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
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.
The vacated White Stuff drapers next to The Old Bank pub has been given a smashing sash windowed timber fronted paler shade of Fortnum and Mason’s green façade complete with encaustic tiled inset porch. It’s VE Kitchen, a vegan outlet. A few doors down, Anglo Asian restaurant East Street by Tampopo fills the unit that Byron Burgers once occupied and before that Anglo Italian restaurant Marzano. Across the road, Oddbins wine shop is now Orée French boulangerie. It’s not all change: The Old Bank’s other neighbour, family run Italian restaurant Osteria Antica Bologna, has been flying the tricolour since 1990. All spilling onto the pavement onto the road into the Saturday and Sunday ambience.
Unlike Belfast with an Ormeau Bakery shop on every street corner, London was sorely lacking on the bread front. That was, until baker Gail Mejia set up her first eponymous shop on Hampstead High Street in 2005. Now the bakery comes to you. Monday morning there’s a knock at the door of The House of Lavender’s Blue. Afternoon tea for four from Gail’s on Northcote Road. Nice start to the working week. Monday is the new Friday. Or at least that’s how it will seem later at Tropix on Clapham High Street, the Caribbean foodie hangout in the former Royal Oak pub. To misquote the Anglo Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen, every moment of your day and night has to be lived.
Afternoon tea is packed into a salmon pinkish red box, Gail’s trademark colour. “The best thing since…” is printed on the box but there’s more to afternoon tea than sliced bread. Jing Assam breakfast tea accompanies scones with Rodda’s clotted cream, organic strawberry jam and lemon curd. Savouries are smoked salmon and avocado yoghurt rolls plus avocado and egg sandwiches. Sweets are chocolate brownie fingers and honey cakes. The 7th Duchess of Bedford would approve.
We are swept through reception on a French flow of impossibly suave direction, past achingly orgiastic triple epiphanic inducing ceiling tipping floral arrangements – lavender’s lemon – through Le Galerie to our table d’haute. Normandy born David shares, “As someone who loves nature, it is important for me to work with the wonderful products of the French regions. My cuisine has a particular elegance and subtlety, and my take on the product can be appreciated in both its taste and visual appearance.” He further describes his cooking as “a traditional French contemporary cuisine of elegance, refinement and femininity”.
“There are little things that thrilled me more… it is one’s own discoveries – an etching in a bookstall, a crooked street in the Latin Quarter – a quaint church in some forgotten corner, these are all the things one remembers.” Samuel Barber
The interior of L’Orangerie is as starry as its culinary accreditation: a crystalline prism presents a welcome foil to the solidity of Lefranc + Wybo’s original Art Deco white stone architecture. Designer Pierre-Yves Rochon used 2.5 tonnes of glass, 160,000 pieces of Carrara marble and a few Lalique lamps to up the ante, to max the effect, to dazzle with pizzazz. L’Orangerie overlooks the Marble Courtyard; it’s perpendicular to Le Cinq and opposite Le George (the third restaurant). We could easily get distracted by this visual feast and that’s before the feast on (textured, sculptured and abstract) plates arrives. There’s a new axis tilting lunch menu and Charles, the Monsieur Divay variety, Directeur of L’Orangerie and Le Galerie is here to explain, “We’ve more vegetables and seafood on our new menu.” Fantastique! We want to savour the vegan and pescatarian savouries.
Incidentally, the sixth Michelin Guide published by André Michelin, the 1926 edition, set out its raison d’être: “For a certain number of important cities in which the tourist may expect to stop for a meal we have indicated restaurants that have been called to our attention for good food.” Restaurants were graded in three categories, as they are today, from one star “simple but well run” to three stars “restaurants of the highest class”. La Tour d’Argent was one of the first Parisian restaurants to achieve the ultimate recognition.
“All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter… but now it’s spring… Paris is a moveable feast.” Ernest Hemingway
Very incidentally, second floor apartments attract a premium in Paris. Much of the city was rebuilt in the 19th century under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann. A uniformity of design meant the ground floor of blocks was usually commercial with the shopkeepers housed immediately upstairs. The wealthy lived on the second floor or “étage noble”. Far enough from street noise but not too many stairs to climb. The most generously sized apartments with high ceilings and long balconies are still on this floor. Monsieur Haussmann blessed Paris with four square streets of gold, a little bit of heaven come early. The lost and found generation. Paris is always worth it. Sequins of events on a glittering grid.
“The copper dark night sky went glassy over the city crowned with signs and starting alight with windows, the wet square like a lake at the front of the station ramp.” Elizabeth Bowen
Lisbon’s mercurial mix is intoxicating, and made all the more sparkling by its simultaneous and very definite continental dynamic. John O’Connell, designer of ‘The best room in London’ according to The Times, doesn’t hold back, “Lisbon is like Paris in the 1930s. It’s so adorable. And I mean Paris! And I mean adorable!” Elizabeth Bowen drawled, “Paris is always a good idea.” Turns out so is Lisbon. Subdued restaurants, subtropical evenings and a subversive attitude make Lisbon in summer a sexy option. While the locals head for the hills, we head for the beach. We’re smitten by the sultrier side of the city. Lisbon in August is playful, an attribute exaggerated by the soaring temperatures. The weekend exists as a narcotic and we’re aching for it. When it comes, the nightly daiquiri on the five star 20th century iconic Altis Grand Hotel’sSan Jorge roof terrace kicks in, before we kick up our heels dancing downtown in Bairro Alto.
Surprisingly Tyrella House isn’t covered by Burke or Brett. Lavender’s Blue gladly fill the gap, plug the hole, step ointo the breach. Surprising, that is, considering it’s a roomy building of historical, architectural and social significance, twice as deep as it’s wide, lumber rooms uncounted, holding court amidst low lying greenery. First glimpse (through a verdurous vista) from the sweeping driveway past the hillside sham fort (every entrance should have one) is of a squarish main block five bays side on, four bays frontal. A neoclassical beauty; architecture’s acme: Augustus’s vision and Maecenas’s taste and Dostoevsky’s nuances set in stone. The house’s character changes when viewed from the garden. The far side, which will be moonlit later, is elongated by a long lower less imposing wing. This arrangement has adapted well to Tyrella’s 21st century modus operandi. The main block is open to paying guests under the gilded parasol of The Hidden Ireland while the owner, David Corbett, lives to the rear. Another of the group’s seaside properties, almost dipping its toes in the water of Woodstown Bay, is the supremely suave Gaultier Lodge, where the owners live most of the year below the guest rooms in a lower ground floor. “Houses in The Hidden Ireland,” explains David, “must be owner occupied.”
Princess Diana famously quipped “three’s a crowd” but clearly squires of 18th century Ulster disagreed. Tripartite windows were all the rage. Their legacy is a series of glazed triptychs framing views of the countryside. And draughts – ménage à froid. The entrance front of Tyrella has pearly twin sets. Fellow Mournes mansion Ballywillwill House likewise has four. Clady House Dunadry has five; Glenganagh House Ballyholme, six; Drumnabreeze House and Grace Hall Magheralin neighbours, eight; Craigmore House Aghagallon, 10; Crevenagh House Omagh, numberless. Tyrella’s windows are even more special, stretching head to toe, and like Montalto’s, skirt the driveway. Standing in the regal dining room is like “Hardwick Hall more windows than wall”. Soon, silverware will sparkle in the candlelight. Pictures and conversations will merge. Sitting in the princely drawing room is like being immersed in Elizabeth Bowen’s description of her home, “The few large living rooms at Bowen’s Court are, thus, a curious paradox – a great part of their walls being window glass, they are charged with the light, smell and colour of the prevailing weather; at the same time they are very indoors, urbane, hypnotic, not easily left.” Lying on the queen size bed as the internal pale transitory colours of the hour fade, dreams past and future are present. Outside, framed by the curved sashes of the half oriel window, across silent lawns, the tamed headland lies submerged in shadow, the ridge of the Mournes melting into silver drifts of cloud alight with gold, lilac, mauve and pink lining.
The original architect isn’t known but whoever he was, the outcome is a meeting of métier and form, augmented and mellowed through the ages. According to illustrious architect John O’Connell, “This is a very accomplished Georgian box, as they used to say.” Architectural aficionado Nick Sheaff reckons it is “an incredibly elegant country house, and in some ways it reminds me of James Gandon’s Abbeville”. Better known as Charlie Haughey’s old gaf. Charles Plante, the celebrated director of Charles Plante Fine Arts, says, “I love the front dripping with ivy and the chic Regency bow window.” Three arched openings – a window on either side of the entrance door, are framed by a slim Doric portico celebrating the triglyph’s verticality, the architrave’s horizontality and the proportional totality of the order. Not dissimilar really to the central arrangement of Clandeboye’s garden front. “It’s Tuscan Doric,” confirms Country Life contributor Dr Roderick O’Donnell. “Tuscan is rural, countrified, perfectly correct for this type of house. The window proportions are dictated by the portico. That’s particularly attractive.” A stained glass window of the Craig family crest in the study is a leftover from previous owners. Notable family members included the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Sir James “Not an Inch” Craig (1st Viscount Craigavon) and his architect and yacht designer brother Vincent who combined both his skills at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club Ballyholme. The 3rd and last Viscount, Janric Craig, born in 1944, sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. A retired accountant, he has a handy flat on Little Smith Street, Westminster.
Vincent clearly employed his skills closer to home as well. At home. Tyrella features his signature idiosyncratic fenestration. No fewer than four oeils de boeuf grace the garden front. Charles Plante reckons, “The garden front is charming. The bull’s eye window in the gable is really special.” Most extraordinary of all, amidst the blaze of Arts and Crafts stained glass, is the first floor upper casement window which projects at an acute angle to appear permanently ajar. Zany stuff. “Vincent more than likely introduced the ceiling beams and light fitting to the hall,” suggests David. “And he designed the hall fireplace. It’s very Malone Roadsy!” This airy space is painted a deep ochre which Charles Plante calls “John Fowler orange”. Upstairs Free Style panelling looks suspiciously Vincentian. A bit of Cadogan Park here, a bit of Deramore Park there. So does the recently reinstated conservatory. “The conservatory is actually almost entirely new except for the brickwork. It took three years to recreate. The pale green paint inside is the original colour.” Maybe Tyrella House isn’t quite the chunk of Georgiana it first appears to be. “The middle bit behind the new Regency addition,” he explains, “is William and Mary.” The house used to be even bigger. “My father demolished about a third of the house – the cream room, jam room, butler’s pantry, the dark kitchen and so on.”
Tyrella was the seat of Reverend George Hamilton and his wife Ann Matilda (daughter of the 5th Earl of Macclesfield) at the close of the 18th century. Rural legend has it that the Reverend used the stones from the old local church to rebuild the house in 1800. Arthur Hill Montgomery bought the estate in 1831 aged 36. Six years later, Samuel Lewis records in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, “Tyrella House, the handsome residence of A H Montgomery Esq, is beautifully situated in a richly planted demesne of 300 acres, commanding extensive views over the bay, with the noble range of the Mourne Mountains in the background, and containing within its limits the size and cemetery of the ancient parish church.” Arthur was the fourth son of Hugh Montgomery of Greyabbey House down the road. Bill Montgomery, a great-great-something-great-grandson of Hugh, still resides at Greyabbey with his wife Daphne. Their daughter is the actress Flora Montgomery who’s married to the owner of 1 Lombard Street restaurant. “I hate to disappoint you,” David says on the subject of ghosts. “All the people have sold the house and went on to do something else. Spent money on it, changed hands. I don’t miss ghosts, wouldn’t want one.”
Descendants of the last owners, the Robert Neill and Sons Ltd dynasty, recall early 20th century life at Tyrella, in a Lavender’s Blue exclusive. Coline Grover says, “I lived in the house with my grandparents, and relatives various, from 1940 until they sold it in 1949, and moved with them to Old Forge House in Malone, south Belfast. Tyrella House was wonderful with a swing house underneath the nursery wing. It was incorporated into the property and had two marks on the ceiling where if you went high enough your feet touched the ceiling! And there was a rock garden with a two storey playhouse called Spider House.” Coline’s cousin-in-law Ian Elliott adds, “The Georgian house had a boudoir and some lovely Arts and Crafts additions – and that fabulous view to the Mournes. It was bought by the Neill family – brothers Jack, Samuel and William – as part of their businesses (coal, construction, farming etc) in the 1920s after the 1st World War. They already owned East Downshire Fuels in Dundrum as well as Neill’s Coal in Bangor, Kingsberry Coal and Bloomfield Farm (where the shopping centre is now). The family circle elected Billy Neill to live and farm there with his wife Vera. She was formerly Phelps from Kent, a direct descendant of Jane Lane who helped Charles II escape from the Battle of Worcester in the 1640s. They raised their three children (including Berry) there. The Corbetts (whiskey distillers from Banbridge) have owned it since 1949.” Coline’s brother Guthrie Barrett concurs that “Billy Neill sold Tyrella in 1949”.
“I haven’t been back to Tyrella House since 1949,” says nonagenarian Beresford Neill, otherwise known as Uncle Berry. He lives in Malone now. “A most wonderful childhood. Absolutely beautiful. Tyrella was completely and utterly the back of beyond. For goodness sake, it was completely feudal. There were no neighbours. We had our own entrance into the church next door and our own pew.” Berry’s on a roll: “My father got married in February 1917. He bought the estate: 300 acres; a 3.5 acre walled garden; 48 rooms.” Althorp has 90 rooms. Although what constitutes a room is a moot point. Lumber rooms, anyone? “There was no electricity. In 1906 a gas heating machine was installed. It had huge pipes and a great big cage in the kitchen. There was no telephone until 1933. How mama coped I don’t know. We’d a cook, housemaid and three gardeners. There were three bathrooms – one for staff, two for the family. We always had dogs – mostly Labradors. There was a large wood to the side of the house and a rock garden. The rocks were transported in 1890 from Scrabo to Tullymurry by train, then by horse and cart. It was a tremendous effort!”
Berry reminisces, “In 1944 I enlisted as a private soldier in the Rifle Brigade. It’s now called the Rifles. It was a very swish regiment. After the War I got transferred to Ballykinler Camp. I spent the whole of 1946 there. I’d a marvellous time! I could walk over the fields from Tyrella to Ballykinler in 10 minutes.” Life wasn’t uneventful, even at isolated Tyrella. “We had the most enormous beech tree but a storm split it down the middle. It was sawn up by a gardener of course but a stump remained. One quiet Sunday afternoon I decided to blow up the remains of the tree. I thought I was the last word in explosives! I got seven anti-tank mines, made a fuse, and set them off. Bang! The birds stopped singing. Silence. Then… tinkle tinkle. The windows shattered. Sheer bloody stupidity! I should’ve opened the windows first!”
“We don’t usually open to paying guests in November,” signs David, due to ignorant comments about temperature levels inside the house midwinter. Some people really don’t get it, do they? First of all, welcome to Northern Ireland. The clue is in the first part of the Province’s name. Mind you, Huntington Castle in the south of Ireland suffers from the same issue. Secondly, if you want over-insulated overheated rooms check into a hotel. Don’t stay in an Irish country house. They don’t do double glazing or underfloor heating. But they do have lashings of character, history and art; uncompromised aesthetics; and endlessly entertaining hosts. What about open fires in marble surrounds? De rigeur. Like those other majestic Hidden Ireland gems, Hilton Park and Temple House, heavy curtains and concertina shutters in Tyrella’s guest bedrooms put to sleep any worries of chilly discomfort. A newly installed biomass boiler also helps. “I’ve still kept the 1906 boiler with its original instruction manual. It’s beautiful – like a beast of a furnace on the Titanic.”
And bags at dawn. Peering over the bedroom landing, the oval staircase resembles a gargantuan pencil sharpening, a bannister bordered carpeted curlicue, a variation on the Fibonacci spiral. Downstairs, breakfast is laid out country house style – buffet on the sideboard. “I do recommend Lindy Dufferin’s Greek Style Yoghurt,” says David. Distinguished historian Dr Frances Sands announced recently at 20 St James’s Square: “Breakfast was the only meal of the day you served yourself. That’s why there is side furniture in the breakfast room. If there is no separate breakfast room, really then the dining room should be referred to as the eating room. There was a huge fear of odour in Georgian times. The eating room would’ve had no curtains, carpet or silk wall hangings. Seating would’ve been leather.” The dining room or should it be eating room was once the billiard room according to the host of Tyrella House.
It is impossible to leave Tyrella without mentioning the beach. The Mountains of Mourne thrillingly tower over miles of unspoiled golden strand between Clough and Killough (interchangeable townlets after a G+T). “It is no secret that Northern Ireland is home to some of the world’s greatest writers,” brags the local tourist board, “Lavender’s Blue,Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Louis MacNeice and of course, C S Lewis.” This part of County Down was C S Lewis’s childhood holiday destination and provided literary fodder for Narnia: “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards, which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge.” Coline Grover concludes, “Tyrella Beach never changes of course.”
Credits Guthrie Barrett, David Corbett, Ian Elliott, Coline Grover, Berry Neill
Everyone’s here at the preview party, the upper aristocracy and upper meritocracy of globalisation chic to chic. Royalty with their heirs and airs, gentry with their seats and furniture, oligarchs with their bodyguards’ bodyguards, Anglo Irish with their Lords and Lourdes, nouveau riche with their Youghal to Youghal carpet, celebrities with their baggage and baggage, Londoners with their Capital and capital. And a very bubbly Eamonn Holmes. Stop people watching. Stare at the felicitous ambiguity of Geer van Velde. Wonder at the dense opaque impasto of Freud. Gaze at the transparent golden glaze of Monet. Study the descriptive precision of Zoffany. Blog about the parallel lines of Bridget Riley. Instagram a selfie beside The Socialite, Andy Warhol’s portrait of New York realtor Olga Berde Mahl shyly making her first ever public showing courtesy of Long-Sharp Gallery. Better late than never.
“If you think about it the clue is in the name,” muses artist Anne Davey Orr. “Masterpiece – a creation that is considered the greatest work of a career, or any work of outstanding creativity and skill. And Masterpiece is certainly the best in its field. From the faux façades to the faux colonnades, and the exotic festoons by Nikki Tibbles of Wild at Heart, Masterpiece exudes a professionalism which avoids the tackiness that sometimes attaches to other art fairs. The accompanying directory of 300 high end galleries alone, contents apart, sets it in a league of its own.”
Kew Gardens Christmas Trail. Lakeside explosions of The Nutcracker, kaleidoscopic cacophonies of the chattering classes, lower-upper-middle class people in glasshouses, why my Versailles. “Oh,” the Queen was overheard muttering at the recent dinner in her honour at Dublin Castle, “I rather like this clinking of glasses,” as the lively Irish in unison cheered “Sláinte!” To quote another Elizabeth, the Anglo Irish writer Ms Bowen, “I think the main thing, don’t you, is to keep the show on the road.”
‘Exhausted by sunshine, the backs of the crimson chairs were a thin light orange; a smell of camphor and animals drawn from skins on the floor by the glare of morning still hung like dust on the evening chill.’Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September
Annaghmore, Lissadell and Temple House. Three great neoclassical country houses resting at the foothills of the rugged mountains which trace the west coast of Ireland in an area forever associated with the poetry of W B Yeats. Built of stone which darkens from gunpowder to charcoal grey in the persistent rain, each house has a deep Doric porch or porte-cochère for shelter from the prevailing wind. Austere elevations cloak rich interiors of unbridled indulgence. One house is private; one is open for guided tours; but only one accepts overnight guests. Enter Temple House (more of the other two later).
A longstanding member of the Hidden Ireland group of private country houses which offer bed and breakfast accommodation, Temple House is owned by the Perceval family. They’ve lived on the 1,000 acre estate for the last 340 years or so. The twelfth generation, the blonde dynamic duo of Roderick and his wife Helena, act as hosts and together with their suave French chef, cater for the every whim of guests.
Most people have difficulty finding enough space in their homes to store all their belongings. Not so the Percevals. With dozens of rooms and miles of corridors lit by hundreds of windows, they never have the excuse that there’s no room for visitors. So they’ve turned this potential problem into an asset. Now guests can recline in splendid isolation in one of six first floor bedrooms. “We enjoy sharing this gem,” confides Roderick.
Not all guests pay for their accommodation. “The most persistent ghost is Nora,” relates Helena. Nora, otherwise known as Eleanora Margaret Perceval, was the châtelaine of Temple House in the Roaring Twenties (although this being windswept rural Sligo the era was more about fires than flappers). A favourite haunt of hers is the Blue Bedroom. Her best friend was Lady Gaga, wife of Sir Henry Gore-Booth, who lived at nearby Lissadell. Another ghost, this time a male, has been glimpsed at twilight sitting at the writing desk in the guest bedroom corridor, scribbling long forgotten letters to long forgotten lovers under the purple patchwork of reflected light from the etched windows.
Helena continues, “The part of the house we use as family accommodation was derelict when we moved in. It used to have a very distinct atmosphere… a little unnerving… but this has mellowed in recent times.” A visiting American psychic found the house to be riddled with ghosts. “She even spotted a few knights loitering in the castle ruins,” smiles Helena.
Temple House wasn’t always as massive. In 1825 Colonel Perceval commissioned John Lynn to design and build a relatively modest two storey five bay wide house. Its porch is clearly discernible in the current side elevation. The family moved into this house while the servants continued to live in the castle. But just 33 years later financial difficulties forced the Percevals to sell up.
Not for long. A knight in shining armour soon came riding back to save the day. The third son of the Colonel, Alexander Perceval, bought back the estate in 1863. “Not large enough!” Alexander declared when he first set eyes on the new aggrandisement plans for the house. He’d made a fortune trading tea in Hong Kong and proceeded to splash out three quarters of a million pounds on rebuilding his ancestral seat.
In 1865 he added a three storey L shaped block directly behind the façade of the Colonel’s late Georgian house, to the design of the English firm Johnstone & Jeanes. The longer arm of the mirror image L stretches across the seven bays of a repositioned entrance front. The tip of the short arm adds a top storey to the middle of the garden front.
On the entrance front the attic floor ducks behind a heavy balustrade which luxuriantly wraps around the side of the house like a colossal stone tiara. One year later Alexander was dead. His presence lives on in dashes of Chinoserie scattered throughout the interior. Alexander’s son went on to marry Charlotte O’Hara who lived at nearby TaraAnnaghmore.
The inside of the L forms two walls of a courtyard. A long low service wing completes the other two sides. This inner sanctum, devoid of distracting decoration, displays a strange and abstract beauty, its sheer silver grey walls pierced with diamond paned windows. Form doesn’t always follow function on the outer envelope, though. In the dining room behind the majestic Victorian portrait of Jane Perceval (Alexander’s mother who died in the Great Famine) is a false window with the sole purpose of maintaining the harmony of the exterior.
“We believe each generation should leave its mark on the house,” relates Helena. “We’ve painted the dining room a rich ruby red using an authentic Farrow & Ball paint.” It used to be insipid pea green. “Next is the staircase hall. We’ve identified a specific blue in the cornice which we hope to use for the walls. After that will be the sitting room. Perhaps ivory or off-white.”
Upstairs a rather more relaxed approach has been taken to the fragile interiors. “The Twin Bedroom hasn’t been decorated for 100 years,” laughs Helena, “but that’s a good thing at Temple House!” Signs next to the pair of tall sash windows request guests not to pull the curtains. They’ll fall down. When the shutters are closed at night no light penetrates the bedrooms anyway. “Temple House boasts rooms of enormous proportions,” comments Roderick. One is called the Half Acre Bedroom. “Yet there’s a real sense of intimacy here too.”
“The first guests we catered for were one challenge which we met and are now adept at,” he says. “We love having groups of friends to stay. Then hosting our first wedding was the next challenge. Organising an arts and music festival was another exciting venture.”
Irish country houses are increasingly flinging open their doors to the public as a shaky economy triggers innovative ways of making owners ensure estates pay for their upkeep. Ireland’s Blue Book is another association of country houses which also includes historic hotels, castles and restaurants.
Once the bastions of the privileged few, for centuries Irish country houses were hidden away behind high stone walls and locked cast iron gates, their existence barely acknowledged beyond a mile or two’s radius. Now, anyone can experience their otherworldly faded grandeur without the responsibility of their unwieldy financial upkeep.
“The air breathed in is soporific; the distances hold other-worldly gleam.”
Elsewhere erroneously attributed to the better known Irish architect Francis Johnston, the core of the current building was most likely designed by James Jones of Dundalk. The rebuilding followed a fire of 1803 which destroyed much of an earlier house. A letter from Jones to Colonel Madden dated 24 July 1838 refers to various works to be undertaken at Hilton Park. The stables and dovecote, the latter a romantic folly, are probably by Jones. He was also the likely designer of the ‘ride’ which adjoins the rear of the house.
The ride is a distinctive cast iron colonnade erected at the rear of the house to allow the family to observe horses being broken-in away from the inclement County Monaghan weather. It’s now a handy car port.
In 1874 County Cavan born William Hague (no, not him) was paid 100 guineas by the residing Madden to redesign the house. It was a surprising commission from an Orangeman to a Catholic ecclesiastical architect. One of his many churches is St Aidan’s in nearby Butlersbridge. Drawings by Hague line the walls of the vaulted breakfast room. “He provided my ancestor with a ‘pick and mix’,” says current owner Johnny Madden, “including ceiling designs for the main rooms.”
While the campanile, bay window and dome weren’t executed, the Ionic porte cochère, parapet decorations and lower storey rustication were completed. Triangular pediments (without aedicules) float over the piano nobile fenestration. The most dramatic change was the excavation of the basement to form a three storey house. Montalto and Tullylagan Manor are two Northern Irish houses which have been similarly treated, most likely for aesthetic purposes. Johnny Madden believes many of the alterations at Hilton Park were for security reasons:
“You can’t ram the reception rooms when they’re on the first floor. The porte cochère also acts as a barrier. The central rooms on the front elevation all have metal shutters. And the front door is lined with metal. Hague went on to design the west wing of Crom Castle.” Life is more relaxed these days. Below a sliding sash, handily placed steps provide a quick exit to the gardens.
“If you begin in Ireland, Ireland remains the norm.”
Hague was clearly versatile. Crom is neo Elizabethan. Hilton Park is Italianate. Most of his churches were French gothic. “The house isn’t particularly Irish looking,” observes Johnny.
Hilton Park is now a large three storey stone block commanding views over 240 hectares of land. The entrance front is divided into four sections: a five bay breakfront framing the three bay porte cochère; three bays on either side of the breakfront; and a single bay wing to the right. “The house isn’t as large as it first seems,” says Johnny’s wife Lucy. “It’s long and narrow.” This is apparent on the side approach from the driveway which reveals the building is just three bays deep in some parts. Hilton Park appears much bigger when looking at the five bay garden front which is elongated by an ancillary wing.
The entrance door opens into a small gothick hall decorated with polychromatic encaustic floor tiles, coral walls and ribbed vaults. Most of the ground floor rooms have vaulted ceilings, a reminder they were once in the basement. The estate office and morning room are accessed off the hall. A pair of double doors leads into the double height staircase hall which is panelled on the ground floor. The gothick theme continues in the first floor barrel vaulted dining room on the garden front. An enfilade of Italianate reception rooms is positioned across the entrance front.
Stained glass windows add drama to the staircase hall; plate glass windows add light to the reception rooms. The upper section of the staircase is lit by a tall arched Georgian window. Two blind windows in the corner guest bedroom provide balance to the entrance front. All the guest bedrooms are grouped around an upper landing and corridor to the rear of the house. the corridor ceiling slopes under the slant of the pitched roof. The section of the house closest to the driveway is used as the family wing.
“Nothing can happen nowhere. The locale of the happening always colours the happening, and often, to a degree, shapes it.”
Unless you’re experiencing a news blackout or enjoying an extended break on Vamizi Island, you’ll no doubt be aware of a rather large reimagining of real estate between Battersea and Vauxhall. Largest in the UK, no less. It’s here that Ballymore Group has launched its stars-and-stripes flagship scheme. Embassy Gardens is bang next door to the US Embassy, heading that way in 2017.
The marketing imagery is mind blowing. This – almost – abandoned stretch of the Thames until now mostly known for dodgy nightclubs will soon be populated by swathes of apartments, a hotel, Linear Park and best of all a brasserie from the guys who brought us Bunga Bunga (sing for your supper). Rebranded Nine Elms on the South Bank, it’s masterplanned by Sir Terry Farrell. He calls it “London’s third city”.
Embassy Gardens is one of the biggest pieces in this regeneration jigsaw. Key player Ballymore will deliver nearly 2,000 homes including “luxury suites” to borrow the sales speak. Founder, Chairman and CEO Sean Mulryan says, “For nearly 30 years, Ballymore has been responsible for some of the best known and most ground breaking developments in London… with Embassy Gardens we have continued to set new standards. We believe that a marketing suite should truly reflect the vision of the neighbourhood. The marketing suite at Embassy Gardens is not only architecturally striking from the exterior but its interior captures the distinctive design and aesthetic of our apartments.”
Branding and marketing are more than pictures and conversations. Punters want to experience upfront what it’ll be like to live in a new scheme. Gone with the wind are the days when show flats resembled a Changing Rooms episode stuck in a first phase surrounded by diggers. Well, in London anyway. Embassy Gardens’ marketing suite – or should that be show building? – is a destination in itself. Big names add credit(s) to its kudos. Architecture by Arup Associates. Interiors by Woods Bagot. Gardens by Camlins. Review by Lavender’s Blue.
Three sides of an enigmatic opaque glass box hover over the clear glazed walls of the ground floor exhibition space. Translucency and transparency; concealment and legibility. Its august angularity acts as a striking riposte to the zigzagging ziggurats down the river. The box contains two floors of show apartments. Their floorplates are set back from the building envelope to accommodate balconies which project like open drawers into a void over the main entrance. This allows for sectional brochure photographs which otherwise would be entirely impossible to capture.
Woods Bagot has taken branding to a whole new level. Let’s hear from John Nordon, Design Intelligence Leader: “We set out to create beautiful spaces that any architect would be proud of. But it was equally important that the project was a commercial success to our client. To achieve this, we integrated the design process with brand marketing and sales. We want people to be sold on the Embassy Gardens brand first and foremost. The brand values will provide reassurance regardless of the budget and needs of the buyer. This strategy is the norm in the world of consumer goods companies but is new to residential redevelopment.”
He believes with the advent of the wireless era, domestic design technology infrastructure is redundant. Instead Woods Bagot has created space for hardware such as laptops and tablets to blend effortlessly into the interiors. “The aesthetic is inspired by, but does not mimic, classic 1950s American design,” says Jonathan Clarke, Woods Bagot’s Head of Interiors in Europe. “Attention to details such as walnut veneers and ceramic door and drawer handles reinforces the sense of solidity and good taste.” Palm Springs springs to mind. Anyone for Malibu? We do get around a lot but were seriously impressed by these show apartments. Great use of ceramic tiles too: vertically oriented running bond pattern in the bathroom and a wallful in the living area.
Not only can the inside of the apartments be experienced before Embassy Gardens is even up to plinth height; so can the view. The third floor of the marketing suite opens from a Philip Johnsonesque pavilion onto a roof terrace. Flowing by, the Thames makes its way from Chelsea Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge. So current. The terrace was the setting for the picnic themed launch of the Linear Park. Ginger beer, baskets of sandwiches and boiled sweets at the ready. Enid Blyton eat your heart out.
Camlins’ meadow garden wraps around the marketing suite, giving a foretaste of what’s to come. Linear Park will incorporate “open green commons as well as enclosed garden squares and majestic tree lined streets” confirms Huw Morgan, Director of Camlins. The contrast with the building is palpable. Control and informality; a great architect and the Great Architect. A marketing suite by default is a meanwhile use. This one should be kept and not just for Christmas. From all at Lavender’s Blue have a good one. And from Camilla.