Categories
Art Design People

Min Hogg + The Seaweed Collection of Wallpapers + Fabrics

Finding Material

Min Hogg The World of Interiors Founder © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“It’s sort of feeble really,” says Min Hogg. “Open the property section of any newspaper and you’ll see page after page of boring beige interiors. I blame technology. People just want to switch on this and that but can’t be bothered to look at things like furniture and paintings.” Her own flat is neither boring nor beige. Quite the opposite. It’s brimming with antiques and art and personality. And magazines. “The red bound copies on my shelves are from when I was Editor. The loose copies in boxes are all the subsequent issues.” Min was, of course, founding Editor of the highly influential magazine The World of Interiors.

Min Hogg The World of Interiors Founder Home Garden Brompton Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“My mum would have made a brilliant Editor but she was awfully lazy,” confides Min. “She always made our houses really nice without any training, none of that, she just did it. She was a great decorator. You bet! So was my grandmother.” Min’s first plum role was as Fashion Editor of Harpers and Queen. Anna Wintour, who would later famously edit American Vogue, was her assistant. “We hated each other!” Min recalls, her sapphire blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “I was taken on by Harpers and Queen over her. She really knew I wasn’t as utterly dedicated to fashion as she was. By no means!” Nevertheless, Anna was the first to leave.

Min Hogg The World of Interiors Founder Home Brompton Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Thank goodness then for an ad in The Times for “Editor of an international arts magazine” which Min retrieved from her bin. She applied and the rest is publishing history. The World of Interiors was a roaring success from day one, year 1981. “I submitted a three line CV,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to bore Kevin Kelly the publisher with A Levels and so on!” It didn’t stop her being selected out of 70 candidates. “I sort of knew I’d got the job. I ended up having dinner with his wife and him that night. I think probably of all the people who applied, I was already such friends with millions of decorators. Just friends, not that I was doing them any good or anything, I just knew them because we were likeminded.”

Studying Furniture and Interior Design at the Central Art College must have helped. “Well it was too soon after the Festival of Britain and I really didn’t get it. The only person who taught anything was Terence Conran. He was only about a year older than any of us actually. But you could tell he wasn’t into Festival of Britain furniture either which, I’m sorry, I don’t like and never did.”

“Come and have a look at the view from the kitchen, it’s really good,” says Min stopping momentarily. “It’s like living opposite the Vatican,” pointing to the plump dome of Brompton Oratory. Back in her sitting room, the view is of treetops over a garden square, a plumped up cushion’s throw from Harrods. As for choosing an interior to publish, “If I liked it, I’d do it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t! I came to the job with this huge backlog of interior ideas. We never finished using them all. I’m blessed with a jolly broad spectrum of vision, and as you can see, although I’m not a modernist I can appreciate modernism when it’s good. I don’t like Art Nouveau either but I can get the point of a really good example of anything.”

Appropriately Min’s top floor which she bought in 1975 looks like a spread from The World of Interiors. “I don’t decorate, I just put things together. I’m a collector,” she confesses. Eclectically elegant, somehow everything fits together just so. “John Fowler was an innovator. He was frightfully clever.” So is Min. She laments the disappearance of antique shops. And junk shops. “London used to be stuffed with junk shops. Now it’s seaside towns like Bridport and Margate that have all the antique shops. There’s nothing left in London. Just the few grand ones.” Interiors may be her “addiction” but Min is interested in all art forms. She’s been an active member of the Irish Georgian Society ever since it was founded by her friends Desmond and Mariga Guinness. “I love the plasterwork of Irish country houses,” she relates, “Castletown’s a favourite.”

Min Hogg The World of Interiors Founder Address Brompton Square London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

With her vivacity and an email address list to die for, it’s little wonder Min’s parties are legendary. She even makes a fun filled appearance in Rupert Everett’s autobiography. But it’s not all play between her Kensington flat and second home in the Canaries. She’s still Editor at Large of The World of Interiors. Plus a few years ago she launched the Min Hogg Seaweed Collection of Wallpapers and Fabrics. It began with Nicky Haslam telling her: “I need a wallpaper for an Irish house I’m decorating. You know about colour and design.” So Nicky gave Min an 18th century portfolio of botanical seaweed prints for inspiration and off she went.

Min Hogg The World of Interiors Founder Seaweed Collection Wallpapers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mike Tighe, the former Art Director of The World of Interiors, joined me,” she explains. “For me it was a physical thing, cutting out paper patterns by hand. Mike did all the computer work. I learnt to do a repeat and everything else. It’s funny how you can learn something if you’re interested. By pure luck the finished result looks like hand blocked wallpaper. If someone gives us a colour we can match it. I like changing the scale too from teeny to enormous.” It’s a versatile collection, printed on the finest papers, cottons, linens and velvets. Prominent American interior designers like Stephen Sills love it. The collection may be found in a world of interiors from a Hawaiian villa to a St Petersburg palace. But not in any boring beige homes.

Min Hogg The World of Interiors Founder Seaweed Collection Fabrics © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architecture Country Houses Hotels Luxury People

Tyrella House + Tyrella Beach Newcastle Down

Demands of the Temple of The Sun at Baalbec | Let the Heavens Open 

Tyrella House Sham Fort © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It was always going to be a raucous affair: dinner with Westbourne and Lavender’s Blue intern Annabel P at Il Pirata in Shepherd Market. Boom. Torrential rain merely exhilarated bacchanalian spirits while devouring tapas alfresco. So did an octopusfest of salpicón de marisco and pulpo a la gallega. Shepherd Market is round the block from the Queen’s birthplace in Mayfair. Like Her Maj, it’s close to the madding crowd yet discretely detached. Capital royal discretion continued when the divine Princess Alexandra popped by Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt. Oh, yes. Of course it’s rude to namedrop but the Westminster Property Association lunch with Lord Adonis at the Grosvenor House Hotel was rather fun too. Next, town and country came together in the bumptious dining room of the Garrick Club, recently spruced up by Christopher Vane Percy, over supper with the great Irish philanthropists Martin and Carmel Naughton. Finally, acoustic levels are a little lower dining like lords (bands of ermine at the ready) inside Tyrella House which hugs the south coast of County Down. After the turbulent intensity of autumnal London living and Spanish travelling, a late blossoming of Ulster quietude ensues. Long table à deux please. Calling it the Sandringham of Northern Ireland may stretch the royal metaphor a trifle far. Plus it’s much prettier.

Tyrella House Grounds © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Tyrella House Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Tyrella House Entrance View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Tyrella House Garden View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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 House Entrance Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Tyrella House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s time for that dinner in the spirit free dining room. Plat du jour du nuit. Such joy. A love song to Northern Irish cuisine. Spinach and ricotta tartlet | stuffed sea bream | mascarpone, raspberry and lemon tart. Fitzrovia’s Pescatoria relocated. Best seafood since the roast fillet of curried cod with oyster mushrooms and herb butter sauce at the O+C. Or the sous vide salmon cooked by Paolo Pettenuzzo at the C P Hart party. The diver scallop crudo, cucumber, black radish, jalapeño and lime ice at the London Edition Berners Tavern springs to mind. Or even the creamed cheese and smoked salmon Westbourne breakfast with Natalie Elphicke OBE. Chatting about Conservative housing policy, Chief Exec of the Housing Finance Institute Natalie summed it up as, “Something old, something new, something borrowed – Lord Adonis, who’s turned blue.” Stop! Tangent alert! What’s the story? Oh, Renideo Pinot Grigio 2009 and St Jean Pays D’Oc 2012 over dinner at Tyrella House. The dining experience isn’t always this peaceful according to David. When Country Life visited in 1996, dinner was interrupted by ebullient bovine neighbours nosily emerging from between the rhododendrons. Country Life published “during dinner a herd escaped and raped the garden like a Mongol horde”. David smiles, “Overweight marauding rogue cattle licking the dining room windows wasn’t the look we were going for at all!” At least Country Life did also mention the flourishing polo school at Tyrella.

Tyrella House Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Conservatory © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Nursery Wing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Entrance Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Twin Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Double Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella House Tea Set © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Strand © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach Mournes © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tyrella Beach Newcastle © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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”.

Tyrella Beach Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“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!”

Mountains of Mourne Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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!”

Tyrella House View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“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.”

Tyrella House Spider House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.

Tyrella House Sea Bream © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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.”

Tyrella House Dinner © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Credits Guthrie Barrett, David Corbett, Ian Elliott, Coline Grover, Berry Neill

Tyrella House Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Categories
Town Houses

Keizersgracht + Museum van Loon

Double Dutch

A myriad of canals provides Amsterdam with such a quantity of mirrors that narcissism becomes inevitable. Reflected every moment by thousands of square metres of rippling silver amalgam, it’s as if the city is constantly being filmed by its water. Consequently each canalside building lends the impression of existing as an egotist solely preoccupied by its appearance. And each canal’s own vanity is to reflect the lights dangling under the bridge arches. They, in turn, appear as shimmering pearl necklaces.

Last winter, a heavy veil of snow hung over the city. Along Keizersgracht, one of the three original canals, cars morphed into white mounds and overhead wires dripped with crystals of ice. Snow on snow on snow. Assuming you’ve recycled your Moët & Chandon bottles at De Appel Arts Centre, tackled the Rijksmuseum, skipped the queue at the Stedelijk Extension and ruminated at the Van Gogh, something of altogether more domestic proportions yet distilling elements of all three is 672 Keizersgracht. Enter Museum van Loon.

Furniture fans will get a Louis the Hooey eyeful; antiques lovers can ogle at porcelain collections spanning three centuries; while integrated contemporary art featuring the likes of light boxes by Danielle van Ark and photographs of Juliette Lewis add an experimental twist to the mix.

“The van Loon family has frozen the house exactly as it was when it opened in 1973,” announces the surprisingly youthful Museum Director and Curator, Tonko Grever. Well that puts paid to any John Fowler type debate over which period should take prominence. “As a result priceless pieces sit next to modern miscellanea. It’s still considered unusual in Amsterdam to open your house to the public,” reveals Tonko. “Maurits van Loon was the last surviving male of the family.” He died in 2005 aged 83. The first van Loons to live here were Willem and his wife Thora. His ancestor, another Willem, was one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company.

“The former butler’s son called by the house a while back,” says Tonko. “He couldn’t believe Mr van Loon just lived in an apartment on the top two floors. I reminded him that a private pad in this part of town, away from the neon nightmare that is Damrak, is still quite a status symbol! Plus it’s pretty big by modern standards.” A handful of staff runs the house now in place of 10 to 15 servants.

Narrow dizzyingly steep vertigo inducing stairs are an all too common feature of Amsterdam houses. Not here. Dr Abraham van Hagen, newly married to the metaphorically monikered Catharina Trip, an American heiress, proved he’d a flair for fabulousness when he redecorated the house in 1752 with enviable élan. Under van Hagen’s  watchful eye, the visual candy men of the day let rip on the interiors. V HAGEN is worked into the first flight of brass and iron balustrades in the spacious staircase hall and TRIP (no puns please) on the second flight. “Museum van Loon is essentially the bones of a 17th century house dressed up in 18th century gear,” Tonko comments.

The house was built in 1672 as one of a pair of symmetrical properties. Rows of windows mirror the canal through a glass darkly across a ‘flat style’ façade. The straight entablatures and cornices of this austere branch of neoclassicism replaced the jaunty twists and turns of Dutch gables from the late 18th century onwards. The architect was Adriaan Dortsman, the John O’Connell of his day; the client, a Flemish merchant named Jeremiah van Raey; the first tenant, Rembrant’s sidekick Ferdinand Bol. “The houses occupy four plots. But Dortsman struck a deal with the authorities and got four for the price of three,” relates Tonko.

A formal garden, entered via the French doors of the garden room, is an oasis of calm away from the busy bustle of the city. It was designed by Eugénie André in 1998 who was inspired by the geometric plan drawn by Jacobus Bosch on his 1679 map of Keizersgracht. When Lavender’s Blue were there, the garden was wrapped in a thick blanket of snow. Shrubs were transmogrified into white blobs and snow on snow lay heavy on the carriage house roof. Tonko notes, “It’s a different picture in summer. The garden is used as a venue for intimate opera concerts. Last June, it was one of 25 canal gardens open to the public as part of the City on the Water tourism drive.”

During renovations the foundations were underpinned with 64 new pilings. “This provided an ideal opportunity to drop the floor level of the kitchen by 20 centimetres because the basement levels were so low,” explains Tonko. Even so, they still are. “The room was then reconstructed using photos from an old servant’s album. One photo from around 1900 shows Leida the cook’s cat perched on a bench. It’s funny – the kitchen was placed at the opposite end of the house from the raised ground floor dining room. Impractical or what?”

On the first floor, surprisingly (the house is deeper than it’s wide), there are only four bedrooms. “Maurits van Loon recalled screens dividing up the bedrooms for privacy. The children had to share rooms with their siblings,” Tonko tells us. “My favourite room is the Sheep Room. You’d have no problem falling asleep there. Just count the sheep!” He’s referring to the strikingly patterned wallpaper which depicts sheep running amok amidst foliage and flowers. It was printed in Nîmes on 18th century woodblocks. Tiny square projections accommodating powder rooms flank the rear elevation.

An ostentatious Polonaise bed – the Regency type that left behind the clean lines of Georgian sobriety and tipsily headed down the helter skelter of Victorian floridity – dominates the Master Bedroom. “When the house is closed to the public, Maurits van Loon and his guests used to stay in the state rooms. Look!” points Tonko. “To the left of the bed is a modern phone. But the formality of the past is present too. A fake door next to the real bedroom door contains extra panels to align it with the fireplace.” Actually there are jib doors galore in the house concealing a rabbit warren of bookshelves, cupboards and even a staircase.

Lila Acheson Wallace, co founder of Reader’s Digest, once quipped, “A painting is like a man. If you can live without it, then there isn’t much point having it.” Since the van Loons bought this sybaritic stretch of Keizersgracht in 1884, they have managed to accumulate 150 portraits, mostly of themselves. Jan Miense Molenaer, the 17th century’s answer to Mario Testino, painted a symbolic van Loon family portrait called The Four Ages or The Five Senses which hangs in the Red Drawing Room. Who could blame them for being vaingloriously proud to have lived here for generations?