Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Friday, October 2, 2015

Great books, great stories, grand travel, and even grander fathers

Exactly two weeks ago, our family and friends celebrated the life of my kind, wise, clever and thoughtful father, in a packed chapel overlooking the gentle green hills of the countryside. (Don't worry; this is a post about happy things!) I was reluctant to attend; my father was my hero and I was heartbroken. But I did and it was beautiful. (I also had to do the 150 photos for the slide show; which took a few G&TS.) Afterwards, my partner and I had a quiet word at the cemetery, where I told dad what a wonderful father he'd been, and how grateful we were to have had him in our lives. All daughters think their dads are something special, but I was particularly lucky. My father was an adventurer who taught his children to love travel, an educator who instilled in us the very best of his values and beliefs, a hard worker who believed that tenacity, determination and a strong work ethic will take you a long way in life, and a gentleman who practiced kindness right until his last days. 

But the one thing I'll always remember my dad for, the one thing I want to celebrate here, was his ability to tell a great story. My dad was a born raconteur. Not only that, he also loved listening to others' travels and adventures (just as I do), especially if an entertaining anecdote was involved. In fact, I think it's his laugh that I will miss most. There's nothing like someone's laugh to make you laugh in return, don't you think? We need more laughter in the world.  We could all do with a little less negativity and a little more joy.  And so I'd like celebrate my father by posting about some of the things he loved; namely books, great stories, good friends, and grand journeys (with luggage to match!). 

As always, feel free to follow on Instagram – link below. I'll be back on board IG in a few days with pix of New York and New Orleans gardens (doing a little garden tour of the French Quarter), and would love to chat to you there!  (Click for link) 


My publisher will growl because I haven't publicized this earlier, but I hope the circumstances mentioned above allow me to be forgiven. Paris in Style is my newest book on Paris, and probably my last. And because it's my last, I've packed it with Parisian secrets and insights! From the splendid Architecture Museum (just as good as the Carnavalet) to the little-known tours of Chanel's apartment on Rue Cambon, it covers hundreds of wonderful places to discover in this endlessly fascinating city. There are secret fashion and textile museums, sweet little hotels, under-the-radar neighborhoods, lesser-known design destinations, unusual boutiques, irresistible vintage stores and flea market stalls, gorgeous shoe stores and fashion boutiques, heavenly homewares places, and even hidden gardens and parks to explore. There's also a convenient list of 'must-sees' if you're in a hurry, and an extensive section on Paris's most surprising fashion and design quarters, from SoPi to NoMa and the 16th. And of course, there are hundreds of photos and captions— because who reads copy anymore? It's a great little format too: compact enough for your handbag or carry-on. So grab a copy (it's just been released on October 1) for your next trip to Paris. I hope it offers lots of insights and ideas to help you plan the perfect Parisian sojourn.

MUP (Melbourne University Publishing), $39. 
(Available through all bookstores and Amazon)
Link here – PARIS IN STYLE


If you were lucky enough to attend LV's magnificent exhibition on the art of travel and antique travel trunks at the Carnavalet Museum in Paris several years ago (and even if you didn't), you're going to love this special exhibition. Held at the sumptuous Salon d'Honneur at the Grand Palais in Paris, 'Volez, Voguez, Voyagez' will celebrate the evolution, and the glamour and adventure, of travel. The exhibition will include displays on:

THE TRUNK OF 1906 — an innovative design
THE CLASSIC TRUNKS — a catalogue of refined canvases, shapes and locks
THE INVENTION OF TRAVEL – the inauguration of the Steamer Bag
THE PORTAIN TRUNK — a conversation with art
ECCENTRIC AND CURIOUS TRUNKS — including Gaston Louis Vuitton’s own collection
FASHION AND BEAUTY – including 'celebrity' luggage and 'superstar' trunks
and 'THE MUSIC ROOM' — comprising special orders (aka the stuff dreams are made of!)

If you're a traveller, an adventurer or just an armchair dreamer, you won't want to miss this show. (Highlights will inevitably be posted online closer to opening date.) It will inspire, delight and perhaps also motivate you to pack your own well-worn bag and seek out some quiet corner of the globe to explore. 

From December 4 until February 2016.
Grand Palais, Paris


If you can't make the Grand Palais exhibition, you can still peek inside Louis Vuitton's atelier via its new museum, which has just opened inside the original Louis Vuitton home and workshop in Asnières-sur-Seine, France. Simply called 'La Galerie', the new museum was put together by the renowned Australian-born, London-based curator Judith Clark, and showcases Louis Vuitton's journey via stories, inspirations, collections, and artistic collaborations, plus, of course, all the magnificent travel pieces, from steamer trunks to canvas bags. It's a wonderful opportunity to see inside the hallowed walls of this legendary French house.  Visits upon request. Weekends only.


Les Journées Particulières only comes along once every few years, so mark the dates of May 20-22, 2016, in your diary.  Organised by the LVMH group, this is a unique event designed to celebrate the heritage and craftsmanship of Paris' various maisons, and all their ateliers, workshops, studios, back rooms and pin-filled toiles. The opportunity to see inside these ateliers is so rare that whenever LVMH announces these open days, people queue for hours for the chance to join the privileged few visitors. (The last one, in 2013, saw more than 100,000 people go through the various doors.) The most popular atelier is, of course, Christian Dior, but Givenchy, Céline, Guerlain, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Marc Jacobs and the other maisons will no doubt be just as packed next year. More details will be released early next year, so keep an eye out.


Last week, I sent piles and PILES of gift parcels to friends and family, including my favorite aunt, Margot, who is just the most beautiful soul, inside and out. (And has been incredibly kind to me, as good aunts are.) All of these parcels contained books – the BEST kind of gifts, I think – and these were some of the goodies. 

A Day at Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte If you bought the book on Versailles by the same publisher, you'll adore this little gem, which goes behind the scenes of one of France's great chateaux (the gardens inspired Le Notre to design Versailles). There are architectural drawings, garden plans, garden photographs, and incredible wide shots of the interior, including the kitchens and grand salons. The best part, however, is the history, and all the scandalous stories. A great gift idea. Flammarion, $42.

Modern Love: The Lives of John and Sunday Reed is the latest look at this Bloomsbury-esque couple who shared their home, their hearts, their dollars (they were two of our greatest art patrons), and their business know-how to enable up-and-coming artists to achieve extraordinary success. Of course, they shared their beds too, but thankfully this book doesn't go into the dirty details too much. It's one for Heide lovers, including Nicole Kidman, who named her daughter after Sunday Reed, and a fascinating insight into art and love and how, when the two are combined, they often create the greatest inspiration. There's also an accompanying exhibition at Heide, which is well worth seeing. MUP, $45.

Endless Pleasure: Exploring and Collecting Among the Byways of Gardens is a wonderfully quirky title about gardening featuring contributions from garden writers, food writers, chefs, artists, gallery curators, and antiquarians who love the outdoors. There are stories behind the tools we use and love, recipes and memories, and irresistible garden paraphernalia such as prints and drawings. Much of it draws on the collection of the new Australian Museum of Gardening in Adelaide, and the illustrations, images and page designs will give you pleasure for an entire weekend. Buy one for a friend and another for yourself! Wakefield Press, $39.95.

World of Interiors. If you don't have a subscription to this sumptuous magazine, put it on your Christmas Wish List. The September 2015 issue is a little slice of bliss.


I first met the New York author, editor, stylist and consultant Tricia Foley several years ago, while shooting her quietly beautiful Long Island farmhouse for a book. We've stayed friends ever since. She is not only one of the kindest and most unpretentious people I've ever met but also one of the most talented interior designers. And her home... well, the word 'farmhouse' (Tricia's word) is an understatement really. Imagine a stylish white house on an idyllic river setting (complete with a tiny white boathouse), and then fill it with antique armoires and elegant  sleigh beds, cupboards of beautiful white porcelain, sublime tablescapes of beautifully arranged treasures, crisply slipcovered white furniture, worn white floors, piles of books, and room after room of gentle grace. Even the basement has been converted to a charming office with a fireplace, library and flower room. Now, Tricia's 10th book, Lifestyle: Elegant Simplicity at Home, chronicles the 13-year renovation and decorating of this once-ramshackle 19th century farmhouse and its little twin, while revealing the heart and soul of their wonderful owner. Some chapters are deeply moving: "I didn't expect to stay long in this little orphaned house I found on Long Island years ago.." she writes on one page. And the images show the love she has poured into the place. She also offers advice drawn from years of working with famous clients, including Ralph Lauren. The foreword was written by her close friend and neighbour Isabella Rossellini, who writes: "Her determination to make anything old and decrepit beautiful is so contagious that ever since she moved to Long Island, the entire village has been transformed." It's true, too. In recent years, I have gone from being a black-and-white girl to embracing color in all its shades but reading this book makes me wonder if we shouldn't all return to the peace, elegance and utter sophistication of refined, timeless white rooms? With the publication of this title, I suspect an interior design movement back to white its well on its way. Rizzoli, $45.


Remarkable is an overused word in the creative world, but in Rodney Smith's case, it really does apply. One of the most outstanding photographers to have emerged in the past 40 years, his work bridges both commercial and creative. Think Margritte meets Mad Men. There are images of ballgowned beauties reading classics in lush country gardens, bowler hatted-gentlemen doing dances with black brollies, and elegant 1950s-style travelers heading off on their own glamorous Grand Tours with suitcases atop their sleek sedans, but there are also surprising scenes of broken tea sets in French ballrooms and philosophers contemplating wise old trees. Not surprisingly, Rodney Smith's 45-year-career spans everything from the New York Times to magazine editorials, and his work has long been coveted by collectors. Well, now those of us unable to afford the $4000 for a single print can purchase 170 photos for just $75 via Rodney Smith's Kickstater campaign, which aims to fund funds to publish a stunning new tome. With the goal of $42,000 almost reached, you'd better be quick if you want to secure a signed copy of your own. Like everything else Rodney Smith does, this is certain to be spectacular. For more details and a video of the project, click on this link –


Tropical Chic was was a surprise buy. I fell in love with the cover and then found the contents to be just as gorgeous. Written by Jennifer Ruddick, it takes readers behind the grand garden hedges and gates of glamorous Palm Beach in Florida, home to some of the most spectacular residences in the US. If you're a fan of bold color and chic interiors done with a certain cheekiness and whimsy, this is the book for you. There are iconic mansions that have been featured in many magazines but there are also private residences that are clearly more about family than making a statement. A truly lovely book. Vendome, $80.


Provence and the Côte d'Azur has been published in Australian for a year or more now, but has only just come out in the USA (Chronicle Publishers), and friends have been kindly emailing me whenever they've caught sightings in Anthropologie and other stores. I thought I'd mention it in case you're heading to France this year, or making plans for next year. As always, if you want any travel ideas and insights, feel free to email me. I'm always helping people with itineraries (and love doing it). Even if time is restricted, I'll always offer whatever I can by way of great, under-the-radar places, including hotels, hideaways, stores and more. Of course, you can buy the book, too! Chronicle, $20.

Until the next blog post, wishing you all much love from our (slightly weed-filled) garden. (Clearly Mother Nature's been hard at work while we've been away tending to family things.) 

As always, feel free to follow on Instagram – I hope to be back on IG in the next few days, with some gorgeous pix of glamour and gardens in New York and New Orleans, and perhaps Europe too!
(Click for link) 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Joyful Things, from New Hotels to Heavenly Flower Farms

Those who follow me on Instagram -- -- will know I'm flying a little under the radar at the moment. It's a combination of things, but I won't confuse this post with details. Instead, I want to kick the weekend off with some joyous stuff. So here's a high toast to the small delights of life, from hotels to heavenly flower gardens. 

I hope you're all happy and in high spirits, wherever you may be this week. 

The beautiful pix above are from my Instagram feed. Pictured (left) the Wallace Collection, via Paul_J_Little's feed, and (right) Dolce and Gabbana's new shoes, via Kirstie Clements. 
More IG gorgeousness below.


Everyone I know is watching the latest Netflix hit GRACE AND FRANKIE? (TRAILER HERE)  Have you seen it yet? It's brilliantly witty, well-produced, beautifully filmed and with so much property porn you'll be wanting a beach house with a blue kitchen before the last credits have closed.

Imagine Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin living in a coastal cottage that looks like a Verandah magazine spread, spouting Norah Ephron-esque bon mots (Norah would have loved it), wearing cool clothes, and managing even more enviable careers (Lily is a painting teacher; Jane owns a Estee Lauder-style beauty company). Then toss in an unusual plot, which, thankfully, becomes a beautiful and moving story by the end, and you have this gorgeous, glamorous, shimmering new show. It's one of the best series to screen this year.

Now Grace and Frankie is really a show for women and to make us happy there's a string of oh-my men, including a hot ex-prisoner that Jane Fonda has 'almost-sex' with on the kitchen bench, pearl earrings and all. But while Janey gets the hot pecs, it's Lily who has the best lines -- and her face just radiates on camera. I loved her. (I binged-watched the entire first series last week. Although I wished she followed through with that lovely man who owned the vegetable patch.) The beach house is pure property porn. Hooked on Houses blog has a great analysis of the film set here -- LINK 

All the cast have just signed for a second season. Hallelujah, I say. Hall-e-lujah.


My favourite -- FAVOURITE -- thing this year has been the stupendously, tear-wrackingly beautiful film Far from the Madding Crowd, and the hauntingly lovely places it was filmed, historic Mapperton (worth seeing itself) and the wild Dorset coast. Some critics have sneered at Carey Mulligan's performance (I loved it and actually preferred it over The Great Gatsby; she seems more plausible as Bathsheba than Daisy), while others felt that Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays the sexy shepherd Gabriel Oak, was simply a Hardyesque version of Magic Mike. Ignore these sad people. Madding is deeply moving. As an animal lover, I even cried at the part where the sheep go over the cliff. (Sorry, spoiler.) 

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this film though is the costume design, which should be nominated for an Oscar. What's interesting is that instead of using dull browns and greys, as some period films do, the designers went for modern hues of denim blue and salvia mauve. You see, the film's researchers discovered that clothes from the time Hardy set the novel (1874) were actually surprisingly bright -- such as these eye-catchingly blue hues and striking violets --and as a consequence, created a very 'blue' costume palette. I loved the fact that they used an original French gardening smock on Gabriel Oak, which added a lot of authenticity.

There's a lovely featurette that takes an in-depth look at the film's costume here -- LINK

Arguably the best performance comes from Michael Sheen who plays William Boldwood (he played Tony Blair in the Helen Mirren film The Queen). If your heart doesn't break at the part where he shoots Bathsheba's husband (out of love for her), and realises he will no doubt hang for it, you are a hard person, indeed. (Oh, spoiler again!) 

Find a cinema and envelope yourself in one of the most beautiful period dramas this year.


Ben Pentreath, Justine Picardie, Paris Scribe, The Land Gardeners, Pretty in London, the whimsically named Cup of Meat ... IG has some of the most inspirational images on the Internet. Here are a few of my favourite pix from recent weeks.

A Cup of Meat's Instagram feed.
Curious name. Utterly sublime images.

The French Riviera by Sir John Lavery (left), via Howard Slatkin's IG feed, 
and Map of The Open Country of a Woman's Heart published by D.W. Kellogg 1833-1842 (right), via Cup of Meat.

The King's Potager at Versailles (left)(artist unknown), via Susan Alicias, 
and Jean-Jacques Lequeu (right), via Cup of Meat's IG feed.

Rattan sunlounger by Nicholas Haslam (left)
and the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Georgetown, Penang (right) via Cup of Meat


Did you see the recent New York Times article on the idyllic, elysian, utterly enviable World's End flower farm in upstate New York? LINK HERE Many of us would love to pull up our lives and go live on a flower farm, and this one is a dream-in-a-box kinda place, complete with distressed layers of antique wallpaper and fields of dahlias. You can almost smell the hyacinths.

Owned by Sarah Ryhanen and Eric Famisan of the legendary Saipua flower shop in Brooklyn (their floristry style is akin to a Dutch master’s still life), the farm is a place for them to plant unusual flowers (black dahlias; Hello Darkness irises) for their equally bohemian arrangements.

There's a video of the farm on the NY Times page too. Watch out, you'll swoon. (See link above.)


One of the best yet. Just look at these spreads.


Kate Spade (the woman, not the brand) is returning to fashion after eight years away. Launching an accessories collection that's due out for holiday, she has began showing retailers previews but is yet to announce a name. (The designer is unable to use her own name due to legal restrictions following the sale of her brand.


Personally, I can't understand why the glossy mags haven't yet covered this newbie? Perhaps a feature is on its way? In any case, get there before the crowds do. The Cotton House in Barcelona is set to be the hot new hideaway.

Occupying a former textile headquarters (hence the name), this glorious hotel has been sympathetically restored to take advantage of the elegant proportions and rich decorative details. The building’s neoclassical character is evident at every turn: the public spaces are jaw-droppingly in their loveliness. Don't miss the library-lounge and the bar-restaurant Batuar. If you have the money, book the first-floor Ottoman and Damask Suites overlooking Gran Vía.

I'm off to plan our trip to New York and New Orleans in September.
Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

Monday, June 29, 2015

LONDON: A Little List of Design Delights and Secret Destinations

So... there's good news and bad news. The bad news first: My recent England trip (which seemed to come and go in a wet blur of windy May days, quick meetings and blink-and-miss photoshoots) was long on London's usual dignified loveliness but very short on spring gardenalia.

Kynance Mews (left) and the Dior scaffolding (right)

The houses of Canning Passage (left) and the popular Orange pub in Pimlico (right)

England's spring came very late this year and most of the flowers weren't yet in bloom. Even the walled gardens seemed to be tucked up in their hibernated state. It was all quite underwhelming. So I'd like to apologise for not posting any roses, peonies, perennial-filled borders and other petalled delights but the sad fact is that—excluding the Chelsea in Bloom windows (above)— I didn't see many!

Some talented photographers managed to duck the rainshowers, bitter winds and grisaille-y grey days in order to capture the first of the aliums, the last of tulips and a few brave little bulbs poking their noses above the soil line. Jenny Rose-Innes' images of both Chelsea and a selection of country gardens were sublime — — while Naomi at Coulda Woulda Shoulda did a witty recap of the show here — (I missed Chelsea this year due to work, but grabbed some pix of the Chelsea in Bloom windows on King's Road, above.)

Paradise pub (left) and Designers Guild china (right)

A Chelsea florist (left) and Ralph Lauren (right)

The good news is, I was in London to finish shooting a future guide book and catch up with some business contacts, and the inclement weather couldn't prevent the city from looking grander and more glamorous than it's ever done. From the newly opened apartment of architect and collector Sir John Soane at the Soane Museum (which has been locked up for 160 years) to the profusion of petals and pretty windows around Chelsea and Pimlico for the Chelsea in Bloom festival (the fringe festival is almost better than the actual Chelsea Flower Show now), the city seemed to have dressed in its best for the start of the summer season. It's not surprising London has now passed Paris and New York as the most popular city for foreign visitors. The place was glowing like a newly polished silver tea setting.

The London book is a year or so away. But in the meantime, I'd love to offer you a few tips for places to see, shop or stay

Kate Spade's windows (left) and the view from the National Portrait Gallery's restaurant, over Trafalgar Square (right)

London doesn't give out all its secrets at once; it's a little old-fashioned like that. (I lived there for years and am still discovering corners I didn't know existed.) But persevere, because under the buttoned-up formality there's a surprising personality. The London I've come to know in recent years is witty, sophisticated, surprising, upbeat, unique and extremely kind. Those Parisian taxi drivers could learn a thing or two from London's cabbies' manners.

So here's a London list to bookmark for your next trip. I hope the skies are blue wherever you may be this month.


London has a lot of spots that are considered 'fashionable'—any of the Firmdale Hotels (above), the Dover Street Market (above; a department store so cool  it doesn't do merchandising, windows or indeed decorating or displays), the new restaurant Spring by Skye Gyngell (formerly of the Michelin-starred Petersham Nurseries), any David Collins-designed bar, any boutique in Brompton Cross, Bloomsbury, Pimlico, or Spitalfields, and anything with a books or botanica theme, such as the Ivy Chelsea Garden and Assouline.

A navy drawing room that was taken from a Mayfair mansion and reconstructed in a wing of the V&A

The Exchange on Gloucester Road – one of the best places to pick up cut-price Chanel

Leighton House's grand gallery of mosaics and tiles

But there are also a lot of London that go under the radar. The charming architecture and homes tucked away in Launceston Place, Kynance Mews and Canning Passage behind Gloucester Road. The extraordinary fashion archives of Blythe House (where the V&A stores all its archives and 'leftovers' from all their exhibitions and display). The hidden gardens. The unknown National Trust properties—such a 575 Wandsworth; truly one of London's greatest delights. The too-good-to-be-true price tags on consignment boutiques, such as The Exchange (above), where you can nab Chanel for almost nothing. All the memorable museums and the design secrets they hide—Sir John Soane's attic apartments; Leighton House (above); the Emery Walker Trust...

This is the London that's truly memorable. This is the London you need to find.

So here are a few of my London 'favourites', from sublime design destinations to fantastic fabric finds.

Located next door to man-of-the-moment Ben Pentreath, Maggie Owen is not only Ben's friend but a brilliant jeweller. Her store, above, is as pretty as her trinkets, which are the kind you can wear during the day and then out the opera at night. Flashy but far from tacky, they take costume jewellery to a new level of sophistication.

If you're an artist, this is going to be your new happy place. This 100-year-old art store is filled with irresistible pigments, beautiful brushes, incredible history and of course creative inspiration. All the artistic greats have bought their bits and pieces here. The best part is the timber cabinetry and panelling; it's as beautiful as the paints. Don't miss the antique drawers full of coloured pastels at the back: you'll want to start drawing even if you don't know how.

Don't go to Columbia Road just for the flowers, although they are fabulous to see and smell. There are also a dozen or more gorgeous shops, including this cute garden boutique, above, which stocks everything from the now-ubiquitous Kew planters to herb signs and hats. There are also lovely little stores selling fashion, fabrics and more. The key is to go on Sunday, as that's the only day that many of the stores are open. The atmosphere of the market is wonderful, too. All in all, it's great thing to do on a Sunday morning.

A little known gem in London's East End, the Geffrye Museum is dedicated to period interiors and gardens. It's set behind a grand garden but it also features it own charming garden at the rear, which is divided into various period gardens — Victorian; Edwardian, and so on. The key is to read all the small signs and plaques; they're where the interesting bits are hidden. One large board, that was almost lost behind a door, showed in fascinating detail how gardens became popular with the upper-middle class. Even the small signs in the medieval herb garden are enthralling. I didn't visit for many years because I'd heard it was dull. It's not at all.

I love browsing fabric stores, especially those along King's Road (Cabbages and Roses, Designers Guild, and William Yeoward, above). But on this trip, I also discovered Fulham Road, where you can buy Manuel Canovas at Colefax and Fowler without needing an interior designer's trade card. And then there's the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, a veritable Who's Who of Textiles, from Tissus d'Helene (my favourite; a wonderful jumble of sumptuous stuff) to Brunschwig & Fils, Kravet, GP and J Baker and Samuel and Sons. There are more than one hundred fabric houses here, so leave a few hours. Some are trade-only, but my friend gave me a tip: ask for samples of your preferred fabrics (which comefree), and then sew a lovely big quilt out of them. What brilliant thinking.

I won't say too much about Queen Mary's Rose Garden, except try to time your visit for mid or late June, when the roses are in bloom. It's one of the largest rose gardens in England with more than 12,000 roses. Take a picnic or a packed lunch, or grab something to take away from the little cafe. On a sunny days, it's a scented heaven.

I discovered Chiswick on this last trip. I went to visit the Emery Walker Trust before it closed for renos (a wonderful shrine to William Morris), then realised there was an entire neighbourhood of design finds, from William Morris' own house, above, to enchanting cottages and pubs like The Dove, above, which has the smallest bar in the world.  There's a riverside path you can wander, which takes you past rowers racing down The Thames, riverfront mansions and historic cottages, a leafy vista to look at on the other side, and gardens that look like they should be in the countryside. 

And then, when you've finished, there are all the lovely boutiques and restaurants of Chiswick High Road to visit. Don't miss The Old Cinema for antiques and High Street House for a drink. One of London's best-kept secrets. No wonder Colin Firth and others have bought homes here. It's a pocket of pure bliss.

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