Saturday, 16 August 2014

amalfian dreams

We returned home from the Amalfi Coast last Saturday, after a sublime summer holiday. On the previous Saturday afternoon we flew into Naples (via Stuttgart), past Vesuvius, which seemed to loom dark and heavy over the blue shoreline. To get to our base for the week, we drove for an hour or so south, eventually coming to the notorious SS163 coastal road. We joined at its beginning in the town of Vietri sul Mare and then, clinging to the cliff edge, crawled along to our destination, the beautiful Villa Scarpariello. We dropped off our bags and de-robed, achey and hot after the long journey, and jumped straight into the sea.

Later that evening we walked from the villa along the SS163 to the charming fishing village of Atrani. We did a lot of walking along this coastal road, which provides access to the towns dotted along the sea. It was quite terrifying at first - there are no pavements, and you're faced with sharp bends and twists whilst mopeds, sports cars and buses come hurtling towards you at great speed, but we quickly got used to it. Atrani has the most lovely square, which we ended up frequenting most nights for a spritz or three. We'd sit there as the sun was setting over the water, in front of the church of San Salvatore, and watch people from all generations going about their business. It was just the most perfect Italian square; full of life. Interestingly, Atrani resides along the valley of the Dragone River, named after a legend which describes a terrible dragon that would hide himself there.

The family run Villa Scarpariello was a great find - our terrace overlooked the sea, and we'd wake up every morning to the most fabulous view. A cluster of simple, rustic rooms and apartments surround tiered gardens and a 15th-century watchtower - all connected via a maze of steps.

After our daily breakfast of coffee and fruit, we'd go for a swim in the saltwater pool. Or we'd wander down to the rocks and dive into the sea.

On Sunday morning we drove up to nearby Ravello, which is set like an eagle's nest above the shimmering coastline. We explored the town's lanes and terraces before enjoying a delicious poolside lunch at the Hotel Caruso. Described as one of the best hotels in Europe, the Caruso was once a palace, with terraced gardens and an infinity pool that seemed to spill into the Gulf of Sorrento below.

We took a ferry to Capri on Tuesday. Lunch was at La Capannina, one of the most perfect restaurants I've had the pleasure of visiting. Waiters in pale pink waistcoats and black cummerbunds serve local dishes, whilst diners sit at tables laid with matching pink tablecloths, which I remember jarred superbly with the vivid green tiled floor. I highly recommend.

After lunch we paid a visit to the Grotta Azzurra, a sea cave on the coast of the island. Sunlight, passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, creates a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern. The grotto was known by the Romans, and apparently used by the Emperor Tiberius during the years when he retired to Capri. To get to it, you take a small boat around the coast to the tiny entrance, before being rowed into the cave itself by a local guy in a gondola.

Amalfi, in the next bay over from Atrani, felt much more touristy than it's quieter neighbour, but I still liked it very much. We had dinner in Amalfi a couple of times; afterwards we'd sit in the Piazza Duomo, the heart of Amalfi, with a few scoops of hazelnut gelato. The Duomo itself, which dominates the square, was magnificent. The façade of the cathedral is Byzantine in style and is adorned with various paintings of saints, including a large fresco of Saint Andrew.

Wednesday found us renting a small boat, which we sped up and down the coast in, dropping anchor and taking a quick swim every now and again. We visited La Gilli (or Le Sirenuse), an archipelago of little islands just off the coast of Positano. The name, Sirenuse, is a reference to the mythological sirens said to have lived there. Several sirens were said to have inhabited the islands, the most famous of whom were Parthenope, Leucosia and Ligeia. One of them played the lyre, another sang and another played the flute.

Holiday essentials...

Happily, I did quite a lot of sketching during our stay, usually in the evenings before supper or first thing in the morning.

On Friday we climbed down hundreds of steps from the road (further west and closer to Positano) right down to the sea, with the idea of having lunch at Da Adolfo, which I'd read about and couldn't wait to visit. The restaurant is situated in a tiny rocky cove (I imagine it's much easier to get to from the sea), in what is more or less a straw-roofed beach hut. The food, however, was incredible. We had, amongst other delicious things, grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves and the most excellent drink - jugs of white wine served with peaches. Could this work as well in North London, do you think? I have my doubts!

Two other highlights of the trip were a perfect, simple shrimp risotto from the wonderful A' Paranza in Atrani (which I ate on three separate occasions because it was so heavenly) and the Villa Cimbrone, a historic building in Ravello, with its beautiful accompanying gardens, which we spent Thursday afternoon getting lost in. Saturday was mostly taken up by the lengthy return trip (this time via Düsseldorf). We had a fabulous week, with just the right amounts of rest, relaxation, eating, drinking, exploration and discovery, which I reckon all summer holidays should have in equal parts. Amalfi, when can I return to you?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

art on a thursday

Acrobat by John McLean.

'My pictures have no hidden meaning. To understand, all you have to do is look. I work in terms of the feelings I can elicit with drawing, colour and surface. Instinct and spontaneity are crucial. Thought goes into it too, in the same way that it does in singing and dancing.'

John McLean, 2012

Sunday, 10 August 2014

to the lighthouse: 2014

And so, to the North Devon coast for our annual family holiday. I stayed in Ilfracombe for four nights at the very end of July with my mother and siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents; it's something of a ritual (I've been visiting the seaside in Devon practically every summer since I was born - see here for entries on 2013 and 2012 trips). Anyway, I came across this mural whilst changing trains at Exeter St Davids railway station on my way down and had to take a quick snap. Obviously I found it completely brilliant.

The view from the first floor of the little pink house on the harbour, which we have rented for a week in summer for the past three or four years. We've almost always stayed in houses on the harbour.

One day we visited the nearby coastal villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, as we usually tend to do. We took the water-powered cliff railway from Lynmouth up to Lynton, where we walked west to the Valley of the Rocks, which runs parallel to the coast. The views from the cliff path were spectacular. Can you spot the wild goat?

Stereoview of Valley of the Rocks photographed by W.E. Palmer (late 1800s). The sea cliffs here are amongst the highest in Britain.

The night before leaving, I took my family to the Quay - Damien Hirst's restaurant on the harbour, which I've been wanting to visit for some time. The Lundy crab claws were particularly delicious, although the uninterrupted view of the raging sea alone would have been worth the visit.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

i am listening to...

Strange Desire, the debut release from Bleachers (aka New York City based Jack Antonoff) is, I think I will go as far to say, my current record of the year. Stuffed with incredibly catchy hooks, echoing drums and powerful, pulsing synths, it's a throwback to the 80s - epic, anthemic and totally bombastic. I'm in love with it. Also, Grimes and Yoko Ono make vocal appearances, which surely can never be a bad thing. I can't seem to work out how I can buy the album in the UK, but you can listen to it in full below. Opener Wild Heart is a soaring beauty.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

hot july

August is about to dawn and no doubt it'll be just as hectic as July has been, if not even more so. (I'm about go on on a few trips however, so August will be busy in a very pleasant way.) What have I been up to? Well, working. Lots. During the day in the office and then in the evenings and at weekends, preparing my new website (very exciting) and sorting through new batches of cushions and fabrics which I'm currently in the process of launching. Aside from working... The nights have been so warm and balmy recently (not to mention the days), which has meant we've been able to make good use of the balcony at home; eating our supper out there or sitting quietly amongst the ferns with a book. Or both at the same time.

A flashback to our holiday in Umbria last September. Can you tell that I Photoshopped in the dachshund? (Ho ho.) You see, I really want a dachshund. Hockney and Picasso had dachshunds, didn't you know? Anyway I wanted to see how we'd look together, myself and my future pup...

A couple of weekends ago we paid a visit to Tate Britain, with the idea of catching the wonderful new British Folk Art exhibition. You must go; it's a total riot of colour and craft and tradition. We drifted through the rest of the gallery for an hour so afterwards; it's a favourite place of mine to spend an afternoon and I love the way the art has been hung.

The black and white tiles at the top of the main staircase lead down to the Rex Whister Restaurant, which was once described as 'the most amusing room in Europe’ owing to its specially commissioned mural.

A quick sketch. We keep dreaming of stumbling upon a perfect little folly in the countryside (I'm talking Wiltshire or Somerset ideally), in the grounds of a sprawling estate, which we could take and rent on a long lease. I'm on the lookout. Maybe in a few years' time? We could drive down on Friday evenings (in our custard yellow E-Type, perhaps?) with a car full of supplies - wine and flowers and friends. That really is the dream...

D.'s not a massive fan of sunflowers, but I can't get enough of them. They're so big and brash, as bold as brass. That yellow is pure summer. We've had bunches of them all over the house recently. Admittedly this is a particularly strange vase of flowers, but I just keep thinking: arrange fearlessly.

Talking of yellow, here's one of my new embroidered cushions! Available to buy online and in store at Pentreath & Hall.

We were in Hampshire visiting my family last weekend. On Sunday we dropped by Highclere Castle on the way back to London. It was very impressive from the outside - all towers and flags and arches, gold and shimmering in its Jacobethan grandeur. Although it did seem a little smaller and darker inside than I'd imagined it would be. I'm glad we got to see it.

Back to my colour of the moment and a new pair of suede driving shoes. Primarily for use in Italy I reckon - we're off to the Amalfi Coast next weekend and I cannot wait.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

too bright

The new Perfume Genius record, Too Bright, will be released on 23rd September. Listen to the first single from the album, Queen, below.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

art on a thursday

Exposition Jean Cocteau, a poster for an exhibition by Jean Cocteau.

Monday, 7 July 2014

sunday scrapbooking

I spent a very quiet afternoon at home yesterday, listening to the rain fall outside whilst I sorted through masses of old disposable camera photographs and my big box of magazine cuttings, flyers, posters, postcards and old drawings. (I came across quite a lot of odd stuff I'd forgotten about in the box too - a shiny conker my mother gave me once, a packet of tarot cards(!?) and a painted wooden toy horse, for example.) My plan is to create a master scrapbook, full of these photos and other interesting bits and pieces, which I'll keep on adding to over time. I've started various books like this in the past; I really need to make sure I keep this one going.

Oh, how I love this painting. The postcard was given to me last year; it's from Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, where the painting hangs. Boy with Cat is a portrait of Jean Bourgoint by the English artist Christopher Wood (1901-1930). The two met while Wood was studying art at the Académie Julian in Paris. At the time of the painting, Bourgoint was 21 and Wood was 25, addicted to opium and suffering from paranoia. He was under the drug’s influence when he died four years later, under a train in Salisbury; his tombstone was designed by Eric Gill.

But back to my point: inspiration courtesy of Cecil Beaton and his famous scrapbooks.

So fun. I love the way everything has been cut out with hardly any straight lines. I despise straight lines and I'm not particularly good at being neat either.

Later on I did a quick drawing of a loud pink sitting room, although the harsh pastels didn't quite work with the texture of the paper. Alas, perhaps it'll end up in the new scrapbook...

Sunday, 6 July 2014

shells and mirrors

We've got a new pair of shell candle sconces at home, inspired by the ones you might find in Blacks on Dean Street in Soho. They sit either side of another new purchase - a large and rather imposing ebonised and gilt mirror from 1800. The old glass is speckled and incredibly beautiful, and its shelves provide the perfect spot for an extra pair of candlesticks. Come winter, the whole sitting room will glow with reflected candlelight. It almost makes me pine for dark November evenings. Almost.

from the vaults: bright young things

A few design sketches from my second year at Saint Martins (circa three years ago), inspired by one of my favourite films, the fabulous Bright Young Things. If I remember correctly, country house dinner party meets day at the circus meets midnight pyjama party was the vibe I was going for...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

highland fling

On Saturday we celebrated the wedding of D.'s cousin Hamish and his new wife Jen with a big old knees-up in the north of rural Scotland. After the wedding itself, we danced and drank on Jen's parents' farm until the wee hours. A highland wedding is always an amusing affair. Here's D. in his Campbell kilt the morning after. As for me, I think a pair of tartan trews might just fit the bill come autumn time...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

rowing blazers

A delightful, glossy new book landed on my doorstep last week. I'd been keeping an eye out for the release of Rowing Blazers by Jack Carlson for quite some time - it originally came to my attention via the blog of the book's principal photographer, F.E. Castleberry. Rowing Blazers looks at the authentic striped, piped, trimmed and badged blazers that are still worn by oarsmen and -women around the world today, and at the elaborate rituals, elite athletes, prestigious clubs and legendary races associated with them. I've never rowed myself, but I've always had a bit of a thing for the clothes (no surprises there), and in particular those striking, colourful blazers. I love the history and the heritage, of course, but purely from an aesthetic point of view, I've always found them just so... stylish. Bold, mustard yellow or the palest of pinks, worn, torn, patched together, plastered with badges; it's a fascinating piece of classic menswear design and a beacon of Britishness. Rowing Blazers celebrates this special, jaunty number in all its sporty glory.

The book's design is elegant - all gold borders and smart, serif fonts. The photographs, naturally, are rich and beautifully evocative. I adore this quote from the introduction: 'Every single one of us - no matter the age or the gender or the sexual preference - owns a blue blazer.' - Lisa Birnbach, True Prep, 2010.

'A cultural history of the most important item of clothing a chap can own.' - Tatler.

Jack Carlson has represented the United States at the World Rowing Championships and raced for Oxford in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Races. He is currently a Clarendon Scholar at Oxford University. F.E. Castleberry is former director of concept design for Ralph Lauren Rugby. He runs the popular blog Unabashedly Prep.

Rowing Blazers by Jack Carlson, published by Thames & Hudson on 7th July at £34.95.