Churches in Sussex (1st day trip)

I decided not to have a summer holiday this year and instead do day trips to Sussex which is only about 80-90 minutes from home, on my own with my DSLR camera for company. I wanted to focus on visiting historic little Sussex churches in obscure places. I’ve done four of these day trips so far and I have another planned for this week.

I’ve focused on churches with historic interest, be it for their age (some as old as 9th century), their features or even their setting. I have been the only person at every church I’ve visited so far as these are off the beaten track for tourists. That was one of their attractions for me. I could have visited large churches, cathedrals or castles in towns where there would be loads of visitors but I find crowds of people so unappealing.

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Interiors sourcing at the Decorative Fair and Golborne Road

We are in mid winter here in London. Temperatures plummeted a week or so ago and we barely reach 6 Celsius most days. However I won’t complain as when it’s so cold there is less of the debilitating grey skies and more of blue skies and sunshine which really do elevate the spirits.

Monday 21 January was Blue Monday the most depressing day of the year. What a load of twaddle, isn’t it?! Why would you identify a day as the most depressing? Most of us stuck two fingers up at Blue Monday, smiled and got on with our lives.

January started with a vengeance from a work perspective so I’ve had no time to feel the post Christmas blues. And I have a trip to Sydney to look forward to in a few weeks - family, sun, sand and sea and loads of oysters and Riesling!

Between a lot of client meetings and client work at home, I managed to squeeze in some outings. First up, a day of sourcing for clients started with a visit to the Decorative Fair in Battersea Park with an interiors friend. I enjoy a wander around the stalls as they are all so beautifully styled but everything is eyewateringly expensive!

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Petersham House Open Gardens

This post is for all you garden lovers. If you are lucky enough to live in London you have the chance to see the gardens of Petersham House, the home of the owners of Petersham Nurseries, Gael and Francesco Boglione. Their home is adjacent to the Nurseries and is a stunning Georgian house with extensive gardens, swimming pool and tennis court. They have a substantial vegetable garden which is used for the restaurant in the Nurseries.

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Sydney Sojourn - Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk

Sorry for my radio silence since my last post on 31 October - in the run up to Christmas I was manically busy with client work and in January I headed to Sydney for five weeks.  

I thought I'd kick off with one of the highlights of my Sydney sojourn - the coastal walk from South Coogee (where I was staying) to Bondi, a distance of about 10k with some of the most spectacular scenery.  I did this walk last year with a friend but this time it was just me, my iPhone and my DSLR.  The weather was cloudy, windy and about 26C so perfect for a long walk.

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Lampshade painting at Charleston

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I went to Charleston, the home of the Bloomsbury Group, to do a lampshade painting workshop with Cressida Bell who is the talented artist granddaughter of the artist Vanessa Bell and daughter of Quentin Bell.  I wonder if you are as  passionate about the Bloomsbury Group as I am? I devour books about them and have often visited Charleston, Berwick, Firle and Monk's House.

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Petersham Nurseries - a source of inspiration

Petersham Nurseries is one of those places that is good for the soul.  It is all about beauty and style, both outside and inside.  I'm there at least three times a month and have rarely left there empty handed!  

It's a half hour drive from my home which takes me across Richmond Park, another place that is good for the soul. It's hard to believe that you are in a big city when you are in the middle of the park surrounded by trees, bracken and deer.  

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Italy - my spiritual home

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post mainly due to been manically busy with client work but I also had a two week break in Italy over Easter. As many of you know, I was married to an Italian and lived in Italy for ten years so it’s my spiritual home and I try and go back at least once a year. I stay with friends who live in the Piemonte region and we usually jump into their camper van and head off somewhere for a few days.

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Decorex 2016 here we come!

On Tuesday my friend Jane Fitch, also an interior designer, and I made our annual pilgrimage to Decorex at Syon Park. Decorex is internationally renowned for being THE event to discover the very best and most coveted products from 400 exhibitors.  Decorex has been running for 39 years and this is the third year that I have been.

We were not blown away by much this year as it was very much the same exhibitors as last year. However some new blood gave a much needed injection of interest.  I've included below a few newcomers as well as some highlights.

Naomi Paul beautiful crocheted lampshades were a feature in the VIP lounge as well as on their stand. Their ethos is to create beautiful functional textile objects by highly skilled craftsmanship and they certainly have achieve this. The lampshades are simple, stylish and elegant.

Bert and May are another newcomer to Decorex. They are committed to raw materials, natural pigments and fine craftsmanship which they certainly have achieved in their products. They launched a fabric range at Decorex which were beautiful subtle colours and bold geometric designs.

Santorus is another exciting newcomer. Brother and sister, Fabian and Tara have a rich cultural heritage of Indian and Italian parents and their products certainly reflect this. I adore the patterns and colours of their fabrics and wallpapers.

Tom Raffield is a relative newcomer to Decorex.  Their beautiful wooden lighting and furniture are made in a woodland workshop in Cornwall where the company is based. 

Tom Faulkner is not a newcomer to Decorex but I am always interested in visiting their stand and seeing their exquisite handmade furniture.

No visit to Decorex would be complete without a vist to the Ochre stand. I am always in awe of their celestial pebble light!

There is always the obligatory over-the-top glitz and these Murano chandeliers by iDogi were no exception! 

I always look forward to the floral displays on the exhibition stands but they were few and far between this year and very disappointing. The one that stood out for me was on the Sir John Soane Museum stand which was designed by Ben Pentreath and the magnificent display of dahlias was grown and designed by Ben's partner Charlie McCormick.  This stand stood out from all the others for its design and colour.

To finish this whistlestop tour, here are a few more shots that I took.

I hope you enjoyed seeing a few of the highlights of Decorex.  It was a long day as there were over 400 stands to see.  A few glasses of bubbly in the VIP lounge with canapes helped to keep up our energy levels!

Did you go to Decorex this year? What did you think of it and what were your favourites? I would love to hear so do drop me a note.

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Chelsea Physic Garden - a hidden gem in Chelsea

Last week I took a friend to the Chelsea Physic Garden for lunch and a wander.  I'm a member of the garden and I love to pop in there to sit and read, have lunch or tea & cake, or a wander. I find it a real little oasis in the middle of Chelsea and a source of inspiration.

We parked in Battersea Park and walked over the prettiest of the bridges over the Thames, the Albert Bridge. I whizz over the bridge on my moped but can't stop to admire it or the view so it was a treat to be able to walk over it and take some photos. 

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A Bloomsbury Group pilgrimage!

esterday I spent an absolutely amazing day out in Sussex with a friend on a "pilgrimage". Having been to see Charleston House and Berwick Church three weeks ago and becoming obsessed with the Bloomsbury Group, I wanted to return to see Monk's House, the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and also to visit the church in the village of Firle where Vanessa Bell, her live-in lover Duncan Grant and Vanessa's son Quentin Bell (from her marriage to Clive Bell) are buried. 

It was a perfect English summer's day - cloudless sky, a lovely cool breeze and temperatures around 25C.  Be warned now,  I'm afraid this blog post is serious photographic spam!!

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Sleepover in the Cotswolds

Last Saturday early evening I headed to my friends' new house near Cirencester for a sleepover. They have built a stunning New England style home on Summer Lake which is part of the Cotswold Water Park in a beautiful rural area in the Gloucestershire countryside, with 147 gravel-quarry lakes, formed over time and enriched with diverse wildlife and natural resource. Summer Lake is the last of the lakes to be developed and there will be 45 of these luxury detached lodges. 

I arrived at 8pm as the sun was setting. The house was bathed in the early evening light and the setting sun over the lake was simply magical. One lone paddle boarder glided past in a world of his own. 

There were six of us and we ate a leisurely supper with the doors open and the evening air wafting in

The next morning the sun shone and I could really appreciate the lake and surroundings. Some of us bird watched with binoculars, others dozed in the sunshine. The indoor/outdoor flow of the house works so well.

After rising around 10am and having a coffee & croissant breakfast we headed into Cirencester about 10 minutes away. I've never been before and found it to be the most delightful, quintessential English town with the beautiful church of John the Baptist in the centre.

The centre of Cirecenster has some fabulous architecture.  In one of the shops on the main street was a fantastic antiques market which was a rabbit warren of rooms. I could have spent hours there browsing.

We stopped for a liquid refreshment at the Kings Head hotel opposite the church. It has been beautifully but sympathetically designed inside 

Then it was back to the lake house to pack and return to London. Who needs to go abroad when you could own a house on a lake like this one!!

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Bristol - a city of art and inspiration

 visited the city of Bristol yesterday for the first time and it was all thanks to Instagram !!  When I joined IG a year ago I thought it would just be an app on my phone where one looked at other people's images and made the odd comment or two.  I was so wrong - IG has been a revelation, I've met so many like-minded, interesting people on IG and I've started to meet some of these lovely people in person.  It's rather like a blind date as you've chatted on IG for months and got to know the person but sometimes you haven't even seen a photo of them. Then there's always the risk as with any chatting online that the person isn't quite their online persona.  Anyway, yesterday was about meeting up with some IGers (as they are called) in Bristol.  Most were unavailable or on holiday but two ladies, Lou and Marcie, were keen to meet up.

I jumped on the train at Paddington with some trepidation.

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"How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden?" Visit to Seend Manor

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting one of the most beautiful private gardens that I have ever seen - Seend Manor, a grade II listed Georgian house in Wiltshire. The village of Seend lies on and around a hog's back ridge in the triangle formed by Melksham, Devizes and Trowbridge.   The garden was opened to the public as part of Open Garden events in aid of Dorothy House Hospice Care.

This 18th Century walled garden is divided into quarters that transport you to the four corners of the globe. It was absolutely enthralling and worth the six hour round trip in the car from London.  I went alone and armed with my Nikon DSLR camera. The weather wasn't great and it rained briefly but by mid afternoon the sun came out. 

Stephen and Amanda Clark are the owners of Seend Manor and its walled garden inside the 28-acre grounds.  I was fortunate enough to meet them both and they invited me in for coffee. The Clarks divide their lives between England and Hong Kong. Stephen is a founder and managing director of the Anglo Chinese Group, an investment and corporate advisory company; Amanda, who grew up in Hong Kong, is a director of Altfield, a business manufacturing, importing and retailing Chinese decorative objects.

The gardens were designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, who have worked on many country house gardens from John Paul Getty to the Prince of Wales.

To the front and rear of the manor house, the grounds are elegant, green and restrained, with old trees, yew topiaries and hedges set off by large expanses of grass.

Stephen and Amanda have spent a lot of time travelling the world so it seemed natural to design the garden based on geographical themes in a series of four geographical areas which are separated by wide gravel paths up to 20 feet wide to accommodate the hornbeams running along them.


Firstly, there is China. The Clarks came up with their own design for this garden and for the central pagoda or ting. It took six weeks to build the ting but 18 months to erect. Twelve antique hitching posts surround the pagoda, each topped with a foo dog, the mythical lion-dog that guards against evil spirits.

The second "room" is Africa, because Stephen was born and grew up in Kenya and lived in South Africa.  A stone obelisk is the centrepiece of Africa.

The third "room" is Italy because they have had many a happy holiday there.

And last but certainly not least is England and this is the garden with the most flowers - it is a romantic, box-edged garden full of roses. The Banner­mans adore roses – their own rose garden at Hanham Court, near Bristol, is regularly open to the public. There are the old-fashioned roses that bloom only once a year and also those roses that repeat flower each year like 'Alister Stella Gray'.  She has also included the modern, repeat-flowering bush rose 'Little White Pet' as standards among old roses such as crimson 'Tuscany Superb' and pink-striped 'Versicolor' ('Rosa Mundi').

In the rose garden are also peonies, lupins, delphiniums, pelargoniums, catmint, irises and many other English country garden flowers.

There is also a corridor of ferns and tree ferns set among stones and a grotto at the end of this. In this corridor there are 6ft lilies - the scented, white Himalayan Cardiocrinum giganteum, which find just enough moisture and nutrient to thrive.

The 180 degree view from the front lawn over a wild flower meadow and the Wiltshire countryside is absolutely incredible.

There are a number of lovely outbuildings including a large adjacent cottage with a large cottage style garden

and a huge stage block part of which they use to run their business and one wing is a cottage that they rent.

The vegetable garden has a series of raised beds as well as a berries and cherries protected from the birds and a series of fruit trees.

You are never far from the sound of water as there are fountains everywhere

And the stunning little village church, Holy Cross, is right next door.

I spent four hours wandering the gardens and enjoyed chatting with Amanda at length.  I could have spent even longer there as there just sitting on all the seats and soaking up the views.  After I left there I stopped at a pub on a canal near Devizes and sat in the sun for a half hour.

A wonderful day out of London and one that I shall never forget.  Thank you Amanda and Stephen for your hospitality and the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your labours.  This is the only house & garden that has moved me to tears!!

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Light and colours of St Tropez

I'm currently staying with friends in north Italy and we have just returned from four days on the Cote d'Azur. We went in their camper van and camped about 30 kilometres from St Tropez at a campsite near Frejus.  It's my first ever trip to the south of France and I loved it - the light and colours in particular which are quite breathtaking.  The views, the vegetation and the colours they paint the houses - all divine.

The campsite where we stayed is on the edge of a river and a ten minute walk through a stunning nature reserve to the beach where the river widens into the sea.  My friends and I enjoy good food so we didn't slum it with the food we ate at the campsite! The local supermarket sells wonderful oysters, bread, pastries, cheeses ........ and it all tastes so much better outdoors.

The flora in the nature reserve was exquisite - some tiny delicate flowers and the huge broom bushes smothered in bright yellow flowers were quite spectacular and some were over 8 feet high.

The maritime pines are a feature of the Cote d'Azur and we saw many of them on the coastal road.

On Wednesday we took a bus into St Tropez for the day. It's impossible to take a car there let alone a camper van. It's a single lane road that winds along the coast hugging the sea through large towns and beach resorts.  In the summer the road is a nightmare and there were a couple of spots when the bus was actually unable to move due to a long line of stationary traffic so the scheduled 1 hour journey took 1.5 hours.

The population of St Tropez is only 5,000 but in the summer it increases to over 100,000 !! Lucikly it wasn't too busy when we were there, however the place was swarming with Vespas for Vespa World Days from 2-5 June in St Tropez to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Piaggio.

We had lunch in a local restaurant, Un Jour a Peyrassol, recommended by a lady in a shop who I stopped and asked, near the bus station. I'm always of the opinion that one needs to ask locals where to eat and this was an excellent recommendation. If we had eaten in one of the restaurants in or around the port it would have been double the price and probably not as good. We were the only non French people in this restaurant so that has to be a good sign! The food was very good (small menu of traditional dishes), the service friendly and efficient. We even returned there later in the day for coffee and ice-cream. We managed to sink two bottles of the beautiful blush rose wine, Chateau Peyrassol, which went down rather too well !

After lunch we wandered through the streets towards the older part of the town.  An interesting mix of hotels, luxury boutiques, food and wine shops and ice-cream parlours.

After lunch we wandered through the narrow streets of the town which were quiet and cool after the baking sun of the port.

Then we decided the best way to see St Tropez and its surrounding area was by boat so we boarded one of the boats that takes you out for an hour and shows you the bay. The port is awash with huge "gin palaces" which look incongruous against the old buildings of the town.  Then the huge private villas around the bay which are usually accessed by helicopter to avoid the road traffic - the guide on the boat told us who some of them belonged to (if he was to be believed!).

Back on dry land we headed around the waterfront to a little beach to rest in the shade.  The houses are right on the edge of the beach so get a hammering from the waves in a storm.

We caught the 7pm bus back to the campsite and luckily it only took the scheduled hour as the traffic was fairly light.  It was a long day but a very happy one. I could quite happily return there in fact plan to do so very soon. I want to go to Antibes and I'd like to go inland to Aix en Provence. 

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Chelsea in Bloom - inspiration from spectacular floral displays

It was the Chelsea Flower Show last week and the shops in the Sloane Square and Kings Road area embrace the Show by decorating their shop fronts.  These are spectacular displays and quite inspirational in both design and colour.

I thought you would like to see a selection of the best ones.  My favourite display was Links of London. They had flowers out front as well as in store and they were spectacular.

Another stunning display was Hackett in Sloane Street which had the real wow factor in reds and oranges.

And here are some of the other displays that deserve a mention. Obviously this is only a small part of the whole Chelsea Fringe during the Flower Show and it's a bit of a whistle stop tour but I thought you would be equally inspired by the colour and style of these displays.

I'd love to hear if you have seen any of the Chelsea Fringe this year. Do share some images with me.

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Inspiration from the colours at the Isabella Plantation

It's that time of year when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower and what better place to see them in all their glory than the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this London landmark, the Isabella Plantation is a 40 acre woodland garden set within a Victorian woodland plantation planted in the 1830s. It was first opened to the public in 1953 and it's best known for its azaleas which line the ponds and streams and are at their best in late April early May.  Given the bad weather we've had recently they are a bit behind schedule and should be at their best about next week.  The Plantation also is home to a wide variety of rhododendruns and many other rare and unusual trees and shrubs.

It's amazing how much inspiration for interior decoration you can gain from looking at nature and what better than a display of colour from acres of azaleas and rododendruns!!  Their colours are simply mind-blowing when seen in a condensed area as they are in the Plantation.

When we arrived, we immediately entered the bluebell wood which had this sea of blue beneath the canopy.  I was pleased to note that the bluebells are English bluebells and not the pesky Spanish bluebells which seem to be invading our woods.

It had rained heavily in the days leading up to our visit and also the night before so everything was heavy with rain and there was a lovely mist across the Plantation. However it was warm and the paths were not too soggy. I actually preferred to be there without direct sunlight as it's better for photography and also the azaleas and rhododendrons were only half out which made them a lot more interesting to view.

There is a huge variety of trees in the Plantation and some very beautiful trunks, especially after the rain.

Before I get to the azaleas which are obviously the star of the show, there are so many other features of the Plantation, not the least the pocket handerchief tree which my sister is totally obsessed with!!

The rhododendrons are also a feature of the plantation but had only just started to flower.

There are other interesting plants in the Plantation (I'm keeping you in suspense with the azaleas!)

And now for the star of the show, the azaleas. They were only 50% in flower but actually I preferred to see them like this than in full bloom

If you are in London in the next week or two, take the time to visit the Isabella Plantation as it really is a very special place.

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