Lavender’s Blue. A Vision | A Residence | A Blog. Our Gesamtkunstwerk. A decade of collecting and arranging. Irish country house attic style. So where better to celebrate in print than The Irish Times? Better again, The Gloss supplement. An A3 splash in Ireland’s glossiest A1 publication. Style Editor Aislinn Coffey gets it: “Your project and home was such a breath of fresh air, I adore it!” Virtuosic studies in light and shadow. Nothing’s really ever black and white (unless like us you’re under contract for the technicolour snaps). All things considered really, Lavender’s Blue is worthy of a retrospective at the Grand Palais. Clearly, we were an oversight by the National Gallery’s Monochrome exhibition gallerist.
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 naïve mirrored mini portico is one of several purchases from Savannah. We visited the Deep South’s finest after devouring Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The events in John Berendt’s book happened yonks ago but Savannah is still oh so magical. Meeting antiques dealer Charlie Brown, he gave us fragments of a chandelier from Jim William’s home, Mercer House. Jim was the central protagonist. The chandelier was smashed to myriad pieces when he shot his lover dead. We’ve slotted the crystal pieces into a standard lamp. Perfection.
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.
So what do the literati and glitterati have to say? Their quotes benefit from a touch of upper class case dramatic effect and a dash of well placed irony. “The place has great panache,” says Rupert Thomas, Editor of The World of Interiors. His predecessor Min Hogg, now Editor-at-Large, thinks it’s “lovely”. “Your rooms are a triumph,” believes architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell. “They’re brilliantly decorated.” Artist and country house doyenne Amanda Brooke agrees, “What a triumph your understated flat is.” Jacqueline Duncan, Principal of Inchbald School of Design, thinks it’s “Bohemian”. Reverend Andy Rider, Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields, calls it “Baronial”. Astrid Bray, MD of Hyde Park Residence, loves it: “Wow! Quite a place.”
“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!”