Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Books, Old Bookstores and a Festival for Book Lovers


If you happen to be in New York today or tomorrow (May 1 or 2), and you love books, head for the beautiful but recently shuttered storefront of Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th Street for a special final sale.

Although the facade has been boarded up since April 11 following an unsuccessful bid to save the building, the bookstore is holding an all-out sale from 11am to 7pm Thursday, May 1, and Friday, May 2, in which new design, architecture, art, fashion, and photography books will be discounted by 50%

It will also be a chance for Rizzoli lovers to say goodbye to this glorious place, the interior of which is the most beautiful bookstore in the world. 

Oh, Rizzoli, we will miss you.


Closer to home, the annual Clunes Booktown festival is approaching this weekend, May 3 and 4. Set in the historic old goldmining town where they filmed Max Mad, the festival offers a chance to pick up a huge range of gorgeous books, from vintage and new, for very low prices. I found a few Chanel books here for $10 - $20. And the architecture of this town (a well-kept secret) is worth a wander too. 



Those who love Paris and the tea salons of Maison Ladurée will adore a new book that details the interiors and inspiration behind each of these exquisitely outfitted cafes. 

From Madame Pompadour to the Empress Eugénie and Madeleine Castaing (whose former home is now, fittingly, a Ladurée), the book is a sumptuous look at both the decorating styles and the elegant details. Interior designers will love it. There's even a 3D pop-up/fold-out tea salon to amuse your inner girl. 

Decorating and Inspiration: Ladurée. Published by Chene. $49.


If you can't afford a vintage copy of Cecil Beaton's much-loved book The Glass of Fashion (above), which sells for $500, a new version is being being re-released soon by Rizzoli. The cover artwork is lovely – perhaps not quite like the old Beaton covers, but beautiful nonetheless. Cecil loved a splash of red.

The Glass of Fashion: A Personal History of Fifty Years of Changing Tastes and the People Who Have Inspired Them. Written by Cecil Beaton, Foreword by Hugo Vickers. Rizzoli. $29.95.


I have recently finished writing/rewriting a book I've been working on for three years. THREE years! Don't ever become an author. Truly. No one sane would do this job... Especially when, just as soon as you parcel up one manuscript, you have to begin another...

This is the start of a new book. A lovely book, which I've been looking forward to working on for many months. As you can probably guess, it's going to be a fun project. The ribbons are from a previous book but the paints are for this new project. I get to do watercolours for this one!

On the other side of the study, however, is a scary sight. So scary, we have commissioned a builder to build enormous floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to create a formal library, so our house doesn't look like a frightening pile of leaning spines. (There are lots more leaning piles like this one.) The lovely builder, Pete, and I spent an hour recently measuring dozens of book spines, from B-sized novels to architecture tomes, to ascertain the varying shelf heights. 

It will take a while for the cabinet maker to create the library, and then a few days for Pete to install it, along with a new wall and shelves for another (upstairs) study/library area. Not sure how much it's going to cost, so I'm starting to recalculate the budget for this forthcoming business trip. Might be backpacking all the way?!

(PS If you've emailed me, please forgive me for the delay. As you can see there's a lot going on, with builders and books and suitcases/bags (actually the bags are under the eyes), and I'm not even sure what day it is half the time. But I promise to reply.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wild About Gardens

We've been madly getting our garden into order before the Australian winter sets in. I'm also going away on an important OS business trip, having postponed it because I had to finish rewriting a book, and — like many women trying to juggle too much — have been worried about leaving while the garden still has work to be done before winter comes. 

Today, we put a new path through the purple flower beds, cleaned up all the white geraniums in the white garden and moved three crabapples and a bare-rooted Tilia Cordata (my favourite tree) to a new little copse in a corner. I couldn't bring myself to prune the roses though. It's probably way overdue, but how do you? Especially when the Charles de Gaulles are blooming their biggest blooms yet. 

Gardening... I don't think I'll ever get the hang of it.

If you're multi-tasking too much, like me, here's some lush, new-season inspiration to keep you going through the horticultural ups and downs.

(Above: Oscar de la Renta dress from this year's S/S 2014 collection.)


One of Australia's foremost gardeners, Paul Bangay is now giving private tours of his country home, Stonefields. So you don't have to wait every two years to see the garden.

Details are here: link
Or here:


Highgrove, meanwhile, has just re-opened for the 2014 season. If you haven't yet seen HRH Prince Charles' garden, then do try to join a tour. It's particularly pretty in spring.

Details here: link
Or here:


Have you read this incredible book yet? It's one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen, with intricately embroidered garden plans of Monk House's garden, where Leonard and Virginia Woolf lived and wrote. 

Caroline Zoob is the author (and embroiderer). Such a talent. I hope she wins a publishing award for it.


Another beautiful book that all my friends are reading. It's sad and uplifting at the same time. And yes, there's a death. But I dare not say any more.


If you're heading to England this summer and touring the south coast, be sure to visit Su Blackwell's lovely exhibition 'Beyond The Book'. What Su does with old second-hand books she finds in old second-hand bookshops is astounding. (Yes, I know some people hate any form of paper desecration, but look at this garden. Isn't it sublime?)  Top image is also from Su Blackwell.

Showing at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey, until June 8.


There are lots of website touting the French Riviera as being THE place to be this summer. (Hasn't it always been high on The List?) Ralph Lauren certainly seems to think so. His team has also headed down to the palm trees and lush gardens of the South of France for its latest campaign. I've just received the new RL magazine in the mail and it's the most evocative one yet. 

Better yet, they've posted a handy guide to the region online, here: link

Or here:


Someone else who thinks the French Riviera is going to be hot (fashionably speaking) is Woody Allen. His upcoming film, Magic in the Moonlight, is a 1920's romantic comedy set on the French Riviera. 

It co-stars our own Jacki Weaver, but here's Colin Firth with some horticultural eye candy behind. Woody Allen may be hoping that Magic does as well as his recent French film Midnight in Paris. The latter was his top grossing film.


A recent purchase, this book is as thick as a brick in one of Vita's walls, and packed with interesting titbits. Written by Sarah Raven, who married into the family and now lives at Sissinghurst with her own family, it looks at how Vita created her now-famous garden, the heirloom roses she saved and how the garden continues to evolve over the years. 

When our little Garden Tour group was at Marylyn Abbott's garden, West Green House in England, last May, I overheard Marylyn chatting to Troy Scott Smith, the man who had, just the week prior, taken over Sissinghurst's job of head gardener. He had popped into West Green for a visit, and seemed very calm about taking on what The Telegraph newspaper referred to as "the greatest job in gardening". I lingered nearby, and had a brief conversation with Marylyn just so I didn't look like I was, well, lingering nearby.  Troy is only the sixth head gardener at Sissinghurst, after Vita, Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger, Sarah Cook and Alexis Datta. There's a wonderful article about Troy Scott Smith's new role here.
Or here:

 Hermès has also gone outside, to the garden, for its latest fashion campaign, called Metamorphosis.


I had an email last week from Tory Burch's team, who are working on a new book and wanted to use my image of the intricate treillage work at Versailles. 

It reminded me that treillage is coming back into gardening fashion with a vengeance. If you want to see some superb examples, wander the bosquets in the gardens of Versailles, or head straight for the newly restored Pavillion Frais (above). Just incredible.


I've been wanting to visit Beatrix Potter's garden, Hill Top Farm in the Lakes District, which so many people have recommended over the years, but haven't quite made it there yet. It's on The List for this year. 

In the meantime, I've just bought this new book from Timber Press, about the plants and places that inspired the author, who was as much a gardener as she was a writer. If you haven't read her biography yet either, it's also lovely: she was a woman very much ahead of her time.


And finally, the search for the perfect gardening smock continues. Here's one I discovered on Pinterest, but have found a lot more, and will be doing a post on them soon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Travelling Cheaply, Part 2: Apartments in Paris & London

Thanks for the lovely emails offering more travel tips. 
If you're heading to Paris and London this month (or next month for the Chelsea Flower Show), here are a few more destinations to help you save the $$$. 

King Street apartment, Covent Garden, London

Utter luxury in the heart of London, from just £273/night.

La Belle Notre Dame apartment, Paris

Pretty two-bedroom, two-bath delight, located on rue d'Arcole (next to the Notre Dame), 
right in the centre of Paris.

Voltaire apartment, Paris

Design, space and savings in one.
 Adore the dining room.

Louvre – Pont Neuf Apartment

A rooftop terrace to sip your coffee in the sun, ample room for the family, and a short walk from everything. (Photo at top of post is also the Louvre-Pont Neuf apartment.)

Le Bonaparte Apartment, Paris

Chic digs on the stylish Left Bank. 
Perfect for a single traveller or couple.

Studio on St Germain des Près

Tight, but totally charming. 
And a lovely location (rue de Furstenberg), from just A$243/night. (Sleeps 4)

How To Travel, Cheaply

Readers write the loveliest emails. This week I received half a dozen notes from some truly inspiring women. One was off to live in London for the summer and autumn months. (I've done that before and desperately wish I could do it again.) Another had borrowed a friend's house in the South of France for a little while. She was reading the Provence book, and hearing the excitement in her emails made me wish I was returning to the Riviera again this year. Oh for the money (and time) to be able to travel in such style!

Some people are really bad at travel. They whinge and grumble about everything. Most of us realise travel is difficult at times, but the thrill of seeing new places should always overcome the displacement. Even in my darkest hours, when I've stood on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris and cried tears of weariness; when I've flown into a hurricane in the Bahamas (on the last flight into Nassau before the airport closed) and wondered if I'd ever get home?; when I've wandered a snowy road in Denmark and felt a homesickness for Australia that was so deep it caused my heart to ache, I've never regretted travelling. Never. 

Even this morning, while trying to book / rebook an international flight (having postponed a trip that really needs to be done) and failing, and then having to ring overseas five times to chase the refund (FIVE times; from Australia!), and then announcing to my partner that I was NEVER getting on another plane again, I knew in my heart there were lots of rewarding places I still wanted to explore.

Over the years, friends have given me great tips on ways to lighten the travel experience. So here are a few, to keep you inspired and motivated, too.


My parents, who travel the globe like the rest of us have cups of tea, rarely return to the same place twice. It's my father's philosophy, and it's a good one. If you always tread the old London-Paris-Italy-New York routes, think about seeing somewhere new. Go somewhere you've never been. 

We're trying to get to Raja Ampat (above) before it explodes with tourism. My niece just returned from Costa Rica. When today's papers announced that "Sri Lanka is the new Bali" I thought: Oh no, there goes another place I've missed, and now it's too late! 

But it's never too late to get off the beaten track and find the side roads of life.

So if you always do London, you could take a train to Bath one day to see the Fashion Museum (above). 

And if you always go to New York for business you could stay an extra few days and get a $100 JetBlue flight to Nantucket island. (Beautiful.) Or hire a car to explore Sharon Springs (site of the Beekman Boys' famously beautiful store) and the villages of nearby Connecticut. 

And if you always go to Paris, you could hire a bike for a day and ride around the gardens of Versailles. Or explore Normandy, and Chateau Brecy, Giverny and Le Musée Christian Dior

And if you always fly through Singapore or Bangkok you could tack on a week and hop across to Angkor Wat, or the equally astonishing Borobudur, above. (Bangkok Air often have $20 flights.) 


If you rack up the dollars before your trip has started, your stress levels will diminish the joy of the forthcoming departure. Find affordable hotels and reasonable flights, and you'll be much happier about heading out. When I gently warned one reader that she may find her Riviera hotel a little austere, she was unperturbed. It saved money for a few days, she said, and the location was perfect. Wise woman.

Two of the lovely women from last year's garden tour are keen to do further tours and so I've been trying to find hotels. There are SO many beautiful places for less than $200/n. Try for great deals, or travel a month either before or after peak season (ie May is often cheaper than June). 

If you're looking for some affordable hotels, here's a good list to start with, below. (NB If you need some luxe, book into an expensive place for one night every week; for the other 6 nights save the $$$.)


The Marlton, Greenwich Village—
The Jade, Greenwich Village —
The Night Hotel, Times Square —
The Roger Hotel, Midtown —

(Note: Do ensure you research hotels in London as some places don't suit everyone)

The Dorset Square Hotel, Marylebone —‎
The Gore Hotel, South Kensington —
The Ambersand, South Kensington
The Rockwell, Kensington —
The Cranley, South Kensington —
The Main House, Notting Hill —
The Spitalfields Townhouse —
La Suite West, Bayswater —
The Fielding Hotel, Covent Garden –
Fox Club, Mayfair —
The Grazing Goat, Marylebone (not as cheap as it once was, but still pretty) —


Don't assume travel has to be expensive. Even the traditionally expensive long-haul routes, say from Australia to London or New York, can be had for half-price. 

Research and compare fares on,, or one of the other travel sites.

Sometimes there even will be airlines trying out new routes for very cheap prices. For example, while trying to find a flight to Denmark recently, I noticed Norwegian Air are now clearly going into competition with Ryan Air and flying direct from NY to Copenhagen, as well as many other routes, for half the price of the other carriers. It's a great way to see Scandinavia for very little.

If you're criss-crossing the US, try low-cost airlines such as JetBlue for cheap deals rather than bigger airlines such as United or Virgin. 

Or consider breaking up your long-haul flight by grabbing a cheap Jetstar flight to Singapore ($300 return from Australia at the moment) or Hong Kong, then picking up one of the top-tier carriers such as Singapore Airlines from there to your final destination.

Sri Lanka Airlines flies from Singapore to London for just $900, and you can often get a free stopover for a day or two in Colomb -- enough time to pick up a Ceylon sapphire!

Even direct flights, such as Sin-Lon-Sin (return) with Singapore Airlines (the best airline in the world) are only $1000, which will make your return fare from Australia to Europe just $1300. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Books, Hotels, Hideaways & Other Discoveries

New Discoveries of 2014.

Some have been launched for a little while; 
others are getting ready to be launched in the next few months.

Hayman Island, 
Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Getting ready to re-open after an enormous renovation under new owners One & Only Resorts, the island resort of Hayman will look remarkably different from its old self. Newly decorated suites seem larger and more modern, the service is already better and the excursions to neighbouring islands and the reef promise to be trips to remember. Prices, while not cheap, aren't prohibitive, with rooms being offered at a 25% discount through the soft opening period. 

Opening July 2014.

Ham Yard Hotel, 

Firmdale Hotels' latest venture, with the usual sublime decorating by Kit Kemp. Just as beautiful as Number Sixteen, Dorset Square, Covent Garden and all her other projects.

Opening June 2014.

The Ritz, Paris.

Also getting set to re-open after a 2-year closure for refurbishment.
(If you can't afford a room, slip in for a drink, a meal, or to use the extraordinary spa and pool.)

Opening mid-year.

Hotel Fabric, Paris.

Created from a former textiles factory. Full of fabric whimsy. And not expensive, either.


The Siam, Bangkok.

My new favourite. The interior design is sublime.


Park Hyatt, 
Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Another new favourite. Refashioned from the Hôtel de La Paix, the new Park Hyatt-managed hotel, which re-opened late last year, hasn't lost any of the Paix's legendary grace and style, but has simply refreshed the space. So incredibly cheap too. As are all the hotels in Siem Reap.


The Beaumont, 
Mayfair, London.

Opening soon in the shell of a former 1920's Art Deco garage. So striking.

Opening later this year.

Living Life Beautifully:
Christina Strutt.

A new book from one of my favourite designers, Christina Strutt of Cabbages & Roses, who's not only opened a new Cabbages & Roses store in Chelsea, right next door to The Chelsea Gardener, but is also holding a marvellous summer fair in Bath, where her country home is, in early June. (Run together with Love Love Vintage; who have the most wonderful vintage wares and fabric fairs).

Published by Cico Books. Out now.

ABC: David Collins Studio

An eagerly awaited new book about the work of London designer David Collins, who sadly passed away last year. The new book was in production when David Collins was alive, and has been written by him, with a foreword by Madonna.The launch is edged with sadness, but I think he would have liked the finished project.

Published by Assouline this month.

Dior: The Legendary Images.

Published to accompany the new exhibition at Le Musée Christian-Dior, at Granville in Normandy, opening shortly.

 Published by Rizzoli this month.
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