I lived in London for many years in the 1990s, and still return (with a sentimentalist's heart) several times a year for work. And each time I arrive here, I relish the chance to wander down the cobbled mews and quiet side streets to discover the city's urban treasures. In fact, no matter how many times I visit, the place continues to surprise and delight. I hope this book offers some great ideas for your next trip, whether you're an architecture aficionado, a design fan, or simply a lover of gardens, textiles, fashion and style.
(Note: One of my fellow authors, Driss Fatih, has also done a London book, so check the author on the cover if you want my book, as there's a little confusion. Driss' book will focus more on architecture and restaurants, while mine covers fashion and style, bookstores and gardens, historic houses, and other glamorous things.)
LONDON SECRETS is due out soon (date TBC), so do look for it in bookshops and online, but in the meantime, here are a few places worth noting:
Soane Britain in Pimlico (which is different to the similar-sounding Soane Museum) is a wondrous aladdin's cave of rattan and wicker, fabric and textiles, prints and lamps, and all kinds of furniture, from elegant desks to cheerily chic side tables. But it's far more than just a store of sophisticated, irresistible homewares. Co-founder and creative director Lulu Lyle set out to save many dying British crafts by either buying factories, such as the last rattan manufacturer left in England, or employing British craftspeople to create special goods using skills that go back to the 18th century and beyond. Fabrics are woven in Suffolk and printed in Kent, while furniture is made by blacksmiths, carpenters, upholsterers and gilders in the far corners of England. Even the wallpapers are hand-blocked by expert English printers. But it's perhaps the traditional crafts, such as iron forging and leatherwork, where you can really see the skills being utilized in modern forms. Lulu commissions unusual leather desks, ornate iron lighting and other unique pieces to reinvent these materials for contemporary living. Alternatively, clients can chose their own materials and finishes from Soane’s in-house collection of timbers, metals, textiles and leathers, using Soane's furniture styles or their own designs.
There's a lovely article on Lulu's own London home here, which is a carnival of colour -- LINK HERE
Or you can browse the website here -- SOANE BRITAIN
SECRET SUITES AND TOWNHOUSES
Many people already know about Firmdale Hotels and their wonderful London hideaways, including Number Sixteen and the much-talked-about Ham Yard. But what isn't as well known are their impeccably decorated suites and townhouses, which not only accommodate a family or group of friends, but offer interior design that is even more glamorous than the famously sophisticated 'standard' rooms. The Covent Garden's suite (above, with whimsical watering cans), and the Haymarket Hotel's townhouse (top) are two of the most beautifully designed hotel rooms in London and they're ideal if you need to spread out (such as for a company presentation) or require a kitchen for a long stay. Many fashion companies book the Covent Garden Hotel's suites to do presentations, and then stay the night. Not a bad 'office' to be in for your London stay.
More details may be found here -- FIRMDALE HOTELS
A HIDDEN HOTEL FOR SMALL GROUPS
If you're after a hotel that offers stunning spaces for small groups to have get-togethers, cocktails or other functions while in London, some of the prettiest are those rooms offered by The Pelham Hotel in South Kensington. The Pelham was actually one of Kit Kemp's (Firmdale Hotel's creative director) first hotel designs, and still reflects her attention to detail in textiles, furniture, antiques and bold patterns and print. The Pelham is perhaps my favorite hotel in London and not just because it posts the fabrics and trims in framed mood boards outside many of the rooms. Its front desk is a welcoming dream of a space, its parlour and honesty bar a relief after a long day of walking the streets for work meetings, and its rooms are quiet havens of luxury for very little money. Best of all, it's right opposite the South Kensington Station, so you can jump straight on a tube in less than five minutes! Look for the understated facade; it's difficult to see because it's so discreet.
Details here -- THE PELHAM
FLORISTS AND FLOWER CLASSES
New York Times' T magazine recently published a superb story on Rebecca Louise Law's 'flower studio' in London; a romantic, poetic, flower-and-book-strewn space where she creates her famous flower installations. ( Louise Law) But London is home to a scented plethora of petalled florists, many of whom offer superb classes in everything from flower arranging to event styling. Judith Blacklock is one such florist. Her classes are held in a pretty building in Knightsbridge, but it's her tours of the New Covent Garden Market that you should aim to get a place on. The day begins at 8AM with a long wander around the various traders of the famous flower market, and continues with breakfast and a flower workshop back at the store.
Petersham Nurseries has also started to offer wonderful horticulture courses, with the Scented Gardens being one of the most popular. And in the West End, the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers offers all manner of floral classes in an airy, light, easy-to-reach boutique that's brimming with glorious blooms.
RUSTIC RESTAURANTS FOR GARDEN LOVERS
London is dotted with gardens and parks, but few visitors realize there are also dozens of restaurants, bistros and pubs that are designed for fans of horticulture and greenery. Maggie Jones in Kensington is a lovely little place relished by locals for its cosy, romantic atmosphere as much as its baskets of flowers (dried and fresh). The place is designed to feel like a rustic barn, complete with faux beehive, but the food is anything but rough. Farmhouse-inspired, yes, but it's still delicious and beautifully prepared. ( 6 Old Court Place, London, Kensington, maggie-jones.co.uk)
The Ivy in Chelsea is another that's pulling in the green-thumbed crowd. Athough it's more sophisticated than Maggie Jones, it's no less charming, with menus designed to look like garden plans and a courtyard full of wicker chairs. The interior, meanwhile, is punctuated with botanical prints, and the colour palette is a summery combination of tangerine and green. (195 King's Road, Chelsea, www.theivychelseagarden.com )
Finally, Bourne & Hollingsworth has been popping up on blogs and Insta posts for a year or two now, but it's still sweet, especially the petite conservatory full of ferns and floral armchairs. (42 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, www.bandhbuildings.com)
NEW MUSEUMS TO ANTICIPATE
London will see some stunning new museums opening in the next few years. The Museum of London is one, with a spectacular design for the museum's new location that features a monumental domed atrium, spiral escalators, and a sunken garden. But the two that will really prompt designers and decorators to queue are Sandycombe Lodge and Sir John Soane's home, both of which are currently being restored to their former glory.
Sandycombe Lodge is the home of the celebrated painter JMW Turner, and was, in its time, a blissful hideaway hidden away in the bucolic setting of Twickenham, where the wealthy were building grand homes amid the pastoral scenery. Twickenham was “a place of experimentation” for Turner; somewhere he could escape his life in London to paint in peace. Turner’s father, a retired barber who was also his son's studio assistant, also lived at Sandycombe Lodge, and made the 10-mile commute to London daily to open his son’s gallery, initially by foot, then by hitching a lift on a vegetable cart in exchange for a glass of gin. (!) The house is a small gem that recalls the 19th century in much the same way as the London-home-turned-museum of the architect John Soane does. Soane was a friend of Turner, and visited him often, so it is fitting that Soane's own rural home nearby, Pitzhanger Manor, is also being restored. An illustration for the restoration of Pitzhanger Manor is above, but work has started on the building and all its glorious interior. The bold paintwork is especially beautiful, so particular attention is being paid to the walls, ceilings and frescoes.
Details on the restoration of Turner's house can be found HERE And details of Pitzhanger Manor can be found HERE .