I often speak of Monticello. From the moment I saw it, in an interiors magazine years ago, I was drawn to its grand Paladian presence. Its style, its symmetry and its classic sophistication have been a consent source of inspiration for me, throughout my carreer.
Monticello was the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Jefferson began his work on Monticello when he was twenty-six years old, drawing from knowledge gleaned from various books as there were no schools of architecture in colonial Virginia. Originally styled as a plantation, the first Monticello was slightly more modest — built in 1768, it was two stories high with a total of eight rooms. As the years went by, and especially after his tenure in Europe, he continued to add rooms, and make inspired changes. By the end of its construction Monticello was a grand villa, comprising 11,000 square feet.
Influenced by Andrea Palladio, the Renaissance architect, Jefferson put his own spin on neoclassical architecture, incorporating octagonal forms in his designs which were often constructed in red brick. He created a style of architecture befitting a new nation – original, but drawing elements from European Classical tradition. Monticello contains a few ingenious innovations by Jefferson including a “turning machine” for holding clothing, a spherical sundial, and a revolving bookstand for his ever-expanding collection.
It’s probably one of the most fascinating homes in the United States, if not the world. Not for it’s lavish decorations or its grandiosity, but more so for its perfectly symmetrical design and the intricate details that can be found in every room inside the house.
Just like George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello sits on a hill with amazing views of the surrounding farmland, valley, and mountainous region. On a clear day, you can see for miles and gaze at the hilltops of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.
There are only a handful of locations in the United States that are selected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites and Monticello is one of them. It’s the only presidential home with such designation, and it certainly deserves it.
As promised, in a blog a few months ago, I have completed the first design in a new series of architectural miniatures. The French Chateau. Many years ago, as some of you will remember, I produced a range of handcrafted Architectural Miniatures, decorative Dolls Houses and collectable objet d'art. I am excited to announce, I have decided to recreate a selection of the original range. Hand crafted and hand painted, in the style of the original designs, these one off pieces will be available online… See our online store for more details.
The Wolseley has been on my list of London 'most do's' for years! So it was an absolute treat to walk through its doors on my recent visit to the U.K. Even at a glance, it's impressive exterior, with its arched windows and brilliantly decorative iron work, drew me in.
The Wolseley is a café-restaurant in the grand European tradition on London's famous Piccadilly. With a spectacular Listed interior, the restaurant buzzes from early till late, seven days a week.
The great Brasseries of France are the most obvious inspiration for this hugely popular restaurant, but there are few places in Paris that can match The Wolseley for sheer plushness. Originally a 1920s car showroom, it was built on such an extravagant scale that it bankrupted Wolseley Motors. Swift black-clad waiters glide across the patterned marble floor, carrying groaning platters of fruits de mer, steak frites and lobster bisque between the pillars and archways of this Italian-influenced dining room.
It is a celebrity hide out also with London 'A listers' Kate Moss and Jason Statham frequenting often. Madonna, when in London, is often spotted there.
As well as eclectic lunch and dinner menus encompassing European classics, the restaurant serves breakfast, morning coffee, afternoon tea and an all-day menu.
Once upon a time, pleasure piers were the jewel in the crown of Victorian seaside resorts. In the days before flight travel and package holidays, these elegant structures reaching out into the ocean were the forefront of entertainment, with their funfairs, ballrooms and cafes hosting hundreds if not thousands of tourists, each day. Sadly, many have long since been demolished while others cling to life dejected and abandoned.
The Brighton Marine Palace and Pier is one of the last remaining pleasure piers in England. As famous as the town in which it stands, it has intrigued me for years and I have often noticed it used as a location in film, television and various magazine editorials.
On my recent travels to England's south east country I decided to make a pilgrimage to see the historic structure first hand. I was also keen to see the town in which it stands, it's famous foreshore of historic hotels, it's hidden lanes of antique stores and cafes and its pebbled beaches.
The pier is truly magnificent, sitting proudly of the south coast, withstanding the winds and rough seas of the English Chanel, I felt humbled in its presence. Walking out over its historic wooden beams I was transported to another era. It may be said that England's 'Pleasure Piers' are a thing of the past, thankfully however, the few remaining are being preserved.
Encaustic cement tiles have been around for centuries and I have been coveting them for years.
As a child, I remember my parents designing a patterned mosaic for our front hall. The result was beautiful. It is an image that has remained with me and I'm delighted to be reinventing it in a current project.
Cement tiles are decorative, colorful tiles used primarily as floor coverings. Floors or walls covered with these tiles are noted for their multi-color patterns, durability and sophisticated look. These tiles are widely used in Latin America and Europe. Their popularity spread to the US, primarily in California and Florida through the 1930s and 40s.
The tiles' colorful patterns, durability and versatility have been attracting the attention of architects and designers for large commercial projects such as restaurants and hotels. I have seen them used to great effect during my recent travels through South East Asia.
This week, while on a three day styling project in Sydney, I revisited one of my favourite city locations. A place I had dropped into frequently when I lived there many years ago... Gowings department store in George Street.
I had known it as a Sydney landmark, a menswear institution for hundreds of thousands of men and their families who had been flocking through its doors since the stores opening in 1912. It was the place to buy menswear clothing essentials, iconic Australian brands such as Bonds and RM Williams (I bought my first pair of RM boots there when I was 21) Australian soldiers were clothed there during the war years. There was even a barber shop where a 'short back and sides' cut was the order of the day.
Sadly, in January 2006, after three years of successive losses, Gowings closed it's doors for the last time, taking with it generations of memories for Sydney shoppers.
In recent years, however, the Gowings building has been transformed. The Design Hotel group has opened QT DesIgn Hotel Sydney - and I was fortunate to stay there on my stay this week.
An article in The Australian newspaper by Christine Mcabb explains it all...
"The scene is set by a streamlined art deco sign above bustling Market Street where dapper porters, sporting berets and jeans, wait on the pavement.
This is hotel as theatre. Staff have been cast not recruited, and all front of house personnel, from the bowtie-clad concierge to the red wigged “Directors of Chaos” visit hair and make up each morning before clocking on.
And “uniforms” are courtesy costume designer Janet Hine (the woman behind Dame Edna’s final frock).
The hotel’s 200 guestrooms occupy the building above the State Theatre and the old Gowings department store linked through the first floor lobby. Entrance is via the glittering former State Theatre shopping arcade where even the lifts get in on the act, kitted out with LED digital art (a feature throughout the hotel) and adjusting muzak according to the number of passengers on board (solo travellers might be serenaded with ‘Are you Lonesome tonight?’).
Local designers Nic Graham and Shelley Indyk have teamed up to deliver playful, stylish but eminently comfortable interiors that incorporate many of the buildings original features (a century old urinal in the men’s loo for example) and take into account the specific idiosyncrasies of each individually styled guest room.
The low ceilinged lobby is scattered with bespoke furniture and dominated by an installation of vintage luggage. The guest lounge is dotted with large velvet ottomans and the wall lined with artfully stuffed cabinets of curiosities (in fact the hotel shop selling all sorts of stylish objets d’art).
Each design-focused guestroom is different (in the Gowings building the original department store floor boards have been retained), decorated in rich reds, oranges, yellows and white, but all share certain features: an incredibly comfy ‘Gel’ bed, cleverly curated ‘artefacts’, quirky bedside lamps (in the guise of top or bowler hats, book binders or vases), an excellent mini bar (stocked with healthy snacks), Nespresso machine and a welcoming martini tray.
Where to eat
Under director Robert Marchetti and executive chef Paul Easson (ex Mebourne’s Rockpool Bar & Grill), food will be a feature at QT. On the ground floor the Parlour Lane Roasters café morphs into a wine bar after dark. Upstairs, the all-day dining Gowings Bar & Grill is the antithesis of your usual hotel eatery, a buffet free zone (in the mornings bar staff front to mix smoothies) featuring a huge open kitchen fitted with wood fired ovens and an impressive glass fronted seafood room where a giant yellow fin tuna (delivered weekly) hangs to be cut as needed. Room service is equally innovative, served in a bento style box for easy, in-bed dining."
When he wasn’t designing notable buildings (among them the original Bank of England), Sir John Soane (1753-1837) obsessively collected art, furniture and architectural ornamentation. In the 19th century, he turned his house into a museum to which, he said, ‘amateurs and students’ should have access. The result is this perfectly amazing place.
Much of the museum’s appeal derives from the domestic setting. The modest rooms were modified by Soane with ingenious devices to channel and direct daylight, and to expand space, including walls that open out like cabinets to display some of his many paintings (Canaletto, Turner, Hogarth). The Breakfast Room has a beautiful domed ceiling, inset with convex mirrors. The extraordinary Monument Court contains a sarcophagus of alabaster, so fine that it’s almost translucent, that was carved for the pharaoh Seti I (1291-78 BC) and discovered in his tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. There are also numerous examples of Soane’s eccentricity, not least the cell for his imaginary monk ‘Padre Giovanni’.
I was lucky enough to visit the museum on one of my trips to London. Situated just out side of the city at number 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The museum itself is a succession of remodelled town houses, purchased and adapted by Soan over a period of 50 years. One particular room, my favorite, is devoted to his historic architectural model collection. Breathtaking but fragile in its original state, the room was closed for several years. It has been recently restored and will soon be reopened to the public.
TRADITIONAL INTERIOR DESIGN
Traditional interior design is typically evocative of classic European decor. Hallmarks of this style generally include deep wood tones, architectural details, and elegant furnishings. This style is quite versatile and can be combined with other interior elements to create a unique look in a room.
One of the most important facets of traditional interior design is the silhouette, also called the line, of the furnishings. Wing-backed chairs, claw footed tables, and curved furniture pieces that hearken back to the 18th and 19th centuries are examples of this. Common models for such traditional furniture are pieces attributed to the Queen Anne or Chippendale styles. Antiques are also often integrated into this design style, but many companies sell new pieces that mimic the lines of the old.
Architectural embellishments are widely used in traditional interior design. These can include elaborate moldings, beveled wood paneling, and intricate tile and wood floor patterns. Arches, columns, and built-in cabinetry are also frequent features of this type of design.
Rich wood tones are another key element in traditional interior design. Dark woods like cherry, maple, and mahogany are typically used in furniture pieces of this style. These are often carved and lacquered to give them a luxurious, elegant feel. Wood floors are also considered a standard for this decor, although tile and carpet are often used as well.
I have always admired the style of the fashion designer Bill Blass - his work was classic and simple - with beautiful detailing and classic tailoring. His apartment in New York, which he designed with the help of Chessy Rayner and Mica Ertugun of the interior design firm MAC II, reflects the same aesthetic.
Situated at No. 1 Sutton Place, Manhattan, I was fascinated by the interior. I remember the first time I saw it, perhaps twenty years ago. It was timeless, gracious and and it oozed the most exquisite classic style that I had ever seen.
The furniture was very Regency in style and the decorative details were wonderfully quirky, featuring globes, architectural models, and columns. The apartment was masculine, monotone and to me it was... perfection!
I love this quote from the man himself...
"There is a sense of dignity, a simplicity and a classicism in my clothes which can be read into the apartment. As I am surrounded with colours and fabric all day I look forward to a monochromatic home. I work in fashion - I don't want to live somewhere that looks fashionable." - Bill Blass