Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, July 6, 2017

New York: Fashion, Flowers, and Garden Fantasies

A few weeks ago, a friend emailed. "Where are you?" she said. "I want to catch up for a drink." I emailed back: "At Burlington Airport, in northern Vermont. I flew up for the day to see my luggage pattern maker. It's so tiny, I think the shop also serves as the check-in! But all flights to New York are delayed for four hours due to the stormy weather. So I may still be here tomorrow..." 

In the end, I made it back to New York that night. But one poor woman, trying to fly home to Seattle, had her flight cancelled, and as compensation was offered a seat on a flight to New York, then another on a flight to Boston, and finally, after a layover of six hours in Boston, a flight home to Seattle. She took it, glad of the chance to get home by Christmas.

I tell this story because it dissolves the myth that travelling for work is fun. Sometimes it's so tiring, so utterly dull, I don't even take any photos. Because they would just be of boarding lounges. And gate changes. And a fuzzy view of the Manhattan skyline from the back of a crazy, speeding cabbie. But occasionally -- actually more than occasionally -- business trips can be wonderful. Memorable, even. They can make all the long haul flights worthwhile. This recent trip was one such trip. It was a cascade of increasingly lovely, bloomingly beautiful summer days where the sunshine ballooned up from the verdant New York and Connecticut landscapes, and flowers bloomed in places you'd least expect. 

Let me show you. 


First on the work schedule was a glorious, early-morning photo shoot at the beautiful garden of New York designer Bunny Williams and her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli, in a bucolic northern corner of Connecticut. 

This garden is so beautiful that whenever Bunny and John open it -- usually once a month in the summer for charity (see garden or the Trade Secrets Garden Fair website) -- people drive for miles to visit. One couple I spoke to return year after year to collect ideas for their own garden. I've been lucky enough to see it before, and I, too, noticed many changes on this visit, the most significant of which is the addition of Bunny's amazing new design studio. And judging by the exclamations of visitors walking up the stairs when the garden opened at 10AM, it was the hit of the day.

This is the studio, below.  I tell you, I think I heard a grown man cry in envy.

The bookshelves ran the length of the studio, which was twice the size of the space pictured above. The elongated room was beautifully bookended each end by enormous picture windows that looked out over the green Connecticut countryside. There was a grand fireplace, too. And a kitchen and bathroom, with a gym below. 

But it was the books that held court here. There were hundreds of design and gardening titles. And everything was intriguing. Even Bunny's mood board, below, was fascinating.

This is Bunny's famous conservatory, with the windows that look over the equally famous parterre. The chicken coop is fairly legendary, too. 

If you want more details, buy Bunny's bestselling book An Affair With A House, which features lots of chapters on both the interior and the garden. Or just come along to one of the Open Gardens one day. You'll be as enthralled as the rest of us.


From there, it was a short drive across the border to Christopher Spitzmiller's enchanting house and garden in upstate New York, which he had also graciously opened for charity. Ever since it was featured in AD magazine, people have adored this charming place, which Christopher has renovated with his usual flair. 

The highlight for many visitors on this day was the classical white pavilion, which was, in fact, a chicken coop, set charmingly inside an idyllic flower garden blooming with poppies, salvias, and roses. Inside, the kitchen and dining rooms (which Christopher kindly let me see, but which weren't open to the public) were elegant studies in understated sophistication. The dining room was sublime, especially with the botanical wallpaper. But I loved the kitchen the most, I think.


The final garden of the weekend wasn't on the Shot List but I added it to the schedule after hearing about it at Bunny Williams. Owned and designed by antiques dealer Michael Trapp, it was well worth the visit. I stayed for hours! Most of the garden featured architectural antiques that Michael had collected over the years, and it was such a joy to walk through. If you love architecture as much as gardens, this is one to put on your future list. 

(Note: Michael Trapp only opens his antiques store on weekends, or by appointment. The garden is private but if you ask nicely, he may allow you to wander through.)


If you're contemplating a trip to Connecticut to ramble through country gardens and browse antique stores that you can't afford, my best recommendation is to stay in New Preston.  It's a sweeter-than-sweet village that is barely the length of a street but is FILLED with unique stores, which mostly specialize in gardens, homewares, and antiques. 

I always stay at The Hopkins Inn, a lovely family-run inn on the lake, which has rooms from $130/n and a charming restaurant that's split between a lovely terrace under shady trees overlooking the lake and a cosy dining room inside.  For sheer value, it's one of the best places in New England. (Top right image with sofa.) 

My favourite places to shop in New Preston, perhaps in the whole of Connecticut, are Pergola (don't miss the spectacular waterfall behind, which you can see from the store's rear deck) and Dawn Hill Antiques, which has some of the most beautiful Swedish antiques this side of Stockholm.


Then it was back to New York City for publishing meetings with two of my publishers, and I discovered another great little hotel gem here, which was just $179/n -- even in high season. 

The Hudson Hotel New York is not only close to Central Park for those early-morning walks but also features a grand library for afternoon cocktails, and a spectacular rooftop terrace overlooking the Hudson River, for evening drinks. Even the entrance to the rooftop terrace is an experience, punctuated by bright pink flowers, hammocks, huge tubs of orange trees, and pergolas galore.

The Hudson Hotel was very cool many years ago (I vaguely remember when it opened), but has now mellowed, thankfully, into an affordable pied-à-terre for people visiting Manhattan who don't want to pay a fortune. Rooms are tiny (you are warned), so upgrade if you're a couple, but you can't complain for $179 for a full bathroom (with bath), and a view like the one above. 

It's also within walking distance of all the great department stores, too, from Bergdorf Goodman to Saks Fifth Avenue, both of which stocked THE most beautiful Dolce & Gabbana collection I've ever seen. Designed around hydrangeas, this new season's D&G line (above) is, quite simply, sublime. Many Instagrammers were posting about it, and even Beyonce bought the flowing chiffon version.


Dolce & Gabbana's latest collection is almost as beautiful as this botanical hideaway; The Whitby, Firmdale's newest hotel in their ever-growing collection. Themed around flowers, it's a vibrant poem to petals and also to vintage plates, which are framed on the walls as porcelain art. It's all wonderful, especially the conservatory, which is lovely for a quick lunch. I only stayed an hour but could have lingered all afternoon.



My other favourite place in New York City is Caffe Storico, which is a little-known cafe within the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side of Central Park. (DETAILS: Lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of beautiful dinnerware, and yolk-yellow banquettes that invite you to linger all afternoon, it's a gorgeous spot for an affordable lunch, especially if you follow it with a walk through Central Park. 

 I also loved the sights of New York that I came across this same day, such as this firehouse mascot, which the firefighters were clucking over. (Sorry, couldn't help the pun.)

Another interesting thing to see was Amazon's new bookstore in Columbus Circle's swanky shopping centre. It was FULL of people buying or reading books -- much like Borders used to look like when it was at the height of its popularity.  (I was thrilled to see this familiar book chosen as one of the bestsellers / books to buy in the Travel Section. Thank you Amazon staff.)

Also caught up with this charming designer  -- Jeffrey Bilhuber, who is one of Manhattan's nicest men -- to look at his chapter for the new Rizzoli garden book. 

He suggested we go to the Majorelle Restaurant at the The Lowell Hotel, which I'd never been to but which I fell in love with at first sight. The floral bouquets were as beautiful as the architectural details. Even the bookshelves full of design books. 

It's all very 'old New York', as in very elegant, very dignified, and very, very sophisticated. (Most of the women were wearing Chanel.) We stayed in the bar, but if you're dining, it's a dress-up kind-of place. Wear the heels. And drink Champagne!

Other detours included a quick trip to the Hamptons to see the new One Kings Lane pop-up store, which is already causing a stir for its stylish blue kitchen, and a visit to the Madoo Garden Fair, a once-a-year gathering of elegant gardenistas selling all kinds of lovely antiques and topiary. 

Then it was home to our own far-more-ordinary blue-toned abode (top left), and to finishing books in time for the end-of-year deadlines.

I hope that, wherever you are, you're having a beautiful, bloom-filled season too.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

JUNE IN BLOOM: Books, Bouquets, Fashion, and Hideaways


June is traditionally the garden lover's favourite month. It's the time when most gardens, certainly those in the northern hemisphere, are in full floraison. I love this time of year in England, Europe and the US; the roses are in blousy, full-petalled bloom, the days begin early and end late -- usually in a glorious golden light; there are countless private gardens that have graciously opened their gates for charity days, and there are floral borders galore to explore. Even if you're ensconced in winter in the southern hemisphere, there is something uplifting about seeing all the gardenalia on Instagram and in magazines. Gardens take us places. Even if we can't experience them in person, their beauty transports us to a place of grace, away from the pressures and stresses of everyday.

I'm actually on a 'botanical break' at present -- I had to take a few weeks off social media in order to focus on some pressing projects, including a big garden book (above), which has been a joy to work on, despite the logistical difficulties.  I hope you'll love the gardens that we've featured in it, including the stunning country estates of Carolyne Roehm, Jeffrey Bilhuber, and many other celebrated design names.

But I will be back on Instagram in a week or two with some beautiful pix of gardens, grand and small. After a crazy year of deadlines, more deadlines, endless nights of writing and endless days of all work and little exercise, it has been wonderful to get out of the office finally; to go for long walks with my partner and our dogs again, and to catch up with friends over Champagne and laughter and stories galore. (I caught up with so many of them last month, during various events for the biography -- seeing everyone was the best part of the publicity tour.) 

There's nothing like flowers and friendships to make a person appreciate life, I think. I'm deeply grateful for my friends, new and old; for the books we exchange, the cakes they bake (see our 'feast' of an afternoon tea at Picardy garden last month; I didn't contribute to these vegan fantasies but I did make Picardy wrapping paper and bought gifts of books), for the wonderful and often funny stories that are told, and for all the the memories that linger long after everyone has departed.

So here's to June. To travel, flowers, laughter, friends, family, books, and botanica. 
May it be a beautiful month for you, too. 

(All pix above by me, excluding the beautiful image of the glorious iris garden in Carolyne Roehm's country home, which Carolyne has kindly supplied for our new garden book.)



If you're in New York or New England in June, there are four magnificent private gardens opening their gates to the public on June 17 and 18 as part of the wonderful Garden Conservancy organization.

Bunny Williams' beautiful garden is one, Michael Trapp's another. Both are in Litchfield County, Connecticut. (I will be visiting both of these, so will post pix on Instagram.)

Across the border in Duchess County, in upstate New York, there are two more gorgeous garden that are well worth the drive. Christopher Spitzmiller's idyllic garden (two images above of Christopher's interior and garden above from Christopher's website, shot by Archi Digest) is as pretty as his lamps, while Katie Ridder and Peter Pennoyer's garden has become known the world over thanks to their bestselling book, A House in the Country. (Top image; house with red door).

More details:


If you happen to be in England in June, there are two gardens that are well worth visiting. 

Amanda Lack Clark's garden at Seend Manor (interior and garden shown above) is a sublime country estate in Wiltshire that is so beautiful, many of us follow her Instagram just to catch glimpses of it among the other delightful pix of her life. Seend is having a rare Open Garden event on June 17 and 18; details are on various sites -- Google "Seend Manor" for more. 

Amanda's Instagram (from which came these images) is also worth following -- LINK HERE.

 And down in Kent, Old Bladbead Stud (see the three garden images above) is another magnificent private garden that only is open several times a year, with the next days being June 11 and 25. Details are HERE. Owner Carol also posts photos of the garden on her website (usually weekly in summer), so you can see what's flowering. It's a little-known garden that deserves to be better known. Many gardeners I know say it's one of the prettiest flower gardens in England.


I missed the Chelsea Flower Show this year, for the first time in many years, because of publicity commitments for a new biography. However, I loved seeing everyone's pix on Instagram. If you're heading to London this year and need a few travel tips on where to go (shameless plug!) there is a lovely book out called LONDON SECRETS -- link here. It is now in bookshops in London, as well as in the US and elsewhere, and is starting to show up in bookstores in Australia too. (It's also available online.) So if you're going to London this year, I hope you'll consider it -- whether for yourself or as a gift for a UK-bound friend. 



I adore the look of this new Paris hotel. It's feminine, sophisticated, witty and whimsical, and doesn't seem to have cut the budget on interior design, either. It's called Hotel de Jobo, and it's been receiving lots of well-deserved press for its stunning design. Designed by Bambi Sloan, (who calls herself "part designer, part storyteller"; what a great line to put on your business card), the hotel was inspired by Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon's first wife and, briefly, Empress of France. Like her husband, Josephine was a bit of a leader, particularly in style and design. She was one of the first to make leopard fashionable, and her love for roses created a craze for them that has not abated since. This hotel has all of her passions and more. It's pretty and witty, and Josephine would have probably adored it!



Do you follow British fashion designer Alice Temperley on Instagram? No? Well, if you love fashion and flowers, she is one to add to your list. Her account is full of floaty, romantic dresses but where she differs slightly from most fashion designers is that she often posts scenes from her atelier, too: the detailed shots of the embroidery being done are some of the most beautiful  dressmaking images I've ever seen.

Alice Temperley has already produced a book, which was a bestseller (I gave it to my sister-in-law, who loved it), and is now finishing a second one, called Myths and Legends. While the first was all about Alice's life and career, and the challenges she faced, the second gives a more intimate view of the world that Alice inhabits, revealing both practical and sentimental sides of the artist’s creative process. (Images from Temperley's Instagram feed. Alice has her own Instagram, which is worth following too, but the Temperley official Instagram shows more of the designs and collections.)

BOOK DETAILS HERE: Myths & Legends


I first spotted the whimsically named I Love Pero fashion label in Scarlett Jones' store several years ago. Since then, I've seen its fame grow. Stylist Sibella Court also loves it. Designed by Delhi fashion designer, Aneeth Arora, it's distributed in both the US and Australia (I'm not sure about Europe), and it stands apart from many other fashion labels for its intricate use of embroidery, which India is a leader in. if you love textiles, fashion, and particularly embroidery, you will love Pero's collections. (Images left and centre are mine; image on right is from I Love Pero's Instagram.)



Have you noticed there is a return to femininity in both fashion and interiors? Flowers too. And much of it seems to be driven by the new love affair with a colour that hasn't been seen for years: palest pink.  Or what's been dubbed 'millennial pink'.

I first noticed this pretty shade of pink in The Ivy in Santa Monica (see my image of The Ivy restaurant; first image above), where it was the perfect backdrop to the bright, beachy upholstery and stunning fresh flowers that are always a feature of this place. 

Then  I saw it at Sketch in London, and then at the new Playa Grande hideaway in the Dominican Republic last year (see my images above), where Celerie Kemble has used it sparingly but beautifully (it is the exact shade of the beach in front of the estate), painting shutters and floors, and dressing pillows and cushions and select pieces of furniture. It doesn't look too pink because there are acres of white and aquamarine to offset the sugariness. And of course the lush green of the tropical garden and the blue sky above to offer visual reprieve. But take all the other shades away and it still works, I think. It's tropical, but not over the top. Elegant, but understated.

Then pale pink, or Millennial pink, showed up on the UK Harper's Bazaar's May cover (above; four image from top), which was a sublime design featuring rosebuds entwined into the masthead. (I loved this cover so much, I used it as inspiration for mini chocolates for our biography launch last month; the blues and pinks perfectly matched the colour of the biogaphy.) 

And now I've started seeing this pink in stores, too, including The Rose Street Trading Co (above; second image), which now stocks exquisite vases and boxes, as well as on Instagram, which seems to be showing more and more pink houses -- and pink pieces to go in them. (I can't find where this lovely lantern came from, above. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can credit -- and buy it!)

But perhaps my favourite pink moments have been this gelato flower (above), which is part of a new global ice cream trend that's seeing ice cream sculptured to look like roses (this gelato consists of citrus, stracciatella, mango and raspberry), and this pink wallpaper by de Gourney at Paris Déco Off. Both are utterly sublime.

Let's hope this elegant, enticing, ultra-feminine colour stays around for a little while longer.


Have you noticed there's a new genre of garden book? It's all about flower farms! 

There are several flower farm books out at the moment but one of the best is by Erin Benzakein, the founder of Floret Flower Farm, and one of the leaders of the locally grown flower movement in America.

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden has equal parts instruction and inspiration, but what you'll really be doing is gazing at all the images, particularly the fields of dahlias. It's a sumptuous book with beautiful photographs that really show the beauty of this heavenly space on the American West Coast.

Her instagram is glorious, too.



Have you noticed how beautiful the UK edition of Harper's Bazaar has become over the past year or so? Ever since Justine Picardie took the reigns, it has blossomed (forgive the pun) into an elegant, sophisticated, surprisingly interesting read. The May and June issues are always my favourite for their garden-focused stories. Even the covers, above, are creative, and daring, and have become, not surprisingly, collector's pieces.

Wishing you all a lovely June, whatever you may be doing, and wherever you may be. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Power of Enthralling Stories

I want to tell you a story. A story about a story.

Several years ago, I was staying in B&B in Provence when I suddenly realized the engaging hostess I'd been happily chatting to for the past two days was the widow of Pierre Salinger, the well-known politician, journalist, and one-time White House Press Secretary to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. I'd been vaguely aware of the connection before I checked in, but then work and photo shoots took over and I forgot, until I walked into the library one night holding a small aperitif that she'd kindly offered and noticed the photos of John and Jackie Kennedy. It was then that she began telling me a story. About Pierre. And JFK. And what happened the night that Kennedy was assassinated.

As the story unfolded, my overworked brain cleared and I began to realize the significance of what was being discussed. And who my hostess was. And so I listened. I listened for the hour that it took to tell (by which time I had pins and needles and needed to wee!), and as I did so, I realized it was an extraordinary story; the kind of story you hear perhaps three or four times in your life. I was immediately captivated but I was also conscious that it was the kind of story that needed to be saved somehow, so it could be retold to future generations. Of course some stories are not for retelling. And perhaps this was one. But, like most journalists and authors, I am of the firm belief that if we don't save such stories, if we don't archive them somehow, they will be forgotten. And then all these great stories that we hear in distant libraries will be lost in the dust of the footsteps of Old Man Time.

I vowed then that if I was ever fortunate enough to hear another such story, I would write it down.

As a journalist, I hear stories all the time. We all do. Stories that make us chuckle or laugh, or cry, and wipe our eyes, and cry again. I've even heard stories that were so astonishing, so far outside the boundaries of my beliefs, that I could only shake my head in disbelief. But those are the best stories, I think; the unbelievable ones. Because those are the ones that challenge us, and make us think. Those are the stories that force us to contemplate them, long after the last unbelievable word has been said.

I have been working on one such story for the past five years. It's the story behind the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock, that beautiful, quietly haunting novel, which Peter Weir turned into an equally beautiful, equally haunting film. And after five years of research and long nights of writing, it is finally being published by Bonnier Publishers this weekend, on April 2, beginning with a two-chapter extract in the Good Weekend magazine in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

It's such an extraordinary story that I think it might even surpass the JFK story in the Intrigue Stakes.

We are taught that things only exist if they are measurable. If they are not measurable, or quantifiable, we're not sure how to categorize them. But in researching this book, I learned that there is far more to life than what we blithely assume. The story of Picnic at Hanging Rock lies somewhere between the rational and the inexplicable, between reason and wonder, and the story behind it lies somewhere in that strange realm too.

But it doesn't matter what I believe, or disbelieve -- or indeed what others believe, or disbelieve. Picnic at Hanging Rock remains a great story, 50 years after it was first published. And I hope the story that I've written, the biography of its enigmatic, beautiful, complex, clever author Joan Lindsay, is just as enthralling.

I also hope that others will write or record similar stories they hear. Because we need these stories, more than ever before. They are part of our history, and our identity, but more than that, they are places of grace; small sanctuaries amid the shoutiness and sound bites and Snapchat grabs of modern society.

So I hope you'll all record your own life stories one day. And your family's stories. And those stories you hear in a library, in a landscape far away.

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