speech without referring to her running mate John McCain as a maverick. Whether or not he fits the standard definition (“A lone dissenter: an intellectual, artist or a politician who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates”) is a moot point. A quick online search of the contemporary designer Tom Dixon’s recent career highlights – of which there are many – wouldn’t immediately suggest he is a maverick either. He’s been awarded no fewer than two doctorates and the highly successful design brand Tom Dixon has now expanded into the US. That’s just the tip of his iceberg sized CV.

His iconic status is there for all to see. Surprisingly, he’s self taught. His maverick status starts to emerge. “He is a self educated maverick whose only qualification is a one day course in plastic bumper repair,” is a quote once used to describe Tom’s background. In place of formal training, his interest in welding led him to experiment with furniture using found objects from a steelyard at Chelsea Harbour including iron tread plate, gas fittings and industrial nuts and bolts. Tom explains, “I was immediately hooked on welding … mesmerised by the tiny pool of molten metal viewed from the safety of darkened goggles. Allowing an instant fusion of one piece of steel to another, it had none of the seriousness of craft, none of the pomposity of design. It was industry.”

Recycling might be all the rage now, but back in the Eighties, Tom chartered new waters with his breakthrough designs. Others were left to play catch up. They still are. He continues, “London at the time was full of scrap metal yards and the skips were piled full of promising bits and pieces due to the Eighties boom … all of which presented themselves to me as potential chair backs or table legs. Unhindered by commercial concerns – I had my night job – or formal training, I made things just for the pleasure of making them. It was only when people started to buy that I realised I had hit on a form of alchemy. I could turn a pile of scrap metal into gold!”

At the end of the following decade, pundits were surprised when he accepted the post as Head of the UK Design Studio at Habitat. In the intervening years, he had been self employed and he was never considered ‘establishment’. Tom confesses his friends were horrified. Perhaps they thought he was losing his hard earned maverick status? According to him, “They said I would have my creativity compromised. I would be entering a stifling world of corporate politics.” But in reality, “It was as though I had a giant toy box … all the manufacturing techniques in the world from basket work to injection moulding. Everything for the home to design … everything at normal everyday prices!”

Six years ago, the company called Tom Dixon was set up by Tom and his business partner David Begg. In 2004 a partnership was established between the Tom Dixon founders and venture capitalists Proventus to form Design Research Studio. Today, the Studio owns and manages the brand Tom Dixon as well as Artek, the Finnish modernist furniture manufacturer established by Alvar Aalto in 1935. But Tom has ensured that he hasn’t sold out, joined the establishment. Instead he is fulfilling his lifetime ambition to make good design available to everyone.

Every icon must have his or her iconic work and Tom’s has grown from single pieces of furniture such as the S Chair and Blow Pendant Light to full blown interiors. Shoreditch House is Design Research Studio’s latest project, led by Tom. As usual, an innovative approach was taken to this private members’ club in a converted biscuit factory. The industrial character was played up by introducing even more raw materials while dedication to comfort with deep-pile rugs creates an enjoyable tension. In Tom’s words, the concept was to, “Celebrate honest materials with all their functional and decorative qualities. Their imperfections too.” We’ve heard that Damien Hirst, Jamie Dornan and Sophie Ellis Bextor all like to hang out there.

Tom has turned full circle. He recently joined a band called Rough; he plays with them when working for Artek in Helsinki. Last time he was in a band was in the Eighties. “We play bad Kylie Minogue covers,” he says, laughing. And in the last six months, Tom has started buying back original Artek pieces from schools and hospitals and replacing them with new versions. The institutions are glad of the update and collectors like to buy the originals. “The big idea underpinning the whole project is this discussion about sustainability,” he relates. It’s a new take on recycling. No matter what career posts he takes on, he’s always able to take an independent stand apart. Tom Dixon, ever the maverick.

Returning to 2023, whole Coal Office is Tom Dixon’s next door neighbour, his upstairs neighbour is the celebrated architectural practice Herzog and Meuron. What’s new in his store below in Coal Drops Yard? He advises, “Elements: a series of fragrances inspired by the medieval alchemist and eastern philosopher’s quest to reduce all matter to four simple elements, four scents of extreme simplicity and individual character that reflect their elemental names of Fire, Air, Earth and Water.” A medium size candle is £125; large, £220. As we edge towards the middle of the third post millennium decade, the land behind King’s Cross and St Pancras Railway Stations has become one of the best developed sites in Europe.

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Kapara Restaurant + Wedgwood Mews Soho London

The Real Chinatown

“Is there such a thing as Israeli cuisine?” Ruthie Rousso asked in the inaugural issue of the Televivian Journal three years ago. “The international response settles the issues for us all: Israeli food is quickly becoming among the most popular in the world. Israeli restaurants bloom and boom in London and New York, Israeli cookbooks win international prizes, and Israel in general has become a place of pilgrimage due to its restaurants and not only because of the Old City and the Dead Sea.”

The Chef continues to muse, “Food is a reflection. Plates have narratives. They tell different stories. These stories have a very personal connection to the traditions and habits that pass from generation to generation. But there is also a much broader dimension related to issues of culture, history, conflicts, wars, international relations, and even GDP. The complex Israeli identity is contained on every plate. In every tiny heirloom Palestinian bamya with preserved lemon and brown butter served in haBasta, and in every steaming pitta stuffed with roasted cauliflower, crème fraîche and local hot pepper … Israeli cuisine, like Israeli identity, is a fragile and frail tissue of crossings and stitching, fraught with youth on the one hand, and with hindering history on the other, full of adventurous urges, creativity and courage. Yes, and some chutzpah as well.”

Shabbat shalom! Kapara is chutzpah in a pistachio nutshell. But first, it’s oh so quiet (to channel Björk). Seems like a no show. Then, predicting a riot (channelling Kaiser Chiefs) it’s suddenly oh so Soho. Sababa! Soon the Galilee Dry White Givon Chardonnay is flowing as the lights get dimmer, the music booms louder, and the imaginary patterns appear in the wall tiles. Or are they imaginary? Everything seems rather naughty but terribly nice. Mezze is: Roasted Plums and Feta (soft herbs). Brunch Plate is: Baby Aubergine Shakshuka (spicy tomato sauce, stewed aubergine, eggs, tahini, pickled chillies, chive). Sweet Ending is: Gramp’s Cigar (brick pastry, pistachio, rose, coco, passionfruit curd, chocolate soil, smoked tuile). From smoky to smoking to smoking hot. And in an even sweeter ending, the cocktails are: The Glory Mole (El Rayo Tequila, hibiscus, cardamom, ginger, lime, soda) and Space Cowboy (Konik’s Tail Vodka, port, pimento, caraway, strawberry, hop, soda).

Kapara is tucked away in a redrawn block stretching from the retained 17th century Portland House (stuccoed up in the mid 19th century) on Greek Street to the replacement Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Architectural practices Matt and Soda combined their pizzazz to bring the best piece of urban design to hit London this decade. Nine storeys above ground (some occupying the air space where the Wedgwood china factory once stood) and four underground. A glazed sliced cone nose diving into the earth lights the subterranean office floors. If this is Soho Estates cleaning up their act what’s not to like? One sixth of the site is dedicated to new public realm. The restaurant spills onto part of this realm: an elusive and exclusive courtyard. Terracotta stained GRC (Glass Reinforced Concrete), glazed bricks and scoop and scallop patterned tiles all add to the Mediterranean ambience. A four metre high stainless steel head sculpture by Cuban artist Rafael Miranda San Juan gazes across the courtyard.

Owner Chef Eran Tibi’s earliest memories involved food. “I helped my father, a Tunisian born baker, in our family bakery and I spent time with my mother trimming okra tips. Family and food became intertwined, inseparable, from a young age. Food was a means to an end for my family – it meant more, it was a way of life. My grandfather was a great lover of life and all its indulgences. He owned a bar, a restaurant and a club. He instilled in me the importance of living for the moment, of being present in the now.” Aged 30, Eran decided to formally train at Le Cordon Blue School in London. His first restaurant in the English capital is the wildly successful Bala Baya in London Bridge. Eran’s mission to bring localised Middle Eastern food to southeastern England proves there really is such a thing as Israeli cuisine.

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Old Union Yard Arches + Bala Baya Restaurant Southwark London

Behind The Music Box

It’s a long time since Gilbert and George sang Under the Arches (1969) and an even longer time since Flanaghan and Allen did too (1941). These days, railway arches are – like every square metre in London – hot property. The Low Line. Theatres, restaurants, bars and community hubs fill the stretch from Union Street to Surrey Row known as Old Union Yard Arches.

But before the arches were redeveloped, there was, and very much still is, The Music Box. The capital’s most exciting apartments and music college scheme. Developer Taylor Wimpey Central London had the vision to commission the exciting young architecture practice Spparc (now in full bloom) to design a building that entwines architecture and music in a standout standalone standing ovation on Union Street.

A mezzanine divides the archway of Bala Baya into two levels. The ground floor is achromatic in deference to the White City of Tel Aviv. Upstairs, the exposed brick vault lends a more rustic allure. Owner Chef Eran Tibi – you guessed it – is Televivian. Interior designer Afroditi Krassa added bright terrazzo slabs from a Haifa factory. Eran says, “I wanted to walk on floors that remind me of home.” Tableware comes from one of Jaffa’s famous flea markets. The rear wall of the mezzanine is built up in perforated breeze blocks of the type you see just about everywhere in gardens in Israel. But the biggest import is the custom built pitta oven from Israeli manufacturer Jagum.

The rumble of trains overhead provides an accompaniment to dancey music. Six years old, Bala Baya still strikes the right chord with a cacophony free lunch. Putting that oven to good use, pitta is served with mezze: Pink Tamara (smoked roe, extra virgin olive oil, chives). Fish Clouds (smoked haddock fish cakes, pita crumbs, poached egg, white taramasalata, apple, fennel) are a reminder of Tel Aviv’s western coast. ‘Bala Baya’ means ‘mistress of the house’ and the pudding Lady Baharat (pink lady, salted caramel, Baharat cream, wonton) proves to be a woo worthy sweet symphony. Israeli wines are labelled “from home”. Pale straw coloured Carmel Selected Sauvignon Blanc 2020 carries aromas of tropical fruit notes against a backdrop of cut grass. Like The Music Box, the wine is aging well.

Unsurprisingly Eran is a protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi. Michael Kaminer explained in his 2017 review of Bala Baya for The New York Times, “Before he became a global brand, Yotam Ottolenghi introduced Londoners to modern Israeli food – a minor trend that has become a phenomenon.” Bala Baya is part of this movement from minor to major, taking it up another octave. Encore! Encore!

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Gunnersbury Park House + Gunnersbury House West London

All Features Great and Small

Why are two mansions standing cheek by jowl in west London? It must be the only park in the capital with a pair of very substantial houses almost touching each other. A complicated history of dual and overlapping ownership is the answer. It all began in the 17th century when lawyer Sir John Maynard commissioned Inigo Jones’s amanuensis John Webb to design a large square house inspired by Palladio’s Villa Badoerin in Venetia. The defining feature of this red brick with white stone highlights building was a five bay double height recessed balcony above a ground floor breakfront and below a massive pediment.

A later owner was Princess Amelia, second daughter of George II. The Temple (reflected in the Round Pond) and the Bathhouse are the two most significant extant works she had carried out. Her Royal Highness bought the house and estate in 1762 and lived there until her death 26 years later. The Doric portico fronted Temple in red brick and white stone to match the house was probably designed by Sir William Chambers in circa 1760. The Bathhouse is another estate folly, later described in 19th century sales particulars as “an ornamental diary in gothic style with a cold bath”. In 1801 the house was demolished and the estate sold in lots. Builder Alexander Morrison accumulated the lion’s share of 31 hectares while timber merchant Stephen Cosser acquired a cub’s share of three hectares.

Fashionably rusted freestanding signs strategically positioned across the park inform visitors of its history. One reads: “The Temple. The magnificent 18th century Temple is thought to have been built for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II. She used it as a place of entertainment, enjoying views that reached as far as the Kew Gardens pagoda and beyond. Alexander Copland, the estate’s next owner, played billiards and ate desserts there.”

Alexander appointed his cousin the well known architect Sir Robert Smirke to design Gunnersbury Park House (now called the Large Mansion). A few metres away from the Large Mansion and sharing the same building line, Alexander’s neighbour Stephen built Gunnersbury House (now called the Small Mansion). This long two storey building has bow windows on either side of a lawn facing verandah trimmed with Chinese bells below the eaves. After banker Nathan Rothschild bought the Large Mansion in 1835, he commissioned Sir Robert’s younger brother Sydney to enlarge his house. The three storey Large Mansion lives up to its current name. An enfilade of lawn facing ritzy reception rooms backs onto a cast iron galleried atrium. Both buildings are stuccoed.

Around the same time as designing the Large Mansion, Sir Robert worked up drawings for the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall. The previous decade, he had designed Normanby Hall in Lincolnshire for the Sheffield family. Samantha Cameron, Britain’s former First Lady, was brought up at Normanby Hall and her father Sir Reginald Sheffield is still squire of the manor. Sir Robert is best known for the British Museum. The next generation of the Smirke dynasty would design many of the town mansions in Kensington Palace Gardens.

Pharma fortune maker Thomas Farmer bought the Small Mansion in 1827 and appointed father and son practice William Fuller and William Willner Pocock to extend the house. The Pococks also designed the Gothic Ruins Folly below Princess Amelia’s Bathhouse. In 1889, the Rothschilds bought the Small Mansion and Gunnersbury Park once again fell under single ownership. After the renaissance years of the Rothschilds (their heir Evelyn died fighting in Palestine in 1917) the estate and its buildings were bought by the local councils.

A plaque in the arch between the two mansions states: “Gunnersbury Park. Opened for the use of the public 21 May 1926 by the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain MP Minister of Health. Purchased by the Town Councils of Action and Ealing one fourth of the cost being contributed by the Middlesex County Council. On 1 April 1927 the Brentwood and Chiswick Urban District Council joined the Action and Ealing Councils in the ownership and management of the park.” The Large and Small Mansions were converted to community use. The former building is restored; the latter, under restoration. Princess Amelia’s Bathhouse, the Temple (exterior only), Orangery, Round Pond, Horseshoe Pond and Gothic Ruins Folly have all roared back to life. Sydney Smirke’s East Stables lurk in the shadows waiting their turn.

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Ardtara House Hotel + Garden Upperlands Londonderry


If there is a commodious Victorian country house which sums up gentry living in Ulster it would be Ardtara House. Tucked away in the countryside on the outskirts of the village of Upperlands, this two storey stone house is all that is good about late 19th century domestic architecture. Timewise, the original 1896 house was extended in matching style 17 years later so contrary to appearances it strictly speaking isn’t all Victorian. No architect is recorded but it’s very similar to Ardara House in Comber, County Down, which was probably designed by the popular architect Thomas Jackson. Ardara dates from the 1870s with a 1900 matching extension and is also a two storey house of roughly rectangular plan with plenty of canted bay windows. It was built by the Andrews family who were flour and flax millowners.

Ardtara was built by linen millowner Harry Clark. In 1699 the English Parliament had enforced the Wool Act to protect the English wool industry by preventing the Irish from exporting it. To offset the economic damage, Parliament encouraged the development of linen production in Ireland. Linen is a strong natural fabric made from flax plant which grows on wet fertile soil – so suited to the Irish climate. Harry’s ancestor John Clarke of Maghera considered building a mill on the River Clady on a site he referred to as his “Upper Lands”. His son brought the idea to fruition by building the mill. In 1740 the first beetling engine began turning. William Clark and Sons Linen is one of the oldest continually running businesses in the world.

Ampertaine House was the Clark family seat on the edge of Upperlands village. It is a five bay two storey late Georgian house with a large wing. Harry decided he wanted to build his own home for himself, his wife Alice and their six children. He died in 1955, a year after his wife’s death. One of the children, Wallace, would later say, “People from all over the world came to stay in our house. There were visits from cousins and friends from Australia, New Zealand and North America. There were also agents from the 40 or so countries where linen from Upperlands was exported.” The house (and 33 hectare estate) fell into disrepair until it was saved in 1990 by Maebeth Fenton Martin, entrepreneur and Director of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for North America. She opened it as a hotel four years later. Maebeth had impeccable taste and restored the fenestration, plasterwork, panelling, chimneypieces, garden, lake and so on.

In 2014 restaurateurs Marcus Roulston and Ian Orr purchased Ardtara. It is a rural hotel addition to their urban restaurants portfolio of Eighteen Ninety Four in Portstewart and Browns Bonds Hill and Browns in Town both in Derry City. They have retained the period splendour and comfort. The top lit billiard room is now the restaurant; the pair of drawing rooms remains just that with the insertion of a bar; the conservatory has been reinstated as a function room; and nine bedroom suites are on the first floor. The terrace outside the drawing rooms has been put back and the Victorian garden restored. The garden is a dreamlike sequence of outdoor green spaces around a lake.

Marcus explains, “We have lovingly restored the house, combining romantic Victorian architecture with all the modern comforts you would expect in top class hospitality. Our idea for Ardtara was always for it to be a gourmet destination.” He and Ian have revived Ardtara’s early 20th tradition of self sufficiency of food supply supplemented by products from trusted sources within an hour’s travel. And now, to echo Wallace Clark’s words, “People from all over the world come to stay in the house.” Musician Phil Coulter, actor Bill Murray and singer Ronan Keating have all stayed at Ardtara House (although not at the same time).

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Asamhaus + Asamkirche Munich

The Maximalists

It’s amazing what Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam managed to pack into just 176 square metres of Munich cityspace. Visual feast … aesthetic wonder … treasure trove … dusting nightmare … phrases fail to fully describe the interior of Asamkirche. This is late baroque at its most brilliant. Built as a private chapel adjoining Asamhaus, their home next door, after popular demand the brothers opened it to the public.

Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin were two of the nine children of Hans Georg Asam, the wealthy resident painter of Benediktbeuem Abbey in Upper Bavaria. The brothers were apprentices under their father. Their talents were perfectly complementary: Cosmas Damian worked as a painter and sculptor; Egid Quirin, as architect, stuccodore and sculptor. The pair took on many public commissions but it is at Asamkirche, which they dedicated to St John of Nepomuk, that they had free rein to go wild. And wild they went.

The façade of Asamhaus can be seen along Sendlingerstrasse but Asamkirche is today shrouded in scaffolding. That makes the interior come as an even bigger surprise. It’s a 1740s visual tornado of painted cherubs and gold plated skeletons and barley twist columns, stuccoed and frescoed and marbleised to within a square millimetre of its life. Words don’t do it justice, but Gesamtkunstwerk goes some way.

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St Ursula’s Church Munich + August Thiersch

The Greatest Quadriptych

It’s called the “Cathedral of Schwabing”. This late 19th century building is a prime example of Rundbogenstil, the German round arch historic revival style which combines Byzantine, Renaissance and Romanesque architecture. St Ursula’s is a basilica in brick. A treasure house of ancient and contemporary ecclesiastical art, not least Spanish artist Pepe Vives’ mixed media on wood quadriptych Grabchristus (2020). The only guidebook is written in German by Sibylle Appuhn-Radtke so over to an online auto translation:

“In the 19th century, Schwabing experienced a rapid change from a village to a city. The village centre around the old St Ursula Church at the English Garden (today St Sylvester) expanded to the west and north. Industrial plants such as the Maffei machine factory partially replaced the previous agricultural economy, and workers moved to Schwabing. The barren fields and pastures west of today’s Leopoldstrasse became building land which was masterplanned with a road network. As the university and the art academy on the northern border of Munich became more important, the population rose in just a few decades from 1,667 (1885) to over 11,500 (1890). The boom led to Schwabing’s short term status as an ‘indirect city’ (1887 to 1890). It was then incorporated into Munich and became one of the most popular districts.”

“The small village church couldn’t keep up with the crowds. After calls for a new building had already been made in the 1860s, the initiative took shape in 1879: the Schwabing masterbuilder Josef Vasek drew the first plan for a new building on the site of the former St Nikolai Infirmary. When this was rejected by the Royal Building Authority, the young architecture professor August Thiersch was brought in to ‘improve’ it in 1880. The order marked the beginning of difficult planning that lasted more than a decade with different designs and submission. Only when Dr Peter Erlacher, Priest of St Ursula’s (1886 to 1920), acquired an undeveloped piece of land in 1888, was Thiersch able to design his building on Kaiserplatz: a north facing church with symmetrical annexes that were to be connected to the church by porticos. The Munich Planning Office under Theodor Fischer responded to these plans by laying out the north south route of Friedrichstrasse in such a way that it enabled a distant view of the façade if St Ursula’s. The church thus became a defining focal point for the new Schwabing.”

“The architect August Thiersch (1843 to 1917) came from well known family in Bavaria. His grandfather Fredrich had been President of the Academy of Sciences in Munich under King Ludwig I. The young August, who spent his last years of school in Munich, received a humanistic education based on classical ideals. After studying at the Polytechnic and Engineering Schools, the two forerunners of today’s Technical University of Munich, he initially worked as an engineer and then developed a particular interest in new construction techniques. He completed his architecture studies in 1872 while working as an assistant for the architect Gottfried von Neureuther.”

“Among Thiersch’s publications, his renowned Handbook of Architecture (1883) stands out. Following in the footsteps of architectural theorists of the 15th and 16th centuries, he searched for the foundations of harmony in architecture and found them in clear numerical relationships and formal analogies. His largest church building, St Ursula’s, is based on the 1:2 ratio. The church is a built model of Thiersch’s theory of proportions and is therefore of great importance for architectural theory at the transition to modernity. In this point it surpasses Thiersch’s other churches in Augsburg, Berchtesgaden, Eichstatt and Zürich.”

“At the laying of the foundation stone on 23 September 1894 a perspective was published showing Thiersch’s vision of the future Kaiserplatz. The church was planned as a triple aisled cross shaped basilica with a porch, crossing dome and freestanding tower. To the west and east were to be cubic two storey residential buildings connected to the church via open arcades. The proportions of these buildings were carefully determined according to Thiersch’s theory of proportions so that they should result in a harmonious ensemble. However the execution only partially corresponded to these plans: only the east annex building, the rectory was built; the western one fell victim to austerity measures. The long unused buildings site to the west was leased in 1959 and a student residence, Pater Rupert Mayer Home, was built on it. the open façade on the east side was changed to a closed corridor with individual rooms off it. As a result of these interventions, the open symmetrical and cheerful planned square suffered greatly. However the route emphasising the central axis and the bordering of the church square counteract this shortcoming.”

“Before the completion of the church construction (it was consecrated on 10 October 1897), two structural problems had to be overcome: the construction of the crossing dome and the belltower. After Thiersch had considered various construction techniques for the dome, he decided on the most innovative solution: a double shell tambor dome made of two different concrete masses. The inner dome was made of aerated concrete; the outer dome which is visible from a distance was made of harder saturated concrete material. The attached lantern is a small domed structure made of sandstone. Red roof tiles laid on the outer dome shell are reminiscent of the dome of the Florentine Cathedral.”

“In 1933 damage occurred to the roof and dome shells, so ring anchors were installed at the base of the dome and another layer of concrete added to the roof. These measures led to further damage over the course of the 20th century – deformation of the carbonated concrete shells and the formation of cracks – so that they were undone in an extensive restoration from 2011 to 2018. First the lantern was dismantled, then the concrete layer from 1933 removed, the cracks filled, and the other dome shell reinforced with a new concrete layer connected to the old. A new tiled roof on a slatted frame was attached to the dome.”

“The slender 64 metre high belltower was originally intended to be freestanding in the style of an Italian campanile. Apparently though during construction, concerns arose about its stability. That is why a bridge room was built between its ground floor and the transept. The tower was so endangered because of its construction materials (unplastered bricks with sandstone cornices), the concrete staircase and the heavy steel bells hung in 1948 that during the early 21st century restoration a steel skeleton had to be installed to stabilise the walls and support the steps. At the same time, the Perner Bell Foundry in Passau manufactured four new lighter bronze bells which were mounted in the reconstructed wooden belfry. Instead of the two bell hood initially planned by Thiersch, the tower has a pyramidal pointed helmet. Thiersch took the church of Santo Spirito in Florence as a model.”

“When you walk along Freidrichstrasse towards St Ursula’s, the brick red dome and the slender campanile catch your eye from afar; as you get closer, the elegant two storey façade of the basilica made of exposed brick with sandstone components catches your eye. Standing on Kaiserplatz, you can see that the central axis of the façade, which is framed by pilasters, is decorated with Christian imagery. The pediment contains a mosaic by Karl Ule (1858 to before 1939) designed by the painter Wilhelm Volz (1855 to 1901). It shows the Lamb of God in a wreath carried by angels. Below, a stone statue of Christ by Balthasar Schmitt (1858 to 1942) is enthroned in a shell niche. There are also tiny scenes on vases in the pilaster reliefs of the parables of the Good Samarian (Luke 10:25 to 37) and the Return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 to 32). The busts are of the prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Two portico and steps are now popular places for sun seeking residents. Events also often taken place on this ‘stage’.”

“If you walk around the church to the east, you first pass the simple rectory and parish office and in its garden is one of the removed bells. Walk along the wall of the parish garden and you reach the east transept. This elevation is classically structured with a pediment and oculus, and a large round window reminiscent of an ancient thermal bath window in a semicircular flat niche. The tympanum, which was executed by Heinrich Waderé (1865 to 1950), contains figures of the Madonna adored by the old Simeon and Hanna. The low cross shaped sacristy, which is to the northeast between the choir and the transept, has its own apse with arched windows. The west side of the church is largely blocked by the student dormitory building, but you can see the upper parts of the transept front. Before you end the outside tour stand again in front of the steps to the south and you can see the walled up portal on the west wall of the church above the courtyard entrance. This was supposed to lead to the unexecuted colonnade connecting the western annex to the church.”

“If you enter the church through the east vestibule you first stand in the staircase hall to the organ gallery. You case the last completed stained glass window executed by Ludwig Kirchmayr in 1897. Next to the door is a memorial plaque to the architect August Thiersch. If you continue to the left into the nave, you get the first impression of the long axis of the space. The nave is separated by the aisles by arched arcades on composite columns. Above this are arched windows which original had coloured borders. Like its inspiration Santo Spirito, the colours are very reserved.”

“In the south wall you enter the former baptismal chapel through an elaborate wooden grille. It was converted into a prayer room by architect Helmut Rudolf in 2005. The room had lost its original function because the baptismal font had been moved to the southeast crossing column decades ago. The baptismal font, sculpted in early Renaissance forms, dates from 1898. The circular altar island rises over three steps in the centre of the crossing. It was built in 1979 to accommodate the powerful celebration altar by Thomas Otto Munz (1929 to 2011). Associated with the altar is the gilded wooden cross by Maria Munz-Natterer (2008), a highly abstracted crucifix that shows Christ as King with huge stigmata.”

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Residenzpost + Louis Vuitton Espace Munich

Suited and Rebooted

There’s more to Louis Vuitton than branded suitcases. In 2014 the Fondation Louis Vuitton opened in Bois de Boulogne Paris. This is a major cultural and artistic institution embodying the company’s philanthropic commitment to support the arts. Gallery offshoots of the Fondation are springing up in world cities. Hot on the high heels of Paris, Singapore, Tokyo and Venice comes Espace Munich.

“While all Espaces follow a shared global vision, they are tightly intertwined with their local context,” explains Chairman and CEO Michael Burke. Espace Munich is set behind the retained façade of the Palais Toerring-Jettenbach. Designed by Bavarian court architect Leo von Klenze, this neoclassical building was badly hit in World War II. The rebuilt arcaded and frescoed façade provides an architectural punctuation stop to the west end of Maximilianstrasse (“millionaires’ street”!). The current exhibition is As Slow As Possibles by American film artist Sarah Morris.

An architectural model of Fondation Louis Vuitton is on display in the lobby linking the gallery to the store. Michael explains, “This magnificent ‘vessel’ in the Jardin d’Acclimatation Park was designed by the Pritzker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry. It is a technological feat that pushes the boundaries of architecture with its 12 glass sails enveloping ‘icebergs’ on a vast reflecting pool.” The store reassuringly still contains branded suitcases.

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Sigi Schelling Werneckhof + Werneckstrasse Munich

Her Namesake

A German restaurant serving German food, it is named after its Chef Patron and address. Sigi Schelling is the Chef Patron. Werneckstrasse is the address. It’s one of the classiest streets in one of the classiest areas of Munich: Schwabing. And it turns out to be one of the classiest restaurants in the city. Werneckstrasse is a quiet leafy street off the quite lively Feilitzschstrasse. The walled miniature estate of Suresnes Schlöss dominates the northern part of the street. This castle was built in 1718 for the aristocratic Cabinet Secretary Franz von Wilhelm. It is now a conference venue owned by the Catholic Academy of Bavaria. A sunny yellow façade and Mediterranean shuttered windows can be glimpsed through the cast iron entrance gates and screens.

At the southern end of the street set among townhouses and wooded gardens is Sigi Schelling Werneckhof. A metal sign projecting from the facade and an inset porch with a table of flowers and a stack of business cards in olive green, damson blue and plum red heralds the culinary destination’s presence. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of a traditional mixed use block also painted sunny yellow. A small lobby leads into two adjoining dining rooms. The kitchen is out of sight behind a sliding mirrored door.

Sigi explains, “Cooking is my life. My dishes combine originality, sophistication and lightness. For me, perfection on the plate means straightforwardness in harmony with accompanying elements. All masterfully prepared. Our menus reflect love, passion, experience and appreciation for authentic high quality products. It is a pleasure for my team and me to present you with an unforgettable experience. Nice to have you here!” Later, the waitress will add, “Each day Sigi is the first one in and the last to leave at night.”

The five course tasting menu on a Saturday evening is easily adapted to pescatarian needs. “The Chef is going to make you sole,” the waitress confirms, replacing the venison course. And this being a Michelin starred restaurant, cutting and deboning the sole is a performance carried out by no fewer than three staff in the middle of the dining room. Amuse bouches and canapés bracket the meal but not before fennel infused Don’t Mix the Drugs Gin is served with Thomas Henry of Palatine Tonic Water. Cuvée Excellence Blanc 2019 from Rhône accents the five courses.

The tasting menu is a classic that could match the orders. The original simplicity of Doric: Bretonic Lobster (marinated garden tomatoes, yuzu, bergamot). The organic fluidity of Ionic: Char (pumpkin, pumpkin seed oil, buttermilk). The refinement of Corinthian: Brill (shrimps, gnocchi, cauliflower, Thai curry anise sauce). The structural simplicity of Tuscan: Sole (quince, chestnut, mushroom). The richness of Composite: Curd Cheese (goat’s cheese soufflé, marinated blueberries, poppy seeds, plum, sour cherry ice cream). Saturday dinner is a lively four hour affair.

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Stapleford Park Hotel + St Mary Magdalene Church Melton Mowbray Leicestershire

Making a Splash

It was 35 years ago and there was no escaping Stapleford Park in the print media. American entrepreneur Bob Payton knew how to make a splash. Instead of hiring only interior designers to decorate the bedrooms of his newly converted country house hotel, he threw a shirtmaker, a porcelain company and a perfumier amongst many others into the mix. It caught the press and public’s attention. Eight years later, another media savvy entrepreneur, this time Englishman Peter de Savary, took over Stapleford Park and opened it as one of his Carnegie Club outpost adding not least the Knot Garden in front of the main entrance door. Cue double page spreads in the supplements once more. Skibo Castle in Dornoch, the home of the Victorian philanthropic industrialist Andrew Carnegie, continues to be a Carnegie Club. His portrait hangs in the gents’ bathroom at Stapleford Park. Just when we thought life couldn’t get any more glamorous, we find ourselves pottering about the Wedgwood Room of the hotel, weighing up a walk in the Capability Brown designed parkland of heaven verging fields versus tea on the terrace. Happy camping. We do both.

Bob Payton bought the house and its 200 hectare estate from Lord Gretton for £600,000 and spent a further £4 million rejuvenating and opening it as a hotel and leisure resort. We’re privileged to exclusively share his last recorded interview before he died in a car crash in 1994: “I first saw Stapleford Park from the back of a horse riding nearby in rolling countryside. Stapleford has been for many centuries a sporting lodge with riding, shooting and lavish entertainment all part of its heritage. It is our endeavour to keep that same style for many years to come. So interesting is the history of Stapleford Park and fascinating its architecture that the house was open to the public for several decades. Walking through the house and around the grounds is like going on a magical mystery tour. Through each and every doorway, there is another adventure. Set in 500 acres of woodland and parkland, the house provides breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside from every room.”

“Our approach to life in the country is that of a relaxed, comfortable, casual existence. We’ve replaced the servants and butlers if the old days with a team of people who are dedicated to making sure you enjoy our home and all it has to offer. We hope you like our approach to hospitality. To complement the eclectic architectural style of this most unusual house I invited several famous names to design bedrooms based on their own image of life at Stapleford Park. Signature bedrooms have been created by Tiffany, Wedgwood, Lindka Cierach, Lady Jane Churchill, Crabtree and Evelyn, Nina Campbell, Liberty, Max Pike and many others. We’re thrilled that these folks found Stapleford Park such an exciting challenge.”

“The dining room is decorated with ornate and intricate woodwork accredited to the most famous of all English carvers, Grinling Gibbons. In these luxurious surroundings, we serve traditional English cuisine with the occasional flair of old fashioned American cooking. You can enjoy the food that Stapleford’s guests have enjoyed over the centuries and much much more. As for sport, the surrounding Leicestershire countryside is most famous for its equestrian links. We offer most kinds of equestrian pursuits including carriage driving and riding instruction. There is clay shooting on the property and game shooting can be arranged. You can fish on the lake in front of the house or at nearby Rutland Water. If that’s not enough, there’s tennis, croquet and basketball, as well as walks through and around the property in this most lovely of settings.”

“Come and discover a truly great undiscovered part of England. Stapleford Park is in reality most people’s fantasy of the quintessential English countryside. Let me tell you about Edward Prince of Wales. His mother wouldn’t let him buy Stapleford Park because she felt that his morals might be corrupted by the Leicestershire hunting society. Well that was 100 years ago. Fortunately the Royal Family settled at Sandringham so that all of us may now enjoy the pleasures of this most idyllic estate.” The Royal Family are still happily ensconced at Sandringham and we are even more happily enjoying life at Stapleford Park.

The house glows a golden hue in afternoon sunshine and shimmers a mysterious grey in morning mist. Poet Mary Oliver writes in her essay Wordsworth’s Mountain (Upstream Collected Essays, 2016), “This is to say nothing against afternoons, evenings, or even midnight. Each has its portion of the spectacular. But dawn – dawn is a gift.” Every elevation and wing is a piece of architecture in itself and together they form a visual whole in material only. Crunchie the ginger cat (technically the neighbour’s but wise enough to hang out on the estate) matches the ashlar stone. One minute Stapleford Park is a Jacobean manor house; turn a corner, the next minute it’s a Queen Anne stately home; turn another corner, a Jacobethan hunting lodge; one more, a Loire château. As for the entrance front facing the quiet waters of the lake, the nine bay string coursed perfection is as symmetrical as a supermodel’s face. No big name architects are recorded (unlike the landscape and panelling!) but two owners have added their name for posterity in stone carvings on the exterior of a wing: “William Lord Sherard Baron of Letrym Repayred This Building Anno Domini 1633”. Underneath there’s a postscript: “And Bob Payton Esq. Did His Bit Anno Domini 1988”.

Indoors the eclecticism continues thanks partly to the layering of six or so centuries and partly to the aforementioned cohorts of dreamers and designers let loose on the fabric and fabrics. The main block is laid out around two vast double height top lit spaces: the Staircase Hall and adjacent Saloon. Public and private lounging and dining ebbs and flows throughout the ground floor. The Morning Room (with its mullioned bay window). The Harborough Room (crimson Gainsborough silk wallpaper). Billiard Room (converted games table). The Orangery (windows galore). The Grinling Gibbons Dining Room (festooned panelling by his namesake). The Old Kitchen (stone vaulted ceiling). Formal dinner is served in the Grinling Gibbons Dining Room: Baron De Beaupre Champagne; pea, goat’s curd, mint pistou tartlet and crispy onions; butter roasted cod, fennel and leak cream, new potatoes, sea herbs. Stapleford Park is a bread roll’s throw from Melton Mowbray and its Stilton Creamery so a generous cheese board offering is called for: Beacon Fell, Bingham Blue, Pitchfork Cheddar, Ribblesdale Goat’s, Tuxford and Tebbut Stilton. Five tall sash windows frame the descent of darkness. Mary Oliver again, “Poe claimed he could hear the night darkness as it poured, in the evening, into the world.”