Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Decorex International 2011 preview

I will be arriving from holiday just before Decorex International 2011 starts and I must say I am not looking forward to coming back to a pile of work & thousands of emails; that’s the worst part of arriving back from holiday…But the quid pro quo is that just a few days after landing I get to go to my 5th event in a row and this year have the added incentive of becoming Decorex’ live blogger. 

In September, London will be buzzing with people from all over the world here to see the latest design trends and collections. Decorex is an unmissible world class event with a number of high-end exhibitors and extremely well attended by interior designers, retail buyers and homeowners looking for style inspiration, all eager to share experiences and insights. The show takes place annually and features the most innovative, inspirational and highest quality products.  

You will not be disappointed; it will be a jaw dropping event that will excite from the minute you walk in; through the vast range of products on show from the Sloane Square Lobby (designed by Nicky Haslam and Colette van den Thillart from NH Design), to the Champagne Bar (designed by Martin Hulbert). Add to that a plethora of amazing seminars with inspiring speakers such as Tara Bernerd, Tim Gosling, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Mark Woodman and Holly Becker to name but a few and you can see why I am eagerly awaiting this year’s event.

It gives me great pleasure to see that Decorex International 2011 is supporting Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to hear from Piers Gough and Nicholas Chandor on Monday 26th September where they will give an insight into the unique design of the new Maggie's Centre in Nottingham, due to open later this year. 

Take a peek of some of the amazing new collections appearing at Decorex 2011:   

From Alex Ramsay’s new contemporary silverware collection combining silver with hand blown glass…So creative and unique (below). 

To the fabulous new wallpaper and fabrics collection by Abbott & Boyd (below).

And how sublime is this handmade wallpaper by Fromental (below). 

I am so enjoying the new collection of furniture and lighting by Pinch. Check out the Brody high back armchair, the Anders lighting and Clyde side table; each piece is a definite classic (below). 

With so much bespoke creativity and innovation under one roof even the most discerning of attendees will find their demand for individual pieces and designs satisfied. To those of you attending Decorex International 2011, enjoy... 

For more information www.decorex.com 

Pictures via Decorex International 2011

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Back to my roots! The castles of the south-(Part 2).

From the rugged splendour of the north we have now driven to the environs of Lisbon before moving on to the baking heartland of the Alentjo on our way to the holiday resorts of the south. While still basking in Portuguese hospitality we arrive at the House of the She-pine-tree.

The house was bought in the early sixties by the journalist, war reporter, radio and TV producer, painter, award-winning novelist and art collector Olavo d´Eça Leal (he seems to have had a full life). It has only recently started to operate as a Museum Guest House and since I have never stayed in one I am curious to see what it looks like.

The house sits on the high ground of the traditional villages of Sabugo and Vale de Lobo, in the county of the town of Sintra (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).The famous British poet and traveller Lord Byron called Sintra his “glorious eden” in his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. 

Let me tell you about this beautiful and enchanted place called Sintra. I have been here many  times but it seems to have me bewitched and we end up coming here when we come on holiday. Apparently the Romans made it a place of cult moon worshiping and named it "Cynthia" after the goddess of the moon. They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with it and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. 

It became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built stunning mansions and villas. The most famous (for being part of the setting of Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" starring Johnny Depp) is Chalet Biester, with dark conic rooftops and Gothic windows.

Since I don’t have the time or you the patience for me to tell all that is beautiful I chose two that I love, one is the Palacio Nacional and the other is Palacio da Pena. 

Palacio National is situated in the main square with its two gigantic conical chimneys being the town's most recognizable landmarks, while the rest of the building is a combination of the Moorish, Gothic and Manueline styles. It was used by generations of Portuguese royalty prior to the 1910 revolution.  And it was built in the 14th century by Dom João I who lived in the Palace with his wife Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. 

Their married life began officially on 14 February 1387. It seems that the Portuguese court celebrated the union for fifteen days (glad we lost this tradition because many couples/families would go bankrupt before starting married life). Philippa married King John I by proxy (meaning when the bride or groom (or both) is not physically present, usually being represented instead by another person), and in keeping with a unique Portuguese tradition, the stand-in bridegroom pretended to bed the bride (again I am so happy this tradition was lost, I have got this horrible thought in my mind now - long story).

It seems Philippa was seen in her time as the perfect symbol of queenly piety, and made public comments saying that “it would be regarded as an indecent thing for a wife to interfere in her husband’s affairs”, she actually wielded quite a bit of influence in both the Portuguese and English courts and was very involved in world affairs (now ladies she was a wise woman & we can learn a lot from her by reading between the lines).

Its real treasures truly lie inside like what is said to be the most extensive collection of Mudejar Azulejos (coloured glazed tiles) in the world. Also the Sala dos Brasões ("Coat-of-Arms Room") with its domed ceiling decorated with stags holding the coats of arms of over 70 Portuguese noble families. 

And then there is the "Magpie Room"; it seems that the intricate décor here is connected to a tale of gossiping courtiers. Legend has it that King Joao I ordered the painting of magpies, as a message to the ladies of the court whose whisperings of intrigue were distressing both him and his English Queen Philippa of Lancaster. The story goes that Queen Philippa discovered King Joao I saluting one of her maids of honour presenting her with a rose that a magpie snatched. 

When admonished by her, he excused himself by saying, "All to do good, my Lady". He then had the room closed, and satirised the court scandal by having the birds painted with Philippa's motto 'Por Bem' in their beaks, and a rose in their claws. It is believed that King João was completely faithful to her. Queen Philippa truly turned this dynastic marriage of convenience into a lasting and loving partnership.  

Then there is the Palácio da Pena, the colourful fairy-like palace built in 1840s by German architect Baron Eschwege to the specifications of Dom Ferdinand II of Saxe Coburg- Gotha. After he bought the ruins of the Hieronymite Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena, this fabulous Palace served as a love nest for him and his Portuguese wife Queen Maria II; Palácio da Pena is the most notable example of Portuguese architecture in the Romantic period.  

Surrounding the palace is the mystical Pena Park, where we can find a variety of trees and exotic plants from the former colonies of the Portuguese empire, ponds, fountains, and black swans. 

Two days later we drive down to one of my favourite areas of Portugal - Alentejo which produces some of the best red wines due to the high temperature and arid soil. Our favourite being the “Floral de Evora” which I must say if you ever go there then do try it; feels like velvet.  Portugal as an amazing array of grapes i.e. Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, etc.

The whole of Alentejo is a peaceful haven with its undiscovered territory, sleepy landscapes, adorable white houses, olive groves, vines and in the patios and gardens one bears witness to the influence of the Arabs.

Imagine driving on quiet roads with a perfect azure sky through countryside and towns seemengly unchanged for centuries; passing the vast golden wheat fields swaying in the wind and a coastline with miles of unspoilt beaches that look rugged and unexplored. Does that sound like paradise to you, it certainly does to me.

Before you rush off to the airport let me warn you that Alentejo is one of the hottest places in Europe, maybe that’s why they say “Here the time passes slowly, because the Alentejo follows the rhythm of the land itself.” To me it's more the heat that makes everyone extremely slow. 

We will stay at Casa Pinto, a rustic hotel situated in the historic town of Monsaraz. From the rooftop sun terrace we can see across the plains surrounding the Alqueva Lake and Dam. 

All the rooms are decorated with the theme of former Portuguese colonies and there is a lovely romantic feel in the rooftop terrace where we can watch the sunset into the hills of the Alentejo countryside. I can imagine myself enjoying the view and savouring those beautiful wines from Alentejo.

Monsaraz is perched on the top of a hill and it consists of a small walled group of dwellings that carefully preserve most of their original charm and the inhabitants of the town take particular pride in maintaining its somewhat medieval atmosphere.

Two years ago we stayed in Vila Nova de Milfontes, a pretty town on the estuary of the Mira River; we were told that it is the cleanest river in Europe. We rented a lovely town house and this was our view as we had breakfast - magnificent.  

A couple of jet setter friends joined us for the last five days which they said that was their best holiday ever. There are lovely restaurants where we were welcomed with such warmth and the food was divine (yes I did have to pound the gym afterwards but by golly was it worth it). 

We will then drive down to the Algarve; although lovely it is not my favourite part of Portugal and that’s due to it beeing the most turistic part of my country. Since hubby is one of the speakers’ at an EU conference we will be staying the last five days in the Real Marina Hotel & Spa, Olhao. While he is at the conference I will be relaxing by the pool, yes it is a hard life but someone has got to do it (trying to wipe the smirk of my face). 



Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Back to my roots - staying in Portugal’s castles and palaces.

One would normally go on holiday and write about it after but that’s not me; I like an element of surprise and I love spontaneity. I have decided to tell you about my next holiday - yes without having been (gosh I imagine the look on your faces, priceless). So having planned our next holiday to Portugal I thought I would give you a little taste of where we are about to go; I warn you that it will look a bit like a “hotelathon”; we have booked some magical places to stay and I feel like a kid in a candy shop! 

By now you know I am Portuguese and so hubby being English wanted to see Portugal through my eyes, so we took an executive decision to stay at the Pousadas; they are located in historical buildings, castles, convents, monasteries, fortresses and palaces. Each is decorated to reflect the culture and heritage of the region in which they are located. After we reserved all the places we are staying at hubby surprises me by saying that I am to choose what we do and where we go (now it’s me that is flabbergasted). I thought as long as I take him to where they serve good Portuguese food and give him enormous quantities of great wine I should be ok, no! What do you think? Well maybe not so I thought where I should take him…being in my own country I am feeling the pressure.

Since we will arrive at around 9pm we decided to stay the night at a hotel near the airport with close proximity to the main road so in the morning we will start our journey up north. 

We are staying at the Leziria Parque Hotel located in Vila Franca de Xira, a famous town for its salty marshlands where the magnificent Lusitano horse is bred.

The next day we will drive up north and stay at the Pousada Condeixa-a-Nova - Santa Cristina - former palace built in the 16th century - 2 Km from Conímbriga, one of the best preserved Roman ruins in Europe. Founded in 200 B.C. the settlement consists of two main houses with magnificent mosaic floors together with several bathhouses and working fountains.

Twelve kilometres from Condeixa is the old University town of Coimbra. It was founded in the 13th Century and, until the 1900’s, was the only University in Portugal. It has a rich academic tradition and its law faculty is known worldwide. 

The University is situated at the top of a hill and dominates the old town with its narrow, cobbled streets and courtyards. There is a Baroque library, with magnificent wall and ceiling paintings, which houses a large collection of rare books I will try and pop in to take some shots of that magnificent room and in case I need pictures for a library post.

The Pousada Santa Cristina offer all sorts of activities like mountain biking, boat trips, horse riding, country walks, fishing (sea), rafting (Mondego river), hunting, tennis, canoeing (river) and cross bow which although I am not one to stay put for too long I think just this time I will be enjoying laying by the pool with a good book (or maybe not, we shall see what happens).

We will then drive up further north to the Pousada de Viana do Castelo - Monte de Santa Luzia. National Geographic magazine wrote 'Santa Luzia is blessed with one of the world's finest panoramas. Set high on the Monte de Santa Luzia, the Pousada overlooks the town of Viana do Castelo and its rooms have panoramic views over the ocean and lush landscapes.’ 

With its elegant interiors the Pousada offers a place where you can enjoy moments of peace while appreciating magnificent views and I for one can’t wait to get there. How magical is this view!
The Pousada is on a hilltop above the old sailing port of Viana do Castelo in Costa Verde. The views are over the port and the river estuary and the long sweep of the sandy beaches of Cabedelo, absolutely breathtaking. In the foreground you will see the dome of the temple of Santa Luzia. 

It seems this hill has been inhabited from about 2000 BC and behind the hotel there is an old village of Celtic round houses. This 'Castro' civilization of Celtic hunter / gatherers flourished until the Romans conquered Portugal and forced the people into the valleys to become farmers to provide food for the Roman legions. The last inhabitants of this old 'Citania' left in about 500 AD.

 Let me share with you a funny story about the Romans when they invaded Portugal over 2000 years ago .

On arriving at the River Lima, the legionnaires mistook it for the River Lethe, the legendary river of forgetfulness. They believed that anyone who crossed it would lose their memory needless to say they refused to cross the river. Their leader then crossed on his horseback and called each man by name to prove that he had not lost his memory.

I have been told that along the top of the mountain for about 20 kilometres through undisturbed woodland and pastures I will be able see wild horses roaming. I hope to get beautiful shots of wild horses.

Activities in the area include river fishing, bicycle tours, golf, country walks, four-wheel driving, cruises, water sports and canoeing. I will let you know which ones I chose.

Before our next Pousada we will be taking a look at the Espigueiros de Soajo; never having been here I am curious to see what this looks like. There are 24 Espigueiros dating back to 1782 and during the winter months they are still used by the population to store grain. These stone structures are raised high above the ground to keep rodents out and the Espigueiros have a cross that stands tall above them, which is to bless the crop annually. 

Moving a bit further in land we will be staying at the Pousada de Amares - Santa Maria do Bouro. Between the city of Braga and the Gerês mountain range, stands this beautiful Pousada which is the result of the restoration of a former Cistercian Monastery of the XII century, by the architect Eduardo Souto de Moura - recently awarded the Pritzker Prize 2011. The restoration of this Pousada has won many awards as well. 

In accordance with the monastic severity, but with a comfortable and modern decoration, this historic luxury hotel seems like an absolute must while discovering the Minho region.  

It is an idyllic setting, surrounded by lush fields and vineyards where the famous Vinho Verde wine is produced (this wine is usually served with sea food – hungry? I am, and thirsty too) together with the beautiful architecture of the Pousada we are ensured a superbly relaxing stay.

The ancient town of Braga is 15 kilometres away and is the religious capital of Portugal, with utterly beautiful churches, being the Se (Cathedral) the most famous, originally built in the 11th Century on the site of a Moorish mosque and the Bom Jesus Sanctuary.                                                    


I vaguely remember as a child to have gone to Gerês so knowing of its beauty I am eager to see it with different eyes. It is considered to be the most beautiful countryside in Portugal; it is the country’s only National Park (Peneda-Gerês).

It has been described as "this green terraced paradise with a back drop of austere granite mountains is a haven to many endangered species of flora and fauna". Being some of Europe’s  few wolves that prowl the park, as do foxes, wild boars and deer. The park is also home to otters, fish, frogs, salamanders, 147 different bird species and 15 bat species. Garrano ponies are among the park’s most famous inhabitants. It also contains sites of many ancient settlements from prehistoric and Celtic civilisations.

Activities available in this area include hunting, river fishing, horse riding, bicycle tours, 4 wheel driving, water sports, shooting range, paintball, lots to keep anyone entertained. Oh my gosh if we did all this we’d need a week not 1 night so I am going to pause here to get my breath and let you do the same while we pack our metaphorical suitcases and begin the long journey to Lisboa and its environs.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Follow your dream: the journey to personal art shopping.

Oh Fawn_Art, Fawn_Art. Wherefore Art thou!

Artwork is a great way to incorporate personality and character into a space; art also stimulates conversation and opinions. You can find items that are truly one of a kind and those who know me, are aware that I believe a home should never be without art. So now let me tell you about Lydia and Madeleine's venture.

A year ago I, by chance ended up meeting Lydia Swinton, we got on great and we meet now and then for coffee and to share what we were up to. I think Lydia has had an amazing childhood and I with her permission would like to share that with you.

Lydia Swinton is a Kiwi (as they say in England), she remembers her dad used to have a potters wheel at the bottom of the garden in New Zealand and she has lovely memories of him working away for many hours. At the age of seven her family moved to the UK and so Lydia travelled around Europe as a child in a Volkswagen camper van with her family, she remembers sleeping in a hammock across the front seats.

Together with her family and by herself Lydia has travelled extensively - 28 countries - she has drawn creative inspirations from many cultures, landscapes and from staying  with a fisherman at lake Baikal in Russia when the lake had completely frozen.

Lydia told me a few months ago that finally she was going to do what she so wanted and is passionate about - together with Madeleine they were opening an Art consultancy business.

I for one was probably as pleased as she was because there is nothing better then seeing your friend follow their passion and listening to them talk about their projects with such vim and delight. I know she will be great at it.

Now that you know about Lydia let me tell you about the other half of Fawn_Art.

Madeleine Reed grew up surrounded by artwork as her mother had a contemporary art gallery in Wiltshire. She would spend Saturdays and any spare time helping to source paintings, ceramics, glass and sculpture for exhibitions, running life drawing classes, lugging heavy plinths through the streets or pouring wine at private views (tired? I am, she definitely was non stop). Every Summer they would go to St. Ives, navigate the narrow streets and return with a van full of amazing artwork.

Lydia says " We are extremely motivated to promote artists and love nothing more than visiting a studio for the first time. Everyone is completely different, both Maddi and I always get in the car afterwards bursting with energy about where we can show the work and what we love about it; the inspiration never stops."

Lydia and Madeleine provide contemporary art hand-picked from the artist's studio: to engage and stimulate in the workplace, or to create an atmosphere at home. That they believe the art world should be open and accessible to all is a stance I applaud.

Hiring an Art Consultant gives you the benefit of using their trained eye to select art of the highest quality, and installing it so that it enhances the overall image of a home or work place. They do the hard work; you sit back and enjoy the result!

As well as being channels for artists and exhibition curators Lydia and Madeleine also work regularly with Interior Designers and Architects to commission, develop and source innovative artwork to complement and enhance designs for their clients.

Having established a wide network of artists worldwide they are well placed to help identify art for the home, office or a client. For the busy executive I see Fawn_Art as a sine qua non.

Do give them a tinkle and you won't regret it.


Pictures via Fawn_Art and Funky Leisure.