The Survey of London Volume 49 edited by Andrew Saint states, “The little twin mortuary chapel range remains the chief feature of the cemetery, a building of simple charm and quiet Gothic details. The chapels, one for Anglicans, one for other denominations, are placed on either side of a tall pointed archway, above which sits a meagre bellcote. Each chapel is lit by a lancet at one gabled end and a rose window at the other, but these are switched round so that the east and west elevations are asymmetrical.” The Church of England chapel and the ecumenical chapel each have a gross external area of 39 square metres.
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!”
Turn right off the highway. Screech of breaks. Wham bam thank you ma’am! A change of gear literally, historically, metaphorically. A contrast as sharp as the right turn. Do the time warp. Welcome to the urban jungle that is Savannah. The antebellum and great antebellum mansions between pastel washed clapboard townhouses and horse drawn carriages clip clopping along cobbled boulevards fanned by the river breeze make for picture perfect views framed in 1,000 postcards. Yet it is the lush verdant vegetation above all else, the layer of nature that hangs over and creeps round this genteel city four square, that makes it so special.
Spanish moss forms an overhead tapestry of heavy green drapes and swags interwoven with patches of intense blue sky. A pink azalea carpet sweeps across the squares while wisteria climbs up buildings like wallpaper, dogwood blossom providing extra pattern. Ivy acts as leafy borders. Eat at The Lady and Sons, pray at Christ Church compline, love. But this visit was years ago. The immediacy of the past, the distance of the present. Deep calls to deep. That is all we have. The future is not ours.
“Some of the most beloved and ubiquitous spring plants in Georgia are the big blousy Southern azaleas, or rhododendron indica,” she says. “Every spring garden tour is timed for their bloom. They are spectacular. Larger gardens will have at least one Southern magnolia, magnolia grandiflora, the plant that defines the South. Larger gardens may use these plants as hedging material. They have dense evergreen lustrous foliage and flowers the size of dinner plates with a fragrance that isn’t too sweet or powerful nonetheless.”
Sandra adds, “Then of course there are the camellias, which, depending on the variety bloom from autumn to spring. Right now camellia sasanqua is the star of the garden. The wonderful thing about the climate here is that gardens planned with care can have plants to delight every month of the year. Most historic Southern gardens feature a ‘camellia walk’ leading from the house to the kitchen. The kitchen was located some distance from the house so that a fire wouldn’t destroy the house. These sheltered walks were probably meant to keep the food warm rather than necessarily for the comfort of the slaves who cooked and served it. Usually there would be fig trees and muscadines, wild grapes, that would be made into preserves and wine for winter. As for the gardens I’ve seen in Savannah, they mostly use plants to frame the architecture, which is sensational, and anchor the houses in the landscape.” Tara!
Each year, a selection of Savannah’s finest residences is featured on the tour. It’s quite a status symbol to have your home included. Crowds make their way across the city’s famous squares which mostly aren’t as large as you might think. More Soho Square than St Stephen’s Green. Like everything in Savannah, half the fun is meeting the people. Earlier in the day we got talking to the table next to us in Café Scad. “Eliza Thompson Inn,” we responded when asked where we were staying. “Ah – it’s haunted! Eliza? She’ll make ya dance!”
The formidable Women of Christ Church were no exception, revelling in their role as guides alongside the indomitable maîtresses de maison. “Y’all, we tell everyone that’s Vivienne Leigh’s grandmother!” exclaimed one, pointing to the portrait of a feisty brunette over the fireplace. “We’ve no idea who she really is!” Many of the homes were ideal for one way circular pedestrian flow thanks to steps leading up to an entrance door on the piano nobile and a secondary exit at street level. Woe betide anyone who walked across a manicured lawn. Or tried to skip a room on the heavily policed circuits. We accidentally – honestly – missed a front parlour. We were instantly summonsed back: “Y’all get back inside ya little lawbreakers!” Meek obedience seemed like the safest response, stopping to purposefully admire the oh-so-perfectly arranged Fabergé dinner set en route.
Every interior style – House and Garden, Period Living, Wallpaper*, World of Interiors – was represented. Behind one of the shuttered antebellum exteriors was a gallery of Jeff Koons sculptures. A colonial façade gave way to enough Beidermeier to stock a small museum. “A palm tree growing in a dust bin,” announced an august guide with a straight-as-a-poker face. “Just a typical teenager’s room.” A few doors down, an exquisitely apparelled hostess whisked us into her house with a powerful sweep of her modestly white gloved hand. “Welcome to the grandest house on East Jones Street!”
“I’ve painted the front door red,” stated another. “What’s the significance of red?” she demanded. “Eh, danger?” we gingerly suggested. “No, why no, it’s for Southern hospitality!” and swiftly guided us onto the pavement. With that in mind, we headed off into the afternoon sunshine for some grits and shrimps on Monterey Square, washed down with iced margaritas. Dinner – Cajun blend of crawfish at Alligator Soul or crab stuffed Portobello at Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons? First world problem.