The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind at Château de Gudanes. Work is progressing at a hundred miles an hour as the restoration continues. And, in between laying tiles and in-floor heating I have been in the throws of writing the Château Book.
Last month, I also spent a few days in London. Not being a French resident I need to renew my visa every three months, and London is a convenient and quick way with both Toulouse and Carcassonne airports nearby.
Not that I would need much of an excuse to travel to one of the most popular cities in the world. A city that perhaps captures like no other the essence of the past, the present, and the future all in one place. Walking up and down the bustling streets and looking around classic architecture dating back to bygone times stands upright next to those which appear as if from the future. Buildings inspired by the concrete legacy of Le Corbusier sit but a stones throw away from a typical London townhouse. Traditional craftsman work just a few paces from modern pioneers who are now making history. Music of all the ages booms loud from behind closed doors. In London, the past remains respected, but the future is actively sought out.
And so, whether a newcomer or born and bred it is easy to feel mixed emotions towards the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
What is an undisputed fact though is that London is an essential city for a designer. No matter what your area of design may be there is always creative inspiration to be found in a fascinating myriad of styles, where high end rubs shoulders with high street, modern meets iconic, and cutting edge collides with classical. In search of research I went looking for adventure.
I stayed at the Savoy - one of London's iconic places where new meets old. It was built in the late 19th Century, but has recently been pristinely restored. I knew very little about the Savoy except that the narrow roundabout at the front of the building has remained unchanged through the many restorations that haven taken place over the years - having been designed specifically to fit the turning circle of the original, legendary London black cab.
The interior is eclectic, with mixed arrangements of hot pink flowers sitting atop baroque inspired glossy black tables, adorning the lobby and acting as the perfect contrast against checkered black and white tiles and the rich mahogany coloured timber panelling that encases the room. Overhead, ornate designs are painted in gold above each doorway and marble pillar. An array of diverse though flawlessly curated lavish furnishings await guests to soak up in their comfort.
The retro, old-Hollywood vibe is unsurprising, as some of the hotel's most esteemed guests have included Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, John Wayne, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, and Elizabeth Taylor. The true crowning glory though of this hotel is the breakfast room (also host of the famed Savoy Afternoon Tea) where a delicate, white framed conservatory is perfectly placed below an exquisite, domed stained-glass ceiling. At the Savoy, design has triumphed to seamlessly blend history and history in the making.
Given my recent dedication to writing the Château story, this visit to London I was very excited to find time to visit the annual London Book Fair - the meeting place for authors, publishers, book stylists, graphic designers and printers to mingle and meet. I had pre-registered and walked around with a badge declaring me an author, which at this point is a far stretch from the truth. Inside the fair, I stepped into another world. Not just bookish but with an authoritative air. Everywhere I could see someone who reminded me of my English Literature teacher peering over small wired framed glasses in a Dickens sort of way.
It was an informative few days - listening to lectures on publishing rights and talking to publishers and printers. I was able to show some of the 300 pages of the Château story currently in progress to publishers. I also rekindled a previous relationship with Murdoch Books and Allen & Unwin from two years ago when they first approached me to publish the Château book. At that time I couldn't truly commit to writing anything worthy or giving my best to the Château or to anyone wishing to receive and read her story. Now, I am finally in a position to be able to dedicate myself to writing.
It will be a fairytale story with a romantic beginning, but also a story about 800 years of overcoming obstacles and facing challenges. A rollercoaster ride set within the beauty of mountainous valleys and the changing of the seasons. And, it will be about putting the Château back together again and accepting that it can't go back to how it used to be, but nevertheless pushing forward to make it into a home. Essentially, it is an affair of the heart - a true love story with an ending that lasts more than a lifetime.
Designing and styling a book takes time... as I am learning! The vision for the Château book is for readers to open a treasure chest full of magic and wonder, where every page is connected in some way to the Château - from illustrations of details and motifs found inside the Château, to poetry written by French philosophers who once upon time visited and walked her magnificent halls.
Books are as much objects to be reified for their design prowess as reading material. At the fair, I met book designers and printers from all over the world who produce everything from gold gilded and velvet covered books to those with more avant-garde covers with modern graphics and bold colour blocks. Traditional book binders worked to show their craft and old world ways, alongside e-books and kindle stallholders in customary London style.
To top my London experience off, I was also able to spend time with my lovely and dear friend, and international designer, Carolyn Quartermaine. A friendship which has only recently been found, but now blooms anew in the change of each season.
I met Carolyn in person for the first time last year after our mutual friend, Anne, put us in contact with each other. But, I was first introduced to Carolyn's designs over twenty years ago when given her book 'Unwrapped' as a birthday gift. I can recall carefully opening the book for the very first time and turning to the first page - I happened upon a gold gilded French chair, dressed up in hot pink silk and pointe shoe perfect pink tulle, and embellished with the word 'Mozart' in gold thread and 18th Century style French calligraphy. In that moment my breath lay in the air suspended, and the beat of my heart was stolen.
Each page set forth anew another voyage into the imagination...
In May of last year Carolyn joined us at the Château for a few days. Naturally, I was nervous. But she came with such graceful generosity - with chocolate truffles in candy coloured boxes tied with sugar plum fairy purple ribbon, and yards of her signature, silk fabric adorned with gold calligraphy - and such endearing warmheartedness that I need not have worried.
Carolyn is an artistic phenomenon - designing and styling for clients such as Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, Manola Blahnik, Terence Conran, Fortnum and Maison, Baccarat and Fragonard, just to mention a few. She was also named 'Designer of the Year' at Maison et Objet, at the Paris Design Fair in 2008.
Her work takes you on an endless and timeless journey through her and through your own imagination - sometimes awakening long-forgotten romance and fairytales, and at other times stepping into a daring adventure of bold and brilliant colour. Her work is not about preconceived notions of style, instead Carolyn chooses to disassemble the traditional and rebuild it into something that tugs directly on our heartstrings to become creatively unforgettable. The highest gift of work is that it is love made visible.
This visit Carolyn invited me to her studio, which is a short Uber ride out of central London to Worton Hall Studios. Once upon a time it was the Islington British movie studio where some of the most beloved and romantic Hollywood movies were filmed, including African Queen. Now the studio is home to various artists and large-scale printmakers.
Stepping inside her studio the walls are painted white but the rest of the space is the most vibrant of rainbows. It is bright and the light pouring in from the windows illuminates all the colours that are strewn artistically around the room. It is nothing short of dazzling. I tip toed around pastel pots of purple, pink, blue, and green. Canvases of all shapes and sizes are scattered over the floor as if the entire space is one great piece of art in the making. Amongst all of this, there is an obvious order to things where every piece has its place in the wider artistic vision - akin to a master composer connecting notes in their musical symphony.
Carolyn has always forged her own creative path and is adept in setting worldwide trends. Even Donna Karan has recalled pinning images of Carolyn's designs into a secret compartment in her handbag, keeping them close as constant and every-ready inspiration.
Right now, Carolyn told me she is re-designing the interior furnishings of The Glade in London. Several years ago, along with Didier Mahieu, Carolyn carefully handmade a decoupage forest to create an enchanted fairytale inspired bar, deep in the heart of central London.
The Glade is also right next door to Sketch, the glamorous rose-quartz coloured restaurant. Sketch and The Glade have together been heralded in recent years as the epitome of the modern dining and drinks experience.
This month another chapter will be begin at The Glade as it is transformed into a modern fairytale forest. Over the past few months, Carolyn has worked tirelessly hand-painting fabrics, which she has exclusively designed and created for the occasion. The designs have been printed, fire proofed, and cut to fit new furniture which Carolyn has also designed and had custom built. Chairs have been metamorphosed into a kaleidoscope of swirling butterflies, and in complement, other furnishings have become gardens overflowing with flowers. Once complete, they will be placed into The Glade as an eclectic contrast against the original emerald green decoupaged forest.
The Glade will again be the most talked about place in town - a fairytale flower garden in the forest of the city. A place where flowers dream...
It was difficult to tear myself away from her studio, but Carolyn had booked lunch down the road a few fields away at Petersham Nursery - another enchanted place of fairytales, flowers and food, but a stones throw from the centre of London.
Late last year we had met at the Chelsea Art Club for lunch. In 1890 the idea of a private club for artists, actors, dancers, filmmaker, photographers, musicians and poets in Chelsea gained footing. It is bohemian in principle with no dress code. The annual parties are legendary, and the heart of the Club is a billiard table surrounded by donated mix matched chesterfield lounge chairs and bric a brac. We had a great time there and I was excited to see what Petersham Nursery had in store for us.
In the late 1990's the building that is now Petersham Nursery was under threat of demolition... until an Italian prince and an Australian model, both with a shared vision to create a botanical paradise set amongst the bustle of London and undertook the restoration. And so, Petersham Nursery opened in 2004.
An endless expanse of chandeliers, homewares, mirrors, and small trinkets all set amongst the fresh blooms of spring, Petersham Nursery is peaceful and picturesque. Jasmine and jonquils overflow from gigantic antique urns decorating each space, their scent filling the air with a refreshing sweetness. It is a botanical maze and you could easily find yourself wanting to become lost amongst the flowers and the ferns. Petersham Nursery entices by playing on our sense of curiosity - there is a pot pourri of charming and secluded places to discover and where you can relax and feast as if sitting in the most luscious of gardens.
There is a delightful tearoom with homemade cakes,
several greenhouses where you can eat amongst the blossom,
and a grand conservatory style restaurant.
This is no secret garden though - Carolyn had booked well in advance. We were greeted with a menu that enticed us to share starters, mains, and desserts. Shortly afterwards a delightful waiter appeared with a delicious artichoke and a Portland crab with shaved fennel, radish, pink radicchio and lemon arrived. Each bite was utterly delicious and botanically beautiful. My favourite of all had to be the dessert - bite sized perfectly pink pieces of rhubarb set beneath the buttery crunch of a short crust pastry. And to top it all - edible flowers and homemade ginger ice-cream. C'était délicieux!
A leisurely lunch relishing the time spent with my lovely friend was the perfect day and the perfect way to end a few days away.