«When compiling the choices for August’s hot list, I realise that I’ve have been drawn to a number of talented individuals who stand out on their own, believe in what they do and deliver the best without needing to hide behind a brand.»
Alma-Tadema at Leighton House
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was one of the most renowned painters of the late nineteenth century, but these days, he is mostly thought of as an out of fashion Victorian, who painted over sentimental images. With this rare exhibition of his work, there is a chance to learn why he was, in fact, a pioneer. West London’s Leighton House, which is worth a visit in itself, is playing host to ‘At Home in Antiquity’, a showcase of Alma-Tadema’s work that explores his fascination with the representation of domestic life in antiquity and how this interest related to his own domestic circumstances. Alma-Tadema and his peers regarded themselves as the new Romans, hence his desire to study the originals and put their lives and stories on canvas. Alma-Tameda’s research on the ancients was so accurate that we can still see his influences in films today – Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ features scenes that were virtual carbon copies of his work. I do wonder though if by painting such scenes and using models who look more northern European than expected, he was deliberately exposing the excess and decadence of the era he lived through. No matter what, when I first took sight of his 1888 painting ‘The Rose of Heliogabalus, I had to smile in delight.
Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, London, W14 8LZ
Faye Toogood for Izé
Recently I’ve been curious about Faye Toogood — a designer who appears to work to her own agenda, creating objects and spaces that question our perception of design. In other words, work that can be tricky to get your head around at first as it blurs the lines between art and what’s usable. What recently caught my attention of hers is a set of door handles created for Izé. Moulded in the shape of bones they can be seen as quite gothic, but take a look for yourself here. That cast of a slice across a bone and its organic asymmetrical shape could be a perfect way to make even the most basic joinery look interestingl.
Grigory Sokolov is without a doubt the best pianist in the world but a recent discovery for me. A true individual, he prefers not to perform with an orchestra, as he believes that in order to draw out new depths from composers such as Chopin and Mozart, he needs to work on his own. The consequence is rich, poetic, intense music. I recommend playing loud(ish) at home with the windows open while enjoying some time alone, you can thank me later. My favourite is his Salzburg Recital, which you can listen to on Spotify here.
Good design should entertain all the senses, including smell. Whenever I have a guest at home the first thing commented on is the pleasant aroma. If you are going to fill a home with perfume like me make sure it’s a good one, however. Pay Lyn Harris’s perfumery a visit for a unique not seen everywhere candle. One of few master perfumers, she set up the successful Miller Harris fragrance company, later on breaking off on her own, on a mission to create the very best. I buy a candle called ‘Dandelion’ from her, it’s smell is wonderful, and if lit for just a short time it will pervade everywhere and linger for quite a while. The scent is endlessly seductive and it’s tough to work out quite what it is. Neither overtly masculine nor feminine, it is both classy and yet a very natural, unstructured smell. Her shop is quite a treat too designed by a favourite architect, Maria Speake of Retrouvius, who uses reclamation with such ease that never looks contrived. I must also mention that Lyn supplies refills and the glassware she uses is hand-blown by Michael Ruh. His pieces look glorious even without a candle, so nothing wasted there.
Perfumer H, 106a Crawford Street, London, W1H 2HZ
When discussing a new restaurant project with a marketing friend recently, I heard that Millennials are more prone to indulge in a restaurant dinner than a night out clubbing. I love this idea, but you’ve got to go clubbing in your twenties, surely?! Saying that, there are some interesting small restaurants set up by young but experienced people around London, often proving that passion can out manoeuvre big budgets. My current favourite is Picture in Fitzrovia.
Picture Fitzrovia, 110 Great Portland St, London, W1W 6PQ
A Book of Practical Decorating Ideas by Bill Baldwin
Moving on to literature, another of life’s great pleasures, I just found a second hand book published in 1973 by an American interior designer called Billy Baldwin. All interior designers need to read this book, as it is packed full of truisms. He calls it a “book of practical decorating ideas”, the ideas might not be suitable for today but his philosophy is spot on. For example he says, “If you can tell I did a house, I didn’t.” and his advice on art is, “No work of art should ever be regarded a decoration. When you try to fit a picture into a room by colour or subject, you reduce it to a chair or a wallpaper.” Words to live (or design) by!
Chisel & Mouse
For years I’ve been collecting little models of buildings, especially when I’m travelling, this involves poking around some pretty dodgy souvenir shops. Recently I have refined what I am collecting, as I have discovered two brothers, Gavin and Robert, and their company, Chisel & Mouse. They make delightful architectural sculptures to order. When I first discovered them I just had to have a model of Trellick Tower, particularly as I could see the real thing from my old studio window. The 32-storey block was famously designed by Ernő Goldfinger and completed in 1972. The brutalist structure has become quite an icon. I love how from one angle it appears to be as thin as a pencil and from another a large slab. Goldfinger’s work was not universally popular though, Ian Fleming did name a Bond villain after him.
A recent addition to my desk is another model by Chisel & Mouse of a building that always makes me smile — Michelin House. Constructed in 1911 for the Michelin Tyre company, it was very much ahead of its time in terms of style as it looks quite Art Deco, which was popular in the 1930s. A new lease of life was given to the building in the 1980s by Terence Conran and Paul Hamlyn and that’s when I got to know and love it. I am so glad that Chisel & Mouse are driven by the same passion for buildings as I can gaze at one of their models as much as a painting