“Temperature is first. It should be between 10 and 12 degrees centigrade for our Rosé and 12 to 14 degrees for Rare Le Secret Champagne.
The glass is very important: it is good for wine to be poured in a big glass to express itself. A small quantity in a big glass; 65 percent full maximum. Serve often to keep the perfect temperature.
Open the bottle delicately. Don’t turn the cap, turn the bottle.
The colour of all wines is either good or not. For example, rosé is not good if it is the colour of onion skin. The amazing colour of Rare Rosé Champagne 2007 has amber and copper tones. I was inspired by the stained glass windows of the Cathedral of Reims when the sun shines through. The Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims and is where the Kings of France were crowned.”
Why the name Lavender’s Blue? Apart from being good with colour and enjoying the paradoxical phrase (surely lavender is purple to the masses?), there are geographical reasons for the naming of the vision that became a house that became a collection of essays that became a lifestyle that became an obsession that became a romance. This part of Battersea, back in its rural Surrey days, was awash with lavender fields. Nearby Lavender Hill and Lavender Sweep pay testimony to its perfumed history. Sweet. Oh and the Marillion song is pretty nifty too.
Step inside, and the rooms could be anywhere (or at least anywhere pretty decent); there are no visual references to its location in southwest London. Unless you count an 18th century threaded collage of Kew Palace. The street facing windows are opaque while the rear of the house reveals itself only onto a private cobbled trellised courtyard overlooked by absolutely nobody. A little piece of secret London. There are subtle hints of the Ireland of yore: a diorama of the long demolished Antrim Castle in the hallway; a framed envelope from the Earl of Kilmorey in the drawing room. But really it’s an international collection: no antiques stall or flea market or second hand shop or vintage pop-up was safe from plundering for the last 10 years. Amsterdam, Belfast, Bilbao, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Lisbon, Paris, Paris again, Rotterdam and of course Savannah.
The tiny mirror framed with horns is also from Savannah. The tinted photograph of General Lee came from an antiques arcade. It’s faded so his features can only be seen from certain angles like a shimmering ghost. “The family were glad to rid of it!” the dealer proclaimed. “He’s a bad omen!” Despite being swathed in bubble wrap, the picture split down the middle in our suitcase, hopefully dispelling any malignant spirits in the process. En route to Savannah we simply had to stop off in Atlanta for “Funday Sunday”. Margaret Mitchell’s flat where she wrote Gone with the Wind was a must-see. It’s also a late 19th century building – roughly the same size as Lavender’s Blue.
It may all look a little shambolic but there’s method (occasionally) and sanity (mostly) in the madness. Chicness amongst the shabbiness. Collections within collections include 18th century wax silhouettes hung in a group in a dark corner of the drawing room. “Darker again!” we ordered our ever patient decorator. And so he added another layer – or was it four or five? – of purple paint to the drawing room walls. At night, and even during the day, the walls merge into the charcoal grey ceiling. Antlers cast mysterious shadows by night. A tiny internal window over the recessed bookcase yields yet more mysterious lighting.
The bedroom is all about pattern. More is more. So very Sister Parish. Sanderson wallpaper covers the walls and ceiling while a Christian Lacroix shirt has found new life stretched across two square canvases. Nothing is coordinated – matching is just too bourgeois. Ok, the blue and white theme of the kitchen is pretty controlled but that’s all. And we’ve got to live up to our Delftware. It’s an eclectic collection, a layered timeless look, nothing too contrived or designed. The collection is complete, right down to the Argentine spoon embellished with Evita’s face and the majolica vase next to the piano. We’re resting on our laurels in the courtyard. Ah, the courtyard. So very Lanning Roper. Scene of lively summer lunches (Selfridges catering) and even livelier autumn soirées (more Selfridges catering). So very Loulou de la Falaise. Mostly with Annabel P, Lavender’s Blue intern amanuensis, on overtime. It’s getting greener and greener and greener. Grey Gardens watch this space. Sorry neighbours.
“LOVE it!” breathes model Simon Duke, simply and succinctly. Loving is a theme. “LOVE it!” repeats neighbour Emma Waterfall, MD of Cascade Communications. “Especially the William Morris inspiration in the bedroom. Fab.” Ok. “LOVE the purple!” raves interior designer to the stars Gabhan O’Keeffe. Still focusing on the drawing room, Nicky Haslam, man about town and interior decorator, is a fan: “That room is EVERYTHING I love!” Lady Lucy French, girl about town and theatre director exclaims, “I LOVE your interior design! Stunning!” The final words must go to conservation architect extraordinaire John O’Connell. “Very brave, very Russian, very YOU!”
Back to Marlfield House, 20 years since the first visit. The Gorey bypass may cause a moment of disorientation along the journey, but the country house hotel at the heart of the 30 acre estate is still reassuringly grand, everything just so, now entering decades of decadence, heaven’s in the detail, sugar crystals in silver bowls for coffee de rigeur. Marlfield is now in the very capable hands of the second generation of the Bowe family to run the hotel. Sisters Margaret and Laura and their own families live on the estate. Their parents Mary and Ray bought the house from the widowed Lady Courtown in 1977. À la mode modifications completed over the following decade allowed the building to breathe as a hotel. Through recessions and a boom, Marlfield became a byword for brilliance, a billet doux to hospitality, a magnet for the smart Dublin set.
Forget the usual bog standard 20th century hotel extension horrors. Distinguished artist and architectAlfred Cochrane’s work at Marlfield adventurously augments its presence, both physically and architecturally. Creative clients helped. “We’re all mad about design,” according to Margaret. “Our family all have a good eye.” From the whimsical to the wacky, always tasteful, never tacky, it’s a tour de force of neoclassical language reimagined for the spirit of the age. Petit Trianon on speed, Temple of the Winds on a high, Crystal Palace methodology. Now if Loulou de la Falaise was an annexe… Take the entrance portico. Its Doric centrepiece, confidently stepping forward from rusticated stone bays, explodes into a not so much broken pediment as broken temple, like ruins glued together with glazing.
A vast half moon (fully completed by the half moon pond outside) entrance hall links the main house to the rest of Alfred’s single storey bedroom wing. Top lit long galleries spread like elegant tentacles in all directions connecting the entrance hall to the six state suites: the Print Room, Morland Room, Stopford Room, Georgian Room, French Room and Sheraton Room. The crème de la crème is the Print Room, an octagonal cove ceilinged panelled pièce de résistance. “Mariga Guinness did the print decorations on the walls,” says Margaret. “They took days and days to complete! The inspiration came from Louisa Connolly’s famous Print Room at Castletown. When the doors are pulled across the bed alcove, wedding ceremonies are often performed in this room.” A handily placed harp stands next to the French windows. She confirms the hotel can accommodate up to 145 guests for a wedding.
The other 13 guest bedrooms, all with marble bathrooms, are upstairs in the main house. A conservatory on the garden front, also designed by Alfred Cochrane, balances the state room wing on the entrance front. History, symmetry, geometry, harmony, luxury: all are important at Marlfield. The conservatory is a tripartite triumph in cast iron and glass. A central projection balloons up to a storey height ogee shaped dome. A frame of distinctive lattice metalwork pilasters topped by stylised Ionic capitals holding a frieze is as stylish as anything produced in the days of the Prince Regent. Yet more French doors lead onto a croquet lawn.
Bon appétit! Mushrooms immersed in white wine, thyme and cream on toast accompanied by poached hens’ eggs trickling in black truffle oil are a culinary must in the library. “The eggs are from our neighbours, Samuel and Maurice Allen’s happy hens!” Many of the herbs and vegetables are from the Bowes’ kitchen garden while fish, meat and dairy produce are all sourced locally. Classy food in classical surroundings. The library is a rich blue; the sitting room next door, a pale lemon. Like all the rooms, they are filled with more antiques than Mealy’s on auction day. Plasterwork and white marble fireplaces form the backdrop to colourful festoons and fabric pelmets.
Marlfield House was built in 1852 by the 4th Earl of Courtown as a dower house in association with his principal seat, Courtown House. It’s a classic three storey block of the middle size, four bays wide by two bays deep. The west or side elevation is bowed towards the sunken topiary garden. The other side elevation adjoins a two storey ancillary wing. A two bay breakfront projects from the centre of the south or garden front. Characterful rugged semi coursed rubble stone on cut granite and red brick quoins contrast with overhanging modillioned box eaves (c’est quoi?). A low pitched roof is punctuated by tall chimney stacks. The 5th Earl swapped the ground floor multi pane windows found elsewhere in the building for plate glass sash windows in 1866.
This architectural dowager, a bon viveur full of joie de vivre, not in mourning, never rests on her manicured laurels. More than 160 years after the first stone was laid, a new lease of life is underway for Marlfield. “It will be rustic and informal, edgy even!” says Margaret about the new bistro in the ancillary wing. “French doors will open onto the market garden and there’ll be a fireplace on the terrace. It will be very family friendly. We’re also opening a small interiors shop which will host pop up events every so often.”