Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New and Old, in New York and New Orleans


Last week, I spent a few days in New York City and New Orleans for work. I've always wanted to visit Nola after reading so much about its history, its mystery (did you see the American Horror Story series set here last year with Jessica Lange?), its gracious architecture, and its cheeky, slightly wicked Southern charm and humor, not to mention its killer cocktails.

"It's like a cross between Key West and Charleston, except with more alcohol, and fewer rules," said a friend. I wasn't sure what he meant, but it sounded good? I loved Key West and Charleston. Savannah, too. So it's like a hedonistic hybrid of all three? I asked him. My friend just looked at me. "NOLA is like nothing on this earth," he said, trying to do a Southern accent but failing. "You're gonna have a whole lotta stories after you've been to Nola!"

He then told me how the city has gathered a swag of prestigious James Beard Awards for its restaurants in the past two years, including Best New Restaurant for PĂȘche. With the buzz about the food, the media attention on the architecture (Sara Ruffin Costello's house always seems to be in the New York Times or some other blog), and the general decadence of the French Quarter, the place seemed to be jumping like a feathered entrant in the famous Mardi Gras parade. It was time, I thought, to head down south. I could already feel the bad accent coming on.


So here are some snaps from a few louche luxe days and nights in New York and New Orleans -- and some great names for your address book. 

If you haven't been to either of these memorable cities, perhaps 2016 is the year to do it. Both of these places are experiencing a creative revival of sorts, with new and innovative restaurants, hotels, stores and businesses opening by the month. I loved them both. I just wish I had more time in them than a few days.



There are many startlingly beautiful new hotels in New York, including The Baccarat, but I loved this sweet boutique hideaway, where the staff were as engaging as the decor. Recently renovated and renamed The Gregory (it's very fashionable to use gentleman's names as hotel brands now), it's tucked around the corner from the Empire State in the rapidly changing Fashion District, which -- along with the Flatiron area -- is the hot new neighborhood in Manhattan right now, judging by the hotels springing up like bagel carts on every street corner.

The Gregory's whimsical interior reflects the haberdashery and passementerie of the stores around it, with vintage sewing machines, elegantly upholstered armchairs and prints of old Vogue patterns on the walls. The rooms feature beautiful beds with piping-edged linen, black-and-white subway-tiled bathrooms with baths, and surprisingly large walk-in closets. It's a hotel tailor-made for fashion lovers, and the location is one of the best in Manhattan. Good rates too. I nabbed a lovely room for less than $300/night, inc taxes.

The Gregory
42 West 35th Street, New York


This trip was primarily a business trip, but there is nothing boring about seeing books all day long, especially the covetable tomes lining the offices of Rizzoli's headquarters like glamorous three-dimensional wallpaper.

Both Rizzoli's head office and its new Rizzoli bookstore in the Flatiron are beautiful beyond words, but it was the Strand's tiny bookshop in the corner of the Club Monaco store that won me over. It's an irresistible space that combines a charming florist with a sanctuary of coloured spines and new design titles. The scent was intoxicating. Pages and petals together... why don't more retailers think of that? (NB They seemed to have taken out the Dior-grey hatboxes and ornate black tables and replaced them with marble-topped florist's benches, but it's still lovely, and allows more space for all the bouquets.)

I also loved visited the Flower District around the corner, where I picked up these stunning long-stemmed mauve lilies for my new editor. The Flower District has shrunk in recent years, but there is still a joyous atmosphere about the place. It's a scented way to spend an hour on a sunny morning. (Tip: Most of the stores are wholesale, but if you offer cash, they'll gladly sell you a bouquet.)

Club Monaco (and The Strand's tiny outpost bookstore)
160 5th Avenue, New York.

Flower District
West 28th Street, between 6th and 7th Streets.


The Hamptons end of Long Island tends to polarize people. Some people prefer the quieter coves of Shelter Island and Sag Harbor. But on this trip I discovered a new destination: the elegantly understated enclave of Bellport, halfway up Long Island. 

Now Bellport isn't a new thing: Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Isabella Rossellini and Thomas O'Brien (Aero) are just a few who live in this quiet, mostly rural hideaway. (Thomas O'Brien is opening a new store here in 2016, and lives in a spectacular converted schoolhouse nearby.) But recently Bellport seems to be gaining followers, many of whom are decamping from increasingly crowded Sag Harbour or Southampton up the road. 

I was lucky enough to spend some time at Tricia Foley's famous house here, which has been featured in countless magazines and also in her new book Life | Style (just out). This was her sitting room, above; a gracious space of slipcovered sofas, sofa rugs, irresistible design books, and intriguing collections of antiques. If only more hotels looked like this. Somebody give Miss Tricia a hotel to design. 

More images from Tricia's home, including her enviable flower room and laundry, above, her library and office (at top), and her enchanting boat house (below). 

More luscious images can be seen in her book Life | Style (Rizzoli).


There hasn't been a lot of media about New Orleans's hotels, perhaps because most of them fall between the classic, balconied charmers and the boring business brands. Well, the Q&C is neither. It's a new interpretation of New Orleans, and it's a design darling that's winning a lot of design fans. Named after the old Queen and Crescent tramcar, it's a superbly decorated haven that features handsome grey flannel-covered wingback sofas, piles of design books to browse through, pressed-tin ceilings, curious antiques and quirky artwork (I loved the old maps), and a palette of white, chocolate and marle-grey. 

It's in the Business District, around the corner from the equally sophisticated, all-white International Hotel, but it's a five-minute walk from the French Quarter. (The separation means it's devoid of the noise and clatter of the latter.) The downstairs parlour (above), and adjoining lounge are so comfy, most guests settle in for the evening with a drink and their iPad and never bother going to their rooms. Rooms are spacious, too. A perfect hotel, in every way. I loved it.

The Q&C
344 Camp St, New Orleans, Louisiana. 


You may think a museum set in an old French pharmacy, with real apothecary bottles, would be, well, odd. Perhaps even macabre? But The Pharmacy Museum is fascinating. The cabinetry alone is worth seeing, but it's all the old lotions and potions that will really make you go gaga (in a good way). Don't miss the upstairs area, where the white shelves are usually groaning with fantastic exhibits. The rear courtyard is lovely, too. An unexpected treasure in the middle of the French Quarter.

The Pharmacy Museum
514 Chatres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.


My favourite restaurant in New Orleans wasn't the celebrated Commander's Palace (cute striped awnings, but slightly too upmarket for a quickie lunchtime visit), or even gorgeous Galatoire's, but the cutely rustic, just-throw-those-pictures-on-the-wall-and-toss-the-chairs-around Napoleon House (above right). This place defines the word 'patina'. The walls are crumbling and nothing's straight, but the atmosphere is pure Southern charm. Even the owner wears an old-fashioned bow tie. Grab one of the tables in the courtyard or beside a French door opening to the street and watch the world go by. It's New Orleans as you'd imagined.

Napoleon House
500 Chatres Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.


I've been longing to do a garden tour of NOLA's famous Garden District for years. But garden tours are very hard to organize -- I only do small tours with friends now -- and so I'm always looking for tours offered by other people, to see how they do it and to also take the easy seat for a change! 

Well, I did a garden tour of the French Quarter on the first day and it was terrible. So the second day, I tried one of Bill Noble's tours, called Le Monde Creole, which promised to focus on secret gardens of the French Quarter. What a inspiring guide! We wandered into private courtyards (with permission), sat by cooling fountains or under grand palms and learned about not only the architecture and gardens but also the women of the city, including Marie Laveau, who have all done so much to influence and create its character. There's another annual tour of private gardens of the French Quarter run by Patio Planters, but Le Monde Creole's tours are held everyday. If you love gardens, tag along: it's really special.

Afterwards, you can either find another tour of the Garden District (above, right; there are many tours of this neighborhood), or just wander the streets yourself, as I did, to see the grand mansions and impeccable grounds.

Le Monde Creole



On the way, I stopped in LA to visit friends in Los Feliz, and decided to stay at a place I'd never been before: Venice Beach

A friend had recommended the quaint, little-known Venice Beach House (above), which has rooms for $150/night, and is virtually on the beach (Australians love it). Well, I just adored it. It's one of the original beach houses of the area, and still has a wonderful old Arts and Crafts feel to it. It's more of a private mansion than a hotel (if you don't like sharing a bathroom, opt for one of the suites), but the upside is that staff are like family. There's afternoon tea served at three, free beach towels, and enticing spots to sit and read in the glorious garden.

Best of all, it was around the corner from both the Venice Canals, which feature some of the prettiest cottages in LA (they were a feature of the film Valentine's Day with Ashton Kutcher), and the up-and-coming Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which has some of the coolest shops in the city. 

Of course, there are still parts of Venice Beach that are dubious -- the section between VB and Santa Monica is one to avoid -- but the southern end of VB, around the canals and Abbott Kinney, is well worth a wander. The gardens here are the loveliest things to see; every cottage on the Venice Canals is different, and you can spend hours peeking over all the picket fences. It's a somewhat secret part of LA. And who knew there were many of those left?

Venice Beach House
15 30th Avenue, Venice Beach, Los Angeles

And now I'm back home again, back to shooting oil paintings and floral still lives for a book. The bag is unpacked, the garden is flowering after all the rain, and life seems a little gentler again...
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