Archive : March 2011

18 Mar 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Well, if you thought my matching bookends were in bad taste brace yourselves!  The über controversial Anna Nicole at London’s Royal Opera House has closed curtains on its 7 day run and….I LOVED it.  Not so much the music (too Sondheim for me) but everything else about it including the Miriam Buether’s sets, which I simply cannot get proper pictures of-maddening!  The opening set was a slightly surrealist stylised log cabin all painted matte salmon pink – just super cool.

Yes, there were dirty words and some disturbing perspectives on modern life and media, but it was thrilling to witness such a thoroughly contemporary production, and to see the ROH brand the event with a sense of humour.

Every the putti sported Anna Nicole’s face, watching from the gods…


YES! Even bespoke curtains with muscle bound dudes flanking an Anna crest.

Bands of lipstick kisses framed the monogrammed panels.

The Larry King set – I SO miss Larry.


I ran into James Ostrer…who did the naked Freud photo of Nicky for the National Portrait Gallery  and asked him what he thought…’OH MY GOOOOD GOD, I thought that was one of the most incredible evenings I have had, pure genius. I absolutely loved it. The sets were like David la Chapelle’s work had been thrown into a blender with a vintage copy of playboy and a load of one dollar shop items with sprinkles/marshmallows on top. Excellent to not actually have to pretend you understand what is happening in an opera quite frankly’. 

And the crowd went wild!!!!!!!!

16 Mar 2011
avatar Author: Nicky Haslam

I was fascinated to have been recently invited to have a sneak preview of the newly restored Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, as much to my chagrin I have never before seen it. This house, the project and creation of Horace Walpole is one of Britain’s finest examples of Georgian Gothic architecture.  Horace bought the site in 1747 and at first transformed two small cottages into a ‘little gothic castle’ and these gradually grew into the fantasy ‘palace’ one sees today. Horace is known as a man of letters, as well as an avid collector of all things curious, in particular Cardinal Wolsey’s hat, a pair of gloves belonging to James I and the spurs worn by King William in the Battle of the Boyne.

During Walpole’s time spent at Strawberry Hill, the public could visit his property, and unique for those days, view the collection for a small fee. It was here that he also saw an apparition one night which inspired his gothic fantasy novel ‘The Castle of Otranto’ which in turn became the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. Alas, I did not come away with a new idea for a novel, however one cannot fail to be in awe of this architectural gem, as well as the quality of craftsmanship which has been employed in the painstaking restoration of this wonderful property.

Our hosts for the day was the incredibly knowledgeable guide Raymond Daniel-Davies, and Cathy Giangrande from the World Monuments Fund Britain, an architectural preservation charity that assisted along with other donors in the funding of this project. As Strawberry Hill being so unique a concept, it is up there on a par with the Taj Mahal and the Chinese Palace outside St Petersburg.

Interestingly the WMF are also working on fundraising for Shobdon Church in Herefordshire, quite possibly one of the prettiest church’s to be found, and directly linked to Strawberry Hill though the Gothic revival style and used as a Christmas card from World of Interiors last year. I could bang on for hours about Strawberry Hill and the fascinating history of the place, and so would you once you have visited this marvel yourself. In the meantime I hope the following photographs will suitably inspire you by its restoration, design, ornament and glamour, and also perhaps inspire you to write a gothic novel.

14 Mar 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

In grade school we learn about negative and positive space, simplistic concepts.


Scottish artist Douglas Gordon certainly sees the point of negative space and did a series where he burnt parts out of portraits.

How pretty is this strictly blank window? 

This dead chic building is on the Embankment in London, and you can imagine without the blank windows it would look like a council flat.


The Georgians, being sticklers for symmetry, used the blank window frequently and to great effect.

Another chic use of the blank in this hotel in France.  These blank roundels are repeated along the walls under a barrel vaulted ceiling.

Look familiar? The Mount was home to Edith Warton and many of these windows are false.  I used the idea at my Canadian cottage to great effect to break up a long imposing wall.  We put a false wall with black paper behind the window and it works perfectly.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more developers took a cue from Alberti and made something visually alluring out of their blank walls!

10 Mar 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Ya know sometimes…I’m just a decorator.  Not only have I not cracked open Jacques Bonnet’s ‘Phantoms on the Bookshelves’, but I was immediately sidetracked in considering the aesthetics of the cover, and my closet penchant for matching books.

Now we’ve all been wrapping and binding and cheating since the early 90′s when endless shelves of white books became THE thing – a trend that probably climaxed at Anouska Hemple’s ‘The Hemple’.  Eventually I decided that this just was TOO on trend and steered clear of the idea for ages.

I SHOULD have thought of something as chic as this which would have given the concept an edgy twist – thought realistically not too many of us (ok well NO one) have entire libraries of perfectly matched books.  This Vreeland red punch though is brilliant.  What is the word for the end edges of a book?? Is there one??

Colette's library in London

It was only recently that I succumbed to the fact that 90′s aside…I really do adore colour considered shelf displays, and I just ‘went for it’ in my own library. And yes – I’m loving them.

As luck would have it, Ruthie Burgess in our office reminded me that possibly there was a little substance to this idea, above and beyond ‘top trends from 1992′.  The blue bedroom at Kellie Castle sports a divine collection of azure blue volumes – MARVELOUS I say.

And indeed we put these turquoise ones in a London flat not so long ago.


Now for the rather more high minded, who may be alarmed at this idea of buying books for the colour of their spine – I offer you a snapshot of my bookshelves in Barbados – where coral pink is the couleur de jour…and yet I defy you to tell me that every one of these is not worth having (granted I have wrapped ONE in paper…can you spot it?)

8 Mar 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Designers will often talk about patina and ‘pleasant decay’ (the later being a catchphrase of the late John Fowler).  It is difficult at times to get clients to understand the importance of imperfection.  Certainly Diana Vreeland talked about it incessantly, as did Rose Cummings, Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler.  Sometimes nature takes its course, although I don’t think any of us would go to the extreme of Nancy Lancaster who had her new sofa’s placed in the garden until their newness was sun-beaten out of them.  That idea of faded grandeur was naturally imprinted in her psyche. I am somewhere in between. I have a North American eye for the new, the chic, the polished and yet a romantic need for grit and ruin. Learn to love your flaws darling!

A/W 2010

I wear and adore JC de Castelbajac, and although I missed this ensemble somehow last year, I certainly would wear it!

Wang Shu’s Ningbo museum really made me think about the dichotomy of new and old, and their aesthetic interdependence.  He is a purveyor of Japans traditional building technique called ‘wa pan’, which was developed by local farmers to cope with frequent natural disasters.  I mean we just call it ‘salvage’, but this is taking the commitment to a whole new level. The results are so poetically beautiful and so modern.  It’s so rare to see the old and new juxtaposed this successfully isn’t it?  It’s a masterpiece.

Years ago I visited Ricardo Bofill at his Taller de Architectura, his enormous, courageous, reworking of an abandoned cement factory.  It is another example of sensory architectural expression having everything to do with scale, layers, and emotion.  It’s gritty, modern, romantic – completely genius.

Don’t think for a minute this ruinous splendor is obvious…it’s incredibly hard to ‘fake’. I feel like Ruinenberg castle should be wonderful and yet it’s contrived, I’m not convinced and think it’s dull.


Artistically though, decay and ruin can be terribly alluring. Ferdinand Marcos’s bust would have been of little (artistic) interest to me in its pristine state, but now it’s a fascinating collage of texture shape and colour.


I am not entirely sure, but I think this is a doctored photo of one of the old German bunkers – or a photographic effect.  Either way, the point is ruins in gold look utterly divine!

Now I have been watching this abandoned job site in Barbados for 4 years now, thinking that there was a certain attraction in the steel lattice over ivory exterior.  Now, as ivy takes it over, it’s getting prettier than ever and I know you’re thinking I am completely mad, but surely you see how it reminds me a bit of my most favorite of all buildings – the Desert de Retz.??!! 

Perhaps I have lost the plot a bit, but then I look at Steven Meisel’s editorials for Italian Vogue and I am reassured, ruination can be painstakingly beautiful…