Virtual vernissage of a vision of a visage. New normalcy for old masters. And a few new masters too. William Campbell, the highly distinguished framer of Marylebone London, advises a commanding dark stained wooden frame oozing oodles of definition. “The frame you have chosen is quite traditional so I think you should visually separate the canvas from the frame by placing it upon a mount. This will emphasise the edge of the canvas in a three dimensional manner. Raw black silk will work really well as the mount material. And of course it should all be protected by gallery glass.”
Over to the artist, the highly distinguished painter of Pimlico London, who shares, “This portrait is quite abstract. It gives a suggestion of outline and face. But it’s really about texture and paint quality. I used a palette and knife. The three artists I was inspired by are Bomberg, Auerbach and Kossoff.” The checked shirt is a case in point: it’s reminiscent of David Bomberg’s stark and thickly built up colour. Frank Auerbach’s concentration on surface is wonderfully reimagined too. And Leon Kossoff’s figurative life drawings suddenly don’t seem a generation away. This portrait immediately radiates perplexing resonance coupled with a discursive inventiveness.
What does the sitter think? “I look very relaxed – exuding a certain nonchalance. Maybe that was the intention! William Thuillier is a very clever artist. He’s really captured that moment. It was a very sunny afternoon and the light just streamed through the French doors of his incredibly elegant piano nobile studio. I remember we had several coffees and laughed a lot. There is something quite avant garde about my portrait. I hope it is hanging in my nephew’s offspring’s country house drawing room in years to come.”
Lavender’s Blue Art Director Annabel P – videographer, storyteller and socialite – knows her stuff. “I love the portrait! It’s so very you.” She soon sets about seamlessly filming the same sitter against the setting of The House of Lavender’s Blue. “I wanted to film you in a Lady Gaga sequence with a period twist. That’s very you too! You’re very informal yet you offer up so much to the canvas and camera. You’ve an easy unencumbered and beautiful presence to capture, even when you’ve donned your glasses ready for bed.” No show is complete without a Bill Brandt influenced self portrait. Visible virtuosity.
‘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.
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.