My father’s birthday & an excuse to finally get to Scotland led us on our road trip. He’s a fabulous companion as he is up for any adventure & considers himself a road warrior. His thoughts of Scotland ran to checking out caramel shaggy longhorns, trying out some single malts, island hopping in a cream Defender, and putting on a Scottish accent with little success. I had visions of Charles Darwin foraging at the Firth of Forth, falconry & archery, castles, moors & the Highlands, taxidermy, trophy heads & tartan.
We caught the train from London to Edinburgh, and travelling up the east coast of Scotland saw the haar roll in. This coastal fog comes in off the North Sea and smothers everything in its wake. Grey had to be one of the colours in the Scottish palette, although for most of the rest of our trip, the weather couldn’t have been better. The soft grey was there, too, in the weathered stone of Edinburgh’s buildings, slated roofs and cobblestone streets, in lochs and in the Loch Ness monster, although he was too shy to reveal himself to me.
Roads in Scotland are lochside, one lane and super thin with a tiny overtaking bay every now and again. You can go for a long time without seeing anyone, save a sailing boat on the loch you’re passing by. Essentials for a road trip: map, fruit knife, oat biscuits, aged cheddar, good music, Dad. Always look out for a knife while you’re travelling, it’s a great little souvenir and super handy on the road (just make sure not to leave it in your carry-on luggage on the way home).
Our last night in Scotland was at Bramble Bield, in a gypsy caravan for Dad & a 1920s travelling caravan for me, in gardens with glasshouses full of luscious young seedlings & vegetable patches, all very Peter Rabbit-y & story tale-ish. A cluster of two old wooden gypsy caravans and a 1920s travelling car, all restored with love, are parked in the grounds of Powis House alongside picturesque fields of woolly sheep. I had opted for the dark green gypsy caravan ‘Holly’ painted with a prancing horse for Dad, and ‘Bramley’ the traditional travelling caravan for myself. Holly comes with its own mini pot-belly stove that’s fed with tiny kindling & miniature quarter logs, a large floating bed covered with a handmade quilt & fairy lights to boot. A hand-painted zigzag-topped pot houses some lovely old wooden gypsy pegs.
Bramley is simplicity at its best: a cream painted interior furnished with bunk beds made in the old campbed style of canvas, eyelets & rope, a spindle back chair, green wooden chest of drawers and sheepskin on wooden floorboards. A piece of dried fungus & a tiny hand-painted tile of a long-horned cow adorn the walls.
The gardens of the house are worth a wander with glasshouses, a vegetable patch, high-rise rabbit warrens (yes, they live in the trunk of a tree), a weeping elm & moss-covered sheds to explore & discover.
Scotland’s earthy beauty quickly informed my colour palette of vibrant greens and subtle caramels. Tune in next week as I explore my Scottish colour palette.
D is for…
My wonderful, beautiful, intelligent mother, Dee, died in 2008 in a desert camp in Rajasthan, doing the thing she loved best. She specialised in Islamic textiles from Central Asia. She travelled the world to find out all she could about textiles and instilled a similar passion in me. Her final textile was the paraga, a woven horsehair veil, edged in indigo, worn as a head covering by Islamic women in Central Asia. She tracked down the last remaining gypsy who knew how to weave one and had a lesson in its unique technique.
Do it yourself
I’m reluctant to buy anything new if repairing it myself is an option. When all was creaking and cracking underfoot I came across lead-lined stairs with dome-shaped tacks in an old shopping arcade and managed to track down similar tacks to hammer lead sheets over the holes in my floorboards.
I saw a lookout, which I expect belonged to a builder/surfer on the coast of Washington State, just south of the giant redwood forests. I would rather refer to it as a pirate ship: with its ladders, platforms and flagpole made out of huge driftwood logs and all the way down to the smaller easier-to-pick-up kind. The perfect sea-starched & bleached greys, lightwood feel, soft & smooth edges of driftwood have inspired many a craft project as well as provided a well-deserved Oceanside sit down or wave lookout. A simple solution for what to do with that driftwood you picked up: use as a table runner for harvest decoration and then as a trivet for when the roast chicken and vegetables arrive – yum!
These indigo-dyed toed peasant shoes and the boro on which they sit intrigue me for their anthropological significance, but, more importantly, they also help illustrate one of the many ways to finetune your colour palette. Look at the gradual and natural fading of the dye caused through the wear & tear and you’ll see beautifully graduated shades of indigo. A couple of years ago while traveling in Uzbekistan with my mother, I was lucky enough to go to a natural dying house/factory in Bukhara. We looked into the inky vats and witnessed the indigo dying process and the finishing step of the dyed thread drying in the sunshine.
2. A hot glue gun will fix and fasten most things.
3. Do not disregard rough edges, selvedges, things that are skewed or wonky or even broken, the backs of things (or, as I like to call it, ‘side B’), fraying, uneven paint jobs, non-treated surfaces.
4. Check out salvage shops, car-boot sales, flea markets and garage sales, especially if you’re away from home or in another country.
5. Learn to spackle and sandpaper to make changes or fix mistakes.
6. Make friends with tradesmen. Encourage them to do different things.
7. Learn how to drill and plug a hole in the wall so you don’t have to wait for someone else to do it. Buy picture-rail hooks, string, wire, sharp skinny brass hanging tacks (they are unobtrusive and easily removed), and all kinds of nails. Play with the placement of your pieces on the wall to achieve the right scale and positioning.
8. Digital or phone cameras are a must for shopping trips. Always ask the shop keeper before you start snapping stuff in the store. Photograph the shop’s business card or window as a reminder.
Irving Penn’s photography has molded & influenced the way I set up objects in the front of the camera from my very early days of styling & continues to inspire the storytelling in my hospitality spaces today.
In Small Trades the patissiers and chevrier with his tray of fromage, the sword swallower & acrobat, the tinker, gardener, street sweeper, showgirl and even chestnut vendor side by side – Penn’s lens doesn’t discriminate. See them in their uniforms and garbs, each with his or her little nuances. The quaint & humble sit alongside the mischievous and perhaps the devious telling the stories of urban life.
Small Trades by Irving Penn (Getty)
Photos by Sophie Flecknoe
I recently stumbled across the word ‘vagabonding’ and it hit home. I discovered a perfect definition for it when I was reading The Hare with Amber Eyes. It describes vagabonding as appearing to be ‘recreational rather than diligent or professional’. An activity that gets ‘the pleasure of searching right, the way you lose your sense of time when you are researching, are pulled on by whims as much as intent’. This seems to encompass all that I do while travelling or determining my destination and researching for my adventures. Here are my essential elements of a journey:
Today, research comes in many shapes & forms. I am a great gatherer of information – put it down to my love of history. I read & flick through anything from in-flight, travel, fashion and interiors magazines to weekend newspapers & inserts, not hesitating to tear pages from any one of them. These ‘hard’ pages are filed away in a travel folder, but for my internet research I use Pinterest and a filing system on my desktop (that probably only makes sense to me) and keep check of what I’ve found. I follow like-minded blogs & Instagrammers and find a constant source of information from the ’36 Hours’ column the Home & Garden section and T magazine in the New York Times. I savour & treasure the generous lists given to me by friends: their favourite haunts, cafes & restaurants, secret gardens, shopping spots, must-not-miss museums, ultimate views and towns & countries they love. These are all saved for future reference & to be shared amongst friends in Dropbox folders.
A certain kind of travel & accommodation is all-important when planning. For me, it can make or break an experience. I like great communal areas & places to converse, relax & not be put into a box; a great multi-functional lobby, bar, cafe restaurant, library etc. Stand-outs are the Ace Hotel lobby in NYC, the honesty bars in Kit Kemp‘s creations and the libraries in the Aman resorts. I have gained so many great tips from chatting to poeple in these areas, whether they are staying or working there, or flicking through the books, local magazines & newspapers. I write a lot while travelling and choose to do this in these communal areas. It’s my time to collate the observations of the day, wind down, enjoy & ease into a space. A longer presence welcomes conversation (if you invite it).
I might choose hotels based on the architecture or history, a designer who inspires me, or the simplicity of a local place. You might find me staying in a yurt overlooking the Aral Sea, a resort in the rice fields, a yacht in the Mediterranean, a humble B&B in the highlands or a fabric tent in the desert. I am not always successful, but if uncomfortable, I have no hesitation in finding somewhere more in tune with what I desire. For the perfect places to stay, I reference websites Welcome Beyond, Petite Passport, Mr & Mrs Smith and Condé Nast Traveller as a first start.
Even the packing part of the journey is part of the pleasure for me. My luggage plays a large part as it makes me feel like I’m going on an adventure. I own my own Filson leather-strapped canvas bag and a classic Billingham black and leather-trimmed camera bag. Each country I visit has its own outfit. I’m all about my own colour palette, which is caramel, cream & white tones – I call it campaign. In Italy, I usually don white linen shorts with a neutral silk sweater, ballet flats and a panama (actually, the panama goes everywhere with me!), but when I travelled to Syria, it was all about respecting the culture – drawstring pants with a caramel and white embroidered tunic and linen scarf. I am a real product of my environment, and feel unsettled when the aesthetic is not right or to my liking. To ensure this doesn’t ruin a trip, I travel with things of my own that can liven up any room. I have an oversized piece of shibori, which can be used on the bed as a sheet or pillowcase, covering for the hammam, or towel or sarong at the beach or hot springs. I also have a beautiful soft fringed cashmere throw that beats any blanket supplied in a hotel or aeroplane, and can double as a cosy shawl for cool desert nights. Refine your list of must-haves to ensure that you capture comfort and style in one fell swoop.
Arriving at your destination
For me, the excitement of a new place is of all the senses being challenged: to not know the language or the lay of the land, to be bombarded with new scents, climates and flavours. Don’t rule out the casual walk around a new town as a source of inspiration, as well as museums, restaurants, shops: experience it all and do as I do, and take lots of pictures. I am always attracted to the unusual and the curious, and hunt them out in various markets (see above) – preferably the sort with goods spilling out the back of vans), natural history museums, both small and large, artists’ ateliers, historic houses, and traders’ workshops etc. The appeal of old trades & crafts that still exist from textile dyers and embroiderers, shell arts, wood turners & mills, paper makers, smiths & tinkers, foundries, leather workers & tanneries, felters, basket weavers etc are always at the forefront of any of my exploring both across the globe and in my local environment.
In all my travels, I don’t go looking for existing interiors to re-create when I return home, but I want to draw from all aspects of my trips: a street sign, a garden grate, a leaf on a wet cobblestone, washing drying against a painted wall, a glimpse into a foreign kitchen, the mundane & the fancy. Translating these elements into your interior can be as simple as creating a new art wall, which you can add to and subtract from, with postcards, invitations, photocopies of designs you like or pages torn from magazines; growing new flowers in your window box, layering different textures on your bed, hanging a new piece of fabric over your window, or changing the colour of your floor or walls. It’s not about theming, but rather adding flavour from your recent globetrotting adventures.
Follow me next week, for the first installment of my jaunt through Scotland – the experiences, the colour and the way I translated these elements into my interiors. First stop – Edinburgh (you won’t need your passport).
C is for…
Candlelight adds a warming ambient element to any room, whether the candles are scented or not. I have candles of all shapes & sizes: church tapers, beeswax, birthday cake, elaborate hand-moulded & embellished Mexican ones, figures, wedding cake toppers & the rest. Note: Attach tapers to a table with their own wax for a romantic centrepiece. At dusk, light them & let them pool on the table as the dinner party starts.
Cards: flash, playing & others
I discovered an oversized bundle of cards in a flea market in Illinois displaying nursery rhymes. I have since picked them up throughout The States. They are two-sided and often have typed running writing on the back. Featuring the same word in regular type on the front (or vice versa), these teaching tools translate so easily into your interior styling as wall art. Or add them casually leaning on your stairs, to read as you casually wander up & down, or put them anywhere else you choose. So perfectly die-cut on each corner and often the shade of aged paper. I like to mix up words, numbers, phrases or letters in unusual combinations, or just have one on its own. My very good friend James & I find cards, mostly in random places. Discarded cards are so curious & intriguing. I enjoy receiving texts from James such as “Soggy Jack of hearts found at Mott & Crosby”, or from me “Seven of spades found in windswept bush in Palm Beach”. My random cards often find themselves propped up on mantelpieces or just stuck in trophies on my shelves. Perhaps it is the many cards games that my siblings & I learnt from my grandmother and played constantly while we were growing up. We were very good & competitive at 500, Jim Rummy, Canasta & Black Jack, and could play an energetic game of double Patience!
I can’t go past the incredible selection of words that make up the names of different species of cicadas – I’ve even dotted a couple of them throughout my paint range! Here are a couple of evocative titles: Double drummer, Tom thumb, Green grocer, Yellow Monday, Black prince, Cherry nose, Floury baker.
Amateur collection became quite the trend in the nineteenth century as science began to compete with religion as a way of understanding the world. Bucaneers, botanists and the merely curious brought back from their travels to the new world discoveries as simple as pineapples, skeletons, birds’ eggs, shells and native artefacts – in the case of real-life human beings – the frankly outrageous.
While gentleman explorers and amateur scientists were working on the edges of official practice members of the general public were looking with a discerning eye at flora & fauna, and collecting by the pressing, pinning, preserving, capturing, skinning, maintaining specimens in books, bottles, jars, box, domes, and cases to observe, record and comment.
The personal collections were not particularly organised (not in any scientific way at least) but were more a showcase of random objects totally catering to the owner’s desires and interests. These cabinets of curiosities, which could be anything from souvenir albums to custom-made pieces of furniture were simply a place of display where pieces could be easily examined, moved and cast aside if necessary. A show-and-tell environment that encouraged visitors, debate and modern opinion in the age of entitlement and world exploration.
For the middle-class women, in particular, who had the time for rambling and combing the countryside and seashore, the plant-hunting phenomenon (including the Victorian fern craze) became a hugely popular and socially favoured pastime, allowing them some aesthetic and scientific pursuit otherwise denied. Although it was considered a leisure activity rather than a ‘career’, they did contribute to the advancement of study and understanding of botanical nature through one-of-a-kind handmade mounted illustrated albums most notably of seaweed, algae, fern and wildflowers.
The roots of many museums lie in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when the boundaries between categories of high & low, art & science, education & entertainment were not as clear as they are now. The beginning of the twentieth century saw disciplines becoming specialised and a distinct separation being created between all these things, amateur & professional.
I have a long-time love affair with the romantic side of colonialism: the campaign furniture & travelling outfits. The jodhpurs, linen shirts, moulded safari hats swathed in muslin, & browned knee-high riding boots (like Kristin Scott-Thoas in The English Patient). Gertrude Bell would travel with at least crystal, china, writing desk & a canvas bath on her forays into Middle Eastern deserts. I love all things that fold, have compartments & need staff. For the modern-day variety, Richard Wrightman in Long Island City makes the best. Years ago, my friend Crispin & I went to a night at the Explorers Club in NYC. It is majestic, awe-inspiring & fabulous. We were the youngest by a long way, but we knew they were looking for inspiring new members. However, when we looked at the regulations to becoming certified members, we fell short on credentials. With no field experience or exotic adventures under our belts, we were invited to become Friends of the Explorers Club instead.
I like to look at life in colour. it’s a strong memory trigger and, for those of us with poor memories, a gentle reminders always welcome. To me, everything is about colour. Coming from a styling background, colour has always been the most important tool with which I work. It has led me to create my own paint range based on my 10-colour palette theory, as well as many commercial interior spaces, styled sets for magazines and other product ranges. This is tried & tested – I use it every day!
One of my first memories is of beach combing for shells on the wild shores of Siletto Beach, on the NSW coast. The collection of pink kelp shells, which I gathered from huge drifts washed up on shore, sits proudly on my cabinet of curiosities. I’ve bought many fancier shells over the years and am as fascinated by the real thing as by beautiful studies, drawings and lithographs of them, and also by things made from shells. I am forever searching out shell museums & collections to pore over and use as inspiration for my own displays as well as to see what beautiful shapes, sizes & colours the world’s shells have to offer. They can be divided into so many themes, studies & families, but more often than not, I like to group them haphazardly with no thought whatever of their scientific classification.
Crowns, tiaras & masks
A paper tiara or crown of rosy thorns for me please! I have a circle of giant seaweed found at Big Sur & given to me by a past love. I’m sure a merman lost it. More pagan than regal, but glorious in its naturalness & humbleness. Not just for the human head or fancy dress, but as beautiful on a door, nail or wall. A sparkly paper tiara can brighten up any shelf or oneself. Picasso collected African masks for inspiration, but mine are a little different & not so uniform. I like them without rhyme, reason or theme; old theatre ones appeal to me, particularly if they are expressionless & unpainted, with the shape enough to inspire. Although, as I said, there are no rules – I am just as attracted to James Bond-esque snorkel goggles, the plastic animal shapes I buy in NYC from the novelty store & the painted and moustached fencing mask I bought in Burton, Ohio. A bearded man on a stick looks thoughtfully towards the light. I bought this (& others like him) from the puppet master in Khiva, Uzbekistan, while travelling with my mum. Accompany it with lines from the play he might star in, or keep an eye out in your travels for a leading lady.