Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Inspirational Trips and Travel Tips for 2015

At this time of year, when the seasons are changing and minds are racing to the months ahead, conversation often circles around to that much-loved topic: 


Getting away is always high on everyone's agenda. Last year, the 'hot' spot seemed to be Instanbul. And perhaps London (going through a resurgence, thanks to new hotels such as Ham Yard and old favourites like The Pelham, above). The year before, it was Capri. This year, Cuba is big (a consequence of the recent changes), as is Mexico (Tulum / Mérida), while India and Cambodia are perennial favourites. 

A lot of people are doing textile tours this year, visiting fabric stores and textile museums and other places where they can drink wine and laugh and do needlework in the sun. (See tips below.) Painting trips are also popular — watercolours in the South of France, and oils in Italy. Walking holidays are big, too.

We are having The Travel Conversation in our house at the moment, and it's not looking promising, I have to tell you. The travel budget has disappeared! 

I only have one small work trip planned for this year — to New York and the US East Coast in May for business meetings and to see some gardens with a few people. Apart from that, we're trying to curtail travel activities to save money. I'm being pushed to go to NY in March as well for a few things, and there are some FANTASTIC exhibitions on in Paris and London this year, including the big Lanvin Exhibition (above), but our budget is looking grim. 

If you're having The Travel Conversation in your house at the moment, here are some ideas, insights, and tips to help you through it.

I hope you manage to go somewhere wonderful this year!
Life's too short not to get out and see the world.


There's nothing better than finding a great little hotel and falling in love with it. Even better when few people (other than its devoted guests) seem to know about it. These are the travel gems we dream of: the tucked-away treasures that don't charge a fortune, and are staffed with kind people who make us feel at home, a thousand miles from home. 

Some of my favourites over the years have included The Pelham in South Kensington (red suite above), Bastide Rose in Provence, the Royal Riviera in Cap Ferrat, The Moorings in Islamorada, The Plataran in Borobodur, and many others.

Of course, it's difficult to find these under-the-radar places, but sites such as Tablet Hotels (, Mr and Mrs Smith ( collate some of the prettiest places into one easy-to-navigate list. Tablet Hotels also organises regular specials — great for picking up plush New York hotels for $99 / night. 

I'm always bookmarking gorgeous little hotels in great getaways to visit on future trips. 76 Main (blue suite above) is my latest favourite. It's sublime hideaway on Nantucket island owned by Lark Hotels who are known for their beautiful and quirky interiors. ( 

But there are always new places to discover. Don't feel that you have to stay in the latest André Balazs hotel every time.


Many people are opting for Air bnb or apartments over hotels, but some still prefer the security, 24-hr service, concierge assistant and wi-fi guarantee of the latter. (And no bond to worry about!) If you want a hybrid that combines the privacy of an apartment with the professionalism of a hotel, try a club. 

Places like The Fox Club in Mayfair, London, are private members' clubs that often allow non-members to stay. The Fox is a great little find. The interior design is on the 'traditional' side (no Kit Kemp here), but if you're worried about style, this place probably isn't for you. (Or ask for a suite; they will often upgrade.) Prices are usually amazingly good for this central Mayfair posi opposite Green Park! There are several of these clubs in Mayfair, so search around. Some are membership only, but they will happily accept members of affiliated clubs – even RACV/NRMA or AAA will do.

In New York, a similar place is the City Club Hotel—although it's more of a hotel with the feel of a club than an actual club. Opt for one of the Mezzanine Suites, which are carved out of a former ballroom, and feature beautiful libraries and ornate ceilings.

The Fox Club, 46 Clarges St, London W1.


Lots of people I know are going on walking holidays this year. Martin Randall and Abercrombie and Kent are two companies that offer great walking tours, but there would be others in the US and UK. 

Textile tours are another big trend. 

One company, French General in California, organises amazing tours to the South of France every year. The creative retreats include workshops, flea markets, exploring local villages, and of course classes in sewing, stitching, natural dying, paper crafts and mixed media. Sounds fun, doesn't it?


Two years ago, a couple of young guns brought out a program that compared airfares to find the cheapest days and dates. It was so popular that it prompted a slew of competitors, and now Google has jumped on the bandwagon. Google's Matrix allows you to see the cheapest airfares for a journey on any given day simply by typing in your route and the extreme ends of your travel dates. (It's slow but it does work.) 

Its strength is that it breaks down the airfare into a professional way (including all the taxes), so you can take that airfare to your travel agent or travel company and ask them to either book it, or match the price (which most will do). I found some incredibly cheap airfares were well below what some travel companies, such as, were offering. 

Skycanner [LINK] also does a similar thing.

[LINK] or

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Garden Highlights and Delights for 2015

Having fallen in love with the beautiful imagery —and ease of use – of Instagram, I have now become addicted, as well as friends with many of those I follow and those who kindly follow me. [ LINK ] 

If you're into gardens, textiles, interiors, travel or design, Instagram is now one of the best source for inspiration on the Internet. It's difficult to find or search for things — its only downside – but wonderful for stumbling across amazing people and places that have somehow slipped under the radar of magazine editors and other story scouts.


For example, Instagram has introduced me to the extraordinary Danish garden designer and author Claus Dalby, whose small home and garden (above two images) is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. 

Celebrated in Denmark and increasingly in Europe, Claus' cutting garden and floral arrangements are just enchanting, especially when you consider how short-lived the Danish summer and growing season is. (Also, if you go to his website and are a little confused by the language, 'haven' means garden. But you'll find your way around!)


Do you subscribe to the website Gardenista? If you love gardens, this wonderful blog is as tailor-made for you as a pair of customised Hunters. Its gorgeous gardenalia and inspiring ideas will immediately make you want to walk outside and pot up some Cosmos. Or something grander, such as these arrangements, featured on Gardenista last week.



These two images above were part of a story Gardenista posted on the artist Clare Basler, who lives in a converted schoolhouse on the outskirts of Paris (known as "the flower house" by local villagers). There, Clare paints large-scale paintings of enormous flower arrangements inspired by French 18th century paintings. 


Her paintings are beautiful but her home is even more so. Imagine living in a greenhouse surrounded by lush, oversize plants and you're halfway there. It's a gardener's home like no other. 


Gardenista has also covered another spectacular 'garden home' in a story worth mentioning. It's an article about that enviable, inimitable estate called Sissinghurst, and its endlessly fascinating fusion of leaf, love and life.  [ LINK HERE ]  [Gardenista photo by Jonathan Buckley]

For its creators Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, Sissinghurst's garden was designed to be an extension of their living quarters — and indeed, the fully matured green 'rooms' and walled gardens are like walking through the rooms of a beautiful house: the formal 'reception' of the central garden with its grandeur and symmetry; the wonderfully colourful rose garden (which is a little like a chintzy sitting room); the Lime Walk, which links the various gardens like a formal hall, and the potager (the kitchen garden). Eighty years after the duo first conceived their grand garden plan, you can fully appreciate their incredible vision. 

However, not everything has been rosy at Sissinghurst these past few years.  When their grandson, journalist Adam Nicolson and his wife, garden writer Sarah Raven, moved into the National Trust estate in 2024 (part of the contract was that descendants could live there free of charge), they were met with firm resistance from staff. "Our dogs [were] not allowed in the garden [and were] shouted at by gardeners; our children not allowed near the greenhouses; and any photograph we took inside or outside the house was to be the copyright of the National Trust," wrote Nigel in a fascinating article for the New York Times. [ LINK HERE ] "When I was taking some of our old wine bottles out of the house, I had to pass the National Trust volunteer lady (tweed skirt, Barbour jacket) standing at the gate. “Ah,” she said, “have we been having a party, Adam? Or are you just an alcoholic like the rest of your family?”

Some people are really nice, aren't they?

Last year, many gardeners were talking about Sarah Raven's biography of Vita, entitled Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst. This year, gardening talk is likely to focus on the newly published and highly controversial book Behind The Mask by Matthew Dennison, which looks at the complex personality of the 'Rose Queen'. (Dennison is giving a talk at the Garden History Museum in London in late April, if you're in the UK at that time.)

And so Sissinghurst continues to fascinate us, year after year...


A new horticultural discovery for me this week has been The Land Gardeners, which I stumbled upon via Ben Pentreath's beautiful blog. (Ben's partner Charlie is somehow involved with, or friends with, the Land Gardeners.) The girls' flower and farm images are just sublime. And their home, a grand estate called 'Wardington Manor' in the English countryside, is as spectacular as their borders and bouquets. Furthermore– and perhaps best of all — they often hold workshops in their fancy potting shed. For more details, just see their website – HERE, which links to their blog and Instagram.

[ LINK ]

(Oh, and Ben and Charlie's garden at the Old Vicarage is also worth Googling.)


Years ago, many us bought the sweetly illustrated watercolour books by Sara Midda and Laura Stoddart, including In and Out of the Garden and Sketchbook of Southern France. (Laura is a lovely person: I liaised with her about some branding at one stage before realising I couldn't afford her.)

Well, Sara Midda is back with a new book, A Bowl of Olives, about cooking, but it's another watercolour artist I want to introduce you to: Linda Kocur, aka 'Miss Boxwood'.  [ LINK ] She and I have become 'IG' friends on Instagram and I adore her work and suspect you will too. It's whimsical, witty, unusual and surprisingly elegant. She sells it on Etsy or you can follow her on her Instagram site



One of the great gardeners of the 20th century is Russell Page, and this year his life is being celebrated by the Garden History Museum in London.

Russell Page trained as an artist and brought a painter's eye for form and style to the many gardens that he made. His career began at Longleat House in the 1930s and encompassed the garden at La Mortella on the island of Ischia designed for Sir William and Lady Walton and the garden of the Frick Collection in New York City (above) — which is now under threat (and a huge talking point amongst gardeners of Manhattan!).

The Garden History Museum's exhibition of over 50 paintings, photographs and drawings are drawn from Russell Pages’ own archive and the collection of the RHS, Public and Private Collections in the USA and Europe. Certain to be a riveting display of plans, paintings and insights into a master gardener.


If you love books and like to keep ahead of literary trends, you may have noticed there's been a notable number of garden-themed novels published over the past year or so. I'm not sure whether it's simply some kind of synchronicity or if authors and publishers really are becoming increasingly fascinated with flowers and horticulture? (Even the New York Times' T magazine's editor Deborah Needleman has changed her Twitter pic to a scene of her country garden.) Either way, it's a welcome genre. If only they published 'scratch 'n' sniff' novels to go with the new trend.

Some of the popular titles being bandied about by friends are: 

The Language of Flowers (now a New York Times bestseller) by Vanessa Difenbaugh
The Orchid House (also called Hothouse Flowers) by Lucinda Riley
The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley (such a great author) 
A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor — lots of friends talking about this


And finally, Rachel Lambert (Bunny) Mellon's famous Oak Spring Garden Library at her former country estate in the US is now open to the public (for those who study or are involved with horticulture only). The  Library comprises her enormous collection of rare books, manuscripts, works of art and artifacts relating to gardening, landscape design, horticulture, botany, natural history and travels. It's one of the largest gardening archives in the world — possibly the largest next to the RHS' Lindley Library in London — and Mrs Mellon made sure there was sufficient funds in her Will to maintain it.

A group of us are planning a small garden tour to the US East Coast this year and I'm trying to get us in here. You can imagine the wonders contained in this space and the garden beyond!

PS If you love anything on this site and want to reference it or use it, please do link back to The Library of Design and/or provide proper links or websites, as I've done here, rather than simply stealing it. It's the right thing to do.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2015: A Year to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

So many people I know see 2015 as a year to do something different. A year to step outside their comfort zone. 

2015, it seems, is set to be an uncomfortable year. And that's a good thing.

In November and December I travelled through 10 countries in 3 weeks. Some of it was for work; some of it was some much-needed time away with my partner. While the work trip to Europe—which was to do further research for a future project and also photograph places for a London travel guide—was wonderful, the Asian Christmas trip (which I departed for only a few days after arriving home!) was by far the more memorable. And I think it was because we stepped out of our comfort zone and into places far off the tourist radar. 

Flying deep into the jungles of Java in a tiny plane to a tinier airport, where signs were written wonkily on cardboard and luggage rolled off an abbreviated conveyor belt that stopped abruptly after a few feet, so that bags fell over each other over in the two-foot-long airport, we tried not to laugh. We tried not to laugh, and we failed. Because there, in this strange, exotic, far-flung, jungle-y place, we realised this was what travel was all about. We had clearly left familiarity far behind. And it felt good. 

Like a decluttering of the soul.

The mist rising over the valley of Borobodur, deep in the heart of Java.

Rice paddies in East Java, with a single moped the only traffic in sight

Our beautiful hotel, Plataran Borobodur, built so that's its gardens seamlessly integrate into a local village.

Quiet afternoons at the Plataran Borobodur.

The trip had been part of a larger life-long plan to visit the world's more remote UNESCO sites, but we came home feeling profoundly touched by everything we'd seen. Getting out of your familiarity zone does that to a person. It seems to reignite that dormant sense of adventure that's often lost in the endless Immigration Halls of the world. 

The ancient temple of Borobodur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Built 300 years before Ankor Wat it was lost to the jungle for centuries until Sir Stanford Raffles heard about its existence and funded its discovery and restoration.

During those two weeks we visited places so utterly untouched by the modern world that in one part of Java, on top of the ancient Borobodur temple, we and another couple were the only foreigners in sight. The local kids gazed with awe at our iPads, and touched my partner's strawberry blonde hair with undisguised fascination.

Now my partner, who is a taciturn sort of person, was so captivated by this off-the-beaten-track adventure, he started chatting and didn't stop. Not for 10 days! The man changed so much I could barely recognise him!

For exercise, we hired bikes and rode long, spectacular loops along the palm tree-lined backroads and rice paddies of Java, through clusters of Indonesian villages and around the ancient temples of Borobodur, waving at all the locals. We took a tuk-tuk to the legendary Amanjiwo Hotel (above) for lunch, where Richard Gere and David and Victoria Beckham have stayed, but its glamour and grandeur seemed incongruous amidst the poverty. (And we couldn't afford it either!) So we tuk-tukked away again.

At every corner, the local villages waved and smiled at us, wanting us to stop and chat. These villagers were so poor they could barely afford floors (a tiled verandah was the sign of wealth; good teeth were the sign of undisputed affluence), but still they offered us their water, their fruit, a handshake, a wave goodbye. By the end of the week, we felt very, very humble. We had also changed—almost imperceptibly, but it was there nonetheless. A distinct shift in attitude.

All through the next week, visiting the ancient UNESCO temples of Ankor Wat in Sieam Reap, Cambodia, a country further north (and admittedly a little more crowded than Java's Borobodur region), our adventure left us feeling like new people. 

The magnificent tree roots enveloping the ruins of Ta Prohm, in Siem Reap, a temple made famous by Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie.

All throughout our trip, we happily donated money to people who desperately needed it, but the philanthropy seemed to go the other way: we felt as though we were the fortunate ones. In recent months, I've become fiercely driven in business: no-nonsense, pragmatic and perhaps also hard-nosed, but here we both melted before the gracious, constantly grinning locals. Seeing the civility and kindness of these poor-but-dignified people, well, it reassured me that there is still decency within us all. And that gave me hope for the future. That's what getting out of a comfort zone did for me. 

We each have the power to do so much; affect others in so many ways. All it takes is a smile, a laugh, a kind word or gesture; a conversation; perhaps a few dollars, and a curiosity about people, and about the strange world on the other side of your familiar city. 

My favourite person on the trip: our gorgeous tuk-tuk driver.
 I loved this man. So professional, so dignified, so happy.

And so I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zones this year. Be brave. Embrace the adventure. Whether it's for travel, for a new business venture or to research opportunities, find new inspiration, or just motivate your mind and revive your stagnated old soul, do something different in 2015.

You will be glad you did, I promise you. 

You will be glad you got uncomfortable. 

"Move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes. Open your mind, get off the couch. Move."
— Anthony Bourdain.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram here – LINK


Where we stayed: Plataran Borobodur, Java.
A reasonably priced colonial-style hideaway high in the hills above Borobodur. Its gardens are magnificent – gardenia hedges, grand palms, winding paths between frangiapani.

And in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at the newly restored Park Hyatt. 
(Formerly the Hotel de la Paix.) 

The Paix was legendary in its time and thankfully the Park Hyatt hasn't ruined its soul. The library / reception area is a paen to pink, with Art Deco sofas and polished chocolate floors, but it's the only shot of colour in the hotel: the rest is all cool glamour and classic colonial elegance.

Note: We loved the Park Hyatt (and there are specials on at the moment for this year: $1300 for 6 days), but probably wouldn't spend so much on a hotel next time. I felt uncomfortable doing so when the locals were so poor, and would probably stay in a guesthouse to try and get to know the locals a little better. But that's just me. You are welcome to stay wherever you want! I hope you go to either Java or Cambodia, or indeed anywhere off the beaten track this year. Write and tell me if you do: I'd love to hear all about it!

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