Architects Architecture Art Design Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

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!

Architecture Design Developers Hotels Town Houses

Friar Lane + New Street + St Martin’s West Leicester Leicestershire


“‘I like everything old fashioned,’ said Eleanor; ‘old fashioned things are so much the honestest,’” Anthony Trollope scribes in his 1857 classic Barchester Towers. And there’s nothing so old fashioned – in a good way – than a cathedral close, something he captured in words better than anyone else in his series of six novels about the fictional cathedral town of Barchester.

The first issue of Country Homes and Interiors magazine was hot off the printers in April 1986. The August edition of that year featured an article by Moira Rutherford called Close Encounters about clergy living in cathedral quarters. Archdeacon Michael Perry who lived in Durham Cathedral Close summed it up: “Someone once said clergy consists of middle class people living in upper class houses on lower class incomes. That’s certainly true here. All the canons have at least two jobs.”

Dean Richard Eyre who lived in Exeter Cathedral Close said, “It’s not difficult to heat a big old house like this; it’s simply difficult to pay for it. The guest room alone measures 30 feet by 18. It’s lucky the house only has three bedrooms not including attic rooms.” The immediate area around Leicester Cathedral has the appearance of a close (lots of substantial period houses) but is actually a legal quarter known as Greyfriars. Handsome Georgian terraces line several streets including Friar Lane and New Street; the latter heading northwards frames a view of the cathedral.

One of the best Georgian houses in Greyfriars is 17 Friar Lane. It’s one of 30 buildings which have received restoration funding from the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative. This was a restoration programme set up by Leicester City Council and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. In 2016 the sash windows and ornate timber Doric entrance doorcase were restored with a £50,000 grant.

Built in 1750 for banker William Bentley, 17 Friar Lane has a sophisticated three storey façade vertically divided into three by quoin pilasters. The central portion of the symmetrical brick elevation is particularly well handled with a Palladian window over the entrance door and a Diocletian window on the top floor. A pediment over the cornice completes the geometric arrangement. Whoever the architect was had a strong grasp of ornament and proportion.

The half timbered wholly jettied 14th century Guildhall on St Martin’s West next to Leicester Cathedral is a rare survivor predating the Georgian redevelopment of the area. Old fashioned indeed.

Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Design Developers People Town Houses

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.

Architects Architecture Art Design People Town Houses

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.

Architects Architecture Country Houses Design Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

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.

Art Design Restaurants Town Houses

Kaisergarten Bar + Restaurant Munich

Bavarian Nights

For 100 years an Art Nouveau house on the corner of Kaiserplatz and Kaiserstrasse opposite St Ursula’s Church has been an hospitable hotspot of Schwabing. Kaisergarten’s interior (think dried flowers and chopped logs) overlooks a chestnut tree filled beer garden. Cheers everyone to the Kaiser!

Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Hotels Luxury Restaurants Town Houses

Luminair Bar Double Tree by Hilton Amsterdam +

Leef Met Je Kop Omhoog

We’re knocking it out of the park with Our Tribe. Here comes Missy ridin’ that train. Such a doll. Fancy illuminating Luminair? There’ll be a bit of sport on the cards with that offer. Multiplicity for the multihyphenates. Now we’re talking. Sometimes The Weekend really is plain sailing. We’re off to the boat races.

Soon, it will all seem so long ago.

Architects Architecture Art Design Developers People Restaurants Town Houses

Eastern Docklands Amsterdam + Aaron Betsky

Nether Regions

Way back in 2005 we visited a snow covered Amsterdam to report on the newly redeveloped Eastern Docklands for Ulster Architect. The following year historian Jaap Evert Abrahamse published Eastern Docklands District Amsterdam: Urbanism and Architecture. He summarises, “The transformation of the Eastern Harbour District in Amsterdam was completed in 2003. More than 8,000 dwellings have definitively taken over from hangars, transhipment installations, rails, contains and goods trains. All of the Netherlands’ top architects have built here, as well as a large number of renowned foreigners.” So a revisit is long overdue. Particularly on a breezily sunny day.

Just about every city with a river running through it seeks to capitalise on its docklands with varying degrees of success. Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Cork, Dublin and Düsseldorf have all jumped on the bandwagon. Planning students of the late Nineties were treated to lectures and tours on the topic. The Netherlands, the country that gave us Van Dyke and Van Gogh and Van Rijn, now gives us fine art of another kind: housing.

Oostelijk Havengebied, the regenerated Eastern Docklands of Amsterdam, is built on four slim former island wharves. A €10 ride from Centraal Station, each island, or rather peninsula, is planned as a neighbourhood relying on an urban design strategy to provide a sense of local identity. Density averages 100 dwellings per hectare. If that all sounds like, well, first year undergrad palaver, go see the results. This is town planning progressing beyond glossy booklets and pushy press launches.

First, there’s KSNM Island. The initials stand for the Royal Dutch Steamship Company, the previous occupier of the site. It now accommodates 1,250 dwellings. Rows of harbour scale apartment blocks straddle the quaysides. Cars are confined to an arterial route which dissects the central strip of parkland. The plan is a result of collaboration between Amsterdam City Council planners and architect Jo Coenen.

Next comes Java Island, a former industrial area. It’s mixed use now: 1,350 dwellings and 500 square metres of commercial floorspace. Architect Sjoerd Soeter’s plan is like a photo negative of KSNM. Quayside roads encircle a cliff face of nine storey blocks that soars above pedestrian friendly courtyards.

Borneo Sporenburg is the third island. It’s really a pair of interconnected peninsulae linked by call girl red pedestrian bridges designed by Adriaan Geuze. A former railway shunting area, it has been engulfed by a sea of 2,500 three storey houses and apartments interrupted by three high rise blocks. Again, the public sector collaborated with private consultants, this time Rudy Uytenhaak and Adriaan Geuze and his firm West 8. The smaller units are designed by hip architects like Bjarne Mastenbrock, Christian Rapp, Dick van Gameren and Heren 5.

Hoop, Liefde en Fortun is one of the three high rise pieces of architectural eye candy. Designed by Rudy Uytenhaak, it’s a cascading ski slope of a building, clad on the north side with a gargantuan hole punched Norwegian marble screen produced in cooperation with the artist Willem Oorebeek. This multipurpose block is named after three windmills that once occupied the site: Hope, Love and fortune.

Anglo Swedish architect Ralph Erskine who died earlier this year could easily have had Borneo Sporenburg in mind when he wrote, “Architecture, like the shaft of an axe, must beautifully and precisely symbolise its own good reasons for its necessary existence. Insight and sincerity will tell you which reasons are good.”

Amsterdam has the funkiest street names of any European capital. You don’t have to spend the afternoon in a brown café either to appreciate them. Try Kattenburgerstraat, Regulierdwarstraat and Voorplein Spaarneziekenhuis for a start. Borneo Sporenburg continues the trippy tradition. Scheepstimmermanstraat is the name of the main drag. Lined with domestic temples to Mondrian modernity, it’s become something of a household name in planning circles.

Architect Sebastian Kaal from Dick van Gameren informs us, “West 8’s masterplan called for three storey terraced units. This usually results in a streetscape dominated by parked cars. Here the section has been reversed to create an internal street with garages. Patios have been slung on top of the garages so that even the north facing houses can enjoy the sun.”

Each plot is 30 to 50 percent void. Juliet balconies, car lifts, courtyards and roof gardens … they’re all here. Plots are a standard 16 metres deep, 4.2 to six metres wide and a maximum height of 9.5 metres. A delectable Dutch trend – that of impossibly high ground floor ceiling heights – is adhered to. Even the leggy Dutch moving around in their living quarters framed by double height windows look like The Borrowers.

Dick van Gameren has punctuated the corner of Scheepstimmermanstraat and Stuurmankade with nothing short of a translucent on white visual exclamation mark. Drawing on simple geometrical forms in a far from doctrinaire manner, coloured glass modules suspended mid air increase the cubic capacity of the apartments without encroaching on the footprint.

Innovative design is matched by avant garde materials. Take Kavel 37 on Scheepstimmermanstraat, designed by Heren 5. It lifts the Dutch townhouse to a whole new level, taking the concept of an Amsterdam vernacular and blowing it out of the water. “The rusted steel façade is in harmony with the surroundings of brick and the former harbour identity,” explains architect Jan Klomp. “Transparency and bringing the daylight inside is typical for Dutch canalside houses and also for Heren 5.” Glass floors in the upper apartment allow daylight to flow down to the ground floor and illuminate the entrance from above.

We spoke to Aaron Betsky, the recently appointed Director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, about his views on Borneo Sporenburg. The former Architecture and Design Curator of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, Aaron is one of the big players in contemporary design discourse. His CV – architect, author, critic, curator and lecturer – has guaranteed him that position.

“As Director of the NAI, I oversee and coordinate the many different aspects of this active centre for architecture,” he says. “It’s the second largest architecture museum in the world and is the archive of all Dutch architecture post 1800.” Meanwhile, Aaron’s literary output includes: The Best Buildings by Young Architects in the Netherlands, Experimental Architecture in Los Angeles, Why Dutch Design is So Good, Zaha Hadid The Complete Buildings and Projects. The list goes on, 40 hits to be precise.

Born in Montana USA, but raised in the Netherlands, Aaron reckons, “There’s no one correct way to approach docklands regeneration. Given the situation in the Eastern Docklands, this was a very inventive and productive planning strategy.” He believes, “West 8 have tried to make the new look familiar and the familiar new which is exactly what architecture should do. Many of the compositions, materials and proportions are based on traditional Amsterdam housing types, but they have opened up, recombined, slid apart and otherwise messed with them, to allow completely new constellations of living to appear.”

“The building at the end of island by Dick van Gameren,” Aaron confirms is his favourite. “I especially like the way the whole is decomposed into the open spaces of the River Ij. But it’s the variety, rather than one particular building, that is the great contribution of Borneo Sporenburg to the city of Amsterdam. The point is that all the buildings play with Dutch variations and discover new spaces within very tight economic and physical straitjackets.”

Is it perfect? Not quite. “I would have made the streets of Borneo Sporenburg less strong. As built, they tend to become wind tunnels that overemphasise the traditional 19th century slum layout that is the point West 8, I believe, were trying to make.” Finally, we ask Aaron if he would like to live in Borneo Sporenburg. “Absolutely!” he exclaims. “Especially if I could afford a house designed by Masterbroek or Van Gameren. What about Jan? “Oh yes, I’d like to live there. Along the watersides would be great.”

In 2023, Scheepstimmermanstraat continues to be the standout street in the Eastern Docklands. It is aging gracefully: the private amenity spaces of the 60 freehold adjoining sites are well used and planted. A couple descend from their canalside living quarters in the middle of the terrace into a speedboat for an afternoon’s riding the waves of the River Ij.

Architects Architecture Developers Hotels People Restaurants Town Houses

Moville Donegal +

Mary and Music in May

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Parishes of County Donegal I 1833 to 1835 record, “Principal market town: the town of Bonyfoble or Moville is situated in the townland of Ballynelly. It has a market on a Thursday, chiefly for grain and potatoes, being otherwise but badly supplied. The market place is a square space walled in with lean-to open sheds on two sides and a thoroughfare opening on the road. The shops are small and bad and few of any sort. The town is nearly new and is becoming more important every year as a bathing place for the wealthier inhabitants of Derry, who resort to it during the summer months.” Moville continues to be popular as a seaside resort.

Father Eddie Gallagher, Parish Priest of St Pius X Church in the heart of the town, explains, “The tradition of dedicating the month of May to Mary came about in the 13th century. Some say it was created to replace various pagan cults. The actual reason is that this month is the time when spring is at the height of its beauty. Spring is also connected with nature renewing itself. In her way, Mary gave new life to the world when she gave birth to our saviour Jesus Christ.”

The church is an unusual building balancing its design between historicist and modernist. This landmark was the last work by the illustrious Derry City architect William O’Doherty. The severe windowless modernist monochromatic entrance front is clad in rock faced ashlar granite and randomly coursed rubblestone masonry with concrete quoins and a granite cross. The other elevations are finished in roughcast render. The large side elevation transom and mullion windows are loosely Elizabethan; the rear elevation sash windows are loosely Georgian. The dodecagonal copper clad timber lined roof lantern over the balcony seating is vaguely Victorian. A sycamore St Pius statue greets worshippers in the entrance lobby. Beyond, a Turkish delight rose and lemon hued floral arrangement in front of the altar matches the double height stained glass windows.

A few doors down from St Pius X Church is The Cosy Cottage which gets its name from a garden mural rather than the building itself. It’s a ground floor café with five guest rooms on the upper two floors of a three bay three storey gaily painted townhouse typical of the town. Owners Declan and Sadie Carey relate, “We first opened The Cosy Cottage as a café in 2003 and built up the business to add bed and breakfast and self catering accommodation just 10 years later. Friendly, welcoming, helpful and with everything from food and accommodation to adventure and exploration, that’s The Cost Cottage.” Old postcards show how little Moville has changed since Victorian times.

Architects Architecture Art Design People Restaurants Town Houses

Frederic Leighton + Leighton House Kensington London

Lordship Lane

A lunchtime private tour one week, a drinks soirée the next. Restored, revived, renewed, Leighton House is Kensington’s largest one bedroom residence. It was built as a place for partying and painting; one of those activities continues apace. A cigar brown sitting room; a peacock blue staircase hall. Beauty is the absolute priority. Opulence evokes emotions. The original studio house was enlarged through four edits, all succumbing to the allure of aestheticism. A commercial architect, George Aitchison, was chosen to give the owner maximum design input. That owner, Frederic Leighton, following Victorian polite society tradition, operated At Home from 3pm to 5pm. Those hours have been widely extended these days.

Scarborough born Lord Leighton, Baron of Stretton, was a leading artist of his time. His portraits speak of love and connection. His landscapes speak of devotion to experience of the setting, portraying a palpable sense of play, often studying Mediterranean light. So very evocative. His sketches carry a sense of abandonment, a loose spontaneity. This solitary socialite undertook solo travel to Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Syria. Leighton House was in a group of celebrity artist owned studio houses known as The Holland Park Circle. The other names, save for architect William Burges, have faded into the mists of time. Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, Colin Hunter, Valentine Cameron Prinsep, Sir James Jebusa Shannon, Herbert Schmalz, Marcus Stone, the Thornycrofts, George Frederic Watts.

There’s a new edit. Kensington and Chelsea Council, who now own the house, have replaced the brick with punched windows undercroft of the Winter Studio with a fully glazed café spilling onto a garden terrace. It slots nicely between the cast iron columns supporting the Winter Studio, augmenting the transparency of this wing in comparison to the solidity of the Arab Hall at the far end of the building. Restored, revived, renewed – that’s the visitor experience too.

Architects Architecture Hotels Restaurants Town Houses

Lord George Augustus Hill + Bunbeg Harbour Donegal

Catsup and Waistcoatings

Salmon leap where the River Clady flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s early evening in Ireland’s smallest harbour and the last of the fishermen are tying up their boats. Up on the high street, Milky Chance’s Living in A Haze is blasting from Caife Kitty’s just before closing. A winding lane connects the harbour up to the village. At the village end of the lane past the hilltop lookout tower there’s a petite Anglican church and hall on one side and a cemetery on the other. Alastair Rowan writes in his 1979 Buildings of North West Ulster, “Gweedore Parish Church: tiny tower and hall built as a dual purpose church and school in 1844. Restored as a church only in 1914, when the tower was added. Miniature two light Tudor windows in wood.” The standalone hall was built at the same time as the church restoration.

Séamus and Ann Kennedy run The Clady bed and breakfast. Like most of the buildings at the harbour, it was erected by Lord George Augustus Hill. This Anglo Irish landlord gets a mixed reception from locals to this day, from educating the populace to ripping them off with rent hikes. The Clady was the manager’s house of the adjoining store. Seamus’ family once owned the whole block. The store was sold to a hotel developer last century but nothing came of it. The grain store opposite is also a bed and breakfast. So are the former soldiers’ cottagey quarters. Another lookout tower on top of a hill overlooking the harbour has been extended to form a new house. Harry Percival Swan writes in Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal, 1965, “’World’s smallest harbour’: this claim has been made for the small harbour of Sark, Channel Islands. But Bunbeg Harbour, Gweedore, is a toy by comparison.”

Lord Hill published a didactic travel guide in 1846: Facts from Gweedore with Useful Hints to Donegal Tourists. It contains a wealth of detail – his Lordship did the granular. “In the year 1838, and subsequently, Lord George Augustus Hill purchased small properties, situated at Gweedore, in the parish of Tullaghobegly, County Donegal, which in aggregate amounted to upwards of 23,000 acres; the number of inhabitants therein being about 3,000; nearly 700 of whom paid rent. The district extends for some miles along the northwest coast or corner of Ireland, and the scenery is of the very wildest description; the Atlantic dashing along those shores in all its magnificent freshness, whilst the harsh screeching of the sea fowl is its continual and suitable accompaniment. The coast is studded with numerous little islands, and when the ocean is up, or ruffled, it may be seen striking against opposing headlands or precipitous cliffs, with a force and effect that is grand beyond description; the waves forming into a column of foam, which is driven to immense height, and remaining visible for many seconds, until the feathered spray becomes gracefully and gradually dispersed.”

“It is now 15 years since Lord George Hill commenced the attempt to ameliorate the condition of the people of the Gweedore district; during which period he has been on the most friendly terms with them; and although the changes made upset all their ancient ways of dealing in, and parcelling out, land, they seemed, very early in the transaction, to have understood that Lord George’s object throughout, was to endeavour to put them in a way of doing better for themselves, and not with a view of taking their land from them, or driving them out of their own country. These innovations, however, alarmed the neighbourhood, and an appeal was made by a tenant to his landlord, ‘Not to bother his tenants as Lord George Hill had done!’”

“The land is never let, sold, or devised by the acre, but by a ‘cow’s grass’. This is a complement of land well understood by the people, being in fact the general standard; and they judge of the dimensions of a holding by its being to the extent, as the case may be, of one, two, or three cow’s grass, although a cow’s grass, as it varies according to the quality of the land, comprises for this reason, a rather indefinite quantity. Thus the townlands are all divided into so many cow’s grass, which of course have been cut up ad infinitum.”

“In 1839, a corn store, 84 feet long by 22 feet wide, having three lofts and a kiln, was built at the port of Bunbeg, capable of containing three or four tons of oats. A quay was formed in front of the store, at which vessels of 200 tons can load or discharge, there being 16 feet of water at the height of the tide. A market was thus established for the grain of the district, the price given for it being much the same as at Letterkenny, six and 20 miles distant. There was much difficulty in getting this store built; even the site of it had to be excavated, by blasting from the solid rock, and there were no masons or carpenters in the country capable of erecting a building of the kind.”

Lord George Augustus Hill’s store, Bunbeg, Gweedore, is now supplied with the following articles for sale at very reasonable prices: ironmongery, drugs, groceries etc. Awl blades. Beams. Bellows. Bridles. Brushes. Candlesticks. Canvas for sails. Cart chains. Combs of every kind. Delft of all description viz cups and saucers, jugs and mugs, basins, dishes, plates, pots and pans. Files of every kind. Fishing hooks. Fishing lines. Funnels. Glass viz window, looking glasses, bottles. Heel ball. Hemp. Hinges. Iron viz horse shoes, nail rod, hoop, pots and pans, kettles, saucepans. Italian irons. Knitting needles. Knives viz dinner, pocket. Leather of all kinds. Locks of all kinds. Nails of all kinds. Oakum. Plaster of Paris. Pickles. Raisins. Rice. Rhubarb. Redwood. Rotten stone. Resin. Slates in variety. Sugar viz moist, loaf, candy, barley. Molasses. Manna. Nutmeg. Oils viz boiled, raw, sperm, castor. Ointment. Paints viz black, white, green, red. Pitch. Pepper viz cayenne, black, white. Plasters viz blistering, adhesive, diachylon, cantharides. Salt. Saltpetre. Senna. Shumac. Spermaceti. Spirits of hartshorn. Spirits of turpentine. Sulphur. Tar. Teas viz bohea, congou, hyson. Treacle. Turmeric. Umber. Varnish. Vinegar. Whiting. Barley. Scotch. Biscuits. Coffee. Flour viz American, Sligo. Split peas. Bath brick. Blacking. Blue stone. Candles. Congreve matches. Soap. Soda. Starch. Mustard. Tobacco of all kinds. Tobacco pipes. Servant’s friend. Account books. Children’s books. India rubber. Ink. Lead pencils. Sealing wax. Writing paper. Wafers. Reaping hooks. Ropes, new and old. Sandpaper. Shoes. Shoe heels. Shoe hairs. Shovels and spades. Shot. Spouting. Timber. Wheelbarrows. Allspice. Alum. Arrow root. Bitter aloes. Brimstone. Camphor. Carraway seeds. Cassia liquor. Catsup. Cinnamon. Cloves. Comfits. Copperas. Cream of tartar. Epsom salts. Fuller’s Earth. Fustic. Ginger. Glue. Indigo. Madder. Lozenges viz peppermint, cinnamon. Liquorice. Logwood. Blacklead. Lampblack. Lint. Meal. Woollen and drapery goods viz rugs, quilts, sheets, drawers, flannels. Calicos plain and printed. Moleskins. Fustians. Cords. Chambray. Checks. Shirting. Merinos. Orleans cloth. Jeans. Handkerchiefs. Muslins. Shawls. Laces. Ribbons. Hats. Caps. Pilot cloths. Waistcoatings. Stocks. Unions. Cravats. Bodkins. Tapes. Threads. Pins and needles. Cottons. Buttons. Twist. Sewing silk. Spools. Pipings. Stay laces. Scissors. Thimbles. Knives.”

On a wall in the staircase lobby of The Clady is a framed 2018 article from The Guardian newspaper by the late great journalist Henry McDonald. “Mornings in Donegal can be so beautiful they take the breath away. National Geographic Traveller concluded at the start of December that Donegal was the ‘coolest place on the planet’ to visit. The magazine predicted big things for a county often overshadowed by better known counties such as Kerry, and cities such as Dublin. 10 miles west of Killybegs – on the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal strip that runs for 1,600 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard – the narrow coast road passes homes where sheep wander into front gardens. There are stunning vistas of rugged, bucolic coastal inlets. In the 6th century, Irish monks sailed from here to take Christianity to Iceland.” Donegal continues to inspire writers down the ages. And disco boys too.

Architects Architecture Art Developers Hotels Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Perambulation + Rocksalt Restaurant Folkestone Kent

Sans Sourcil

It all started with St Eanswythe, daughter of Eadbald King of Kent, founding a nunnery on the white cliffs headland in the second half of the 7th century. Folkstone was granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1313 although it was never one of the Cinque Ports of the south coast. This is a potted history and random tour of the town informed by the perambulation down from Folkestone West railway station to Rocksalt restaurant overlooking the harbour for lunch, taking in the air and the sights and the food and the wine. Pevsner Guide in hand. Salty samphire and seaweed butter to come.

The Parish Church is dedicated to two female saints: St Mary and St Eanswythe. This millennium old place of worship forms a focal point for the old town and adjoining artists’ quarter slipping down to the sea. The hidden relics of St Eanswythe were discovered in 1885 when masons were preparing the sanctuary wall for alabaster arcading. The Prayer for the Feast Day of the saintly princess is, “Almighty God, the source of all holiness and the author of all charity; grant that we may so follow the footsteps of blessed Eanswythe, our patron; that encouraged by her example and strengthened by her prayers we may ever show forth the same spirit of holiness and love, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rendezvous Street is a nod across the Channel although being Franglais doesn’t go the whole hog, not le cochon entier, like say Sans Souci Park in Belfast.

In Kent North East and East Pevsner Architecture Guide, 2013, John Newman uses the adjective “handsome” a lot to describe the stuccoed delights that grace this overwhelmingly Victorian resort, especially The Leas, and with good reason. Like most seaside resorts, it was the arrival of the railway heralded Folkestone’s expansion. South Eastern Railway’s main line from London to Dover, engineered by William Cubitt, reached the town in 1843. The following decade the Earl of Radnor developed his Folkestone Estate, employing architect Sidney Smirke.

Stucco gave way to greyish yellow brick. High on the hillside overlooking the decks of Hotel Grand Burstin is a force of late Victoriana, its architecture as commanding as its view. A metal sign on the garden gate states: “Dominating the view of The Bayle from the harbour is a large building known as Shangri La. It is at the southern end of a rather fine terrace replacing an earlier building on the site known as Bellevue House. The terrace was constructed in 1894 by Mr Hoad, a local builder of some renown, who died in 1901. It is believed by some that the building was a German Consulate used by spies during World War I to send signals to enemy ships. One of the reasons put forward to support this is a ‘German Eagle’ can be seen under the upper windows: it is in fact a griffin. The gables of the rest of the terrace are adorned with various sea monsters.” A central tower on the seaside elevation is glazed on all sides and capped with an ogee shaped copper roof. The street facing gable of Shangri La is painted white; its neighbour’s has been painted an alarming shade of blue that manages to clash with the sky whatever the weather.

Greyish yellow brick gave way to yellowy grey brick. Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s modernist intervention contrasts with its neoclassical neighbours in The Leas. The Welfare Insurance Building, completed in 1972, is now apartments. Its bow ended windowless tower is a soaring example of coastal brutalism while the attached tiers of cascading apartments resemble The Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury, London, designed by Patrick Hodgkinson a decade earlier.

Yellowy grey brick gave way to render. Messrs Burstin and Bacon have a lot to answer for in the eyes of some connoisseurs of style. Grand Hotel Burstin isn’t bursting with everyone’s taste. It replaced the 230 bedroom multi turreted Royal Pavilion Hotel with a whopping 500 bedroom 14 storey building designed to resemble a stranded ocean liner or at least one that has crashed onto dry land. The Folkestone Herald recorded on 19 January 1980, “John Gluntz, Deputy Controller of Shepway District Council`s Technical and Planning Services Department, said the Council has no details of Mr Burstin`s plans. ‘We`re glad to see the Royal Pavilion go down, but we would be interested to see his ideas for development.’” No doubt Mr Gluntz was interested to see Mr Bustin’s architect Mr Bacon’s ideas for development. The Grand Hotel Burstin is many things to many people but subtle to none. In place of “handsome” Pevsner calls it “crude and silly”.

Render gives way to glass. A curved transparent wall allows a full view of the harbour from the lunch table in Rocksalt restaurant.

Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Design Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Collon House Louth +

For You Have Been Our Refuge

“You will enjoy Collon and the arresting parterre garden,” predicts Ireland’s foremost neoclassicist John O’Connell.

Maurice Craig wrote an article in Country Life, 1949, Some Smaller Irish Houses, “Most of the great houses of Ireland have received some descriptive attention, first from the Irish Georgian Society, and more recently from Country Life. At the other end of the social scale the Irish cottage has interested field geographers and anthropologists such as Dr Estyn Evans (Irish Heritage, 1942). But in between there are, in Ireland as in England, a number of those ‘middling’ houses which are the backbone of vernacular architecture. Social cleavages in the great building age were sharper in Ireland than in England, so that the middle class and its monuments were less numerous than in England. But they existed nonetheless, in both town and country, and their houses are not without distinctive qualities which repay study. Neither ‘big houses nor ‘cabins’, they range from farmhouses to gentlemen farmhouses.”

In the same publication 27 years later, John Cornforth worried in an article Tourism and Irish Country Houses, “With planning and preservation arrangements in town and country still in their infancy, there is nothing to stop a purchaser buying a historic demesne for its land, splitting it up, developing it and abandoning the house.” From earls and girls in pearls to manners and manors, cut to 2022 and the current Architectural Editor of Country Life, Jeremy Musson tells us, “I’m a curious house guest, writing about Irish country houses for a British magazine, Country Life. It’s a personal odyssey. The tall walls, owners with a disarming sense of humour … Irish country houses have a special flavour. I rarely get to bed before midnight! Country Life’s publication of Irish houses is an erratic study. Country Life was established in 1897; Powerscourt House in County Wicklow was published two years later. The magazine’s founder Edward Hudson is reported to have said, ‘Lismore Castle in County Waterford I believe is very photographable.’ Mount Stewart in County Down was featured in 1935.”

Jeremy relates, “Irish houses had far larger numbers of servants than English ones and greater hospitality. The complexity of servants’ basements contrasts with the simplicity of the layout of the main rooms above. Lissadell in County Sligo is a classic example of this arrangement. My first Country Life article was Russborough in County Wicklow. I covered Farmleigh in Dublin in 1999 and Killadoon in County Kildare in 2004. I also wrote up Castle Leslie in County Monaghan in 1999. Sir Jack Leslie loved going to the local disco – he said ‘Dancing shakes up the liver!’ I remember a dinner at Drenagh in County Londonderry. Mid course, cattle invaded the lawn so we all ran outside to chase the cows away!” Somewhere needs a haha. “In 2015 I covered Kilboy House in County Tipperary, probably the most ambitious Irish country house project in recent times. Country Life is the recording angel of the Irish country house and it continues to beguile.”