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Musée Nissim de Camondo Paris + Winter

L’Assez Grand Trianon
It’s time to get MAD (Musée des Arts Décoratifs) and go Camondo. The 4th Edition of the Michelin Guide to Paris (1960) states, “The building and its contents were left to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs by the Comte de Camondo in 1936, in memory of his son Nissim, killed during the 1st World War. The visit will fascinate amateurs of 18th century furniture and works of art. The museum is arranged as an elegant 18th century home, and is furnished with remarkably sure taste and objects of great beauty.” An explosive profusion of riches.

It’s international art dealer and collector Charles Plante’s favourite house museum. Amsterdam boasts Museum van Loon. Barcelona has Casa Amattler. Lisbon, Medeiros e Almeida House. London, the Wallace Collection. Musée Nissim de Camondo was designed by architect Réne Sergent taking inspiration from Le Petit Trianon in Versailles; it backs onto Parc Monceau in the 8th Arrondisement. In Letters to Comondo, 2021, artist Edmund de Waal describes Parc Monceau as being “… in the English manner with a little lake and bridge and smart flowerbeds full of annual flowers that need to be tended and renewed and weeded so that there are always gardeners head down and meandering paths…”

This three story house built in 1911 to 1914 by divorced financier Moïse de Camondo is separated from the street by a typical Parisian courtyard. The stern steel coloured paint of the casement window frames contrasts with the welcoming honeyed hue of the stone façade. A relatively flat front – a three bay central set back flanked by single bay chamfered links leading to single bay projections – conceals an intricate layout: a butterfly plan spreads out to the rear towards Parc Monceau. This arrangement creates a jigsaw to be filled with geometrically varied rooms within the confines of the external walls.

All three floors are on show from the functional (bathrooms with porcelain sanitaryware by Kula) to the decorative (the Porcelain Room with more Sèvres than a Rosalind Savill book launch) and a collection of salons in between all linked by a fantastical marble staircase hall. The Buste de Négress by sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire in the dining room is just one of a myriad pieces of period art. Being here. Doing it. Incessant winter rain emboldens the colour of the stonework, softens the light, intensifies the ambience, creating ghosts in the shadows.

Such beauty from such tragedy. In 1944, Nissim’s only sibling, Béatrice, the last surviving Camondo, and her family were killed by the Nazis for being Jews in 1944. The Camondo family tree was ripped asunder, a dynasty destroyed. The house museum resonates with happier times though. A menu card for déjeuner on the dining room table is dated 2 June 1933: “Melon glacé; Filets de soles Murat; Pouleta pochés à l’estragon; Ris créole; Pièce de boeuf à la gelée; Salade de romaine; Petits pois à la Française; Paillettes au parmesan; Fromage; Granit à la cerise.” Lunch, 11 years earlier…

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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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The Hoxton Hotel + Seabird Restaurant Southwark London

Midtown Mid Rise Midday

It’s the hottest table in town right now. And certainly the most dizzying. The acute angled windowed corner of Seabird for a cute pair only. We’re enjoying another Bowenesque moment. Elizabeth liked to party. Her house Bowens Court in County Cork was made for parties although it was demolished before she had to start charging guests. The Anglo Irish novelist would approve of our choice of Toucan Do It cocktails (Olmeca Los Altos, cinnamon, aji pepper) at noon. Rewarding.

Seabird is the penthouse level restaurant of The Hoxton Hotel isn’t in Hoxton, east London; it’s in Southwark, south London. The hotel is located in a bit of a no woman’s land but none the worse for it. There’s still an element of grittiness and character marking this stretch of Blackfriars Road. The Prince William Henry pub opposite advertises “two darts boards” and a “backyard private room”. Interesting. Blackfriars Food Market offers “Korean, Kofte Hut, Semoorg, Japanese, Thai, Falafel”. We’ll soon discover that when it comes to Seabird, safari hued staff uniforms and rattan furniture lend a Mediterranean mood matched by the seafood focused menu with such highlights as ginger infused prawn croquetas carabinero in olive oil. Appetising.

A lift zaps us up from ground zero to level 14. Not quite skyscraping then but it turns out this height is perfect for taking in a horizontal pendulum view from upstream Thames to downtown Southwark. Bang in the middle of the view to the north stands One Blackfriars designed by Simpson Haugh, a bulging glass erection full of bankers who have trousered a few bonuses in their time. Revealing. To the southeast can be seen architect genius Trevor Morriss’ Music Box apartments and college. Rogers Stirk Harbour’s Neo Bankside wrapping around the 1740s Hopton’s Almshouses are to the east. Satisfying

The Hoxton’s architects are Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, a London practice going very strong since 1986. Derwent London, the developers, are the Capital’s leading deliverer of non residential floorspace. Alex Lifschutz considers, “The Hoxton Southwark is an example of the hospitality sector leading trends in co working and co living by treating premises and buildings as active and integrated rather than passive resources.” Fascinating.

He continues, “This multilayered building picks up from one of our earliest and best known projects, Oxo Tower just round the corner on the Thames. Oxo also provides a very varied and integrated mix of uses including affordable cooperative apartments, independent shops, designer maker studios, a gallery plus the emblematic Harvey Nichols Oxo Tower brasserie and restaurant at roof level, still going strong after 25 years of operation.” Illuminating.

Where Southwark lacks a tight urban grid – this isn’t New York – it does now have at least one tight architectural grid. The Hoxton exhibits strong elevations with a downtown warehouse appeal enhanced by buff and dark brown facing brick. The street experience is more permeable with larger windows lighting ground and mezzanine floor restaurants, bars and conference rooms. Distracting.

There’s an emphasis on long term adaptability of the architecture: Alex Lifschutz once more, “The present hotel rooms could be converted into offices or vice versa and all the floorplates could be reconfigured as apartments. Likewise, the rooftop restaurant could be altered to become penthouse flats…” No woman is an island. When a woman is tired of (high) London living, at street level there’s always a game of darts to play or a bag of falafel to grab. Tempting.

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Parc Morceau Paris +

Oh Em Gigi

“You have to live near the Parc Monceau,” opined Nancy Mitford. “Well, they live up by the Parc Monceau. We must all meet up one day soon.” David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding Prime Minister, established his Paris headquarters at Hôtel Le Royal Monceau last century. Parisienne Maud Rabin remarks, “It’s so beautiful; lots of movies have been made here.” The park is surrounded by gorgeous townhouses and apartment blocks with penthouses and attics catching glimpses over the high treeline of the flights of fancy immortalised by Claude Monet.

The public park was established by Phillippe d’Orléans Duc de Chartres, a cousin of King Louis XVI, following the Duc’s marriage to the Princesse de Penthièvre. He commissioned the writer and painter Louis Carrogis (better known as Carmontelle) to design the gardens – they still retain a painterly quality. Carmontelle subcontracted the Duc’s architect Bernard Poyet and a German landscape architect Etickhausen to design a series of follies in an informal layout. An Egyptian pyramid on a lawn and a Roman colonnade reflected in a pond of waterlilies and an English bridge over a stream continue to delight visitors.

It’s not Paris if there’s no hint of Haussmannia. Monsieur Georges Eugène of course managed a spot of 19th remodelling of the park under Napoléon III. Set in an exclusive quartier of the 8th Arrondisement, wealthy Jewish banking families such as the Camondos, Rothschilds and Péreires established residences skirting the perimeter of the park. You really do have to live near the Parc Monceau.

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Mary Martin London + Stuart Blakley

That Jacket

Some days you just got it. Lifestyles Magazine America is dedicating its latest issue to Mary Martin London. The renowned fashion and entertainment publication is distributed in 39 countries. Chief Operating Officer Anthony Alexander explains, “We just love Mary’s personality. And when we saw her clothes we were amazed! We’re bridging the gap between exposure in the US and the UK.” As Elizabeth Bowen wrote some 90 odd years ago in The Hotel, “Gratifying how one’s intimate world contracted itself, how one’s friends wove themselves in! Society was fascinating, so like a jigsaw puzzle!”

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St Leonard’s Church + Rectory Upper Deal Town Kent

Saints and Collars

What a gorgeous grouping! Just 1.5 kilometres inland from the coastal Deal Castle, the Grade II* Listed Anglican St Leonard’s Church and Grade II Rectory are the perfect pairing – historic England at its quintessential best. The Listing summarises its near millennium of being: “12th, 17th and 19th century. The nave, south aisle and chancel arch are Norman. Red brick west tower of three stages with long and short quoins was added in 1684. In 1719 a large north aisle or transept was built at right aisles to the nave containing galleries. The organ gallery, dated 1705, was built by the pilots of Deal. It is supported on Tuscan columns. Interior contains box pews, a Normal pillar piscina and an Early English sedilia.” In other words, the church is a mosaic of materiality and style, ever pleasing to the eye.The rectory Listing underplays its charm and idiosyncrasy: “Large 18th century house. Two parallel ranges. Two storeys red brick. Hipped tiled roof and parapet. Five sashes with glazing bars intact and Venetian shutters. Round headed doorcase in recessed brick arch with small thin window on either side. Semicircular fanlight and six panel moulded door. 19th century addition of one window at the north end. Old cellar beneath the house.”

In reality, the rectory displays a delicious juxtaposition between its balanced five bay principal front (facing northwest) and the chaotic side elevation (facing northeast) overlooking the church garden and graveyard. The front is a scholarly lesson in Georgian fenestration and symmetry; the side is an informed essay in incidental architecture, a real showstopper with a triple pile roof. A merry mishmash of period property surrounds the peninsula site of St Leonard’s Church and Rectory.

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Hakkasan Mayfair London + Lavender’s Blue

Corporate Canton Cooking

When your office is in Mayfair the choice of school day eating is Hakkasan, Sexy Fish or Sofra. Hardly Hobson’s! To celebrate Hakkasan’s two decades of modern Chinese cuisine, some dim sum makes for caviar dusted fine lunching. To quote Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons, 1914, “Single fish single fish single fish eggplant single fish sight.”

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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.