Architecture People

Dornoch Cathedral + Dornoch Castle Sutherland

Highland Reel

Dornoch Cathedral Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In the year 2000, pop star Madonna had her son Rocco christened in Dornoch Cathedral the day before she got married to film director Guy Ritchie at nearby Skibo Castle. They divorced in 2008. In 2010 billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk married actress Talulah Riley in Dornoch Cathedral. They divorced in 2012. As a congregation of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, the church is actually not the seat of a bishop but retains its ‘cathedral’ title since historically it was the seat of the Bishop of Caithness. Previously, Dornoch was probably best known as the last place a witch was burnt in Scotland. The town is very smart with attractive sandstone buildings and a 15th century castle which is now a hotel.

Dornoch Cathedral Spire Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

According to John Gifford, writing in The Pevsner Guide Buildings of Scotland Highland and Islands, Dornoch Cathedral is: “Much restored and partially rebuilt 13th century church of the diocese of Caithness. Gilbert de Moravia was made Bishop of Caithness circa 1223 and soon after began the erection of a new cathedral at Dornoch. The choir was presumably completed by 1239, when the bones of Bishop Adam were translated there from Halkirk, and Bishop Gilbert himself was buried there in 1245. William, Earl of Sutherland, is said to have been interred in the south transept in 1248, but the nave was probably not roofed until 1291, when Edward I granted 40 seasoned oaks from Darnaway Forest for the fabric of the church. In 1428 a papal indulgence was accorded to visitors contributing to the restoration (perhaps the rebuilding or reconstruction of the nave) of the church and to be ‘collapsed in its fabric, desolate and destitute and in need of costly repairs’. The cathedral was burned by the Master of Caithness and Mackay of Strathnaver in 1570 and the roofless nave’s north arcade destroyed by a gale in 1605. Repair of the choir and transepts was begun by John, Earl of Sutherland, and carried on by his brother Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun (the Tutor of Sutherland) in 1614 to 1622, and further repairs made in 1714, 1728, 1772 to 1775 and 1816.

Dornoch Cathedral Fountain Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In 1835 to 1837 Elizabeth, Duchess and Countess of Sutherland, undertook what she described as ‘a plain and correct restoration’, reroofing the nave’s central vessel (but demolishing the remains of its side aisles) and fitting up the choir as a monument to her husband. Drawings for the scheme were produced by William Burn; but the Duchess, disliking his ‘modern gothic in bad taste and ‘useless plans of ornament’, dismissed him before work began, and the executed designs were by Alexander Coupar, the Superintendent of Works on the Sutherland estates, assisted by William Leslie. Advice was provided by Francis Chantrey and sketches by the Duchess. Further work was carried out in 1924 to 1927, when harling and plaster were stripped from the walls to expose their naked rubble to the gaze of the prurient.”

Dornoch Cathedral and Dornoch Castle Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Art Hotels Luxury People

The Exhibitionist Hotel + Grosvenor House Apartments London

Art Transplant 

Astrid Bray + Mark Humphrey © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Back at Jumeirah’s Grosvenor House Apartments, yes hot to foxtrot in Mayfair, General Manager Astrid Bray introduces WW1 Centenary Works the latest exhibition of artist in residence Mark Humphrey. Fires roar casting dancing shadows across the charcoal grey and burnt amber upholstery of the atrium. “I first came across Mark Humphrey’s work at the new St James Theatre,” Astrid announces. “There was this amazing marble staircase. It blew me away! I said I’d really like to meet whoever designed it. A few phone calls later, a Christmas tree commission followed, and two years later Mark is still our exciting artist in residence!” After several of Grosvenor’s trademark cheese and asparagus cones are consumed, South Ken bound it is, as the theme of art, hotels and a Lake Wobegon High reunion takes over.

Exhibitionist Hotel Abstract Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Exhibitionist Hotel, London’s latest, may be a pair of twin four storey early Victorian terraced houses but it’s not stuccoed in the past. Its façade has been fashionably Fa’ow Ball’d a shade of Vole’s Breath or Elephant’s Back or Banker’s Wife’s One Shade of Grey with details like the Doric porticos and piano nobile balustrades picked out in crisp folded linen white. Neighbours are as eccentric eclectic as the interiors. The polychromatic stonework of the Natural History Museum looms over Queensberry Place; opposite the hotel is the byzantine brickwork of Institut Français. A few doors down lurks the intriguingly named College of Psychic Studies. Several streets away in Roland Gardens lingers Anoushka Hempel’s Blakes Hotel where the whole boutique rage took off.

The name Exhibitionist Hotel shrieks streaks of “clothes optional” but while there are no shrinking violets at the opening, the only wallflowers being fabric, it’s actually a play on nearby Exhibition Road plus having lots of its very own gallery space. Has anyone else a loaded pistol? Yes. Le Gun. The art collective takes the hotel by storm with large scale drawings and murals. Standing sentinel at the door is a mannequin suitably unclothed except for a lampshade on his head. It’s an artwork by Jimmie Martin, otherwise known as Jimmie Karlsson and Martin Nihlmar. Queen of pop Madonna commissioned Jimmie Martin to design a golden throne for her Super Bowl half time performance and it’s easy to see why. They don’t hold back. “We paint on things to create progressive art,” says Jimmie. “Bondage meets luxury I guess!” Martin adds, “Upcycling antiques at our studio on Kensington Church Street, that’s our thing.” London based Jimmie Martin and Squint designed the penthouse suites.

Hotel founder Manhad Narula commissioned designer Steve Crummack to oversee the interior concept. “Cool pieces and vintage furniture,” is how he sums it up. “We wanted to retain the period feel while also focusing on the weak points and having fun with them.” That explains the psychedelic fake flower faux grass filled lift rising to hippy heaven next to the drawing room marble fireplace. “You can see right through the reception desk,” he laughs, “so that leg candy is visible!” Steve designed the three basement suites. “They have their own private entrances so you can have fun, invite your mates over for a party. The suites pay homage to the era of fabulous travel!” In the ground floor Abstract bar, cocktails prepared by mixologist Isaac Muigai vie with installations for colourfulness. Rough Luxe is so last year. Lux Lisbon and Art Luxe are so now, so so now. Drown your joy in beauty. A pair of female legs stick upright from an urn. Has a guest made an exhibition of herself? Zany has a new.

Jimmie Karlsson + Martin Nihlmar @ Exhibitionist Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley