Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

LONDON SECRETS: A new book for architecture, design, fashion and garden fans

I'm delighted to write that my new book LONDON SECRETS: STYLE, DESIGN, GLAMOUR, GARDENS (Images Publishing) is being prepared for a publication date that's not far off.  One of the loveliest books I've ever had the pleasure of producing, shooting and writing, LONDON SECRETS attempts to uncover many of the city's most fascinating design destinations, from hidden streets full of extraordinary architecture to memorable National Trust properties, beautiful historic houses, fantastic design-focused museums, glorious gardens, glamorous hotels, wonderful stores selling everything from textiles to antiques to vintage fashion, and intriguing restaurants and bistros.

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


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


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


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 LawBut 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.


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,

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, )

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,


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 .

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Books, Gardens and other Quiet Delights

Having just come off the back of a year of intense writing for not one but three huge book projects, I have been spending a few quiet July days in our small garden before the next lot of publishing deadlines and work trips. Like my mother -- who has just returned from seeing some extraordinary gardens and landscapes in Alaska and Vancouver -- I'm always grateful for the chance to be in a garden. I always think that gardening is underestimated as therapy: it's not only beneficial for the weary mind and body but it can also inspire and energise the creative spirit. Out among the new seedlings and parrot tulips, I've been working on lots of new ideas for 2017; some of which -- like my clematis -- may never flower! But hopefully a few of them will bloom. That's the thing with both gardening and life. You never know what's going to emerge in the future...

And so here, in tribute of the northern hemisphere summer and the southern hemisphere spring, is a small ode to the quiet delights of horticulture.

As always, feel free to follow on Instagram here -- LINK


One of the most beautiful gardens in England is the wonderfully named Seend Manor in Wiltshire. I was alerted to this beautiful English estate by a friend, and immediately told a few other garden-loving friends about it, one of which replied straight away to tell me that she knew the owners. (Such is the world of social media!)  Apparently Seend Manor's owners are just as charming and gracious as their glorious flower beds. ( If you don't yet follow Amanda Seend on Instagram, her link is here -- Amanda Seend  ) 

The garden is open to the public once a year, but designer Amanda Bunt has written a moving post to its many horticultural secrets here -- Seend Manor I love the fact that it moved Amanda to tears. 


Some of you may have seen this gorgeous garden room in the May issue of British House and Garden magazine, but if you missed it, here's the link -- Emma Burns Garden Library  Emma Burns is the senior decorator at Colefax & Fowler, but it seems her talents extend to architecture and landscaping, too, if this remarkable garden shed is anything to go by. Formerly a rustic barn used to house garden tools, it was converted to a garden library-cum-guest-cottage that's also filled with Emma's precious collection of books. One part of it is a mezzanine work area; another an indulgent bathroom. But the most beautiful part is undoubtedly the library, which extends along an entire wall. As Emma explains: 'It used to be a glorified garden shed, and though it seemed daft to have so much space and not do anything with it, we couldn't decide what. Then we moved from our old house in London into a much smaller one and ended up with all these books sitting in storage, so we decided to make it into a book room.'  

It's so lovely that it's a wonder Emma's guests ever leave. Link is here -- Emma Burns' Garden Library


We are constantly looking for the next property to buy and restore or renovate. (Well, I am; my partner just rolls his eyes now, especially when I present him with run-down estates with overgrown gardens and neglected architecture that would take a bulldozer to fix.) While our future home remains a question mark (we may have to move into our tiny investment property on St Kilda Road, after all!), someone will be assured of a extraordinary life with this historic 1854 house and garden called 'Wickham', currently for sale here -- LINK  

It's actually located just around the corner from where we live, in a beautiful part of Victoria called Harkaway. (Yes, we looked at it, but the price tag and heritage overlays were too prohibitive.) It's one of the prettiest properties I've ever inspected, with a grand carriage drive, a coach house, a summer house (a very cute octagonal retreat), pool, stables, even a historic smoke house. But while the outbuildings may need restoration, the house is immaculate, and is a rare example of an untouched floorplan from the mid-1800s. The highlights include a beautiful drawing room, an enormous kitchen with servery, and a gorgeous enclosed conservatory with a brick floor and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to an elegant arbour. 

Imagine ripping up the worn old tennis court and putting in an Edwardian picking garden? Let's hope it goes to a garden lover.


Have you seen Dolce and Gabbana's new botanical garden-inspired collection for A/W 2017? There are dresses imprinted with garden parties, skirts emblazoned with bold palm prints and bags made of pretty wicker. My favourite is the pair of shoes designed like trellis, and the whimsical handbag that looks like a miniature version of the Petit Trianon summer house at Versailles. The collection is a magnificent tribute to the grand gardens of the Victorian era, but it's all done with Dolce and Gabbana's endearing whimsy and eye-catching drama.


Herm├Ęs has also been bringing out a number of exquisitely ornate garden scarves each year. The latest is the beautifully ornate Au Pays des Oiseaux Fleurs (above), which comes in various colourways, but Le Jardin de Leila, which was part of last year's collection (and which I bought to celebrate a special occasion), was heavenly, too. LINK HERE


Finally, if you're looking for something to enhance your sun room, Canopy Designs in the US creates these sublime porcelain chandeliers that look like something you'd find in an enchanted forest. There are various designs, but this is perhaps the prettiest; a tumbling, wondrous delight of intertwining vines, leaves and buds. They also do bespoke work, so you can create your own botanical-inspired lighting. The link is here -- CANOPY NATURE-INSPIRED CHANDELIERS

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