Archive : July 2011

12 Jul 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Do you ever stand on the job site and look at some wreck of a thing and just think how incredibly beautiful!!  I hope so, because its something Nicky and I love to do together.


Look at the walls of this cellar in this estate in Northamptonshire….colour and texture-wise, there is a lot of visual poetry here.

One of the best places to look for picturesque ‘rot’ that I know of is in Spitalfields London- the old Huguenot houses.  Do you have a favorite recommendation?

It was my colleague Beata who got me thinking about distressed walls again after she saw the Kings Speech.  She is obsessed with this scene and I think may be working something up in her flat as we speak.  I tried to tell her this was all the rage in the 80′s and some of us are over it…but fortunately she doesn’t listen to me – and I’m looking forward to seeing her results!

Malplaquet, the fabled incarnation of Tim Knox (Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum), also in Spitalfields is the holy grail of pleasant decay – at least to my mind.  It has been turned into a veritable kunstkamer.  It is p-u-r-e-m-a-g-i-c……..a sensory experience.

Obviously I am addicted to ‘Curbed’.  Surely we all love houses more than anything so Curbed is like heroin – a steady stream of virtual uber-real-estate delivered daily to your mailbox.  This came up recently, a house in Austin Texas with…well…those Kings Speech walls.  Still looks pretty 80s to me.

This on the other hand-from photographer Wendy Bevan…this is entirely modern.  Beata, I’m keeping an open mind.

7 Jul 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

Not too long ago Ronda Rice Carmen of ‘All the Best Blog’ asked me what my most treasured possession was to which I replied, John Fowlers address book – which it was – or is – or….sometimes is!  I mean do YOU actually have ONE consistent most treasured item, because the truth is I fall in love pretty frequently.  My most treasured possession du jour for example, comes hot on the heels of my recent trip to Moravia with Nicky; my signed copy of ‘The Journey‘ by Celia Sternberg. Though strangely,  MY journey begins much before that, when I posted one of my very first blogs on Diana Phipps. Last fall, deep in the basement of Conde Nast  amongst the vintage Vogues I came upon that pink plaid bathroom, designed by Diana Phipps, which appears in Affordable Splendor (an old copy of which rests on my cottage bookshelves).  Nicky at the time, and as is often the case, says – ‘of course Diana, wonderful decorator, she is absolute heaven and a great friend of mine‘ – and I posted the blog and that was that.

Months later we plan our trip, and Nicky determines it would be just as easy to fly home via Prague, and we could spend a night at Diana’s (Phipps nee Countess Sternberg) wonderful house.  He also tells me I MUST read ‘The Journey’ and I ignore his advice because I believe that sometimes there is merit in approaching an adventure in the mindset of La Farge…that is ‘that we should bring no books, read no books, but come as innocently as we could‘.  So having spent a week touring the Czech Republic and surrounded by unspeakable beauty, we arrived, were so warmly welcomed – wonderfully overwhelmed by Castolovice.

Yes SO warmly welcomed despite the magnificent scale and grandeur of Castolovice!  I quickly realise my mistake because instantly I want to know EVERYTHING about the house, and the divine Diana (who does not generally go by Countess although she has added Sternberg back to her name).  

I am very sweetly lent a copy of the book, (which I am subsequently allowed to steal) written by Diana’s mother, and which I stay up all night reading!  ’The Journey‘ is everything I love – history, aristocracy, ancient lineage, castle-owning cousins, eccentricity, humour, poverty, and tragedy written in the most brilliant irreverent prose.  From Castlovice (and other family palaces) the Sternberg’s were forcibly removed by the Nazi’s during the war, only to return in ’45, then forced to flee again in ’48 when the house was taken over by the Communists.  It was in fact eventually to house a refrigerator repair school until 1989 when Countess Sternberg, almost accidentally, was returned to the home she left when she was 11; the result of various difficult restitution arrangements.  She has spent the last 20 years making good the extensive and exhaustive damages the house has suffered.

On a lighter note – this is a typical Diana touch. We dined for example, with all the fine Nymphenberg china…AND a cow dressed as a pink poodle on the table!!  A sense of humour I can tell from ‘The Journey’… she has inherited from both her mother and father.

…and just a FEW of the Sternberg 8-sided stars at Castolovice, although surely it is Countess Sternberg’s which shines the brightest. This was a truly magical experience and here are two very poor videos (my fault) which I hope will give you a better taste of it all.  Now if you, like me, are hooked…exclusive arrangements can be made to accomondate parties of six to stay. Contact Harriet Landseer at

5 Jul 2011
avatar Author: Nicky Haslam

Out of the blue, I got a letter from David Kampfner, informing me that my Grandfather Arthur Ponsonby had built a steamship, of all things, and named her rather sweetly SS Robin. On September 20th 1890, 20 sailors from Liverpool set out on her maiden voyage under Arthur’s ownership to the South of France. 

For the next decade, Robin plied her trade between Britain and Ireland – with side trips to French ports – hauling grain, coal, iron ore, china clay and railway steel. In 1900, Blanco Hermanos of Oviedo, Spain bought the ship and, her work transferred to the north-west coast of Spain, working out of Bilbao. Ownership changed again in 1913, whereby she shifted to Santander. She ran coal from Gijon to Santander, and played her part in the First World War supplying iron slabs for the French Government, escorted by two destroyers to protect her from U-boats. She continued in original condition until 1966, when she had her first major refit. But it seemed that time had caught up with the coaster when, in 1974, she was finally sent to the breakers.

The director of Britain’s Maritime Trust heard of the ship’s plight and, rushing to Bilbao, inspected the craft and decided she was worth preserving. On May 24, 1974, the sole survivor of the once-mighty British steam coaster fleet was saved for the nation. SS Robin has recently undergone a £1.9 million conservation plan to keep the world’s last remaining steam coaster intact and is due to open soon as a tourist attraction. SS Robin will be temporarily moored in London’s Royal Docks a mile from her original construction dock. Although the London we know will be alien to her after 110 years of progress, it’s reassuring to know that the past is being preserved. Who could have predicted that my grandfathers boat built in an era when Britannia ruled the waves has survived against the odds, he for one would be amused. The Duke of Edinburgh is an honorary member of the SS Robin Trustees.

She sails up the Thames to her new mooring on Wednesday July 13th 2011, further information on her past and future can be found here.