Architects Architecture Art Design Developers Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Coal Drops Yard + Coal Office Restaurant King’s Cross London

Beyond the Espérance Bridge

At the close of last century, the land behind King’s Cross and St Pancras Railway Stations was promoted as the biggest development site in Europe. Over the post millennium decades new places and spaces have taken shape between and inside retained and restored structures. The cast iron frames of gasholders continue to provide a robust architectural presence. An ankle height plaque on one of their columns reads: “Erected 1864. Telescoped 1880.”

Next to the gasholders is Coal Drops Yard, a collection of former industrial buildings transformed by designer Thomas Heatherwick into luxury shops (such as Le Chocolat by Alain Ducasse, Astrid and Miyu jewellers and Tom Dixon’s flagship store), galleries and restaurants. Overlooking Coal Drops Yard and backing onto the canal is a row of gorgeous converted commercial buildings. On the ground floor is designer Tom Dixon’s studio and – whoop whoop! – an Israeli restaurant. Further to the north are some of the most exciting new schemes in London. Not least Allison Brooks Architects’ Cadence tower of apartments over offices. The historic arches of the area are reinterpreted in bézier arched window openings on various levels of the 15 storey tower and adjoining lower blocks to striking effect.

Coal Drops Yard was built in the 1850s close to the canal and railway tracks to receive, sort and store the coal that powered Victorian London. Two decades later the coal trade shifted south of the canal and the buildings found alternative industrial uses. Glass bottle manufacturer Bagley, Wild and Company took over one of the buildings. Little did cousins William and John William Bagley know that a film studio in what was once their warehouse would retain their surname. Better still, the next use, a nightclub, would as well. Bagley’s occupied the three storey eastern block of Coal Drops Yard. It held the biggest and best raves in Nineties London with capacity (often exceeded) of 2,500 partygoers. Each floor would have a different music genre blasting to the beams. Pure ecstasy!

Next door to Tom Dixon’s studio, Coal Office is a collaboration between him and businessman Chef Assaf Granit (who owns the Michelin starred Machneyuda in Jerusalem). Over Saturday brunch at the restaurant bar overlooking the open plan kitchen we chat to Head Chef Dan Pelles. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York before working for five years at the nearby triple Michelin starred restaurant Jean Georges. His cooking is rooted in Israel and across the Levant: Dan is from Tel Aviv.

We name drop Shila (pronounced like the female name “Sheila”), our favourite Tel Avivian spot for lunch, especially on the Ben Yehuda Street terrace. “Shila is a great seafood restaurant,” Dan agrees, and referring to the owner Chef, “Sharon Cohen is a good friend. Israel is so so tiny – everyone knows everyone! Have some chilli olives.” We’re keen to understand what Israeli cuisine is all about.

“In New York there’s Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy,” he relates. “So many cuisines are separately defined. Not so much in Israel. In the Forties and and early Fifties Israel was filled with immigrants from Yemini to European. I have a Scottish grandmother and a Moroccan grandmother. It became a melting pot – the common language is food. There’s no other place like it in the world. Israeli cuisine is a blend of international traditions with healthy and fresh local ingredients. My Scottish grandmother made black pudding; my Moriccan grandmother cooked octopus. I eat both!”

“This dish has three types of aubergine.” Tarterie Oto (aubergine tartare, white and black aubergine cream, parsley and chilli aubergine) is served. The weekend brunch menu is divided into Small Plates, In Between Plates and Big Plates. We opt for ample sized Small Plates. Tapogan (salmon sashimi, potato crisp, horseradish crème fraîche, chilli oil, dill) is followed by Salat Dla’at (Delicat pumpkin, dandelion, Galotyri cheese, apple balsamic vinaigrette). Dan’s prestigious training and experience shines through in every dish. Alma White 2021 from Dalton Winery, Galilee, is the perfect accompaniment to the savouries. “Do you want an Israeli passion fruit dessert wine?” tempts Dan when sea salt caramel ice cream on carmelised pretzel arrives.

The sharply defined interior right down to the wine glasses and cutlery is designed by Tom Dixon. We interviewed the designer for Select Interiors Winter 2008. This glossy Irish magazine was published by Brigid Whitehead. Here’s the copy: We keep hearing the word ‘maverick’ bandied about in the media, especially on American television channels. Vice President hopeful Sarah Palin can barely make a speech without referring to her running mate John McCain as a maverick. Whether or not he fits the standard definition (“A lone dissenter: an intellectual, artist or a politician who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates”) is a moot point. A quick online search of the contemporary designer Tom Dixon’s recent career highlights – of which there are many – wouldn’t immediately suggest he is a maverick either. He’s been awarded no fewer than two doctorates and the highly successful design brand Tom Dixon has now expanded into the US. That’s just the tip of his iceberg sized CV.

His iconic status is there for all to see. Surprisingly, he’s self taught. His maverick status starts to emerge. “He is a self educated maverick whose only qualification is a one day course in plastic bumper repair,” is a quote once used to describe Tom’s background. In place of formal training, his interest in welding led him to experiment with furniture using found objects from a steelyard at Chelsea Harbour including iron tread plate, gas fittings and industrial nuts and bolts. Tom explains, “I was immediately hooked on welding … mesmerised by the tiny pool of molten metal viewed from the safety of darkened goggles. Allowing an instant fusion of one piece of steel to another, it had none of the seriousness of craft, none of the pomposity of design. It was industry.”

Recycling might be all the rage now, but back in the Eighties, Tom chartered new waters with his breakthrough designs. Others were left to play catch up. They still are. He continues, “London at the time was full of scrap metal yards and the skips were piled full of promising bits and pieces due to the Eighties boom … all of which presented themselves to me as potential chair backs or table legs. Unhindered by commercial concerns – I had my night job – or formal training, I made things just for the pleasure of making them. It was only when people started to buy that I realised I had hit on a form of alchemy. I could turn a pile of scrap metal into gold!”

At the end of the following decade, pundits were surprised when he accepted the post as Head of the UK Design Studio at Habitat. In the intervening years, he had been self employed and he was never considered ‘establishment’. Tom confesses his friends were horrified. Perhaps they thought he was losing his hard earned maverick status? According to him, “They said I would have my creativity compromised. I would be entering a stifling world of corporate politics.” But in reality, “It was as though I had a giant toy box … all the manufacturing techniques in the world from basket work to injection moulding. Everything for the home to design … everything at normal everyday prices!”

Six years ago, the company called Tom Dixon was set up by Tom and his business partner David Begg. In 2004 a partnership was established between the Tom Dixon founders and venture capitalists Proventus to form Design Research Studio. Today, the Studio owns and manages the brand Tom Dixon as well as Artek, the Finnish modernist furniture manufacturer established by Alvar Aalto in 1935. But Tom has ensured that he hasn’t sold out, joined the establishment. Instead he is fulfilling his lifetime ambition to make good design available to everyone.

Every icon must have his or her iconic work and Tom’s has grown from single pieces of furniture such as the S Chair and Blow Pendant Light to full blown interiors. Shoreditch House is Design Research Studio’s latest project, led by Tom. As usual, an innovative approach was taken to this private members’ club in a converted biscuit factory. The industrial character was played up by introducing even more raw materials while dedication to comfort with deep-pile rugs creates an enjoyable tension. In Tom’s words, the concept was to, “Celebrate honest materials with all their functional and decorative qualities. Their imperfections too.” We’ve heard that Damien Hirst, Jamie Dornan and Sophie Ellis Bextor all like to hang out there.

Tom has turned full circle. He recently joined a band called Rough; he plays with them when working for Artek in Helsinki. Last time he was in a band was in the Eighties. “We play bad Kylie Minogue covers,” he says, laughing. And in the last six months, Tom has started buying back original Artek pieces from schools and hospitals and replacing them with new versions. The institutions are glad of the update and collectors like to buy the originals. “The big idea underpinning the whole project is this discussion about sustainability,” he relates. It’s a new take on recycling. No matter what career posts he takes on, he’s always able to take an independent stand apart. Tom Dixon, ever the maverick.

Returning to 2023, whole Coal Office is Tom Dixon’s next door neighbour, his upstairs neighbour is the celebrated architectural practice Herzog and Meuron. What’s new in his store below in Coal Drops Yard? He advises, “Elements: a series of fragrances inspired by the medieval alchemist and eastern philosopher’s quest to reduce all matter to four simple elements, four scents of extreme simplicity and individual character that reflect their elemental names of Fire, Air, Earth and Water.” A medium size candle is £125; large, £220. As we edge towards the middle of the third post millennium decade, the land behind King’s Cross and St Pancras Railway Stations has become one of the best developed sites in Europe.

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Kapara Restaurant + Wedgwood Mews Soho London

The Real Chinatown

“Is there such a thing as Israeli cuisine?” Ruthie Rousso asked in the inaugural issue of the Televivian Journal three years ago. “The international response settles the issues for us all: Israeli food is quickly becoming among the most popular in the world. Israeli restaurants bloom and boom in London and New York, Israeli cookbooks win international prizes, and Israel in general has become a place of pilgrimage due to its restaurants and not only because of the Old City and the Dead Sea.”

The Chef continues to muse, “Food is a reflection. Plates have narratives. They tell different stories. These stories have a very personal connection to the traditions and habits that pass from generation to generation. But there is also a much broader dimension related to issues of culture, history, conflicts, wars, international relations, and even GDP. The complex Israeli identity is contained on every plate. In every tiny heirloom Palestinian bamya with preserved lemon and brown butter served in haBasta, and in every steaming pitta stuffed with roasted cauliflower, crème fraîche and local hot pepper … Israeli cuisine, like Israeli identity, is a fragile and frail tissue of crossings and stitching, fraught with youth on the one hand, and with hindering history on the other, full of adventurous urges, creativity and courage. Yes, and some chutzpah as well.”

Shabbat shalom! Kapara is chutzpah in a pistachio nutshell. But first, it’s oh so quiet (to channel Björk). Seems like a no show. Then, predicting a riot (channelling Kaiser Chiefs) it’s suddenly oh so Soho. Sababa! Soon the Galilee Dry White Givon Chardonnay is flowing as the lights get dimmer, the music booms louder, and the imaginary patterns appear in the wall tiles. Or are they imaginary? Everything seems rather naughty but terribly nice. Mezze is: Roasted Plums and Feta (soft herbs). Brunch Plate is: Baby Aubergine Shakshuka (spicy tomato sauce, stewed aubergine, eggs, tahini, pickled chillies, chive). Sweet Ending is: Gramp’s Cigar (brick pastry, pistachio, rose, coco, passionfruit curd, chocolate soil, smoked tuile). From smoky to smoking to smoking hot. And in an even sweeter ending, the cocktails are: The Glory Mole (El Rayo Tequila, hibiscus, cardamom, ginger, lime, soda) and Space Cowboy (Konik’s Tail Vodka, port, pimento, caraway, strawberry, hop, soda).

Kapara is tucked away in a redrawn block stretching from the retained 17th century Portland House (stuccoed up in the mid 19th century) on Greek Street to the replacement Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Architectural practices Matt and Soda combined their pizzazz to bring the best piece of urban design to hit London this decade. Nine storeys above ground (some occupying the air space where the Wedgwood china factory once stood) and four underground. A glazed sliced cone nose diving into the earth lights the subterranean office floors. If this is Soho Estates cleaning up their act what’s not to like? One sixth of the site is dedicated to new public realm. The restaurant spills onto part of this realm: an elusive and exclusive courtyard. Terracotta stained GRC (Glass Reinforced Concrete), glazed bricks and scoop and scallop patterned tiles all add to the Mediterranean ambience. A four metre high stainless steel head sculpture by Cuban artist Rafael Miranda San Juan gazes across the courtyard.

Owner Chef Eran Tibi’s earliest memories involved food. “I helped my father, a Tunisian born baker, in our family bakery and I spent time with my mother trimming okra tips. Family and food became intertwined, inseparable, from a young age. Food was a means to an end for my family – it meant more, it was a way of life. My grandfather was a great lover of life and all its indulgences. He owned a bar, a restaurant and a club. He instilled in me the importance of living for the moment, of being present in the now.” Aged 30, Eran decided to formally train at Le Cordon Blue School in London. His first restaurant in the English capital is the wildly successful Bala Baya in London Bridge. Eran’s mission to bring localised Middle Eastern food to southeastern England proves there really is such a thing as Israeli cuisine.

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Old Union Yard Arches + Bala Baya Restaurant Southwark London

Behind The Music Box

It’s a long time since Gilbert and George sang Under the Arches (1969) and an even longer time since Flanaghan and Allen did too (1941). These days, railway arches are – like every square metre in London – hot property. The Low Line. Theatres, restaurants, bars and community hubs fill the stretch from Union Street to Surrey Row known as Old Union Yard Arches.

But before the arches were redeveloped, there was, and very much still is, The Music Box. The capital’s most exciting apartments and music college scheme. Developer Taylor Wimpey Central London had the vision to commission the exciting young architecture practice Spparc (now in full bloom) to design a building that entwines architecture and music in a standout standalone standing ovation on Union Street.

A mezzanine divides the archway of Bala Baya into two levels. The ground floor is achromatic in deference to the White City of Tel Aviv. Upstairs, the exposed brick vault lends a more rustic allure. Owner Chef Eran Tibi – you guessed it – is Televivian. Interior designer Afroditi Krassa added bright terrazzo slabs from a Haifa factory. Eran says, “I wanted to walk on floors that remind me of home.” Tableware comes from one of Jaffa’s famous flea markets. The rear wall of the mezzanine is built up in perforated breeze blocks of the type you see just about everywhere in gardens in Israel. But the biggest import is the custom built pitta oven from Israeli manufacturer Jagum.

The rumble of trains overhead provides an accompaniment to dancey music. Six years old, Bala Baya still strikes the right chord with a cacophony free lunch. Putting that oven to good use, pitta is served with mezze: Pink Tamara (smoked roe, extra virgin olive oil, chives). Fish Clouds (smoked haddock fish cakes, pita crumbs, poached egg, white taramasalata, apple, fennel) are a reminder of Tel Aviv’s western coast. ‘Bala Baya’ means ‘mistress of the house’ and the pudding Lady Baharat (pink lady, salted caramel, Baharat cream, wonton) proves to be a woo worthy sweet symphony. Israeli wines are labelled “from home”. Pale straw coloured Carmel Selected Sauvignon Blanc 2020 carries aromas of tropical fruit notes against a backdrop of cut grass. Like The Music Box, the wine is aging well.

Unsurprisingly Eran is a protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi. Michael Kaminer explained in his 2017 review of Bala Baya for The New York Times, “Before he became a global brand, Yotam Ottolenghi introduced Londoners to modern Israeli food – a minor trend that has become a phenomenon.” Bala Baya is part of this movement from minor to major, taking it up another octave. Encore! Encore!

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Friar Lane + New Street + St Martin’s West Leicester Leicestershire


“‘I like everything old fashioned,’ said Eleanor; ‘old fashioned things are so much the honestest,’” Anthony Trollope scribes in his 1857 classic Barchester Towers. And there’s nothing so old fashioned – in a good way – than a cathedral close, something he captured in words better than anyone else in his series of six novels about the fictional cathedral town of Barchester.

The first issue of Country Homes and Interiors magazine was hot off the printers in April 1986. The August edition of that year featured an article by Moira Rutherford called Close Encounters about clergy living in cathedral quarters. Archdeacon Michael Perry who lived in Durham Cathedral Close summed it up: “Someone once said clergy consists of middle class people living in upper class houses on lower class incomes. That’s certainly true here. All the canons have at least two jobs.”

Dean Richard Eyre who lived in Exeter Cathedral Close said, “It’s not difficult to heat a big old house like this; it’s simply difficult to pay for it. The guest room alone measures 30 feet by 18. It’s lucky the house only has three bedrooms not including attic rooms.” The immediate area around Leicester Cathedral has the appearance of a close (lots of substantial period houses) but is actually a legal quarter known as Greyfriars. Handsome Georgian terraces line several streets including Friar Lane and New Street; the latter heading northwards frames a view of the cathedral.

One of the best Georgian houses in Greyfriars is 17 Friar Lane. It’s one of 30 buildings which have received restoration funding from the Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative. This was a restoration programme set up by Leicester City Council and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. In 2016 the sash windows and ornate timber Doric entrance doorcase were restored with a £50,000 grant.

Built in 1750 for banker William Bentley, 17 Friar Lane has a sophisticated three storey façade vertically divided into three by quoin pilasters. The central portion of the symmetrical brick elevation is particularly well handled with a Palladian window over the entrance door and a Diocletian window on the top floor. A pediment over the cornice completes the geometric arrangement. Whoever the architect was had a strong grasp of ornament and proportion.

The half timbered wholly jettied 14th century Guildhall on St Martin’s West next to Leicester Cathedral is a rare survivor predating the Georgian redevelopment of the area. Old fashioned indeed.

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Campbell-Rey + The London Edition Hotel Fitzrovia London

Club Fenderland

The multi use lobby of The London Edition was a popular concept when it first opened. A decade later, the vast space is still buzzing. It encompasses workspace, a bar, a lounge area next to an open fire, reception, billiards and – from tonight – a Christmas tree designed by Campbell-Rey. The design studio founded by Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey takes a seasonal bow to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s 1816 set design for The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with its oversized Murano glass baubles in colour and mirror finishes dangling between decorations hand painted to resemble lapis, onyx, marble and malachite. The gilded star atop the tree comes straight from one of the artistic Prussian polymath’s Queen of the Night’s Hall of Stars drawings. To celebrate the unveiling of the Christmas tree, guests are serenaded by a haloed cappella choir while devouring canapés and downing cocktails.

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The Londoner Hotel Leicester Square London + Hale Zero

You’re Driving Us Crazy

“Would you like Champagne?” proves to be the perfect entry to the perfect party. This is gonna be epically crazy – we can tell already. Do you remember when the festive season started in December? Or when Christmas trees had red and gold decorations? And the weekend began on a Friday? Well deep breath. November is the new December. Black and white is the new red and gold. And tonight, Monday is the new Friday.

Fashion designer Huishan Zhang dreamt up the most monochromatic Christmas tree imaginable for The Stage (isn’t that the world?) bar of The Londoner Hotel, Leicester Square. The black and white party dress code has been mostly adhered to with a few notable exceptions. Glam squads have been busy. Lady Elspeth Catton (played brilliantly by Rosamund Pyke in Emerald Fennell’s baroque comedic thriller Saltburn) with her “complete and utter horror of ugliness” would approve.

After black cod lime and Bloody Mary avo tartare entrées, Yasmine and Yuzu Margaritas, Lychee Rosé and Monte Velho Branco are pumped into us and before we know it we’ve been swept up to Eight (the height’s in the name) bar. What fresh heaven awaits? Celestial socialites and power creatives Pippa Vosper and Susan Bender Whitfield are getting ready to fill that penthouse dancefloor. Troops! You have your marching orders! Get to it!

Hale Zero is whipping up an absolute musical storm. Fresh from playing at the Beckhams’ Netflix party, the trio is always raring to go. The brilliant Brixton brothers get to the remixes, the grooves, the mashups, all the tunes with that vigour of tonight we are all “forever young”! And then without warning the whole floor erupts into synchronised dancing to Beyonce’s Crazy in Love. “Would you like more Champagne?” For the first time ever, no, we’re too busy dancing! As Lady Elspeth likes to say, “How wonderful!”

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Ardtara House Hotel + Garden Upperlands Londonderry


If there is a commodious Victorian country house which sums up gentry living in Ulster it would be Ardtara House. Tucked away in the countryside on the outskirts of the village of Upperlands, this two storey stone house is all that is good about late 19th century domestic architecture. Timewise, the original 1896 house was extended in matching style 17 years later so contrary to appearances it strictly speaking isn’t all Victorian. No architect is recorded but it’s very similar to Ardara House in Comber, County Down, which was probably designed by the popular architect Thomas Jackson. Ardara dates from the 1870s with a 1900 matching extension and is also a two storey house of roughly rectangular plan with plenty of canted bay windows. It was built by the Andrews family who were flour and flax millowners.

Ardtara was built by linen millowner Harry Clark. In 1699 the English Parliament had enforced the Wool Act to protect the English wool industry by preventing the Irish from exporting it. To offset the economic damage, Parliament encouraged the development of linen production in Ireland. Linen is a strong natural fabric made from flax plant which grows on wet fertile soil – so suited to the Irish climate. Harry’s ancestor John Clarke of Maghera considered building a mill on the River Clady on a site he referred to as his “Upper Lands”. His son brought the idea to fruition by building the mill. In 1740 the first beetling engine began turning. William Clark and Sons Linen is one of the oldest continually running businesses in the world.

Ampertaine House was the Clark family seat on the edge of Upperlands village. It is a five bay two storey late Georgian house with a large wing. Harry decided he wanted to build his own home for himself, his wife Alice and their six children. He died in 1955, a year after his wife’s death. One of the children, Wallace, would later say, “People from all over the world came to stay in our house. There were visits from cousins and friends from Australia, New Zealand and North America. There were also agents from the 40 or so countries where linen from Upperlands was exported.” The house (and 33 hectare estate) fell into disrepair until it was saved in 1990 by Maebeth Fenton Martin, entrepreneur and Director of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for North America. She opened it as a hotel four years later. Maebeth had impeccable taste and restored the fenestration, plasterwork, panelling, chimneypieces, garden, lake and so on.

In 2014 restaurateurs Marcus Roulston and Ian Orr purchased Ardtara. It is a rural hotel addition to their urban restaurants portfolio of Eighteen Ninety Four in Portstewart and Browns Bonds Hill and Browns in Town both in Derry City. They have retained the period splendour and comfort. The top lit billiard room is now the restaurant; the pair of drawing rooms remains just that with the insertion of a bar; the conservatory has been reinstated as a function room; and nine bedroom suites are on the first floor. The terrace outside the drawing rooms has been put back and the Victorian garden restored. The garden is a dreamlike sequence of outdoor green spaces around a lake.

Marcus explains, “We have lovingly restored the house, combining romantic Victorian architecture with all the modern comforts you would expect in top class hospitality. Our idea for Ardtara was always for it to be a gourmet destination.” He and Ian have revived Ardtara’s early 20th tradition of self sufficiency of food supply supplemented by products from trusted sources within an hour’s travel. And now, to echo Wallace Clark’s words, “People from all over the world come to stay in the house.” Musician Phil Coulter, actor Bill Murray and singer Ronan Keating have all stayed at Ardtara House (although not at the same time).

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The Hideaway Sloane Place Hotel Chelsea London +

The Zone of Influence

Sloane Square is “the centre of the world” according to Ann Barr and Peter York’s Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. This essential 1980s guide was in effect an expanded update of Nancy Mitford’s 1955 “U and Non U” essay on what is upper class and what is not. Linguistics were tricky back then: “chimneypiece” was U; “mantlepiece” Non U. We sat beside Peter York at Nicky Haslam’s private gig in The Pheasantry, King’s Road, and he did emphasise it was all a bit tongue in cheek.

Sloane Square Hotel on Lower Sloane Street is equator hot in Handbook terms. It’s the launch party of The Hideaway, a basement speakeasy under Sloane Place. The Peter Jones crowd are here but everyone is more diverse less shibboleth reliant these days. Jazz musicians Bandini not to mention gallons of Moët and Chandon (thankfully the Prohibition theme isn’t taken too literally!) mean the intimate dancefloor is soon filled. The goat’s cheese macaroons are definitely U.

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The Lenox-Conynghams + Springhill Moneymore Londonderry

Living Life on the Hyphen

Last of the line to live at Springhill was Mina Lenox-Conyngham. She was known as a great storyteller, even if occasionally recollections would vary, and recorded her memories for prosperity in her 1946 pot boiler An Old Ulster House and the People Who Lived In It. The delightful Springhill, now owned by The National Trust, never looked better than at dawn two springs ago. It is pure three dimensional reticent charm, falling somewhere between a grand farmhouse and a modest country house; like its last owner, living between two worlds and two words.

Stephen Gwynn provided the foreword: “Here is a book to rejoice anyone who desires to see light thrown on Irish history nonetheless revealing because it traces through nine generations the fortunes of a leading Ulster family and of a great Ulster house. The Conynghams, who became later Lenox-Conyngham, acquired land in County Derry and managed to hold it. As the years went on they were linked up with almost every prominent family in the Province and had their part in all the outstanding events.” The Lenox-Conyngham family came to Ulster from Ayrshire so really they were Scots-Irish rather than Anglo-Irish.

“Or again we have a full inventory of the plenishing – indoor and out – which furnished out Springhill in George III’s day,” ends Stephen. “In short here is a whole mine of information which tells us above all what sort of lives a representative Ulster family lived once Ulster became what we mean by Ulster – and lets us know also what kind of men and women it bred.”

Lyn Gallagher has written about the house a couple of times. In A Tour of the Properties of the National Trust in Northern Ireland, 1979, she notes, “‘To build a convenient house of lime and stone two storeys high’ was one of the obligations put upon ‘Good Will’ Conyngham when he married Miss Anne Upton in 1680, and it would seem that the charming house of Springhill dates from this period. To the rear of the house is the Bower Barn, one of the earliest buildings to be erected at Springhill, and the long narrow windows in the walls show it to have a purpose for which easy defence was not an insignificant factor. It is a house of enormous simple charm, and the warm atmosphere of old wood in the interiors is not dissipated by the fact that Springhill boasts one of the best authenticated ghosts in an Ulster home – seemingly a mother who lost seven children through smallpox still moves around here.” Dorinda, The Honourable Lady Dunleath, who spent many a childhood summer here, rolling her eyes, was more sceptical: “Aunt Mina had a good imagination!” Dorinda was not impressed when the bedroom she always stayed in at Springhill was designated “the haunted room” by The National Trust.

In Castle Coast and Cottage: The National Trust in Northern Ireland, published 13 years later, Lyn along with Dick Rogers writes, “It may be fanciful to say that a house is friendly and welcoming, but if any house fits that description, it’s Springhill, just outside Moneymore in County Londonderry. A straight avenue leads to the simple, open façade, flanked by two long, broad pavilions, with curved gables which look as if they are holding out arms of welcome. The house has an immediate charm on the affections of the visitor; it is something to do with its age – 300 years of one family’s occupation – and something to do with the scale and the charm of small details, like the arched gateway, with a curly iron gate, at the top of a flight of worn steps leading from the carpark into the wide enclosed forecourt, with immaculately raked gravel.”

They’ve more to offer: “Springhill is essentially an Ulster house. Architectural historians have commented on the slightly hesitant way in which the basically classical front is treated – with narrower, two paned windows in the centre, a typical 17th century Ulster feature – and have noted how the 18th century bow extensions give it more assurance. One commentator, Alistair Rowan, describes it as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster, not grand or elaborate in its design, but with very the air of a French provincial manor house.’ Its lack of pretension is its hallmark, and the rear of the house is described as ‘a comfortable jumble of roofs, slate hung walls and chimneys … with a big round headed window on the staircase the most prominent feature.’” A vintage photograph shows the window frames painted fully black rather than just the outer frames black which created an even more distinctive appearance and greater contrast with the white walls. The photograph also shows the pavilion wings were left unpainted which emphasised their subsidiary role to the house.

“Fabulous finials!” exclaims Nick, a character in Alan Hollinghurst’s 1998 novel The Spell. He could have been talking about the roof decorations of the pavilion wings of Springhill. The finials encapsulate the dichotomous essence of the house: they are grand but are embellishing functional farm outbuildings. Author and former Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine, Jeremy Musson, told us when researching Springhill he learned that Mina Lenox-Conyngham had reversed her mother-in-law’s arrangement and swapped the more recent furniture on the main two floors with all the “old fashioned 17th century furniture” stored in the attic. “The family never threw anything out!” Jeremy records. The library collection of over 5,000 books (some with calfskin covers) on everything from theology to ornithology is one of the best of its kind in Ulster. On the raised ground floor, the contrast between the 17th century entrance hall, staircase hall, study and library with the 18th century drawing room and dining room is one of scale, grandeur and decoration. Dark panelling and lowish ceilings in the former; chunky cornicing and high ceilings in the latter. Jeremy’s piece on Springhill was published in “the recording angel of country houses” (his words) of Country Life in 1996.

We first visited Springhill 30 odd years ago, armed with a polaroid camera. That photographic record, which shall remain unpublished, was of mixed result. Our second visit, in 2010, this time armed with a Canon camera, was on a particularly unphotogenic day of pale grey skies. Thank goodness for the sun blessed spring of 2022. You can never have too much of a good thing, so our latest visit is on another sun struck day, this time in the autumn of 2023. A walk round the gardens; a browse in the second hand bookshop; a look at the costume museum; a tour of the house; coffee and cake in the converted stables. Life at Springhill is immeasurably good.

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Africa Fashion Week London 2023 + Mary Martin London

Angelic Forces at Work and Play

Mary Martin London headlined this year’s Africa Fashion Week London. Mary’s fashion is never superficial and always thought provoking, making statements on social and historic issues from class to slavery. She explained to us, “My collection this year is called Divine Intervention. It’s about a dream I had of the angels in heaven. Everything was cream and gold – it was an amazing experience. So my collection is all cream and gold. My final catwalk piece this year was the Ozone Dress. Swiss model Aïda wore a white wig with twigs coming out of it symbolising the clouds of pollution rising from the earth. The glittering dress is a copper earthquake. This is what is going on in the world. We need to stop it or the human planet will look like that!”

Two other models walking for Mary Martin London were six footer mother and daughter team Renée and Janeé Knorr. As well as being an international model, Renée is the founder of Global Women Wealth Warriors. “Our ultimate purpose is to help others to become whole in finance and spirituality as well as mental and physical wellbeing.” Based in New Orleans, Renée uses her 14 years’ banking experience to teach financial literacy. She recently told Peachtree TV, “The meaning of being a global woman is to harness beliefs that allow you to soar without any regrets. I am a global impact thought leader in fashion, finance and wellness.” She flew from Tanzania via Dubai to be at the fashion show. “Connecting with the motherland is so important. But I’m grateful to be here right now in London!”

International model, basketball player and burgeoning businessperson Janeé, who is based in Atlanta, added, “Other countries underestimate the power that African fashion has. I watch many top designers at work and when it comes to African designers they truly are about energy and innovation. Mary has that vibrance and power too. I am so proud to be wearing clothes from the latest collection. Her dresses move so beautifully on the catwalk. They’re so elegant yet easy to wear. I’m excited!”

And sure enough, the Divine Intervention Collection is earth shatteringly heavenly. The word “angel” is mentioned 290 times in the Bible. It looked like a few were visiting the human planet as the models glided down the catwalk in a glow of effervescence. Renée did fierce in one of Mary’s famous masks. “This is very appropriate,” she had told us backstage. “We love mask balls in New Orleans!” Janeé strutted her genetically blessed stuff. And then came Aïda Ouro Madeli. Time stood still as she posed in the Ozone Dress. This dress constantly changed colour as it reflected lights and cameras flashing. It appeared to spark and ignite. Mary is all about the metaphor. The Ozone Dress reflected all of us; we are in this together; and we all can have our angelic moments.

Art Fashion People

Africa Fashion Week London 2023 + Portraits

The Fashion Despatches Have Begun

A day at the face track.

Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Design Museum London + The Offbeat Sari

Indian Spring

Unravelling its forms, revealing it as a layered metaphor for the subcontinent, an exhibition at the Design Museum London brings together 90 of the finest saris of our time from designers, craftspeople and wearers in India. The sari is an unstitched drape wrapped around the body; its unfixed form has allowed it to morph and absorb changing cultural influences. Versatility is key: it can be wrapped, knotted, pleated, tucked or divided in two, either highlighting or concealing the body. Contemporary designers are experimenting with hybrid forms such as sari gowns and dresses as well as innovative materials like woven steel and distressed denim.

Curator of The Offbeat Sari exhibition Priya Khanchandani says, “The sari is experiencing what is conceivably its most rapid reinvention in a 5,000 year history. It makes the sari movement one of today’s most important global fashion stories yet little is known of its true nature beyond south Asia. Women in cities who previously associated the sari with dressing up are transforming it into fresh everyday clothing. For me and for so many others, the sari is of personal and cultural significance. It is a rich dynamic canvas for innovation, encapsulating the vitality and eclecticism of Indian culture.”

The most striking piece was made for the billionaire businessperson Natasha Poonawalla to wear to the 2022 New York Met Gala. An embroidered tuile sari with a train designed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee was worn over a gold Schiaparelli bodice, bridging the gap between fashion and sculpture. This was stylist Anaita Shroff Adajania’s interpretation of the Met Gala dress code Gilded Glamour. All bases are covered at this exhibition from haute couture to street fashion. There’s even a sari for rock climbing.

The exhibition isn’t just about the finished products: Ajrakh is an ancient method of hand carved wooden block printing that traditionally uses motifs based on Islamic geometry. Sample blocks are on display. A silk sari may be typically designed using a dozen or more blocks and then will undergo a complex process of printing and dyeing using natural pigments. The Offbeat Sari is yet another revealing fashion exhibition at the Design Museum London.

Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Mary Martin London + Sustainability

Harbour Lights

Back at our home from home, Chelsea Harbour, we catch up with the Queen of Fashion. It’s the eve of Africa Fashion Week London – she’s headlining a catwalk of Africa and the African diaspora’s very finest. Before all the glitz and glamour, funk and fantasy, jazz and pizzazz, Mary talks to us about the serious side of her fashion artistry: sustainability. At the most fundamental level, her clothes are made to last. But there are multiple layers (pun) to her green credentials.

“I care passionately about sustainability, the environment, the climate emergency and nature. My eponymous fashion label Mary Martin London (MML) reflects these passions. MML could easily stand for Materials Made for Life! I also greatly care about Africa and again my clothes reflect this interest. While many of my models are either from Africa or the African diaspora, I employ and attract a diverse talent: one of my first catwalk models was Polish while I also have mature female Irish clients.”

“I am from a family of 13 siblings and am the second youngest of six sisters so as a child I got used to wearing ‘hand me downs’. I would give these fifth hand clothes my own spin by adding individual accessories. I have been collecting old fabrics from the 1970s. I recently bought factory leftovers of linen which I will use for my next collection.”

“My Queen of Africa dress is an aesthetic interpretation of the countryside: the colourway of this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun. My Cecil the Lion dress came about when I heard the tragic news story from Zimbabwe of a lion maimed and killed by a recreational big game hunter. Layers of tulle around the neck and shoulders represent Cecil’s mane. The back of the dress has got the silkiness and fineness of the lion’s body.”

“I also draw and make my own prints. For my first men’s collection, I designed a print called Slaves in the Trees. I researched the Himba Tribe in Namibia and discovered they use a lot of orange face paint and hair mud. Orange is for the vibrance of earth and black is for the unseen missing elements. Orange represents the sun, the happiness outside. The print also commemorates the suffering inflicted during the slave trade.”

“Many of my dresses have historical inspiration which ties in with the sustainable use of recycled materials and reimagining vintage pieces. Last September I organised a fashion shoot of The Return Collection at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This collection was in part inspired by Georgian costume and aristocracy. Except in my imagination the black models are now the reigning grand aristocracy! The Grand Staircase and Durbar Court provided the perfect backdrop for these extravagant clothes. The collection reuses sequins from old costumes.”

“I continue to research and look for new methods to reinvent old materials in exciting ways. My passion for sustainability, the environment, the climate emergency, nature and of course Africa drives me to be ever more creative, stretching my imagination and skills. I make clothes to last: they represent the antithesis of the throwaway culture. Mary Martin London is all about making the world a better, more exciting and more caring place for current and future generations.”

Design Fashion People

Pavlo + Piccadilly London

Always in Season

London Fashion Week has barely ended before Africa Fashion Week London begins. Just enough time for a shoot with Pavlo in the park. It’s the September and October issue really.

Art Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Nate Freeman + The London Edition Hotel Punch Room Fitzrovia London

The Second Age of Umber

“You must not ever stop being whimsical.” Staying Alive by Mary Oliver, 2016.

When New Yorker Nate Freeman, ArtTactic podcaster and Vanity Fair writer, comes to town where does he go and what does he do? Why, he fills the Punch Room in The London Edition with 100 of the capital’s brightest. Punch and conversation flow while supper is served. Gruyere and thyme tartlets and tuna kimchi seaweed canapés to be precise. Waving goodbye to Nate and the revellers, the following morning it’s the Sheraton Grand Park Lane Hotel for Women Leading Real Estate. And for breakfast? Canapés of course.

“And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life.” Still Staying Alive by Mary Oliver, 2016.

Art Design Luxury People Restaurants

The Portrait Restaurant St Martin’s Place London + Richard Corrigan

The Artists as Youngish Men

Chop chop! Who’s slicing and dicing and spicing the veg? Grand Chef Richard Corrigan himself. Next thing he’s marching over to our table: “Here’s mash to celebrate being Irish!” There’s mash and there’s Made in The Portrait by Richard Corrigan Mash. Its sunny complexion is what Nancy Lancaster would call “buttah yellah”. Picture perfect. The best olive oiled potato money can buy and even better when it’s on the (pent) house. Funday Sunday set lunch is best eaten while floating above the Mary Poppins roofscape over Trafalgar Square in a cloud of fervent luxury.

Richard’s menu is imaginative and concise with just four or five options per course. Keeping it vegetarian, today’s choices for lunch are burrata (peach, fennel, pistachio), conchigliette (cauliflower, Spenwood) and goat’s milk ice cream (English cherries, Riesling). This top floor new restaurant really is the English cherry on the icing on the cake that is the revamped National Portrait Gallery. Chop chop! It’s time to go dancing.

Architects Architecture Art Design People Town Houses

Asamhaus + Asamkirche Munich

The Maximalists

It’s amazing what Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam managed to pack into just 176 square metres of Munich cityspace. Visual feast … aesthetic wonder … treasure trove … dusting nightmare … phrases fail to fully describe the interior of Asamkirche. This is late baroque at its most brilliant. Built as a private chapel adjoining Asamhaus, their home next door, after popular demand the brothers opened it to the public.

Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin were two of the nine children of Hans Georg Asam, the wealthy resident painter of Benediktbeuem Abbey in Upper Bavaria. The brothers were apprentices under their father. Their talents were perfectly complementary: Cosmas Damian worked as a painter and sculptor; Egid Quirin, as architect, stuccodore and sculptor. The pair took on many public commissions but it is at Asamkirche, which they dedicated to St John of Nepomuk, that they had free rein to go wild. And wild they went.

The façade of Asamhaus can be seen along Sendlingerstrasse but Asamkirche is today shrouded in scaffolding. That makes the interior come as an even bigger surprise. It’s a 1740s visual tornado of painted cherubs and gold plated skeletons and barley twist columns, stuccoed and frescoed and marbleised to within a square millimetre of its life. Words don’t do it justice, but Gesamtkunstwerk goes some way.