Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, July 6, 2017

New York: Fashion, Flowers, and Garden Fantasies

A few weeks ago, a friend emailed. "Where are you?" she said. "I want to catch up for a drink." I emailed back: "At Burlington Airport, in northern Vermont. I flew up for the day to see my luggage pattern maker. It's so tiny, I think the shop also serves as the check-in! But all flights to New York are delayed for four hours due to the stormy weather. So I may still be here tomorrow..." 

In the end, I made it back to New York that night. But one poor woman, trying to fly home to Seattle, had her flight cancelled, and as compensation was offered a seat on a flight to New York, then another on a flight to Boston, and finally, after a layover of six hours in Boston, a flight home to Seattle. She took it, glad of the chance to get home by Christmas.

I tell this story because it dissolves the myth that travelling for work is fun. Sometimes it's so tiring, so utterly dull, I don't even take any photos. Because they would just be of boarding lounges. And gate changes. And a fuzzy view of the Manhattan skyline from the back of a crazy, speeding cabbie. But occasionally -- actually more than occasionally -- business trips can be wonderful. Memorable, even. They can make all the long haul flights worthwhile. This recent trip was one such trip. It was a cascade of increasingly lovely, bloomingly beautiful summer days where the sunshine ballooned up from the verdant New York and Connecticut landscapes, and flowers bloomed in places you'd least expect. 

Let me show you. 


First on the work schedule was a glorious, early-morning photo shoot at the beautiful garden of New York designer Bunny Williams and her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli, in a bucolic northern corner of Connecticut. 

This garden is so beautiful that whenever Bunny and John open it -- usually once a month in the summer for charity (see garden or the Trade Secrets Garden Fair website) -- people drive for miles to visit. One couple I spoke to return year after year to collect ideas for their own garden. I've been lucky enough to see it before, and I, too, noticed many changes on this visit, the most significant of which is the addition of Bunny's amazing new design studio. And judging by the exclamations of visitors walking up the stairs when the garden opened at 10AM, it was the hit of the day.

This is the studio, below.  I tell you, I think I heard a grown man cry in envy.

The bookshelves ran the length of the studio, which was twice the size of the space pictured above. The elongated room was beautifully bookended each end by enormous picture windows that looked out over the green Connecticut countryside. There was a grand fireplace, too. And a kitchen and bathroom, with a gym below. 

But it was the books that held court here. There were hundreds of design and gardening titles. And everything was intriguing. Even Bunny's mood board, below, was fascinating.

This is Bunny's famous conservatory, with the windows that look over the equally famous parterre. The chicken coop is fairly legendary, too. 

If you want more details, buy Bunny's bestselling book An Affair With A House, which features lots of chapters on both the interior and the garden. Or just come along to one of the Open Gardens one day. You'll be as enthralled as the rest of us.


From there, it was a short drive across the border to Christopher Spitzmiller's enchanting house and garden in upstate New York, which he had also graciously opened for charity. Ever since it was featured in AD magazine, people have adored this charming place, which Christopher has renovated with his usual flair. 

The highlight for many visitors on this day was the classical white pavilion, which was, in fact, a chicken coop, set charmingly inside an idyllic flower garden blooming with poppies, salvias, and roses. Inside, the kitchen and dining rooms (which Christopher kindly let me see, but which weren't open to the public) were elegant studies in understated sophistication. The dining room was sublime, especially with the botanical wallpaper. But I loved the kitchen the most, I think.


The final garden of the weekend wasn't on the Shot List but I added it to the schedule after hearing about it at Bunny Williams. Owned and designed by antiques dealer Michael Trapp, it was well worth the visit. I stayed for hours! Most of the garden featured architectural antiques that Michael had collected over the years, and it was such a joy to walk through. If you love architecture as much as gardens, this is one to put on your future list. 

(Note: Michael Trapp only opens his antiques store on weekends, or by appointment. The garden is private but if you ask nicely, he may allow you to wander through.)


If you're contemplating a trip to Connecticut to ramble through country gardens and browse antique stores that you can't afford, my best recommendation is to stay in New Preston.  It's a sweeter-than-sweet village that is barely the length of a street but is FILLED with unique stores, which mostly specialize in gardens, homewares, and antiques. 

I always stay at The Hopkins Inn, a lovely family-run inn on the lake, which has rooms from $130/n and a charming restaurant that's split between a lovely terrace under shady trees overlooking the lake and a cosy dining room inside.  For sheer value, it's one of the best places in New England. (Top right image with sofa.) 

My favourite places to shop in New Preston, perhaps in the whole of Connecticut, are Pergola (don't miss the spectacular waterfall behind, which you can see from the store's rear deck) and Dawn Hill Antiques, which has some of the most beautiful Swedish antiques this side of Stockholm.


Then it was back to New York City for publishing meetings with two of my publishers, and I discovered another great little hotel gem here, which was just $179/n -- even in high season. 

The Hudson Hotel New York is not only close to Central Park for those early-morning walks but also features a grand library for afternoon cocktails, and a spectacular rooftop terrace overlooking the Hudson River, for evening drinks. Even the entrance to the rooftop terrace is an experience, punctuated by bright pink flowers, hammocks, huge tubs of orange trees, and pergolas galore.

The Hudson Hotel was very cool many years ago (I vaguely remember when it opened), but has now mellowed, thankfully, into an affordable pied-à-terre for people visiting Manhattan who don't want to pay a fortune. Rooms are tiny (you are warned), so upgrade if you're a couple, but you can't complain for $179 for a full bathroom (with bath), and a view like the one above. 

It's also within walking distance of all the great department stores, too, from Bergdorf Goodman to Saks Fifth Avenue, both of which stocked THE most beautiful Dolce & Gabbana collection I've ever seen. Designed around hydrangeas, this new season's D&G line (above) is, quite simply, sublime. Many Instagrammers were posting about it, and even Beyonce bought the flowing chiffon version.


Dolce & Gabbana's latest collection is almost as beautiful as this botanical hideaway; The Whitby, Firmdale's newest hotel in their ever-growing collection. Themed around flowers, it's a vibrant poem to petals and also to vintage plates, which are framed on the walls as porcelain art. It's all wonderful, especially the conservatory, which is lovely for a quick lunch. I only stayed an hour but could have lingered all afternoon.



My other favourite place in New York City is Caffe Storico, which is a little-known cafe within the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side of Central Park. (DETAILS: Lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of beautiful dinnerware, and yolk-yellow banquettes that invite you to linger all afternoon, it's a gorgeous spot for an affordable lunch, especially if you follow it with a walk through Central Park. 

 I also loved the sights of New York that I came across this same day, such as this firehouse mascot, which the firefighters were clucking over. (Sorry, couldn't help the pun.)

Another interesting thing to see was Amazon's new bookstore in Columbus Circle's swanky shopping centre. It was FULL of people buying or reading books -- much like Borders used to look like when it was at the height of its popularity.  (I was thrilled to see this familiar book chosen as one of the bestsellers / books to buy in the Travel Section. Thank you Amazon staff.)

Also caught up with this charming designer  -- Jeffrey Bilhuber, who is one of Manhattan's nicest men -- to look at his chapter for the new Rizzoli garden book. 

He suggested we go to the Majorelle Restaurant at the The Lowell Hotel, which I'd never been to but which I fell in love with at first sight. The floral bouquets were as beautiful as the architectural details. Even the bookshelves full of design books. 

It's all very 'old New York', as in very elegant, very dignified, and very, very sophisticated. (Most of the women were wearing Chanel.) We stayed in the bar, but if you're dining, it's a dress-up kind-of place. Wear the heels. And drink Champagne!

Other detours included a quick trip to the Hamptons to see the new One Kings Lane pop-up store, which is already causing a stir for its stylish blue kitchen, and a visit to the Madoo Garden Fair, a once-a-year gathering of elegant gardenistas selling all kinds of lovely antiques and topiary. 

Then it was home to our own far-more-ordinary blue-toned abode (top left), and to finishing books in time for the end-of-year deadlines.

I hope that, wherever you are, you're having a beautiful, bloom-filled season too.

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