Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, January 30, 2012

How To Travel Five Star on a One-Star Budget

Before we explore the secret sides to London, I'll like to offer some tips on how to travel cheaply. Admittedly, I'm not as skilled at this Travel On A Shoe String Thing as my frugal parents, but I've picked up a few tips over the years. You lovely readers will probably have a lot of ideas as well, since most of you love to travel too, so just drop me a comment and I'll add it to the list.

1. TRAVEL ON A TUESDAY. Or a Thursday. These days are usually significantly cheaper than other days because business people don't travel as much as they do on Mondays or Fridays. Same goes for hotel rooms. Always cheaper mid-week. I almost always fly on a Tuesday now.

2. IF YOU'RE FLEXIBLE WITH DAYS, RESEARCH WHETHER YOUR DESTINATION IS CHEAPER WEEKDAYS OR WEEKENDS. Some cities are more expensive on weekdays, and cheaper on weekends. New York, for one, is cheaper earlier in the week (Tuesdays, especially.) Miami, on the other hand, is more expensive on weekends – like many of those destinations that people fly to for the weekend. Paris is also more expensive on weekends. It becomes cheaper on Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. BOOK YOUR OWN FLIGHTS FOR THE BEST PRICES. If you're not used to travelling, go with a travel agent. Otherwise, shop around online. I use One year I flew to London return for A$900. And get on email lists, so you know when good deals come up. At the moment there's a price war to the US. You can fly to NY return for $900 or so (plus $200 or so taxes).

4. JOIN A FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAM. You'll be able to accumulate points towards free flights, use airport lounges and be first in line when upgrades become available. We're with United / Star Alliance. I know United isn't as highly regarded as, say, Singapore Airlines but I love them. LOVE THEM. I check in via First Class, occasionally get free upgrades to Business, and last time I flew home from NY they let me check in the 72 kilos of books I've bought at Strand bookstore. For free. They're always lovely, professional, kind and willing to help with problems. Such as excess book baggage. Gotta love a FF program. Some people dismiss them, but they're better than you think.

5. IF YOU REALLY NEED SOME EXTRA ASSISTANCE OR EXTRA ROOM, DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK. (NICELY.) I've had countless times where this has happened. One year I had to fly to Europe to interview a member of a royal family (virtually as soon as I stepped off the plane), so I quietly asked the cabin manager if I might have two seats somewhere at the back of the plane to get some sleep? (I did say the BACK of the plane.) The lovely manager proceeded to move some poor guy out of a seat and let me have three seats in a row. And yes, I felt guilty – especially in front of an almost full Economy Class who were glaring at me! And I'm not sure I'd do it again. But it was incredibly kind of them. The same goes for when you need a larger room in a hotel (such a family room), or a room with a bath. If it's late in the day and there's a room free, ask nicely and they might just upgrade you.

6. DON'T BOOK A HOTEL DIRECTLY THROUGH THE HOTEL. They'll just give you an expensive 'Rack Rate'. Go through someone like,,, etc, for better deals. If you can be bothered doing it, take the "better deal" and go back to the hotel with it. They may match it.


8. CHECK CANCELLATION FEES. I once came across a hotel in Nantucket that had a 6-week cancellation-fee policy! WTF?

9. DON'T GET AIRPORT TAXIS. Most airports have shuttle buses or trains to the city that are half or even one-quarter of taxi fares. (Catch JFK's shuttle at Grand Central Station for $20.) Research before you go. Wouldn't you rather save the $50-$100 and spend it on shoes when you get there?

10. IF YOU DO WANT TRANSPORT, RESEARCH PRIVATE CAR COMPANIES. You can usually find a limo company that will pick you up from JFK for $80 or so. If you're a group of 4, it works out the same as getting the bus.

11. TRAVEL IN SHOULDER SEASON IF YOU CAN. It's the 'in-between' period, when fewer people travel. But the weather's usually fine and hotel rates are cheaper too. We usually travel in May or September/October.

12. INVESTIGATE THE IDEA OF RENTING A BEACH HOUSE. Even hotels are now offering private beach houses as part of their menu of rooms. Hayman Island, for example, has just installed beach houses for families who want the extra space. The sublimely designed Beach House (above and top image) is part of the Coral Sands Hotel on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. {Via Coral Sands} Wouldn't you rather be here than in a hotel room?

13. DON'T THINK TRAVEL IS EXPENSIVE. Not everywhere is like Australia! For example, if you're going to New York, look at side trips to Mexico and the Mayan ruins and resorts of the Yucatán Peninsula (very IN right now) as flights to Cancun are often just $60 through JetBlue. Or Nantucket island ($100), or even Miami ($80). If you're flying halfway across the world, make the most of it when you get there. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Heels v Flats, Glamour v Life

I'd like to deviate from the usual Library discussions, if I may. I'd like to chat about shoes. I know not everybody has an obsession with shoes, but there are Things That Need To Be Said.

Let's begin. What was going on with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, her bodyguard and those shoes the other day???

For those of you outside of Australia who missed it, our prime minister was suddenly caught in a potentially 'dangerous' situation during an Australia Day protest in the nation's capital this week. (I've used quotation marks because Canberra's hardly a dangerous place, is it? I mean, it's not Kabul.) Fearing her safety, her extraordinarily good-looking security guy – a guy who looked like he should have been in CSI New York  – grabbed the PM in a Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston/Bodyguard-style clench and LIFTED her off her feet! The security guy, who had the rather un-CSI name of Humphrey, then CARRIED the PM through the fracas and into a waiting car. Have a look at the image that was splashed all over the papers this week...

Now I don't know about you, but I think they look a little... friendly? In fact,  I think Ms Julia Gillard looks HAPPY to be Humphrey's arms? If the police weren't behind them, I'd think they were on their way to the Moonlight Cinema for a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Here's a closer shot.

What the media focused on the most, though, was not the complexion, the jawline or the pecs of this glaringly handsome gentleman, or even the danger the PM might have been in (what? a grope?), but the fact that poor Jules LOST HER SHOE! Yes, that's what we care about in this country, my dear readers. SHOES.

So now we get to the point. Jules' lost shoe was a wedge heel. Suede. Navy. Rather nice, actually.

But forget the fact that it was lost. What this shoe showed was that Jules is a smart woman. 'Cos wedges are comfortable. They come off easily when you're lifted into the air by a man called Humphrey.  Although I would have preferred to have seen her do a little Humphrey huggin' in these navy polka dot numbers:

Finding stylish but comfortable shoes is a lifelong problem for most women. I've spent 20 years trying to search for The Perfect Shoe. The Perfect FLAT shoe. Because heels don't cut it when you're travelling. (Or running countries, for that matter, as Julia might attest to.) Ballet flats were in for a while, but even they had their issues, namely lack of support and an awkward fit.  (I once spent a week in Paris wearing ballets. Every night I'd come home from racing around the city on photo shoots and sit in the bottom of the hotel shower, tearfully wiping the blood and blisters from my swollen ankles. )

The thing is, it's so important to wear comfortable shoes! Our ankles can't take 5-inch heels once we pass 40 years of age. My feet have had 20 years of 5-inch heels. They're now crying out for flats. But do you think I can find stylish ones? I'd have a better chance of doing the deed with Humphrey!

This is a selection of the high heels I used to wear to work:

Then I became a freelance writer and photographer. This is a selection of the shoes I wore for a number of years while travelling and lugging suitcases and cameras around the world:

Now I'm a stay-at-home author. Who gardens. And renovates. And walks the dogs. What do you think I wear most of the time now?

Yes, that's right – wellies. I love them. Loooove them.  And these Joules ones especially. They're cheaper and prettier than Hunters, they look good with jeans or jodhpurs and you can toss them on when you're going to the shops without fearing that you'll be pulled over by the Aesthetically Correct Squad.

But there's a problem. You can wear wellies – or their urban counterpart, boots – when it's winter, but when it's summer you need another option. And flip flops are not really acceptable, not when you're going to an appointment, meeting a friend, going out for dinner or boarding a plane.

So this is my question. Why, when there are 7 billion or so people in the world, can we not design a shoe that is low-heeled, comfortable, easy on the feet, and STYLISH???


Friday, January 27, 2012

Orange You Glad Orange Is In?

I adore orange. The scent. The drink. The idea of a walled orchard with nothing but Citrus × ​sinensis trees, blooming white in spring. And I love the colour on some people. And in some places. Marrakech medinas, for example. And Palm Beach in summer. (See Elle's gorgeously sexy frock below.) Orange is tropical. Fresh. Flirty. Romantic. It's the colour of candlelight. And sorbet. And the Palm Springs sun. It brings to mind summer nights and sun-kissed skin and cocktails with giant paper umbrellas balancing on top.

In saying this, it's something of a perennial colour.  It comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. It's not an evergreen, like white, or blue. As such, I don't know how much media saturation (if you'll forgive the colour pun) Pantone is going to get out of its Tangerine Tango forecast this year. Just how much blood can we squeeze out of this design orange? I mean, how much tangerine tango IS there in fashion and interior design. Or perhaps a more pertinent question is: How much tangerine tango can we take for twelve months?

The thing is, orange is one of those colours that sneaks up and seduces you with its wit, charm, and humorous take on life. It's like Hugh Grant. It's a colour cad that's never around for long but it's fun when it does appear. So I suspect tangerine might take us all by surprise this year. I was watching that poignant Parisian episode of Sex and the City last night (An American Girl in Paris, Part Deux), and there was a fabulous bright orange panelled wall in one of the scenes with Aleksandr Petrovsky. It immediately made me want to repaint our summer library in a cheeky mandarin shade.

Orange as a decorating refresher ... This is Windsor Smith's master bathroom, where she has given a gilt Louis XVI console an injection of modernity with orange Hermès boxes, a vintage Gucci bag and a fabulous 1950's fashion photograph. The orange doesn't overwhelm or dominate the scene but enhances it and lifts it up from being a purely all-white place. {Via House Beautiful}

Punch drunk... A striped orange banquette in the corner of The Dunmore's dining room on Harbour Island (formerly The Dunmore Beach Club) looks immediately inviting – ready for a Bloody Mary breakfast to counteract the big night you had at The Landing restaurant the evening before! The picture frames really pull this whole scene together and make it whimsical, fresh and fun. Very Harbour Island. {Via The Dunmore}

Orange with a twist... A bathroom in the Vernon Pantone suite of the Maidstone Hotel in the Hamptons is full of punch and glamour, although it's toned down by the layers of white. Some of the orange touches in this room include an orange blanket on the bed, Torbogen print paper by Wohnzimmer, and Benjamin Moore’s Outrageous Orange paint in the ensuite. {Via Maidstone}

Slices of orange... A corner of one of our guest bedrooms is an ode to orange, or  more correctly – to Penguin classics. It's such an unusual colour for a series, isn't it? I wonder if Penguin has trademarked it like Tiffany has done with its pale blue shade? The vintage French garden chair was spray painted to match and the taffeta fabric was bought in Paris for some incredibly cheap price – 10 euros/metre, I think? I simply sewed some tangerine bobbles on the edge to tie it all together. 

Mango glow... Pumpkin-coloured towels in a country bathroom make this space warm and engaging. {Via Sunset}

Bright with white... The sublime saffron-and-white palette of the Mondrian Hotel in LA. Like Liza Minelli, the Mondrian LA is still great after all these years. {Via Mondrian}

A desert orange... The Parker Meridien Palm Springs uses splashes of desert orange liberally throughout the interior, including the famous front door. Top image is also from the Parker Meridien. {Via Parker Meridien}

Champagne as decorating inspiration... Designer Maureen Footer painted the inside of her client's kitchen cabinets in Veuve Clicquot orange because he was a bit of a bon vivant whose signature pour was Champagne. What a fantastic idea. She suggesting coating the paint with beeswax for an antique look, but I think high gloss would be just as glamorous. {Image via House Beautiful}

Exotic orange... I always thought orange looked beautiful with something unexpected, such as zebra stripes. The top image was a small Hermès box I bought in Paris (I couldn't afford a big one!), and loved the colour so much I photographed it before I opened it. My handbag just happened to be behind it, and as it turned out, I loved the combination as much as the box. Other people seem to like it too. Look at how glam it looks here, in the image below. {Via Domino}

More Hermès orange here:... Hermès' gorgeous orange pencil shaving pillows {Via Decorati}

A corner of our orange-and-pink guestroom. My partner complained that there wasn't enough colour in our black-and-white-themed house. So I cobbled this together one day, thinking he would hate it and we could happily return to our monochromatic lives. But instead he loved it, and now sneaks down here for his afternoon siesta. Sometimes, when I'm not around, he'll even put mismatching sheets on the bed, just to add more colour. I think he was born in a circus??

Orange as stripes... Paul Smith's signature stripes are usually seen inside his suits but here they look surprisingly stylish as a wallpaper decorating the hall of a Hague apartment. Doesn't it remind you of sweet bon-bons? I once saw this wallpaper stretched over a five-storey staircase in a tiny boutique hotel called the Hotel d'Angleterre in Versailles. It made the staircase fantastically dramatic and also a little cheeky and upbeat. You couldn't help but feel happy when you walked up it. {Image via}

Designers Guild's boldly striped wallpaper in Arafura geranium. Imagine this in a powder room Or a craft room?

And Les Toiles du Soleil's French canvas fabric in Mogador-Rouge, a beautiful orange-and-pink stripe  for a beautifully bright armchair or deckchair.

And some more orange inspiration...

 Carrie in Sex and the City 2

Elle in Sydney this summer...

And a Marrakech mediana, where we hope to be next year...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Secret New York, Part 2

Manhattan's so magnificent, it really needs a series of posts to do the place justice. Strike that. It needs an entire blog. Unfortunately, there's not enough space here to adequately cover all the fabulous destinations in this urban fantasy of a city, so I'll try and bullet-point those that I love the most, in the hope that you'll love them, too.

Assouline's first US bookstore is an elegant little boutique tucked away on the mezzanine of The Plaza hotel. Now if you haven't been to The Plaza for tea, here's a good excuse to go. The hotel's interior is deservedly famous, but the bookstore is the really gorgeous part. Filled with Assouline's signature glossy coffee-table titles on fashion, photography, travel, and society, the store also carries unusual titles, ideas and gifts for the fussy bibliophone. I love the display of vintage editions (I found an old Jackie O book here), plus the Goyard trunks (Wallis Simpson's fav), and the Slim Aaron photographs – all for sale at Manhattanesque prices. But the browsing is free. {Photograph from my own collection.} Mezzanine level of Plaza, 768 Fifth Avenue, New York.

Okay, so it's not secret, but it deserves a mention because not enough tourists know about this gem. Most people do Saks and Bergdorf Goodman but I prefer Henri Bendel: it's intimate and exquisite and the window displays are always sublime. The petite interior is a little like a doll's house department store, the shopping is fabulous (look for cute gifts in the 'mini Henri Bendel store' to the left of the entrance) and the atmosphere is lively and fun. {Photographs from my own collection.} 712 Fifth Avenue, New York

Great for photography lovers, the ICP always has good exhibitions, but the main reason for going is the fantastic gift store. I'm always buying cute gifts here – books, mobile/cell phone holders that look like Leica cameras, key rings with tiny cameras on them (complete with working flashes), charming journals and notebooks... A real New York find. {Images of Joan Crawford from current exhibition 'Magnum Contact Sheets'} 1114 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street.

I stayed at The Ace just after it opened in order to shoot it for a book on hotels. It was noisy, and full of workman and debris. But this was the view of the Empire State from my room. Do you think I cared about workmen? Since then it's achieved lots of media for its private school-style interior (lots of tartan, leather club chairs, books, science lab-style cabinets and quirky graffiti wallpaper). It's worth a peek – the bar is funky and the restrooms are as quirky as the reception – but it's the Stumptown cafe that I love. A truly amazing interior with a old library feel, music from a turntable and baristas dressed in vintage chic (Stumptown shops do vintage like no one else) – plus reaaaaallly good coffee, it's as fascinating as the rest of the hotel. {Photograph from my own collection.} 20 West 29th Street, New York.

John Derian's store is like those wonderful, old-fashioned general stores that have long since disappeared. I suspect the 'look' is deliberate. Even the sister store next door is called 'Dry Goods'. Full of trestle tables loaded with whimsical things, from Derian's famous decoupage plates (I love the ones with writing and leaves) to quirky vintage finds (I bought lots of postcards), it's a place for linger for ages. It's difficult to find, but oh, so worthwhile when you do. And don't miss the Dry Goods store next door too. {Photograph from my own collection.} 6 E. 2nd Street, New York.

A former mansion, this grand Upper East Side New York residence was converted to an impressive museum several years ago, but the extraordinary architecture and interiors are still intact. I often pop in just to stare at the staircase. And the gift store is one of the best in the city. {Image via Elle Decor} 1048 Fifth Avenue, New York.

It's far from being a secret, but Balthazar still needs to be mentioned on any Must-See List. This gorgeous French bistro has so much ambience, it could teach its Parisians counterparts a thing or two! Sometimes it's difficult to get into for lunch, so try brunch or an early dinner. The people watching is as good as the interior design. {Photograph from my own collection.} 80 Spring Street, New York.

Schiller's is the kind of New York bar you expect (or hope) to find in New York: slightly retro with loads of ambiance and a classic Manhattan interior. {Photograph from my own collection} 131 Rivington Street, New York.

I love the Flatiron area. The Flatiron building itself has long been one of New York's icons, but the neighbourhood is now fast becoming a creative haven of intriguing boutiques, quirky hotels (the Ace, for one), new media/architecture/design companies and great homewares stores. When you get weary from visiting them all, stop and rest your aching feet here, at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Now I must admit I can never be bothered waiting in line (you should see the queues some days), so I often sit in the park and watch New Yorkers at play. The park is a lovely pocket of greenery, and if you can get to the Shake Shack, the food is great, too. {Photograph from my own collection.} Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street.

If you loved seeing the architecture of Carrie's building in SATC, then head to the Upper East Side, where these brownstones are in glorious abundance. The irony is, the fictional apartment building was meant to be located at 245 East 73rd Street (it's not really there), but the 'real' apartment building shot for the series and film is actually further downtown at 66 Perry Street (between Bleecker and West 4th). However, the Upper East Side and particularly the area around East 73rd Street is a better gallery of these architectural gems.  {Photograph from my own collection.}

The spectacularly beautiful Gramercy Park is a private park, meaning only local residents have the key. But if you stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel you can have guest access. It's a great benefit as the park is one of the best in the city. Charlotte Devree in the New York Times commented that "There is nothing else quite like Gramercy Park in the country". I agree. Oh – and the hotel's pretty gorgeous, too. {Photograph from Wikipedia by BeyondMyKen} 2 Lexington Avenue, New York.

One of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in New York is that surrounding Gramercy Park, and the street New Yorkers call the 'Block Beautiful' is just that: extraordinary. The block actually covers East 19th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue, but you can wander around anywhere here really and be rewarded with architectural eye candy. There are also some pretty glam residents – Karl Lagerfeld has an apartment here and Jennifer Aniston is reportedly trying to buy one too. {Photograph from Wikipedia by BeyondMyKen}

The brilliant idea of two super-creative French guys who first cut their retail teeth with a store in Grasse, this beautifully scented emporiom-ette is a place for those who want their own signature fragrance. And let's face it – who wouldn't love their own custom-made scent? Just take along a list of your favourite scents – or be inspired by theirs – and they'll whip up your own elegant creation, which no one else will have. What a superb idea. (Image via Veranda magazine} 233 Elizabeth Street, New York.


Elegant garden and home wear chosen by Bunny Williams and John Rosselli. Just lovely.
1015 Lexington Avenue, New York.

Lucy Barnes makes flirty frocks. She also makes sexy ones. And seductive ones. And ones that could pick up a billionaire in St Barts all by themselves. But the Scottish designer doesn't just do sexy. She also does sweet, summery, cute and lovely. Anthropologie fell in love with her difusion line so much the company asked to stock it in its stores. Think silk skirts, satin-lined lace tops, and silk halters. All entirely irresistible. 320 West 14th Street, New York.

I often come here just to browse through Madeline Weinrib’s amazing rugs, but there's so much else to see. Ten floors of it, to be exact. Antiques, textiles, furniture, and bedding. Often exhausting but fab nonetheless. 888 & 881 Broadway at East 19th Street (Flatiron District), New York. 

An interior designer with a great eye, Steven's store is always stocked with great vintage finds, from the divine to the sublime and even the witty and whimsical. 44 White Street, New York.

The decorator's decorator, Mr Bland is far from what his name suggests. In fact, his store is filled with brilliant buys, including stunning pieces from the 18th century to the present. 1262 Madison Avenue, New York.

Unusual name; great store. Lovely mirrors with beautiful patinas, great lighting (including old industrial fixtures) and other spectacular pieces make this a good source of interior ideas and buys. 613 Hudson Street, New York.

A gallery of button loveliness. So fantastic, you start to wonder if you should be unpicking all your dull old buttons and replacing them with cute ones from here. Also sweet trimmings and other decorating things. 143 E. 62nd Street, New York.

Lots of fashion insiders come here for their wardrobes. It's a boutique specialising in second-hand designer wear and shoes, but it's like no second-hand place I've ever seen. It's more of a boutique with 'gently worn' things. And Ina knows her Balenciagas from her Tom Ford. One of the best places in the city to grab a designer bargain. 21 Prince Street, New York.

Designer goodies from Gucci to Louboutin, all at spectacularly reduced prices. It's an outlet but its stock is as fancy as!  225 1st Avenue, New York.

Fancy a mani or a pedi while sipping on a martini? The Beauty Bar obliges. This 1950's-style beauty parlour offers a little tipple to those who come in and get their bits beautified. Such a splendid idea. Great before going out for the night! And only $10!  231 East 14th Street, New York.


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