Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Garden & Design Books For Your Christmas Wish List


The pub date for this much-anticipated book about one of London's most legendary style icons keeps changing, but latest news has its release date as Dec 1. The book, which is certain to be as flamboyant as its subject matter, is both celebration of Anouska Hempel's (Lady Weinberg's) design achievements and an intimate insight into her world and life. The book is divided into thirteen chapters, and includes insights into the interiors and gardens of her country home Cole Park, her yacht 'Beluga', her hotels – including Blakes in South Kensington – plus dozens of other interiors, architecture and garden projects.

There's a wonderful slideshow of her country home Cole Park in the inimitable Archi Digest (here), from which these images are taken.

Cole Park is renowned for its gardens, which feature dozens of clipped topiary and box shrubs, creating a fiercely architectural look.

Anouska's bedroom at Cole Park is partly decorated in hessian, or burlap, which shows the designer has a quiet sense of humour beneath her carefully controlled facade.

An interior view of Hempel's yacht 'Beluga', which is part pirate ship, part floating Louis Vuitton trunk.

Written by Marcus Binney.
Published by Thames & Hudson.
December 2014. 
 $54 (Amazon)


It's only just been published but already Stuart Rattle's book is causing great excitement among gardeners, designers, bloggers and book lovers. Produced as a tribute to Rattle after he passed away last year, it's a beautiful look at his much-loved garden and home at Musk Farm, and his unique style of decorating and design, which won him so many fans over the decades.
A true gentleman, Stuart's legacy lives on in this stunning title.

Published by Lantern/Penguin. 
October 2014.
Foreword by Paul Bangay.
Photography by Earl Carter and Simon Griffiths.


England does country houses – and country house gardens – like no other nation on earth, and this elegant title takes us behind the grand gates to see inside dozens of beautifully designed garden spaces.With chapters on perennial favourites such as Hidcote, Kifsgate and other gorgeous English gardens, it would make a lovely Christmas gift for those who love – and frequent – these inspirational places. It's already become a bestseller on Amazon. There's a lovely article on the book here

Written by George Plumptre.
Published by Frances Lincoln.
October 2014.
$25 (Amazon)


Another garden lover, New York designer Robert Couturier is almost as well known for his grand country garden in Connecticut as he is for his urban interiors in Manhattan. With a preface by Carolyne Roehm and photos by Tim Street-Porter, this book is just as sophisticated as its subject matter.

Published by Rizzoli. October 2014.


Oh, how I would have loved to have written this book, but Jackie Bennett has done a much better job! Featuring writers' garden far and wide, including Virginia Woolf's charming home, it's a delightful look at how literary inspiration can often stem (sorry for the pun) from cultivating a garden. Jackie is the former editor of the Garden Design Journal and a regular writer for The English Garden magazine, and has done a superb job of capturing the connection between writing and horticulture. There's a great Q&A interview here.

Published by Frances Lincoln.
November 2014

And a few more beautiful recommendations for the Christmas stocking...

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Quiet Return of Bold Colour...

Giambattista Valli.
(Via Giambattista Valli's Instagram)

Maison Valentino.

Manuel Canovas, Paris.

Bhangarh, India.

Giambattista Valli. 
(Via Giambattista Valli's Instagram)

Giambattista Valli. 
(Via Giambattista Valli's Instagram)

Anna Spiro.
(Published this month.)

Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
(Opening next month.)

Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
(Opening next month.)

Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
(Opening next month.)

Hamish Bowles, World of Interiors.
(November 2014 issue.)

More beautiful photos here.)

Hamish Bowles, World of Interiors.
(November 2014 issue.)

Hamish Bowles, World of Interiors.
(November 2014 issue.)

Hamish at Cecil Beaton's former home, Reddish House.
(Via Hamish's Instagam)

The Boathouse, Sydney.

The Boathouse, Sydney.

Watt 1875, London.

Designers Guild, London

Hermès, France.

The Exhibitionist Hotel, London
(Opening this month)

My new book. (Still a WIP.)

Friday, October 3, 2014

News, Shoes, Dior and More...


As mentioned briefly in previous posts (ever so briefly, for fear of boring people), I've been busy writing and designing the next Paris book, due to to be published by my lovely publishers MUP in April 2015. My apologies if you've emailed and I've not replied: the book is now behind deadline and that's never professional, so it's become a priority. But it's coming along – albeit in fits and starts – and all remaining emails will be returned this weekend!

If you've thought about writing your own book, be it on Paris or another subject, I'll do a post on pitching ideas and designing mock-ups next week. You do have a better chance with a publisher if you can do a 10-page mock-up: publishers – like most people in this Instagram age – now think in images.

Publishers are inundated with proposals, but there are ways around the fray!


For those who love both books and Dioresque glamour and grandeur, a new title by the New York-based Pointed Leaf Press offers wonderful insights into this legendary French fashion house.

Monsieur Dior: Once Upon A Time is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into the ten years Christian Dior ran his esteemed label, and includes some beautiful images of both his designs and the models (mannequins) and society names who paraded them.

Author Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni interviewed dozens of people who had a direct relationship with the designer such as Olivia de Havilland, John Fairchild, Pierre Cardin, and many others, including his vendeuses, clients, models, and muses. 

It's a lovely look at the flip side of the fashion business.

Published by Pointed Leaf Press in October.


There has been much talk in the media lately about shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo's latest offering to its clients – customised designs. The Ferragamo heel, particularly the Vara (shown), has been a staple in many stylish wardrobes for years, but the designs can sometimes feel a little... dowagerish. Well, now you can 'Amal' them up a little with your own personalised take on the classic lines. 

Stripes... polka dots... juxtaposing tones. Ferragamo doesn't mind. They'll even do a little plaque with your initials on the sole. 

The service is now available in the Sydney boutique and many other stores.
It's a great idea if you want your own unique design – or create something special for a wedding or another event.


Pointed Leaf Press has also brought out a new book that fabric and passementarie fans will love. It's called The French Ribbon and it celebrates France’s deep-rooted tradition of ribbon-making from the time when ribbons were used to express individuality and style in both dress and everyday life. 

There are ribbons made from cotton, silk, satin and velvet, as well as metallic threads and other materials. It's an unusual subject to produce a book about, but with increasing numbers of fabric, textile, and fashion lovers out there, it's certain to be popular. 

Published October 2014.


Do you use Luxe Guides? I do. They're easy enough to slip into your handbag and read on the plane. The copy can be catty –  some narratives sound like they're written by a funny gay friend after a G&T or three – and some of the places are a bit too cool and edgy (cool doesn't always = the best), but their researchers are pretty much on the ball when it comes to knowing their destinations.

Well, former Lonely Planet publisher Simon Westcott has recently bought the company from founder Grant Thatcher (who's since retired to England), and the former has plans for digital expansion. Westcott was involved with Mr and Mrs Smith (another stylish guidebook company), but bowed out when he bought Luxe. Will be interesting to see where the brand goes, digitally speaking...

The problem with guidebooks is finding one you like. I find Luxe's font is slightly too small to read. Some friends use marked-up Google Maps; others rely on crowd sourcing (Trip Advisor, etc). I like the tips in the Financial Review newspaper,  The Australian, Conde Nast's Traveler or New York Times' T magazine, but the best bet is to find someone whose aesthetic you like and mine them for info. (I have a couple of lovely friends who travel a lot and are generous with their insights.) Frommer's was also good before Google all-but-destroyed it, while foreign correspondents and well-travelled friends like to call on Bradt's.


Finally, the LVMH Group, which owns Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Guerlain, Bulgari and many more high-end fashion companies, is reportedly looking to purchase Amanresorts International. 

Widely regarded as having some of the world's most beautiful hotels (George and Amal were married at Aman Canal Grande Venice), Aman properties have always been noted for their architecture (Ed Tuttle's designs have their own followers) as much as their prices ($1000/n). LVMH has only just started expanding into the hotel market with two small properties, but this acquisition would push them into the big time. It makes you wonder if LVMH will subtly decorate the Aman interiors with their own products? Vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunks in the luxury safari tents? Guerlain fragrances offered in gift shops? 

Could be LVMH's idea of cross-pollinisation...?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Remembering Deborah Mitford...

Those who love literature – and literary families – will be greatly saddened to hear of the death of Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (also known as Deborah Mitford), who passed away on Wednesday morning, aged 94.

The youngest daughter of the Mitford siblings – arguably the defining family of their time – Deborah may have, in her early years, been overshadowed by a highly creative, highly productive and sometimes highly eccentric clan, but in the end she made her life her own. And in doing so, perhaps became the most impressive Mitford of all.

Deborah Devonshire's métier was managing Chatsworth, the family home of her husband Andrew, the Duke of Devonshire, and one of the largest private estates in England. They moved to Chatsworth in 1959, after Andrew inherited it and half a dozen other Devonshire-owned estates, including Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Compton Place in Sussex, Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. (Before they moved into Chatsworth, Debo would often quip as they drove past: "Oh, look at that lovely house, I wonder who lives there?" To which Andrew would reply, "Oh, do shut up!"). 

It may have seemed idyllic but the task before them was enormous. For a start, the house had 175 rooms, 17 staircases and 3,426 feet of passage, and much of it required renovating. To make things worse, the couple was already saddled with a staggering debt. After Andrew’s father, the 10th Duke, died, the family faced death duties amounting to 80 per cent of the worth of the estate: £4.72 million, with interest to be paid at a rate of £1,000 per day. However, Deborah, who had inherited her mother's business sense went to work. One estate was given to the National Trust, thousands of acres were sold, and many books and works of art auctioned off. The final debt was finally cleared in 1974. 

Deborah always credited her mother for her frugality. Sydney (known by the Mitford girls as 'Muv') had been a meticulous housekeeper who had recorded all the family's expenses in a small book. "My mother’s account books were fascinating," Deborah once confessed in an interview. "She always wrote down every penny spent on household things, every penny. She loved figures and adding up." 

Deborah also revealed that her sister Nancy had not inherited the Frugal Gene. Once, when the siblings were receiving housekeeping lessons, they were given an imaginary budget of £500 a year and asked to budget for heating, food and so on. Nancy wrote, 'Flowers £499. Everything else £1.’

Deborah's money-saving ways even extended to clothes. She loved fashion and photo shoots often featured gowns by Oscar de la Renta (the perwinkle blue one on the above cover is by Oscar de la Renta) and Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquirè. However, when it came to day-to-day gear, she preferred hardy garments bought from agricultural stores. Fancy gardening gear purchased from Harrods and other fine establishments never lasted, she claimed – and always cost far too much anyway.

After Andrew passed away, she moved out of Chatswoth to make way for her son Peregrine, the 12th Duke, and his family. "I was 85, it was high time to go!" she said, with dignity. Together with her beloved butler Henry, who had been with the Devonshires for more than 50 years, and her personal assistant Helen Marchant, who had been with them for 25 years, Deborah moved into the smaller residence, Edensor House, on the Chatsworth Estate. She also took her beloved chickens, which were so cherished they were featured on the cover of one memoir. (When John F Kennedy visited Chatsworth to pay his respects to his sister's grave – Kathleen Kennedy has been married to the Duke's elder brother – Kennedy's helicopter blew away some of the chickens and Deborah said she never saw them again.)

Last year I wrote to the Dowager Duchess to see if I could interview her for a new book on horticulture, haute couture, and high society. A mutual acquaintance at Heywood Hill bookshop in London (which I often shop at and which the Mitfords own), kindly passed her details on.

(This same acquaintance told me the wonderful story of how Nancy Mitford worked in the bookshop in the 1940s, turning it into a lively social and literary hub for friends and book lovers. Unfortunately, she lacked the sense of her younger sister, and one night forgot to lock up. The next morning she arrived at the bookshop to find people everywhere, chatting, offering recommendations and trying to sell books to each other. The Devonshires were majority shareholders in Heywood Hill until last year, when Andrew's son Peregrine 'Stoker' Cavendish, bought the bookshop outright in order to save it.)

So I wrote a humble letter to Deborah at Edensor House. I'd been told that Elvis (her idol) was the key to  gaining an audience with her and so I mentioned how a lovely friend in California had once dated Elvis when she was young, and relayed a funny story about him – which he no doubt would have approved of, too. The request was a few months too late. Deborah had already become frail and the request was politely declined, although I didn't realise how serious her health was. Her beloved butler Henry had even been allowed to retire. 

I thought of her life, her legacy, all those memorable memoirs – and her energy! It seemed unthinkable that she would ever pass away. 

There are some people in our lives, and in history, that we wish we'd met, even briefly. I would have like to have laughed with Robin Williams (and perhaps given him a shy hug), chatted to Churchill, and shared a stroll through a French garden with Nicole De Vésian. I would have been awed to have been in the same room as Givenchy, and still pay my respects to Hemingway whenever we go to Key West. But for many of us, Deborah Devonshire remains the one person we wished we'd had the opportunity to meet, even for a few minutes. She just seemed like so much fun!

Let's hope the Mitford girls are now happy to be together again, laughing in Heaven.

One of the best books about the Mitfords is Letters Between Six Sisters, featuring 75 years of letters between these witty, humorous siblings. The book was edited by Charlotte Mosley, Debo’s niece, who clearly knows the family better than anyone.

Another great insight into the sisters is The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford's bestselling novel, which was, in her own words, "an exact portrait of my family". Both are still available on Amazon, as are Deborah's books, including The Garden at Chatsworth. {Above images from her books.}

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