AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, in addition to the London Book Fair, the first weeks of spring are also host to London Design Week – and I just happen to be travelling with Sophie, who is an interior designer.
Clapping hands here. We pop into Chelsea Harbour, for a little look at some beautiful show rooms. Sophie worked in the industry for a long time in London, including for Colefax and Fowler – so her familiarity with the ‘scene’ as it were, is relaxed and there is a no-nonsense approach as we float between showrooms and ogle at fabric.
Textiles have always excited me, although they’ve never been my creative medium of choice. But it’s easy to be seduced: I’m quickly sucked in by my favourite, Manuel Canovas, and Sophie is good enough to order me samples. Unmistakably French, I always think of sunshine whenever I see MC fabrics and wallpapers: a hot Sunday in Provence, with a gentle breeze flicking curtains across open French windows. Perhaps dressed in the very beautiful Nina Cardinal, or Mysore Saphir, an elegant blue floral linen, both pictured below.
Just like a number of things the English do effortlessly, there is a timelessness to all the design in these spaces whether traditional or otherwise: you’ll find classic Jean Monro floral chintz, the streamlined angles and curves of Julian Chichester’s furniture, his bold dashes of colour and eccentricities counterbalanced by ravishing decorative arts such as the Urchin pendant by Porto Romana and Rosanna Lonsdale’s bespoke lamps and my new discoveries: McKinney and Co’s to-die-for finials and the refreshing simplicity and textures of the American, Elizabeth Eakins Inc. designs are small steps away from one another.
I’m all agog. It’s a visual feast.
While I’m completely in awe of all this, Sophie and I are gliding through an unnamed showroom, only to be in earshot of a smartly dressed designer pair discussing the layout of one of the ‘rooms’ within their showroom.
He is perched, one finger tapping his twirly moustache, lean and tall with stove-piped legs and excellent, glossy English brogues. His elbow is resting in the cup of his other palm, pondering, and she, quite petite, looks nervous holding a clipboard and pen. I deduce she must be on her L-plates.
‘Do you think we should move the table from there? From next to the fireplace?’ She waves her pen with false bravado.
‘Perhaps the corner?’ She’s still nervous, hedging her bets.
‘I’m not sure–’
‘Perhaps the other corner then?’
Tap tap. (Moustache and pen)
‘And what about the lamp? Should we move it there?’ (Not getting anywhere, darling).
‘On the small round table?’
‘The one near the sofa.’
You get the picture. It went on for a while. Sophie laughs and says they’re trying to look busy when they have not much to do.
I am fighting Australian practicality, and have to show real restraint, because I am literally bursting to go up to them and say: ‘FFS! The small round table should be here, the sideboard’s too big – find a smaller one, and the lamp should be on the large round table in the corner. Just bloody get on with it!’
I’m not a fan of procrastination at the best of times—but I just couldn’t bear it. Just had to go an have a beautiful cool glass of water flavoured with cucumber and mint. Tough.
We then walked from Chelsea Harbour, past an amazing development, which has going on for ages according to Sophie. It was once a huge power station with two enormous red brick chimneys and is currently a shell, waiting for its innards to be filled with a probable combination of vast white walls, glass and designer goodies for shops, businesses and maybe ridiculously expensive apartments. But I’m not quite sure; have to check on that one.
We wander past some very groovy residential houseboats moored on a semi-vacant Thames – which will return in the inky hours around midnight. Sophie points out an ugly block of flats next to a beautiful row of terraces and states simply: ‘You can always see where the bombs hit during the Second World War.’
Finally, we end up at Battersea for lunch, where Sophie’s mother has the most beautiful flat overlooking the water. It’s beautifully designed with an eclectic collection of artworks on the walls, together with memorable family photos, portraits and pieces of antique furniture. It’s easy to see where Sophie gets her interior design talent from.
The apartment is in touching distance of Prince George’s school, St. Thomas’s. We pop in for a warm bowl of soup and crusty sourdough next door to it, before hopping into the car to return home to Yorkshire.
I quickly learn that London traffic is decidedly like Melbourne. Sticky on a good day. It takes us over an hour and a half to get out of the city and onto the A1. The sophisticated GPS takes us on a funny route to miss some even more horrendous traffic and I get to see North London, which I hadn’t driven through or stopped in before. Sophie quickly points out the famous Abbey Road crossing as we’re about to drive over it and the Abbey Road studios.
I think, how strange. Something so iconic, looking so normal on a sunny London afternoon. Parts of North London remind me of Melbourne’s Collingwood – the groovy bits warmed up by sparkly cash and renovations. Except there are some very big houses in North London, with some very big names living in them—mostly, as Sophie describes—people like Paul McCartney, whose apple did not fall far from his creative tree.
It takes five hours to get back to Yorkshire. We are super-pooped by the time we get in the door. Thankfully, this is easily fixed by a smiling Charlie mixing us a G&T with loads of lemon, which is extremely kind, as he’s had a huge few days himself.
A crackling open fire. Cocker spaniels at our feet, and gin in hand. Very civilised for a Thursday evening.
I do love it when there are no alcoholic measures. Much more delicious.