Who better to share tips about photographs than Peter Fetterman of his eponymous gallery in Santa Monica? Prising ourselves away from Scott’s obligatory potted shrimps on Melba toast, we find Peter singing abridged Frank Sinatra into his mic, “And now… the time is come…” It’s the Saturday after the Private View and a sweltering 33 degrees in Chelsea. Speaking this time, revealing his English accent: “It’s a hot ticket! Thanks for braving the heat. This is my third year at Masterpiece. I come from a very humble background. I feel like the child who flew to the moon being at this very posh fair!”
He explains, “I was a filmmaker and moved by accident to California. I planned to stay there two weeks. I went along to a dinner party and the host was selling photographs – I was obsessed with them. I’d literally $2,000 to my name. I bought the lot for $400. I became a collector. You can reinvent yourself easier in America than Europe. I just love photographs! I started trading out of a rent control apartment. I bought more photographs and travelled round in a Honda selling them. Business escalated until now here I am!”
So what’s his take on collecting? “There are hundreds of years of painting. Photography is relatively new, only dating from 1839. I’ve seen its appreciation start from zero in the middle of the 1970s until now.” He points from the floor to the ceiling. “Collecting is all autobiographical. I grew up in an ugly gritty environment. But I knew there was another world, a beautiful one. Photographer and publisher Alfred Stieglitz was one of the first to promote photography as fine art. But it’s also a democratic medium, accessible to all. That’s what I love! There’s no one quite like Ansel Adams. His photography is in the Getty Museum but you can get a print for $1,200. Next door in Masterpiece you can only buy a Modigliani for £14 million.”
Peter notes great photographs are in demand so prices keep rising. Of course, there’s a price differential between a signed and an estate print. “There are two rules to collecting,” he argues. “Only buy what you love and from whom you trust. If you love it buy it.” Any regrets? “The only mistakes I’ve made is when I didn’t buy!”
“I love seeing other people’s houses,” she confided. On a visit to a particularly perfect country house in Sussex she chided “it desperately needs a faded throw over the back of a sofa”. She was impressed by The House of Lavender’s Blue. “It’s very World of Interiors. I love the T + G panelling in the bathroom!” Her own flat on the nursery floor of a Georgian townhouse was effortlessly stylish in a completely non designed way. She did, after all, coin the phrase “shabby chic”. When we interviewed Min about her wallpaper range she ordered, “Please don’t ask me what is my favourite house. That’s such a lame question!” We didn’t. Thankfully Min enjoyed the end result, the published feature: “I’m as happy as a clam!”
Although Clonalis in County Roscommon doesn’t feature in Desmond Guinness and William Ryan’s book, it has been associated with the same family for millennia rather than centuries. Clonalis is the ancestral home of the O’Conors, Kings of Connacht and erstwhile High Kings of Ireland. The most ancient royal family in Europe, no less. Just to be sure, their ancient limestone inauguration stone dating from 75 AD stands proud outside their front door. While the O’Conors’ possession of the land can be traced back over 1,500 years, the house is relatively recent. No surprise they call Clonalis the ‘New House’. In the very grand scheme of things it’s practically modern. Construction was completed in 1878, the year its English architect Frederick Pepys Cockerell (yes, a descendant of the Clapham diarist and a friend of the O’Conor clients) died aged 45. Like most Victorian practitioners he was versatile, swapping and entering epochal stylistic dalliances with ease. Eclecticism ran in Fred’s blood: his grandfather Samuel Pepys Cockerell did design the batty and bonkers Indocolonial Sezincote in the Cotswolds. A rummage through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography one evening in the O+C Club reveals the architect’s Irish connection: he married Mary Mulock of King’s County (Offaly). “A genial, charming, and handsome man, knowledgeable in literature and the arts, his premature death was widely regretted,” records author David Watkins.
Tráthnóna maith daoibh. Fred’s 1 South Audley Street, 1870, the Embassy of Qatar for donkey’s years, is an eclectic Queen Anne-ish Mayfair house with just about every ornament imaginable thrown at its burnt red brick and terracotta façade. Arabesques, brackets, corbels, friezes, masks, niches, putti… he really did plunder the architectural glossary… augmenting the deeps and shallows of the metropolis. If, as architect and architectural theorist Robert Venturi pontificates, the communicating part of architecture is its ornamental surface, then the Embassy is shouting!
His country houses show more restraint. Predating Clonalis by a few years, his first Irish one was the neo Elizabethan Blessingbourne in County Fermanagh. Clonalis is loosely Italianate. Terribly civilised; a structure raised with an architectural competence, spare and chaste. Happens to be the first concrete house in Ireland, too. A few years earlier he’d a practice run in concrete construction at Down Hall in Essex. A strong presence amongst the gathering shades of the witching hour, a national light keeping watch. Every house has a symbolic function, full of premises, conclusions, emotions. Clonalis rests at the far end of the decorative spectrum from 1 South Audley Street. Venturing a Venturesque metaphor: it talks smoothly with a lilt. Symmetrically grouped plate glass windows, horizontal banding and vertical delineation are about all that relieve its grey exterior. An undemonstrative beauty. Rising out of the slate roof are high gabled dormers, balustraded parapets and tall chimney stacks. The central chimneys are linked by arches – whose identity lie somewhere between function, festivity and topography – creating a two dimensional Vanbrughian temple of smoke. Clonalis isn’t totally dissimilar albeit on a grander scale to another late 19th century Irish champion, Bel-Air in County Wicklow. Especially the three storey entrance towers (campaniles, really) attached to both buildings.
Pyers and Marguerite O’Conor Nash accept paying guests (heir b+b?) under the auspices of Hidden Ireland. Furnishings read like a chapter from Miller’s Guide to Antiques: Boulle | Limoges | Mason | Meissen | Minton | Sheraton. If painting and art measure the refinement of sensibility, as Isabel Archer believes in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, we’re in good company. Who needs money when you know your Monet from their Manet? Ding dong dinner gong. Variations of Valkyries veer toward Valhalla. Suavity bound by gravity. A patrician set of gilt framed ancestral portraits, provenance in oil, punctuate the oxblood walls of the dining room. Plus one (romantic dinner). Plus three (communal dining). Plus fours (we’re in the country). Plus size (decent portions). “Farm to fork,” announces our hostess. A whale of a time. Tableau vivant. Our visceral fear of dining on an axis is allayed by a table setting off centre. Phew. Triggers to the soul, spirit arising, the evening soon dissolves into an impossibly sublime conversation of hope and gloss in the library, while at arm’s length, Catherine wheels of a pyrotechnic display implode and disintegrate like embers in the fire. Beyond the tall windows, a flood of summer light had long waned, and the heavy cloak of dusk, to quote Henry James, “lay thick and rich upon the scene”.
“Yes, that’s the bore of comfort,” complains Lord Warburton in The Portrait of a Lady, “We only know when we’re uncomfortable.” We’re happy to embrace boredom in that case. Like the other three guest bedrooms, ours is light and airy thanks to a cream carpet, summery colour scheme and deep penetrations of natural light. Touches of 19th century grandeur (a marble chimneypiece reassures us this was definitely never a servants’ wing) blend with 21st century luxury. Our bedroom would meet with Lord Warburton’s chagrin: carefully curated completely accomplished comfort. Actually, the niches for turf set into the marble fireplaces of the dining and drawing rooms suggest the O’Conors always had one eye on grandeur, the other on comfort. “Blessingbourne has similar fireplaces,” shares Marguerite. “This season is opulence and comfort,” Kris Manalo, Heal’s Upholstery Buyer, informs us at a party in 19 Greek Street, Soho. Clonalis is bang on trend, then. “And £140 Fornasetti candles to depocket premium customers.” They do smell lovely. We’re digressing.