Archive : February 2011

25 Feb 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Strangely situated in a suburban cemetery, near a perfectly sweet but average Church, lies a charming testimonial to dash, daring, and most certainly romance.  This IS a love story, but I was too busy indulging my love of a certain Chateau (as in l’Horizon) on Valentines Day to post it.


Well, as you can see, this is the mausoleum of Sir Richard Francis Burton, dashing genius infidel, speaker of 28 languages, author, and translator of the Ariabian Nights and the Kama Sutra. Burton was a devotee of love and adventure. For 10 years he was pursued by Isabel Arundell to distant lands, and against her family’s wishes, until he in fact wed her.  

from the nevada

I’m sure I am not alone in crediting dearest dearest Lesley Blanch, author of my beloved ‘Wilder Shores of Love‘ for imparting the details of Isabelle’s quest…for is it a love story?…I’m not sure, not MY idea of love, but yes, a romantic and captivating story none the less, and I read of it via Blanch.

 A few years ago I sneaked off early one morning with my little one (in her Chinese pyjama’s I see!? – how appropriate! – sorry about the Uggs) to find this monument to love, which was in a pretty sad state despite having undergone a restoration in 1975, subsequent to which the door (which had been hinged operable) was sealed.  I was beyond touched though, by the execution of the Turkish tent in Forrest of Dean stone, the rope and swag details.  Entirely enchanting.  The link to St.Mary’s church is here:

Here Isabelle and Richard lie side by side in faded oriental splendour.  

Isabelle made regular visits to Richard’s grave from her home in Baker Street and on one of these visits she noticed that a small cottage close to the churchyard was available for rent. She justified the rental by saving the fare travelling to and fro from London and that it would be more pleasant in Mortlake than central London in the summer. She had a name-plate made for “Our Cottage” and planted roses, ivy and honeysuckle round the front door. She now needed morphine injections to help her cope with the pain of the cancer, but she was determined to republish 34 of Richard’s works in a Memorial Edition. In only 8 months she finished the 2-volume biography of RichardThe Life of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, which was published on 11 July 1893.

The book was a great success and Isabel wrote “With my earnings I am embellishing his mausoleum, and am putting up in honour of his poem Kasidah, festoons of camel bells from the desert, in the roof of the tent where he lies, so that when I open or shut the door…the tinkling of the camel bells will sound just as it does in the desert. On 22 January [1894] I am going to pass the day in it as it is my thirty-third wedding day and the bells will ring for the first time.”

Things were in a bad way in 2007 as you can see, but I had heard that a restoration campaign was underway.  Worrying, because ‘restoration’, as we know from Ruskin is a complicated issue, and I hoped very much they wouldn’t make it too shiny and new.

On the upper part of the stone door is a carved marble ‘Book of Life’ giving Burton’s details.

Although the pair embraced their adopted culture Isabelle was Catholic…it was not entirely straightforward.  From the foot of the cross extending on each of the sides is a row of gilt crescents. As originally designed the crescents would have been above cross and below the star (sorry! the star on top is cut off in my picture!), but the Catholic hierarchy placed a veto upon a Christian emblem occupying a sub-ordinate relation to the most important of the Moslem insignia.  Well, I suppose since it’s a Catholic cemetery…things are never straightforward are they!  What matters to me, is that it all looks pretty and pleasing.

The stone has been cleaned and whitewashed, the gilt highlights reinstated.

The window at the back where you can peek into the mausoleum is still there, and clean as a whistle.

The interior is restored to a level of faded glory in keeping with the antiques and artifacts that were so carefully chosen and paid for by Isabel.  Also, a mirror has cleverly been installed over the interior of the entrance door so that one can see the shrine.

Isabel’s tinkling camel bells – sigh.  Can you see how they are wired so that when the door opens they jingle?

You can just see the gilt star of Bethlehem that surmounts the front peak on this picture.

And I couldn’t leave without sharing this delightful Serge Roche-esque number with you (albeit executed in the late 19th century) – Thomasina Sophia may you rest in peace, and what great style you had.

22 Feb 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Evening Standard readers will be aware that Nicky recently had an operation…all hands on deck for the convalescence décor! Find director Chris Sweeney busy custom dying Schiaparelli pink pajama’s….Colette having an Elsie Mendl type red and white stripped bedpillow sewn lickety split….WITH side pockets naturally! (why are these impossible to find in the UK?? I thought this was the land of breakfasting in bed). Props ready, the glamorous Henrietta Channon whips out her iphone, naturally set to uber cool ‘Hipstamatic, to take this luscious shot of the patient. Nicky is now back on his feet I’m pleased to say, and in receipt of the all clear from the doctor (the equally glamorous Lord Darzi).


Elsie, of course, new how to do it right.  Just LOOK at that bed tray, pockets for stationary, reading light, chintz bedpillow with satin back support…and of course Blue Blue…to keep away the blues.  Don’t miss the gauze cap either (daycap??).  Oh, and pearls, yes Elsie…good point.

 I am and have always been a staunch believer in breakfasting in bed.  I’ve just ordered one of these wicker trays because I’m realising I need to ‘up’ my glamour game especially as the children are now old enough to deliver.

 Lesley Blanch…a fan never hurts…

Stephen Tennant…seriously a fan NEVER HURTS darling!!!!  He shows off a bit of wrist action to David Hockney.

 Diana Cooper of course always got it right.  Nicky tells me her neck pillow was gauze, and she also wears sweetest nightcap and has a very proper (and by that read functional) bed desk set up beside her.

 Maury Paul (aka Cholly Knickerbocker) got it really right – white jacket service naturally, and a bit of leopard print to go with it.

Iconic photo of Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell, as photographed by Cecil Beaton.  This is SO right it hurts.  Cecil famously worked in bed until noon each day, arriving for lunch here or there, fresh as a daisy.  I do think one could devote an entire store to the art of breakfasting?  Trays and trinkets, peignoirs and pencils, porcelain and picale….we would be happy to collaborate!!

19 Feb 2011
avatar Author: Nicky Haslam


A young American couple brought me this Art Deco cicada pin when they came to stay at the Hunting Lodge.  Instead of wearing it I pinned it onto a pleated lampshade in the sitting room.

The next day it wasn’t there!!  Darling Jean, who looks after the house, thought the bug was real and had thrown it into the garden!

Since then I’ve been on bug watch and have found these little buggers in all sorts of places…


Francois Decorchemont’s vase at the Musee Des Arts Decoratifs


These snails crawl over the cornice of a d’Ornano interior by Henri Samuel….

Iridescent scarab beetle wings, like the living one below, inserted into this Indian gold filigree embroidery are deliciously three-dimensional to the touch.


And here’s what is surely the apotheosis of buggery!  Jan Fabre’s densely scarab encrusted ceiling in the Salon des Glaces, Belgium.



If ONLY I could wear this to the Oscars….very appropriate, as I’m going to have lunch beforehand with Leonard Stanley, who was Tony Duquette’s assistant for many years.

16 Feb 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Sometimes, even when your heart is in the right place, it is still wise to seek the assistance of a professional.  My daughter and I have been discussing the interiors of Spongebob’s house for example.  I would like to point out that my daughter is well versed in higher visual mediums…but yes, she likes Spongebob too.  Im crazy about HER…so with an open mind, I tune in.  Argh the noise is grating, but visually I am AMUSED, intrigued even.


It turns out Spongebob lives in a Pineapple, which fortuitously fell overboard from a boat above.  I wouldn’t mind living in a Pineapple…

I know I don’t have to elaborate  on this well known expression of the 4th Earl of Dunmores…I’m sure you know it, and yes its a folly but I think it begins to illustrate the point.


Spongebob’s neighbor is called Squidward.  He also has an elaborately designed home with this very Elsie de Wolfe green and white stripped pavilion in front.  It’s charming, but I feel he could have taken it a bit further.  He should be looking at Sweden’s copper pavilions at Drottingholm and Haga for example, like Nicky did when he designed a clients ravishing pool pavilion in the south of France.


Guards’ Tent. You can’t miss seeing it when walking through the garden from Drottningholm to Kina Slott (The Chinese Pavilion). This strange looking building used to be the quarters for the dragoons of Gustav III. It was built in 1781 and designed by C.F. Adelcrantz 



I like Squidwards violet floors…are they painted concrete like Oliver Messel would have done??  And the bamboo bookcase is really promising, although it needs a bit of specialist painting to take it to the next level.


OK, bamboo refrigerator! Now we are talking!


This is a case of talking it too far – its too obvious and too matchy (but you know that).


Out for lunch at the Krusty Crab and I think this trellised rope over glass is a wonderful idea… for thought i dare say.  It reminds me a bit of the paper trellised walls we did in the South of France not too long ago.

Well done boys! I really admire your spirit and your adherence to ‘suitability’, but in the end, you really need us…… me.

11 Feb 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

I’m pleased I didn’t heed my friend Robin Muir who gave me a proper elbow to the ribs when I posted about Beverley Nichols.  It didn’t deter me from pulling ‘All I Could Never Be’ off Nicky’s bookshelf last time I was at the Hunting Lodge, in whose pages I discovered a positive GEM that has led Nicky and I on the most pleasant of chases.  If you will all open your books to page 105 we can begin. 

The Chateau de l’Horizon was built by American actress Maxine Elliott, who reined supreme over the Riviera through the 20′s and 30′s until her death in 1940.  It stood sandwiched on a rocky thin strip of land between the Golfe Juan and the noisy/sooty coastal railway.  ‘Some people described the Chateau d’Horizon as a triumph of mind over matter others as an example of sheer feminine cussedness, while there were some who shrugged their shoulders and said that it was proof of the power of unlimited money.’

Elliott was a great American beauty… wealthy, successful business woman, an actress/divorcee…and the once rumored lover of J.P. Morgan.  She retired from acting in 1920 ‘as she wished to grow middle-aged gracefully’

Elliott was both sumptuous AND savy, but credit for the brilliance of l’Horizon surely belongs largely to American architect, Barry Dierks and his British business partner, Eric Sawyer.  (on an aside…Nicky has already placed a call to his tailor regarding this supremely chic suit). Dierks and Sawyer were both business partners and long term lovers.  They would go on the build over 100 villas on the Cote d’Azur including their own Le Trident in 1926 where Pablo Picasso, Somerset Maugham, Beverley Nichols and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor would gather.  In fact Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat was also designed by them for Somerset Maugham…but, we musn’t get too sidetracked, there is SO much to talk about at l’Horizon alone.

Dierks and Sawyer’s on the roof of their own home…Villa le Trident. According to Nichols, Chateau l’Horizon was their first large commission.  Nichols writes of visits to Elliott…. 

 ”I used to clamber over the rocks with Maxine, discussing terraces and swimming pools.  It all seemed somewhat too academic, because I did not see how it would be possible to build a wall high enough to shut off the railway, nor a terrace broad enough to sit on without falling into the sea.  I kept my doubts to myself; others were not so tactful.  Among these were Lady Mendl…”

MAXINE  Well, Elsie dear, I always told you that this was the choicest spot on the whole coast.

LADY MENDL  Yes, dear, you always did

MAXINE Why you never snapped it up yourself I can’t imagine

LADY MENDL Not quite quiet enough for me, Maxine dear.

MAXINE (snorting) Not quite quiet enough? What are you talking about? (Noticing Lady Mendl glancing over her shoulder to the railway) Oh – I see – the railway! Well, what’s wrong with the railway?

LADY MENDL Nothing dear, Just a little close.

MAXINE Close? Nonsense! It’s ridiculous, all this talk about the railway!

(At this point, a gleam comes into Lady Mendl’s eye, for she has heard in the distance the ominous roar of an approaching express)

LADY MENDL What did you say, darling

MAXINE (hastily, to beat the express) Ridiculous this railway talk

LADY MENDL I can’t hear dear. (the express hurtles by) All these trains!

MAXINE  Only once a day.

LADY MENDL  Only once what?

MAXINE  (muttering sotto voice) She ought to use a trumpet. (At the top of her voice) Only once a day! The Riviera Express!

LADY MENDL Really? (a large flake of soot floats on to her plate) Really? (she pushes aside the soot, very ostentatiously, with the edge of her rusk) Really!


Dierks and Sawyer built gigantic walls on the very edge of the embankment, they designed immense windows filled with diamonds of sound-proof glass, and they coaxed every last inch out of the narrow rock.  The fact that is was ‘gall and wormwood to many of Maxines dearest friends, who had prophesied disaster‘, didn’t deter all of European and Hollywood Royalty from making l’Horizon a favoured playground.  And yes YES that IS a chute into the sea!!

Now when I showed this to Nicky to see what he could conjure he went immediately to the shelves and pulled out some ‘further reading’!  ‘yes, yes…Churchill…Duchess of Windsor, Beaton…’!! Nicky’s pulling books by the minute.   ‘Aly‘ by Leonard Slater proved especially fruitful, for he not only bought l’Horizon in the late 40′s, but married Rita Hayworth there May 1949.  

From this book I quote:

Pg 127 – Aly had kept in mind the house he and Tommy Burke had visited, ignoring barbed wire and mine fields, after the invasion of Southern France.  The Chateau de l’Horizon, designed by the American architect Barry Dierks, for the American actress Maxine Elliott was unprepossessing from the highway, but  intimate and charming on its sea side.  Big windows gulped in the view; a broad terrace, with gardens at either end, stretched across the beige rocks; below that was another terrace supporting a giant swimming pool, and below the pool, as below a ship, lapped the sea. 

Aly bought it from Miss Elliotts heirs for only $87,000.00 bidding for it anonymously.

It was not the grandest estate on the Riviera; it was of another sort entirely from the stately villas of La Belle Epoque with their mirrored Louis XVI décor and formal gardens.  It was modern, informal, and spectacular.  It caught the sun like a tilted mirror and Aly loved to lunch on its terrace, stripped to the waist to enjoy the winter sun.   And he loved l’Horizon’s size.  With ten bedrooms and seven baths, it was possible to have a houseful of guests without their bumping into one another in the halls.  

Actress Rita Hayworth and her husband Aly Khan sharing a table at their reception at Chateau de l’Horizon with Aga Khan and his fourth wife.

Pg 152 – to impress Rita, Aly ordered a quick Potemkin-village transformation of the haphazardly run Chateau.  He hired a new chef, brought down his best china and silver from his country house outside Paris, and bought new table linens.

The luncheon at the Chateau….Jules, the bar manager of the Carlton, was to be in charge of the bars at the Chateau.   He promptly created a new cocktail, the Ritaly; two-thirds Canadian Club, one third Italian vermouth, two drops of bitters, and a cherry.  

Pg 171 - At the Chateau, everything was ready; thousands of fresh flowers had been wired into the ivy to embellish the garden; two hundred gallons of eau de cologne had been poured into the swimming pool, in which floated two giant floral wreaths in the shape of an A (for Aly) and an M for Margarita. ( Nicky informs me…Rita’s real name was Marguerite Cansino).

As soon as Rita and Aly arrived, Jules offered each of them a Ritaly cocktail.  “They each took a sip,”he recalls. “I made over four hundred of my drink, the Ritaly, that day.  The guests didn’t drink much but the journalists, especially the Indian journalists, oh the Indian journalists,; they drank, some of them seven or eight of my Ritalys.

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

29 May 1949, Cannes, France — The wedding reception of Prince Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth was held at the Chateau De L’Horizon.  Here they pose for photo.

Of course it wasn’t a perfect happily ever after…

His whole life was so different” Rita explained, “it was too difficult for me. I wasn’t prepared for it and , who knows, he probably wasn’t prepared for me”.

She was baffled and discomfited by the international set. The gossip was about people and places she didn’t know, and often in French. Although Aly hired a tutor to teach her the language, she found it slow going.  Often she realised with a pang that guests at the Chateau knew the house better than she, and felt more at home there.  And so many of them were women, sophisticated women, the kind that always made her fell ill at ease.’

Strangely…alluringly….just this weekend the Chateau l’Horizon was mentioned in the Telegraph’s Princess de Polignac obit.  She stayed at l’Horizon in 1947 with her hostess Rosita Winston.  Great gossipy tales abound  in Life Magazine Nov 10 1947 issue and yours for the googling….because alas…we have written too much already!! (for today…)