28 June 2014

Inside Nancy Lancaster's Yellow Room… London Diary, Part II

Like Mario and doubtless many others since, I've pored over photos of The Yellow Room so many times that it has become an old and familiar friend.  Yet unfathomably I had never stepped foot into Avery Row until this trip.

The exterior of 39 Brook Street.  Read Mario's book on how he first encountered John Fowler outside the shop in the 1960s… It is a charming tale of twin pocket squares out of Plautus.

Mario, Maureen and I were Colefax & Fowler's guests at Claridge's for lunch, a mere 20 paces away.  I had a glass of sauvignon blanc with the lobster bisque, served in a spa-like portion and fortunately augmented by spring peas ordered for the table.  I must admit the tremendous enthusiasm and anticipation my companions showed for these peas did arch an eyebrow, but after one spoonful, I am a now a devotee.  There may be nothing better than fresh English peas (rolled around in butter and basil I believe and al dente).  And if there is one other hot tip you must take away from this blog, it is to never miss going to the loo in a smart hotel or restaurant.  Claridge's ladies' powder room is mint green and black Deco deliciousness.  

C&F: the front room on the ground floor with green walls complemented by Mario's socks; Harry, an adorable young man who works there, is hiding in the window to the right

After cappuccino and an affogato for Mario who is a dessert-hound (he would alway brings cookies to our meetings.  Once, after we discovered a mutual passion for peanut butter-chocolate ice cream, he brought a pint of chocolate and a jar of Skippy as the grocery store didn't have this flavor of the gods in stock), we embarked on our short journey to C&F.

The wall paper inspired by the Anteroom of Drottningholm Palace Theater in Sweden, below

For those who haven't yet made their first pilgrimage, the shop is composed of a rabbit's warren of rooms, rambling from one to another. 

The back of the building looks out onto this courtyard garden.  C&F's archivist Barrie McIntyre, who is  an incredible repository of information and a jewel in the firm's crown, shared that Mrs. Lancaster was furious with Mr. Fowler when the walls (barely discernible now under the ivy) were painted and the two rowed for weeks.

On the first floor (or our second floor) one goes through this small room before entering the barrel-vaulted double-height Yellow Room.  Barrie told us that Mrs. Lancaster purchased the large old master painting (to the right) for the frame.  She then had the canvas cut up and applied to the walls and closet doors.

Even though the room is no longer  furnished with Mrs. Lancaster's antiques (Mario calls the room "a scrapbook of her life") it is still lyrical.

 The money shot: a close up of the glazed "egg yolk" walls

The faux marbre baseboards

At the far end of the room is a pair of double doors that open to this practical small butler's pantry complete with dumbwaiter

The bay windows are deep and conceal these closets

BEFORE: The room in 1947 (which I included in Regency Redux)
It was originally designed by Sir Jeffry Wyattville, George IV's architect, who most notably made extensive alterations to Windor Castle between 1824–1828

AFTER: In 1957, Nancy Lancaster moved into the set of rooms above the shop to economize. This photograph by James Mortimer shows it in 1982.

Reading list: John Cornforth, The Inspiration of the Past

Part III: Vita Sackville-West & Sissinghurst

20 June 2014

Where the hollyhocks grow on every corner… London Diary, Part I

When Mario Buatta, Il Principe di Chintz, wondered if I might be going to London anytime soon, I pounced on the opportunity to tag along.  London in June is glorious – the weather is that civilized state of sunny but not scorching; hat shopping for Asc't is in full gear (as you know, fascinators or any headgear under 4" circumference will not get you inside the royal enclosure), and the art and antiques scene is buzzing with shows and sales.

Speaking of which, Mario and I rendez-voused at the opening of the Haughtons' Art Antiques London fair.  The show originated as a much-acclaimed ceramics show and it continues to be particularly strong in that category.

While a monkey caught Mario's eye on Brian Haughton's stand, I was gobsmacked by this unusual 18th century faience boar's leg tureen.  German, of course.

A stand hung in the vein of John Soane

Mario thought this aristocratic gentleman resembled our mayor Bill de Blasio.

The opening night benefited Princess Eugenie's charity Children in Crisis.  Throughout the show and outdoors, a somewhat bizarre note was struck by a company of actors circulating in Dickensian dress.  After quaffing a glass of Champagne and Victorian lemonade, Mario and I hopped it over to Mayfair to dine with old clients and friends at George, the most informal of Mark Birley's clubs.  I knew I had to order the roast chicken when I saw it was accompanied by bacon and mashed potatoes.  Afterward, we window-shopped Neame across the street where Mario spied a promising pagoda-topped mirror during which an at first amusing but then disconcerting man with a passion for chickens engaged us in conversation.

The next day Mario lectured at the Olympia show, followed by a shopping expedition on the Fulham Road.  He is currently working on a sprawling Palm Beach residence which he says is his last project ever.  After lamenting how many of the shops are no longer there or even selling antiques, he repaired to his hotel room while I met my friend Rosie West for a drink at Bibendum.  Rosie and I had serious business to discuss as I am hoping to commission a portrait of Joan Crawford from her.  Of course, there was so much to catch up on, we still have yet to hammer out young Joan, shoulder-pad Joan or cowboy Joan.
Before Rosie took me to dinner at the House of Lords (such a treat), we stopped by Nicky Haslam's flat to celebrate the London launch of Maureen Footer's George Stacey and The Creation of American Chic.  The book is as attractive and diverting as the authoress, above with Min Hogg (founder of the sublime World of Interiors), and I can't recommend it highly enough.  (Click here to see more photos of Nicky's chic chic chic (I know it's a tired word, but it so applies here) flat.

Jane Churchill & Mario

 Cecil Beaton biographer Hugo Vickers & Rosie

There were so many lovely people there.  I particularly enjoyed meeting designer Vere Grenney (whose shell pink living room I dream about and is the cover of Carolyn Englefield's forthcoming to-die-for book for Veranda) and dealer Valerie Wade.  Valerie got her start with Geoffrey Bennison.  She told me how Bennison, decorator to Rothschild and exalted others, used to go out on the town cross-dressed and in a wig as Big Carol (after Carol Channing).

After a delicious dinner made all the more so by the company of Rosie's husband Lord West who has a fascinating BBC radio program Britain at Sea currently broadcasting on the Royal Navy in the twentieth century (listen here), it was time to head home to Pimlico and the Shabsters.

Part II: Behind the Scenes at Colefax and Fowler…

Reading List (so far):
Terence Stamp, Double Feature (for more on Geoffrey Bennison in a wig)
Maureen Footer, George Stacey and The Creation of American Chic
Nicky Haslam, Redeeming Features
Hugo Vickers, Cecil Beaton
Carolyn Englefield, Veranda: A Passion for Living (just saw the proofs yesterday - trust me, you need this)
and shamelessly, Mario and Moi's book