The Command House, right at the water’s edge and nestled below the tower of St Mary’s Church high on the hill behind, commands long distance views across the River Medway on the approach from Rochester to Chatham. Following a half a million pounds restoration by Stonegate Group, the largest pub company in the UK, it has flung open its eight raised panel triglyph frieze and modillion corniced fluted Doric pilastered door to customers. A bar and restaurant fill the piano nobile and spill out onto the garden stretching across to the river.
Built in the opening decades of the 18th century as The Ordnance Storekeeper’s House for Chatham Gun Wharf and later used as officers’ housing, The Command House is a fine example of the Queen Anne style. The symmetrical river facing façade is a parapeted two storeys over raised basement in height and five bays with single bay flanking lower wings in length. The red brick elevations have stone dressings.
But it is the side elevation overlooking the carpark which has the most interesting feature. An open lunette. It is set in the colossal chimneystack rising over the valley between the double piles of the roof. Sir John Vanbrugh was master of the lunette, void and chimneystack. He brings his sense of drama to all three in Kings Weston House, Bristol. The architect of The Command House is not recorded but clearly had a strong command of the classical architectural language.
This is a photographic record of French Lebanese architect Annabel Karim Kassar’s installation recreating part of the façade of the late 19th century Bayt K House, a traditional Ottoman era building in the historic quarter of Gemmayzeh, Beirut. While undergoing restoration in 2020 by her architectural practice AKK, Bayt K was damaged by the Beirut Port explosion. Sarkis Khoury, Director General of Antiquities in Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture, confirmed that at least 8,000 historic buildings were damaged in the explosion including Bayt K House and the Palais Sursock. The latter, also dating from the 19th century, is located in Achrafieh and is one of the country’s grandest residences. Disrupted but undeterred, the architect has worked with Beiruti craftspeople using traditional Lebanese materials both to restore Bayt K and to recreate the house’s triple arched façade and entrance divan as a showpiece.
Nathalie Chahine and Fadlallah Dagher explain in their 2021 publication Houses of Beirut 1860 to 1925, “A very typical element of the houses, as in houses of Bilad al-Sham more generally, was the lwan or liwan. This is a room opening onto the courtyard through a wide arch.” Annabel states, “I believe the human-centred approach to designing interior spaces found in traditional cultures still has much to teach the modern world.” Her designs combine a modernist vocabulary with the language of traditional Arab, Berber and Ottoman culture and craftmanship.
If a building is mentioned by the two scholars Nikolaus Pevsner and John Summerson, it’s worth visiting! “Eltham is very much a domestic house, not a grand palace, built in the clean air away from the plague and fire of the city,” he explains. “In the 1960s the cupola was removed – there may have been a rooftop terrace originally. In 1663 there were five dormers on each roof plane which can be seen in early drawings and as evidenced in the timberwork of the roof. These have been since reduced to two on each elevation. The formal gardens with fruit trees and the tapestries in the Great Chamber have all gone.”
Grinling Gibbons joined Hugh May’s team: his offset Great Stair is fully preserved. “In 1893 Eltham Lodge became a golf club,” finishes John. “But the ethos of a house in the country has been retained. May’s mantra was ‘Let one room be turned to perfection and the rest to convenience!’” The King’s Bedchamber and East India Library on the first floor overlook the entrance. The architect went for broke at Eltham Lodge with suites of rooms turned to perfection.
James Gibbs is a member of that exclusive club of architects whose surnames have become adjectives. Gibbsian, Corbusian, Miesian, Palladian. O’Connellian will come. The South London guide continues, “The enviable clubhouse of the golf course is the house by James Gibbs built in 1726 for the Duke of Argyll and Greenwich (the grandson of the Duchess of Lauderdale of Ham House). Nine bays, brick and stone dressings. Basement, main and upper storey. Slender segment-headed windows with aprons. Brick quoins, parapet. The main accent on the garden as well as the entrance side a giant portico of Corinthian columns with frieze and raised balustrade, projecting only slightly in front of the façade, so that the space behind the columns is actually a loggia. On the entrance side the effect has been spoiled by a tall extension forward of the portico. On the garden side a splendid open stair towards the entrance, starting in two flights parallel with the façade and then joining up into one. The plan is typically Palladian. The centre is a cube room which runs through from front to back portico. The other rooms open out from it, and on the upper floor have to be reached from the small staircase. The cube room is luxuriously decorated: giant coupled pilasters, coved ceiling, marble fireplace, doorways with very finely designed heads and pediment – Gibbs at his most baroque.”
“The garden front portico is in antis and so shallow it doesn’t rob the Cube Room of light and prospect,” explains John. As for the 10 metre Cube Room: “Everything is resolved. It’s a robust ensemble. James Gibbs’ workshops would have pulled all of this together and produced presentation drawings for the client. The stucco work is so emphatic. The subtle beading of the coupled Corinthian pilasters is very Mies van der Rohe in its attention to detailing!” Sudbrook Park has been the very grand clubhouse of Richmond Golf Club since the end of the 19th century.
Over to Oli, “We looked in Somerset, we looked in Norfolk, but it just felt like we had roots here in Deal and we knew the area. It’s so close to London too. Also Deal is just such a cool place. It’s thriving and this property is just unbelievably beautiful so that made our minds up for us. The garden is enclosed by incredible woodland so it feels very remote and peaceful. Updown Farmhouse is unusual but it’s going to be a lovely place to be in, eat and to stay.”
We’re forever falling into the whirlpool of the high life. “Where do you come from?” asks our waiter. He’s from Marseille. “You can crack the egg!” Another waiter, “Your island of caviar has arrived.” And later, the maître d’, “You must come back in January for the finest winter truffle. À très bientôt!” Everyone’s speaking in hushed reverential tones. This is very fine dining. Not for the self conscious. Waiters stand like sentinels guarding the tapestried walls. A glance at one of them is enough to be shown to the Guerlain equipped powder room. Such is the segue! Halfway through this culinary ceremony, a waiter parades a white box of pungent truffle but we weren’t brought up the Seine in a bubble. It would be nice not to break the four figure bill ceiling today. Okay maybe just a little truffle shavings… C’est L’Ambroisie, ce ne sera pas bon marché. But there are no pockets in shrouds. So don’t rue the day. Especially when it’s the day after the Feast of St Ambrose.
The Scottish aristo actress Tilda Swinton swans into the first dining room. “I’m performing at three o’clock so we have an hour and a half for lunch. Cheers to taking these moments – there haven’t been enough of these lately. We’re going to stuff ourselves today for life is too short. We just have to get on with it! Apparently, did you hear we’re going to get an arctic winter? Maybe I should hibernate and live like Little Edie in Grey Gardens!” Everything is up a level. It’s like living life in fast forward.
The restaurant is terribly discreet: no windows onto the world, just a lantern lit doorway off the cloistered Place des Vosges. A petite lobby leads into an enfilade of three smart dining rooms served by a basement kitchen. There are only 35 to 38 covers. Founding Chef Bernard Pacaud secured three Michelin Stars by 1988. His son Mathieu continues to carry the recognition. Ever since Henri IV ordered the creation of the chichi quartier of Le Marais in the 4th Arrondisement, the palace-fronted Place des Vosges has been at the centre of civilised society. Very up our rue.
So what’s the difference between one, two and three Michelin Stars? And don’t say an arm and a leg. A Michelin Guide Inspector explains, “One Michelin Star is awarded to restaurants using top quality ingredients where dishes with distinct flavours are prepared to a consistently high standard. Two Michelin Stars are awarded when the personality and talent of the chef are evidence in his or her expertly crafted dishes of refined and inspired food. Three Michelin Stars are given for superlative cooking of the chef at the peak of his of her profession – cooking elevated to an art form.” There are 10 three Michelin Star restaurants in Paris according to the 2022 Guide. That’s twice the number of triple Starred in London. Onwards and upwards. Bon voyage voyage.
Leaving behind the whiteness of a continental winter’s day we step into La Mâle d’Effeenne which is like entering a man cave but only if the man is Aladdin. Black is the new black. All that glitters really is gold. We’re greeted like long lost brothers by owners François Mahé (French) and Nico Francioni (Italian). They chime, “It’s been a year, has it not? We remember you well! You’re famous! Excuse the clutter – we’ve just had a large seasonal delivery.”
Their shop defies definition. Literally: there’s something in the name. “La” of course is feminine. “Mâle” clearly isn’t. This shop is for everyone so when it comes to clothes or scents, you decide. “Mâle” is a nod to Jean-Paul Gaultier’s famous scent. It also references “malle”, the French word for luggage. Gosh multiple entendres or what? And what hidden depths does “Effeenne” possess? It’s the guys’ initials spelt phonetically: “F” and “N”. So there you go. Putting the concept into conceptual.
La Mâle d’Effeenne is on Rue St Paul in the middle of Village St Paul in the middle of Le Marais in the middle of Paris. The dominating architectural presence is the Church of St Paul. There has been an ecclesiastical presence in this location for 16 centuries. In 1360 the village gained royal status when Charles V installed his Hôtel St Paul. Today, the chiaroscuro of the church nave is strongly pencilled by wintry shadow. A ciborium or baldachin of ghostly semi transparent scarlet veil is suspended over an Advent arrangement.
Who said we didn’t end up at midnight in Princess Diana’s fav Knightsbridge haunt San Lorenzo three years ago to the day? Or a month earlier join influencers for a day at the races? Or fast forward a few seasons to find ourselves singing black tied carols with London’s finest on Pall Mall till dawn? As for the maquillage, English Heritage have a lot to answer for… Tell us, what are you doing?
Driving uphill out of Newry through Bessbrook suddenly on the righthand side behind a stone wall is a brilliant flash of mustard between the thinning greenery and vibrant orange of late autumn. Aha! It’s Derrymore House, a cottage orné on a grand scale. And a very charming one at that. John Richardson, its last private owner, donated the unfurnished house and its demesne to The National Trust in 1952. In that era of architectural freezing in aspic, a sympathetic three bay extension containing an entrance hall with a central fanlighted doorcase was demolished. The early 19th century extension filled the gap on the north elevation to complete a courtyard. Derrymore was returned to its original late 18th century magnet or long C shape. A purist approach indeed.
There are two canted bay windows: one with 82 small panes; the other, 90. At first glance, this would seem extravagant for Isaac Corry was responsible for introducing the Window Tax in Ireland. But he would have benefitted from a loophole that any window could be considered as one for taxation purposes if it was divided into portions less than a foot (30.5 centimetres) wide. Commercial pressure and building regulations dictating design are not a new phenonomen.
Derrymore is the forerunner to a spate of single storey (or at least just one level over basement) modest country houses erected in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in mid to south Ulster, especially around Rostrevor. A thatched roof draws Derrymore closer to cottage than country house in appearance although not in scale. Hugh Dixon explains in An Introduction to Ulster Architecture, 1973, “Occasionally the two traditions merge into a picturesque, Georgian vernacular style which is Ulster’s alone… undoubtedly the most ambitiously developed example of the type is the house built by Isaac Corry at Derrymore near Newry in County Armagh. Adopting both traditional materials and ‘architectural’ features like quatrefoil windows topped with label mouldings, the building is arranged as a series of small units round an open court.” There is a formality to the elevations, especially the symmetrical southwest facing garden front, at odds with the provincial roof material. A classic cottage orné combo.
Ever since, there’s been an unstoppable love of the lateral when it comes to self building in Ireland much to local planning authorities’ ire.
Before he died in 2005, Sir Charles Brett, architectural commentator and contributor to Ulster Architect magazine did a U turn on his view of bungalows in Ireland. As Chairman of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, he was a strong advocate of terraced houses. But in his later years, Charlie declared bungalows in many ways to be the rightful Irish vernacular, or at least an inheritor of the traditional cottage form. That is, single storey, rectilinear, narrow, practical.
Have you ever ended up with a bevy of beauties in a hot tub outside Newry at 3am? Across muck and gullion (or at least over the butte of Slieve Muck and below the peak of Slieve Gullion) we stopped by to enjoy the rustic glamour of Primrose Cottage in south County Armagh. Owner Derek Johnston called over, “The two cottages, Primrose and Lavender, were converted from an aul’ barn.” Timber sash windows were inserted into the thick stone walls; slate and metal roofs reinstated. Architectural critic Martin Pawley’s 1981 essay What Does Vernacular Really Mean? concludes, “The vernacular image is much less important than the vernacular reality.” He argues that the vernacular appearance is down to economics – for example salvaged local materials – rather than arranged aesthetics.
In front of the cottages is a paddock filled with swans and pygmy goats. “Farmers are not as diverse about what animals they have as they were when I was growing up so I decided to do something about it,” he smiled. Derek Johnston is also coveniently landlord of Johnny Murphy’s pub a few metres away at the crossroads of Meigh, the local hamlet. So of course, we had to traipse along and support local business. It was a jolly and late and jolly late affair, the merits of vernacular over designed and image versus reality long forgotten. Back at Primrose Cottage, closer to sunrise than sunset, the party continued under the stars. So that’s how we ended up with a bevy of beauties in a hot tub outside Newry at 3am.