Archive for the Architecture, interiors and design Category

Houses of fashion (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2011 by markcoflaherty

If it’s mid-April, it must be Milan. The annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair now rivals the prêt a porter and couture shows for scale, influence and glamour. The grandest hotel in the city, the Principe Di Savoia, sells out all of its rooms for the week – €17,000 a night penthouse included – six months earlier, while Twitter’s timeline scrolls at an excitable pace with design discoveries and party gossip. The boundary between fashion and furniture has been blurring, and this year it became almost imperceptible. Sales of “designer furniture” are growing faster than sales of clothing, and some of the most exciting interiors pieces showcased in April were from profoundly forward-thinking Paris-based couture houses. The notion of investment dressing is yielding to investment interiors – £15,000 sofas and limited edition armoires that will age beautifully and hold their value, aligned with the most prestigious names in the clothing industry. It’s a difficult, design sorcery: the product has to be simultaneously au courant and timeless.

Jean Paul Gaultier/Roche Robois

Every year since the launch of Armani Casa in 2000, the most influential labels in the world have expanded to encompass a lifestyle universe. Armani – like Calvin Klein and Fendi – is known for restrained luxury with a sharp sense of lounge-friendly texture and minimalism. Armani’s celebrated “greige” palate is a custom fit for the modern interior and has expanded from cushions and lampshades to whole Armani-branded hotels. But the new names heading for the living room floor are more intriguing.

A few years ago, seeing anything by Maison Martin Margiela outside of the most esoteric of fashion stores was, to the initiated, nothing short of shocking. Here is an aggressively “insider label”, known for a self-consciously intellectual approach to design: its stores are roughly whitewashed and all of the workers at its 11th Arondissement HQ wear lab coats. At its latest couture show, models wore flesh-coloured transparent belted Macs with unsettling black masks. In 2009 it began working with furniture manufacturer Cerruti-Baleri on two items that had appeared already as purely conceptual pieces: the Emmanuelle Chair (£1,750) and the Groupe sofa (from £5,060). This year it expanded the range with the Undersized sofa (from £5,000), Sbilenco coffee table (£1,500), trompe l’œil monochrome adhesive wall murals of distressed wooden doors (£290) and blank white Matriochka dolls (£130). The pieces are arresting and bordering on sinister, their skewed proportions reminiscent of Dutch designers Droog, or in the case of the Groupe sofa, mismatched (it resembles three odd armchairs) but unified by Margiela’s trademark raw snow-white cotton toile covering. “By clothing the furniture, the intention is to offer some history and past life, or vécu as we say in French,” explains one of the Maison collective. “The cotton is treated so it doesn’t appear brand new. But these are still luxury items. They are delicate and sumptuous.”

The appearance of Hermès’ La Maison line at this year’s Salone in Milan shouldn’t be surprising. The house was producing furniture with Jean-Michel Frank 80 years ago, and the 1980s Rena Dumas-designed capsule Pippa trio of folding leather chair, console and stool, as well as its tableware, are much loved classics. But it was the scale of the presentation in Milan that was dramatic: wallpapers, chairs, carpets, tables, sofas, glass and ceramics, all echoing the classic prints and the irresistible, boldly-seamed chocolate and orange leather that the brand is known for. The launch followed last year’s reissue of its Jean Michel Frank pieces, in collaboration with B&B Italia. “Those pieces were the starting point,” says Hélène Dubrule, the MD of Hermès’ La Maison department. “Then we brought the range up to date with new work from Enzo Mari, Antonio Citterio and architect Denis Montel.” Hermès is a house that is acutely aware of progressive design (Martin Margiela was creative director from 1997 to 2003), and the La Maison pieces unveiled this spring have a bold sense of modernity as well as stately, masculine tradition. Antonio Cittero’s Meridienne for Unwinding (£17,670) is a chaise longue with elements of Dumas apparent in its crossed safari-style legs. Mari’s Table Ovale (£20,460), in marble with smooth calfskin legs, has the gorgeous, elegant, tapered 1920s sweep of deco designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, while Montel’s leather Sellier dining chair (£4,650) is, as Dubrele says, “quintessentially Hermès”. “We liked the idea of a saddler working on something to sit on,” she says. “It adds a touch of fantasy to the collection and we hope it will become an iconic signature object.”

Hermès: La Maison

Like Hermès, some of the most directional fashion designers working on furniture lines are harking back to the 20s and 30s. The attraction should be obvious – the era of arch-modernism and muscular deco was the pinnacle of avant-garde design in the 20th century. No contemporary fashion designer has a stronger, or more influential aesthetic than Rick Owens, and while his work is synonymous with washed leather, asymmetry, monochrome and a blend of sci-fi, Berlin techno, the industrial and the occult, it’s also rooted in the early 20th century. He creates furniture for himself, and for limited editions selling (price on application) next to Prouve and Corbusier originals at Galerie Jousse Enterprise in Paris. They have a disturbing but artful and angular heft to them, exaggerated with animal antlers and offbeat materials: an alabaster bed looks like a sacrificial altar, and a stained black Curial chair resembles a pagan chalice. But then there are sofas and tables with a deco delicacy to them. “I like blunt rational simplicity in raw simple materials,” says Owens. “And every once in a while, a slightly ridiculous flourish. I oversized and simplified the silhouettes of Ruhlmann, Mallet Stevens and Jean Michel Frank with a hint of California skate parks and leather bar interiors. This furniture is my version of couture, it’s time-consumingly artisanal in a mix of base and rare materials.” He’ll be unveiling a new range of pieces – mixing prosaic blackened plywood and rarefied alabaster to striking effect – in London during Frieze week and in LA in December.

Rick Owens

Stockholm-based street fashion and creative brand Acne looked to mid-century Swedish design for inspiration for its furniture line. Creative director Jonny Johansson took Carl Malmsten’s 1958 Nya Berlin sofa, warped its axis, stretched it and upholstered the result in denim to create a selection of pieces (from €4,000–€15,000) that make a distinctly Scandinavian style statement. “These are pieces that need their own space,” says Johansson. “We called this project a study, because it’s a perspective play and the search for something very Swedish. Furniture isn’t just functional today. It’s more of an object, perhaps a sculpture.”

While there is a tendency for fashion designers to veer towards the conceptual, some of the new pieces appearing are more straightforward and literally comfortable translations of celebrated silhouettes and prints. Jean Paul Gaultier’s aesthetic couldn’t be further removed from the fabulously austere menace of Rick Owens, or the Scandic ascetism of Acne. The limited edition range of furniture he has produced with Roche Robois draws from thirty years of Breton stripes, sailors’ tattoos, Horst P Horst corset lacing and breezy Gallic bon chic, bon genre. The hand-stitched Mah Jong modular sofa (units from £895), with navy and white horizontal lines, kissing couples and Pierre et Gilles-style florals couldn’t look more Gaultier unless Jean Paul himself was sitting on it. “I started, as I do with all my collections, with the idea of dressing someone,” says Gaultier. “Except in this case it was furniture. And in the end, designing furniture is not that different – you have to think about the human body and how it will react to its environment.” For all the humour in his work, Gaultier is a deeply serious, master designer. His couture shows send critics into raptures, and he was design director of Hermès for seven years after Margiela’s departure. Amongst the Roche Robois collection is an elegant tattoo-motif wardrobe (£11,500) with internal mirrors that are part magic act and part old Hollywood, and two leather-upholstered sets of drawers (£4,995-£7,935) in the shape of a stack of suitcases – witty, but still exceedingly beautiful.

One of the most appealing parts of Gaultier’s furniture line is his bed, with screens and linens, in Lace, Sailor and Boudoir styles. A bedroom can lend itself to unbridled fantasy in the way other rooms cannot, which is why many fashion designers focus their attentions on it. Diane von Furstenberg launched a full range of homeware this year and along with the plates and cushions there’s an array of bedware ($150-$300) in bright mosaics and heavily inked lines that could be taken straight from one of her iconic wrap dresses. A black-on-white butterfly silhouette print, meanwhile, demonstrates her incredible graphic strengths. At the same time, high-end lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has, under the auspices of creative director Sarah Shotton, unveiled a collection of striking bed linen, from 550-threadcount white sheets with baby pink piping, to 100% silk black covers and lace-print textiles. Like Gaultier’s Breton stripes, it’s a look taken straight from the label’s DNA. “We’ve applied similar textures and detailing,” says Shotton. “And we’ve translated the craftsmanship and playful irreverence too.”

Maison Martin Margiela

The kitchen and dining room represent the bread and butter of high fashion homeware. Designers known for their prints – like Missoni and Zandra Rhodes – translate hugely successfully to tableware. As with bedroom sets, practical ceramics allow for flights of fancy: You might not want to change your sofa every month, but when it comes to supper, you can choose from a collection of plates according to mood. The market is growing fast: this autumn Bruce Oldfield has produced a range of 14 pieces with Royal Crown Derby while Diane von Furstenberg has a vast range of pieces covered in painterly single brush strokes and her pop arty Miro Flowers. A strong pattern can be taken on a grand tour of the house: Missoni produce stacks of cushions and towels, and Vivienne Westwood has an extensive range of wallpapers with Cole & Son, including her seminal squiggle print from her first catwalk collection in 1981, Pirates. Basso & Brooke, known for their wild, often risqué, digital prints, have taken things further, by offering whole-wall murals, made to order rugs, silk lampshades and chairs and decoupage consoles.

So alluring is the world of interiors that some designers now focus on it exclusively. Russell Sage gave up a successful career in womenswear to become one of London’s most in-demand interior designers, and approaches each interior with mood boards and back stories as he would any collection; and Rifat Ozbek – who created some of the most desirable clothes for women throughout the 80s and 90s – has retired from fashion to create wonderfully ornate, exquisitely bright cushions under his Yastik label. The embroidery is wonderfully, classically Ozbek, mixing central Asian patterns, including the Turkish, cartoonish good luck motif of the Nazar Boncugu. “I’ve also designed the interior of Mark Birley’s new London club,” says Ozbek. “It’s a cross between an opium den, a turn of the century Parisian music hall and a Tibetan temple. I’d never done an interior before, and now there’s talk of me creating a furniture line.” The attraction for the talented designer is clear. If 15 minutes on a catwalk tells the story of a collection, then an interior – whether piece by piece or an entire space – has a quite transcendent sense of permanence. It tells an infinitely bigger story.


Acne, 13 Dover Street, London W1 (020-7629 9374;

Agent Provocateur, 675 Madison Avenue, New York 10065 (+212-840 2436;

Diane Von Furstenberg at Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1 (0800 123 400; and at

Hermès, 155 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7499 8856;

Maison Martin Margiela at Cerruti Baleri, Via Felice Cavallotti 8, Milan 20122 (+39-02 7602 3954;

Rick Owens at Galerie Jousse Enterprise, 18 Rue de Seine, Paris 75006 (+33-1 53 82 13 60;

Roche Robois, 421-425 Finchley Road, London W3 (020-7431 1411;

Yastik by Rifat Ozbek, 8 Holland Street, London W8 (020-3538 7981;


Back to the future (Quintessentially)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by markcoflaherty

Like so many iconic World’s Trade Fair sites of yore, with their futuristic monorails, giddy revolving restaurants and vast, utopian domes, London’s most glorious moment in the design spotlight – The Festival of Britain – passed all too quickly. But, sixty years on, its influence is being felt again. The furniture it showcased has never been more desirable. Wooden tables and chairs – both originals and those inspired by the era – are sporting splayed and tapered legs, while the stylistic trappings of the time have filtered back into the mainstream, from Gil Sans typography at Peyton and Byrne to Lucienne Day’s mid century modern textiles and Wayne Hemingway’s Vintage at Goodwood festival.

It’s difficult to comprehend just how modern everything looked at The Festival of Britain in 1951. The most eyecatching of the temporary structures erected on London’s South Bank was the Skylon, a several-stories-high space-age, elliptical, needle that appeared to be suspended in mid-air. From a distance it looked like an elegant sci-fi portal to another time and space – cold-war Anish Kapoor. It captured the mood of the times simply and eruditely: there was an abundance of adrenalin-filled post war optimism, immersed in science and technology, with a hunger for all things new. The designs that were showcased at the Festival were radical in a way that we simply can’t appreciate today. One of the wallpaper patterns exhibited – by William J Odell – was based on the crystal structure of boric acid, as seen through a microscope. The British had survived the war and felt more alive than ever before. Floral chintz was dead.

This year, at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, where the world’s interior designers showcase their attempts to reinvent the style wheel every year, Britain’s heritage furniture was back with a new emphasis on both luxury and colour. It taps directly into all of that post-war emotion and excitement. And while maximalist tendencies still dominate in certain contemporary quarters, this is a stripped down and user-friendly kind of modernism that mixes and matches well with just about anything you want to pair it with. You can put Missoni cushions on your Ercol Originals Love Seat if you like. It’ll look great.

Ernest Race’s distinctive Antelope chair, with its narrow steel rod frame and fluid, curvaceous silhouette and orb feet was designed exclusively for use at the Festival in 1951. Along with a bench version and a rocking chair predecessor, it’s become a Great British piece of furniture: slightly rusted originals are a thrilling find in vintage stores. At the Salone in April, new versions of all of these were exhibited in Laduree-bright and tasty new colours: pink, yellow, blue and pistachio. It was a vivid, hip and smart update of a collection of solid gold classics.

On another stand at the Salone, a triumvirate of wood wizards displayed their first collaboration together. Matthew Hilton – Britain’s most celebrated and modern carpenter, with something of a penchant for mid century modern motifs – unveiled four Windsor chairs that he’s designed to be produced by Ercol and distributed by De La Espada. He’s partnered with both companies before, independently, but this was the first project that brought together the expertise of all three. The chairs are a bold and chic (and at £654 each, high end) reworking of the classic Ercol Windsor furniture that filled parental dining rooms for over half a century. They’re beautiful, quintessentially British and rehabilitate a style that has been unfairly dismissed as provincial. When NASA-endorsed carbon fire furniture was the Zeitgeist, it was difficult to appreciate 1950s wood familiar from school assembly halls. Now it looks like the height of fashion again.

Contemporary Windsor chair by Matthew Hilton with Ercol/De La Espada

“People say my work is very British,” says Hilton. “I’m not sure about that, but I am definitely influenced by what I think of as a kind of funny, amateur 1950s modernism. I feel it was diluted and softened for England. The Royal Festival of Hall and the Festival of Britain were part of that. It’s like Scandic modernism, it’s very soft and domestic, cosy and nice.” Hilton’s current work takes that unthreatening and “nice” aspect and gives it a new edge. There’s no denying that Ercol – the company formed in Buckingham in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani – has been synonymous with all things “cosy”. The bulk of its product still filters through to the home counties and finds a friend in chintz, but at its heart are classics that, though “softer” than American modernist equivalents of the same period, look very fresh today. And that “softness” shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing – in hard times, and with the benefit of history and nostalgia on its side, it’s very appealing indeed. And just because it’s doesn’t have the sharpness of, say, Prouve, it still has a modernist purity to it. People form a deep emotional bond with this kind of furniture.

In 1946, five years before the Festival of Britain, the Victoria & Albert – still a hulking empty shell, with the bulk of its collection stored in the countryside, safely away from the bombs that had been falling during the Blitz – hosted the Britain Can Make It design exhibition. It was a precursor of what would take place on the South Bank, and Ercol was one of the key exhibitors. Its elegant, steam-bent furniture was revolutionary, and the Windsor chairs that appeared at the V&A fast became classics.

“Some of our designs have stayed in production since they were first introduced,” says Edward Tadros, grandson of Ercolani, and current head of the company. “The Stacking Chair and the Butterfly Chair have come back thanks to Margaret Howell. She is a champion of British design. She was selling reconditioned pieces by us in her shops five years ago and came to us and asked us about relaunching the pieces, which we did.”

Fashion designer Margaret Howell’s aesthetic of workwear and prosaic, intellectual luxury, chimes perfectly with Ercol’s classics. The Japanese, in particular, go crazy for it. And it’s telling that the style has now filtered back into the mainstream. A couple of years ago Tadros experimented with reproducing a set of Ercol’s cross-bar backed 376 candlestick chair and exhibited them at a very progressive Shoreditch design fair, in a room full of some of the youngest and most maverick product designers in the country. 376 originals are scarce and highly sought after by collectors (many go straight to Japan after they are found and restored). The chair held special significance for him – he remembered drawing a picture of one as a child in 1956, the year it was first made. He gave his grandfather the picture and his grandfather gave him one of the chairs in return. He wasn’t sure whether there’d be a new market for the 376 (even the Butterfly classic scarcely sells 1000 units per year – at £395 it’s a fairly expensive chair and a niche, tastemaker’s market), but struck gold when buyers from John Lewis visited the show and were taken with the display. With a few tweaks, the 376 was rechristened as the Chiltern, and a whole new range of mid-century modern furniture went on sale in the UK’s favourite department store.

Vintage 1950s Ercol

The design name most associated with the Festival of Britain is, of course, Robin Day, Britain’s answer to Charles Eames. Day was, in fact, offered a job at Ercol at the very start of his career, but opted to study at the Royal College of Art instead. Decades later, in 2003, he designed a chair for Edward Tadros at Ercol. “I reminded him that he’d almost single-handedly wiped out our stacking chair business by designing the polypropylene conference chair, in 1963” says Tadros, referencing Day’s all-conquering, utilitarian piece of furniture for Hille, still produced in numbers averaging 500,000 a year. Day and his wife, the textile designer Lucienne, were an impossibly glamorous couple during the 1950s. They even appeared in a high profile Smirnoff advert in 1954. Lucienne’s textile prints for Heals – composed of spindly irregular lines and smart graphics in muted colours – were avant-garde, but quickly became an accepted part of the language of modern furnishings. Robin Day’s wooden chairs had a lightness and a transparency to them that was refreshing and practical. “What one needs in today’s small rooms is to see over and under one’s furniture,” he said in 1995. It was a new, modernist, way of thinking. As with Race and Ercol, original Day pieces are very collectible, and his work still defines a lot of what the national treasure that is Habitat is about. There are also smaller pieces of his that are an excellent snapshot of 1950s heritage style: the Tricorne tray, produced in birch and walnut, is an eloquent, sculptural piece of furniture that looks like it could hail from modern day Japan rather than London in 1955.

Part of the excitement generated by the then new wave of furniture at the Festival of Britain was that it was largely affordable. Long before Ikea or Habitat, British manufacturers looked at how they could create bold fresh product that would chime with the post-war rock and roll generation, a generation that was eager to dispense with their parents dusty, hefty and oppressive interiors. It was something that was central to the point of the Britain Can Make it exhibition at the V&A. Speaking at the opening, King George VI said: “The Council of Industrial Design is an expression of our national will to improve both our commercial prospects and our personal standards of living.” Good design had to be democratic. Style and living well would become a civic duty.

G-Plan was, of course, one of the market leaders in this area, but there were other brands too. Architects Sylvia and John Reid were commissioned by the Stag Cabinet Company in Nottingham to design machine-made, mass-market products. Their C range of box-shaped units with recessed handles in oak or walnut launched in 1953 to huge success, and look very au courant in their simplicity when sourced and restored today.

Some of the strongest work that came directly after the Festival-era of design was from Merrow Associates, who were active primarily in the 1960s. The Skylon had long disappeared (a tragedy – who wouldn’t love to see it sitting next to the Royal Festival Hall today?), but Britain was still immersed in technological and social mountaineering. Concorde was around the corner. Designer Richard Young worked with engineers Percy Wyatt and Peter Weeks at Merrow Associates, fashioning an aesthetic that was stark but provocative. Their furniture looks like its been crafted for a Peter Saville art directed photoshoot at Corbusier’s Highpoint apartments, all chrome plated steel and deeply graphic tiger-grained rosewood and teak. The lines are squeaky clean and muscular. It looks (and indeed at auction now, is) expensive. There was an exuberance and a confidence about it that disappeared with the advent of post modernism, when design decided it needed a sense of humour in lieu of a personality, and when tastes turned to the continent, and anything but British furniture.

It’s cause for celebration that British heritage furniture is being appreciated again. For too long, and erroneously, the archives of Ercol and similar British companies were seen as risible in comparison to international design firms. Now the likes of the Butterfly Chair can comfortably take its place in the canon of 20th century design classics, alongside the best of Knoll and Vitra. The spirit of Britain in the 1950s, meanwhile, continues to pervade modern style. As feted contemporary carpenter and designer Russell Pinch says, “The Festival of Britain still has a huge influence on British design. The air of optimism and opportunity that surrounded the event inspired designers of the time and has a lasting legacy in today’s aesthetic.” Nostalgia and spirit aside, the main reason why post-war design is enjoying a renaissance is that it’s, quite simply, great. “It’s deeper than being cyclical”, says Edward Tadros. “Things do go full circle, but these designs are classic in the first place. They have form, function, comfort and elegance.”






High style (Aston Martin magazine)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2011 by markcoflaherty

The road from Zurich to the South Tyrol is a travelogue of idyllic green valleys, ornate sloping-roofed pine chalets and onion-domed church towers. Even if you miss the Austrian border entirely, the earworm of ‘Edelweiss’ is always just around the corner. The area is also home to some of the most progressive and sophisticated architecture in the world. It’s a powerful, sexy update of true modernism with all of the photogenic pull of the most serene Maldivian infinity pools. Stripped bare of decorous flourishes, these are buildings that put the emphasis on the balance of interiors and exterior landscapes. They use daylight and shadow as decoration; they are serious, yet playful. Inner volumes have an elegant flow, enhanced by expanses of glass and warmed by wood construction. Within the freshest air in Europe, these are some of the cleanest lines in the world.

Matteo Thun's Vigilius Mountain Resort © Mark C.O'Flaherty

The new wave of Alpine architecture began to gain momentum in 1996 when Swiss architect Peter Zomthor – responsible for the radical ‘garden within a garden’ 2011 Summer Pavilion at the Serpentine in London – unveiled his dark, linear, monochrome Therme Vals. This revolutionary spa design would go on to appear as a backdrop in countless fashion editorials and become a place of pilgrimage for design students as much as those looking to ‘take the waters’.

150km away, the Therme Meran – which opened in 2005 – takes a different approach but is still boldly, architecturally apposite. If Therme Vals embraces the dynamic of a subterranean minimalist cave, Therme Meran is more of a giant, surface-level glass cube. Far removed from the world of municipal swimming baths and children’s tacky water parks, Therme Meran is a slick and inviting place to immerse yourself in spring water while the adjoining hotel – designed by Italian architect Matteo Thun – has a deeply glamorous, modular appeal.

Thun is the peerless starchitect of the Tyrol. Somewhat surprisingly, he rose to fame as part of the arch 1980s design phenomenon, Memphis. His early ceramic works, and collaborations with fellow Memphis founder Ettore Sottsass, gel perfectly with that post modern, hot pink, grey-flecked decade. In contrast, his architecture today may have the impact of the flashiest landmark skyscraper, but comes coupled with the sensitivity and introspection of the most humble of hillside cottages. His Vigilius Mountain Resort, reached by cable car from Lana, may be the most beautiful hotel in the world. Pictures of it – resembling a sleek James Bond villain’s lair as much as a ‘tree that has fallen’ (Thun’s initial concept) – have kept room occupancy sky high since it opened seven years ago. His next project, a ‘KlimaHotel’, is similarly subtle yet big on impact: rooms are set almost imperceptibly into the side of a hill, beneath a set of nine rippling roofs rising from the earth like waking eye lids. Thun describes his work in the Alps as ‘Archilandscapes.’ ‘Above all, we respect nature,’ he says. ‘The projects don’t interfere with their surroundings but melt into it. We only use material from the region of the building, we study the winds, landscape, culture and colours of a location.’

Thun’s all-wood Pergola Residence hotel, close to Vigilius, is a smaller interpretation of the philosophy. It’s the kind of place that would make the perfect writer’s retreat – the visitor feels immediately absorbed by the landscape while the interiors are prosaic, with a warmth that distances the spaces from the chill of minimalism, but a boldness of line and a starkness that is as modern as can be. It’s a matter of materials: The aforementioned Zumthor’s next project is a set of treehouses to be built at the rustic Pension Briol in the Isarco Valley. If built in glass and steel, they’d be at home in the Hollywood Hills, but as planned in wood, they blend artfully with their environment.

Vigilius was conceived as a ‘modern wooden house’. To stay there certainly makes you rethink your own, perhaps less sophisticated, domestic arrangements. All of Vigilius’ flawless five star hotel elements have an Archilandscaped twist: Chef Mauro Buffo produces muscular nouvelle dishes at the restaurant 1500 using almost entirely locally sourced ingredients. The swimming pool is indoors, but expanses of glass, and the reflection from the water, diverts attention to the Dolomites in the distance. Thun’s mountain retreat works on long, confident perspectives. The building is effectively a single elongated stroke with an elegant curve at one end, the exterior windows and balconies disappear behind finely articulated unbroken lines of larch and each morning, graphic horizontal shadows are cast into the bedrooms through red curtains. It’s a cinematic, visual flourish within a building that lets light and shadow take the place of traditional wall-hung art. It’s also an impossibly beautiful start to every day.

The wood on Vigilius’ frontage has already started to darken, as intended. The nearby façade of German architect Sebastian Tischer’s Arosea Life Balance Hotel is younger, and only three years into its century-long journey to reach full, weathered potential. Both hotels riff on contemporary style more in common with loft living, but turn it on its head to focus on ecology, nature and the organic. Arosea (‘around the sea/lake’) is themed on wood, stone and wool, again eschewing traditional art in its hallways for balls of ornamental felt, twigs fashioned into cones and shearling throws. With its bold apricot surfaces, it is modern, bright and full of vitality; a holistic lifstyle concept with five different mineral waters on offer in the spa, massages carried out using local honey and a couple of adult-sized playpens full of hay to roll around in. The 21st century ‘design hotel’ client expects the unexpected…

Much of what makes all of this new Alpine modernism so exciting is that it takes the slickness of urban high design and adapts it for such grandstanding natural situations.
Zurich’s Dolder Grand hotel may be just a short, steep, funicular railway ride from the centre of one of Europe’s most monied capitals, but its view is of diamond-like Alpine snowcaps, not the housing for bank vaults full of gold. When Lord Foster was brought in to mastermind the property’s recent reboot, he brought his full metal Feng Shui approach to a new spa and golf annex, with undulating curves of black metal and floor to ceiling glass unfurling next to the imposing 19th century structure. There are now Takashi Murakami cartoon mushroom sculptures beside the lifts and a black tiled pool that’s neither rectangular nor kidney shaped; instead, the water sits elegantly within a slice of splayed curves leading to a wall of glass and the outside terrace.

Switzerland and its neighbours have considerable pedigree for modernity and everyday attention to detail. The treatment rooms and boutique at the spa at the Dolder Grand are lined with silver-boxed, assuredly lower-case branded la prairie product, still the most premium spa range in the world. When it launched in 1978, it made a splash with its logo in Helvetica Light 45, a made-to-measure twist on the most celebrated contemporary font of all time. It still looks as fresh and modern as the typography that the Dolder has commissioned for its lift menus: Dolder Frutiger Next Light. There are few things as sexy in the world of high style as a freshly cut font, whether it’s aligned to a £150 moisturiser, or a £1,500 hotel room. The Swiss don’t sell chocolate as seductively as they sell directional chic.

Smolenicky Architects' Therme Bad Ragaz

Some of the new Alpine style is a straight down the line modernist update: The Alpina Dolomites ski resort opened in December 2010 and has touches of the classic International Style of California and Palm Springs. Overlooking some spectacular snow-covered scenery, there’s a vast terrace with an angular, inverted-pyramid fire pit and scores of hefty rectangular wood sofas that create a lounge outside. The interiors are a symphony of warm, sandy Pantone shades, with 21st century hunting lodge antler chandeliers and backlit digital prints of forests in the bronzed-tiled bathrooms. Everything is razor sharp and meticulous. The adjacent ‘chalet’, housing four suites and a restaurant, is a circular Ken Adamesque building surrounded by a rhythm of arching wishbone wooden shapes. In contrast, the new Tamina Therme baths, designed by Joseph Smolenicky, at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz has decidedly futurist rather than modernist leanings.

The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz dominates most of a town that established itself as a health resort shortly after the thermal waters from Pfäfers were first pumped here in 1840. Its two adjoined hotels are a blend of grand styles that run from historic (one wing is in an ancient monastery with original details intact) to a contemporary spa tower with state of the art motor-adjustable beds, via swank chandelier-drenched 1920s opulence. Guests bathe in whirlpools full of gold leaf, drink Champagne full of gold leaf, and get massaged in… gold leaf. Others order egg white omelettes while recovering from a little light (on-site) cosmetic surgery. Two years ago the blinding white all-wood Tamina Therme landed – a total reinvention of ‘grand hotel’ style. This is a bathhouse that blends the graphic qualities of countless widescreen, Blu-ray spaceship corridors with stretched, organic oval apertures and 115 columns. Across the lawn outside is a casino with a curved frontage of different coloured neon bars, flanked by a steep backdrop of alpine forest. As swimmers cut through the mist rising off the al fresco thermal pool on a cold day, Bad Ragaz resembles the surface of a terraplanned sci-fi leisure planet, many galaxies away.

All of these projects represent the pinnacle of high design, and yet each is sympathetic to its environment to a degree that urban architecture seldom has been. Technological revolutions in architecture have liberated the so called starchitect, and while every one of these Alpine buildings bears the marks of state of the art computer technology, they prove that there can be a sensitivity in modern architecture far removed from some of the ego-driven works of many architects. In focusing on fashioning a very human sense of wellbeing within settings of extraordinary natural beauty, they’ve developed a distinctively sensitive yet absolutely contemporary style for life in the 21st century. It’s a style that looks good, will last long and travel far.


Alpina Dolomites (
Arosea Life Balance Hotel (
The Dolder Grand (
Grand Resort Bad Ragaz (
Pension Briol (
Pergola Residence (
Therme Vals (
Therme Meran (
Vigilius Mountain Resort (

Mark C.O’Flaherty travelled as a guest of Quintessentially Travel, ‘the masters of travel couture’, who offer a 10 night architour of the Alps from £2,030 per person based on two people sharing, including flights with British Airways and car hire (; 0845 224 6915).

All the stars (The Wealth Collection)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Just how many luxury hotels can a single small island support? With the number of hotel rooms in New York City set to soar past 90,000 next year, and with the Manhattan landscape changing fast to accommodate the most luxurious, it’s possible to imagine a time when the steel and glass canyons of the central grid system will be populated almost exclusively by well-heeled short stay visitors and businessmen. Welcome to the new New York City…

This year has seen the opening of an astonishing amount of five star deluxe properties: two Andaz hotels, a new W, a new Gansevoort, an Intercontinental, the Trump Soho, and the Chatwal. Each is attempting to bring more to the city than just a decent square footage of bedroom with en suite. In an echo of the 1920s, when New York social life revolved almost exclusively around hotels, these new – or in some cases reinvented – properties are cultural magnets for tourist and locals alike. They raise the bar, make headline news and reinvent whole districts.

The new Andaz and W hotels that opened this year are integral to the rejuvenation of the financial district after dark. The Andaz Wall Street is one of the finest, and most progressive hotels in the city – complimentary minibars and wifi come as standard, and the rooms are immense. Instead of a TV shoved against a wall, there’s an island work station that enhances the feeling of space. It’s a sleek, pared-down, modern residence. The BLT Bar & Grill at the new W, a few blocks away, is perhaps the best restaurant in the neighbourhood, serving refined but muscular comfort food: filet mignon; macaroni and comté gratin… It’s all done so perfectly, and is a blessing for the hedge funders who recently snapped up real estate in the area. If everything in the vicinity of Seaport is off your radar, readjust your sights.

Just as the Meatpacking district (or MePa, as some are determined to call it) seemed to have peaked and was being handed over to the declassé bridge and tunnel crowd, Andre Balazs’s Standard (technically ‘thestandard’, and if we’re being pernickety that should be read upside down) developed a spectrum of intense social scenes this year and rebooted it. From its beer garden to offbeat bingo nights and the rooftop Le Bain ‘invited guests’-only parties ‘curated’ by Le Baron’s André Saraiva, Balazs creates buzz after buzz. He also continues to court notoriety: although The Standard has stopped actively encouraging exhibitionism by its guests in glass-fronted bedrooms overlooking the new public High Line park space, the New York Post’s website still has a gallery of past peepshow escapades.

Far away from the bottle service and velvet ropes of the Meatpacking district, the Ace Hotel has its spiritual home in the indie-rock hipster milieu of Portland Oregon. The new New York outpost is no different, but it’s anything but a slouch. Think of it as a Chelsea Hotel for the ambition-driven 21st century. Along with the painstakingly studied letterpress-style typography, the urban art in the lobby and the industrial-chic utilitarian bedrooms, the Ace has imported the Stumptown Coffee crew. That line that you see snaking out of the door and along W29th street every morning is for the best latte in the country, served by bearded, tattooed, flat-cap wearing boys in braces. The Ace has injected high style adrenalin into a previously dead block of perfume wholesaler and florists. On-site are the pitch-black booths of the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar – Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield’s newest installments in their growing foodie empire. Next door are branches of Project 8 and Opening Ceremony, two of the most directional of the city’s boutiques. The Ace is a microcosm of contemporary New York City: a midtown, glossy redux of downtown cool.

There was a time when genuine downtown hotels were a rarity. When the Soho Grand opened in 1996, it was almost shocking to be able to bed down between the lofts and galleries. Now the area is infested with boutique properties alongside Banana Republic, J Crew and Apple. The Soho Grand’s designer, William Sofeld – who also works regularly for Tom Ford – remembers that it was a difficult as well as radical addition to the area. ‘There was a lot of resistance to development in the neighbourhood,’ he says. ‘But people were relieved when we opened. We respected the roots of what was unique to the neighbourhood, incorporating the works of local artists and artisans.’ The industrial-plush bent of the interior, including the Grand Street sidewalks’ round glass tiling, has always been in sync with SoHo, and this summer Sofeld returned to create a sumptuous Club Room and a floor of masculine, plush suites, with cine-screen Macs and coffee tables made from recycled newspaper. The hotel has never slipped off the cultural radar for festivals and, in particular, Fashion Week parties. ‘The paramount rule in my book is to create something that has a legacy,’ says Sofeld.

The new Manhattan hotel scene is radically different from the Ian Schrager era, when your room was the size of a postage stamp and you couldn’t actually visit the bar in your own hotel because of a private event. There’s too much choice out there for that to have remained the status quo. It’s now all about rooftop pools, shopping (The Plaza’s Assouline book store is the best thing about it), public bars and restaurants. Celebrity chef Todd English’s August opening at the new Intercontinental on Times Square, Ça Va, is his best kitchen yet, with a confident American take on classic brasserie fare, like roasted lamb ‘French dip’ that appears burger-like, with a side order of mildly curried potato chips. At the same time, the best ultra fine dining restaurants in the city are within the confines of the most polished hotels. The two Michelin-starred GILT (no lower case letters for this restaurant!) at the New York Palace Hotel is housed within the most imposing wood-panelled room of the old Villard Mansion, and Justin Bogle’s degustation menu, from hamachi sashimi to chocolate Liège waffle, represents the city’s most reliable excuse to dress up for dinner. Meanwhile, taking a kitchen-counter seat at the Manhattan outpost of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, on the second floor of the Four Seasons, is to be ringside for the finest chefs in action in the city. Keith McNally may be able to command a hipper, impossible-to-book scene downtown, but the food within the classic, I.M. Pei designed Four Seasons is superlative – you’ll know and worship the burger and the butter-rich potato emulsion already from London and Tokyo, so try the sea bass with lemongrass foam and amadai in yuzu broth. This is food sorcery and practical magic. Then of course there’s Adour at the St Regis, still the most enjoyable, sophisticated but relaxed dining experience in the Ducasse empire.

Many of the best hotel dining experiences replicate or interpret European classics, but it’s always refracted through a New York lens. Upper East Side native Tony Chi may well be the most Manhattan of hotel and restaurant designers, and certainly one of the most prolific. His designs for the new Andaz 5th Avenue, opposite the iconic New York Public Library, are typically clean, with high ceilings, huge windows and modernist expanses of uninterrupted surface, structurally ‘a reference to pre-war New York apartments’. His design for Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental – still one of the most consistently impressive Asian-fusion restaurants anywhere – treats the Central Park South vista as an opera, and the dining tables as a cloud level dress circle. ‘I’m trying to make design less visible,’ says Chi.  ‘Invisible design is what touches you rather than what you see.’ Brunch at Asiate is a definitive only-in-Manhattan experience.

If there’s one style that continues to define Manhattan, it’s Art Deco. New York City as we know it was invented in the 1920s and 1930s, when industrialists forged it with ego-driven skyscrapers, gilt and streamlined marble lobbies. Some of the newest hotel projects are a sensitive update on the look, each of them with the sheen and glow of a beautifully crafted jewel box. The Chatwal recently opened within the chaos of Times Square and the theatre district; its lobby is reminiscent of a fin de siècle ocean liner, and the fittings in its rooms echo vintage fine leather steamer trunks (but the Toto Japanese washlet toilets are very 21st century). General Manager Joel Freyberg believes deco has an emotional significance for the city. ‘It harks back to the end of the great depression,’ he says. ‘The mood of the city was on the rebound. People wanted to relax and enjoy all that life has to offer. It’s timeless and chic.’ The Mark hotel on the Upper East Side reopened recently after an extensive refurbishment by Jacques Grange – famous for his work for YSL and Pierre Bergé. It’s an exquisite experience, with black and white striped marble bathrooms and lobby, and a Jean-Georges Vongerichten dining room that is incandescent with glamour; impeccably coiffed old money and visiting celebrities tuck nightly into refined versions of steak house classics and Grand Marnier soufflé.  A short stroll away, Le Caprice has set a radically different visual pace for the reopened Taj Pierre hotel: step away from the Italianate trompe l’oeil lobby and into the bold monochrome outpost of the London original. The transition is as dramatic as a scene from Peter Greenaway’s The Cook The Thief; the new room is cool and long, with shiny black walls and David Bailey photo flourishes from the 60s. Eating fish and chips after a dry martini (gin based, of course) with a plate of Pimms jelly to follow at Le Caprice might be a quintessentially London experience, but here on Central Park, surrounded by Condé Nast fashion editors and society grand dames with immaculately Elnetted hair-dos, it becomes quintessentially Manhattan. And that’s the magic of the best hotels in New York – you can’t get that high gloss, dynamic Gotham feeling anywhere else in the world.

Mark C.O’Flaherty travelled as a guest of Delta Airlines. Delta now fly three times daily, direct, from London to New York with fully flat bed seats, each with direct aisle access, in BusinessElite.; 0845-600-0950

Choc tactics (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Weekday afternoons at the tiny Mast Brothers chocolate factory in Brooklyn are a family affair. A close-knit team of ten sit down for lunch before Rick Mast and his wife take turns, along with friends and brother Michael, hand-wrapping chocolate bars in exquisitely patterned papers. The Mast Brothers operation is one of a growing number of small-scale, young chocolatiers who have a fresh, contemporary style of presentation as well as an innovative, artisanal approach to production.

Many of the new brands are bringing aspects of fashion and graphic design to the table. While the Mast Brothers have been celebrated by foodies as the sole bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in the US, and had most of their kitchen hardware designed and created exclusively for them, they’ve also captured the imagination of the hipster neighbourhood of Williamsburg – they look like Amish Comme des Garçons models and have been feted for their natty attire, luxuriant beards, and choice of typography as much as for their wonderfully pure dark chocolate with fleur de sel. More tellingly, they are Thomas Keller’s source of choice for chocolate dishes at Per Se and French Laundry.

‘We started off by wrapping our chef’s kilo bars in butcher paper,’ says Rick Mast. ‘And then found some old vintage Italian papers from New York Central Art Supply to wrap the smaller bars in. But that was dead stock, and our dream was always to design everything ourselves. So we design and print everything with our friends. We’re not businessmen with marketing majors, we just like the imagery and the typography that we’ve used. We have an appreciation for an old world aesthetic and the handcrafted. It’s one of the reasons why we created a chocolate with Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland – they have a similar ideology.’

Mast Brothers’ chocolate ($10/bar) sells extremely well at the Manhattan branch of Stumptown Coffee, where each tattooed barista wears a variation on a 19th century pioneer-cool outfit with waistcoat, braces and flat caps. Twenty blocks uptown, at Bergdorf Goodman, Alice Chocolate ($30) has a very different, but no less distinctive look. Alice is a Swiss product that echoes the minimalist sleek and impact of Chanel: each stark white flip-box has the silhouette portrait of a young girl on the front and contains five slender silver bars of Wild Amazonian Criollo 68% dark chocolate. The high style, glossy milieu of Bergdorf’s is its ideal home.

Many of the most interesting arrivistes to the world of haute chocolate have direct links with fashion. The scene at Cocomaya in London’s Connaught Street, is colourful, gossipy and very chic – all zesty acid colours and gold cups. The café is a favourite hub for high tea, thanks to the bonhomie of cofounders Joel Bernstein, former head of concept at Liberty, and luxury accessories designer Walid al Damirji. They create incredible chocolate – their passionfruit, olive oil and fig and sugar-free rose ganaches have customers ordering large bright orange selection boxes (£36) – and they have just launched a collection of colourful bars, adorned with bright florals and butterflies. They’ve worked with Manolo Blahnik on a chocolate shoe and have just opened a concession – Chocolate Wonderland – at Liberty.  ‘We’re very image conscious,’ says Bernstein. ‘The aesthetic is very important for us – our background in fashion brings a unique attention to detail. And we like kitsch.’

The artist Andreas Gratze has created all of the imagery for Zotter, the Austrian bean-to-bar company that specialises in offbeat but delicious ‘hand-scooped’ slabs (£3.25) that coat layers of fruits and other ingredients (including Scotch Whisky and Peanuts and Ketchup) in couverture. Collectors of Gratze’s work ensure they buy and keep the wrapper from every new bar that appears, and rather like buying someone a box set of anything else, gifting a set of 10 or 20 different bars is as exciting for the aesthete as it is the gourmet. His work has something of the flourish of the graphic novel about it, particularly the voluminous male and female silhouettes on Zotter’s Rose and Basil bar. The imagery on the Labooka bars have the essence of vintage fashion illustration, with a man’s hand, in a floral-printed Edwardian-style smoking jacket, reaching onto the petals of a rose on the wrapper for the Bouquet of Flowers duo bars.

Both Mariebelle founder Maribel Lieberman, and Chantal Coady, who established Rococo, the UK’s default high end chocolatier, have backgrounds in textiles. Lieberman grew up amidst the cacao fields of Honduras but moved to New York City to study fashion at Parsons. She segued into food ten years ago when she opened Maribelle in NoLita, selling chocolates emblazoned with fashion illustrations. ‘The images were based on my lifestyle in New York,’ she says. ‘The pistachio ones had hats and mannequins on, and the espresso one has a woman walking energetically in the street. When I first started it was very hard to put the graphics on the chocolates and I had them done in Europe. Now we do it in house, but it’s still very complex – each colour is its own layer, and takes 24 hours to dry. The lavender has five colours, so takes five days to do.’ Boxes at Mariebelle range from four pieces ($14) to 100 ($260).

The blue and white antiquarian literary illustrations on the packaging at Chantal Coady’s Rococo have become as classic as Coca Cola in many discerning households. This year, they redesigned 18 of the bars with a distinctively different look. ‘I was looking out of the window on to the Moroccan garden at our Motcomb Street store, staring at the patchwork of different colours in the tiling,’ recalls Coady. ‘I had a lightbulb moment.’ The result was a collection of bars with emotive colours and patterns, including spicy orange for chilli pepper and crystalline blue and white for sea salt. For Christmas, Rococo will be producing gift sets containing three bars (£14.50).

Reinvigorating an established brand is one thing, creating one from scratch is another. Curious Chocolate was set up last year by Ben Bailey and quickly found favour at Terence Conran’s Albion deli in Shoreditch as well as at Harvey Nichols and now John Lewis. As well as high quality bars (£3.50) of dark, milk, white, marmalade, crystallised ginger and caramalised almond, Bailey produces boxes of truffles and wafers (£9.95), each instantly identifiable by its retro letterpress-style packaging. ‘I found a tiny shop in Amsterdam with drawers full of all kinds of print block,’ says Bailey. ‘The images that stood out were locks, keys, pigeons and cutlery, all of which we’ve used. The graph-paper graphics lend an air of nostalgia, and I found the typeface in an obscure magazine when I was getting my hair cut. Then we chose sophisticated chocolatey colours, with a flash of fluoro pink to keep it fresh and modern.’

Some chocolatiers are creating whole retail environments as well as products. The space-age Chocolate Research Facility in Singapore has more in common with the high concept beauty interior of its neighbour Aesop than it does with a traditional confectionary store. And the 100% Chocolate Café in Tokyo is another sweet-toothed destination that chimes more with stark, clinical and directional parfumeries than with candy vendors. The stand-out item at the café is 365 Days Chocolates, a novel gift that allows you to order a year’s supply of chocolate, month on month (5,500 ¥/£41 per month). There are 56 styles of chocolate (from single-bean to fruit and herb) that appear throughout the calendar, and each is dated in sharp ITC Avant Garde Gothic type.

There’s more to modern chocolate than design, of course. The chocolatiers behind Choki of Brockley sell their pretty, artisanal, pink and gold embossed bars at London’s Greenwich Market, but also create fine preservative-free truffles with fresh cream to be consumed within a fortnight.

Melt is one of the smartest and most progressive chocolate shops in west London. They sell a range of Chef’s Chocolates (£10.50) created by some of the UK’s most renowned kitchens, including The River Café (a 75% bitter chocolate truffle from nine different beans) and Mark Hix (cider brandy). Each is packaged with Melt’s distinctive lower case type, as well as the collaborator’s logo.

Many of the most style-literate chocolatiers have embraced a sea change in chocolate tastes. As Daniel Sklaar of Fine & Raw in New York City says, ‘There’s a trend for darker chocolate, of course, but also single origin bars and an approach that provokes different levels of flavour. It’s more of a wine mentality. You might be a fan of Madagascar bars in the 80% range, or prefer 70% Ecuadorian.’ Sklaar’s attention to detail includes packaging with bold flowing lines: ‘Like the chocolate… simple ingredients with rich flowing flavours’. He claims to have traded a lifetime’s supply of chocolate for his company’s distinctive logo, created by lingerie designer and close friend Kristina Kaye.

Eco-awareness has had a radical effect on the look and taste of fine chocolates. Philipp Kauffmann co-founded Original Beans in 2008 and has just released a newly packaged range, the result of a collaboration with the Department of Graphic Sciences in Los Angeles. It’s intricate and rich and stylish, but also fits with the Original Beans ethos of ‘the planet: replant it’. ‘We wanted a tactile feel, with a lot of detail to discover,’ says Kauffmann. ‘It should feel as much like a gift to oneself as to others. It’s also a product entirely derived from trees – cacao beans, FSC certified cardboard, and wood cellulose foil.’  Original Beans’ Esmereldas Milk (£6) with fleur de sel and 42% cacao has a stand-out taste of creaminess and mild saltiness, but Kauffmann’s own favourite Original Beans product is the Cru Virunga (£6), which is produced on the fringes of the Virunga National Park, home to some of the poorest populace on earth. ‘We’ve started to introduce cacao and make this chocolate to restore livelihoods. And because of its quality, you can find it on the menu of Scott’s and the Ivy in London.’

The best modern chocolate tastes good, looks good and comes with a clear conscience. While the world’s best chefs may be drawn primarily by taste, and the likes of the Mast Brothers represent a new kind of foodie rock and roll, the smaller and more exclusive the operation, the more control the chocolatier has. Although Rick Mast sees the chocolate he produces as a proud Brooklyn phenomenon, from the roasting and winnowing of the beans to the wrapping, he also admits ‘there’s nothing local about chocolate’, because ultimately the beans don’t grow in New York City. ‘From next year we’re actually going to sail our beans here from South America to diminish oil abuse. We want to utilise the power of wind.’ The imagery of the chocolate box has changed radically, and at the same time, chocolate need no longer be a guilty pleasure.


Alice available from Bergdorf Goodman, 5th Avenue at 58th Street, New York City 10019 (+1 800 558 1855;

Cocomaya, 12 Connaught Street, London W2 (020-7706 2770; and at Liberty, Great Marlborough Street, London W1(0207-734 1234;

ChokiofBrockley stockists detailed at

Curious Chocolate available by mail order at 01989 567132 ( and from John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street, London W1  (0207-629 7711;

The Chocolate Research Facility, The Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture Plaza, 9 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore (+65 6338 5191;

Fine and Raw available by mail order at

Marie Belle, 484 Broome Street, New York City 10013 (+212 925 6999;

Mast Brothers available from Dean & Deluca, 560 Broadway, New York City 10012 (+212-226 6800; and from

Melt, 59 Ledbury Road, London W11 (0207-727 5030;

100% Chocolate Café, 2-4-16 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (+81 3 3212 5025;é)

Original Beans global stockists detailed online at (+646 894 2929)

Rococo, 5 Motcomb Street, London SW1 (0207-245 0993;

Zotter available at branches of John Lewis and online at

Moving down a gear (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2010 by markcoflaherty

There is little point in attempting to reinvent the wheel. The 130 year old ‘safety bicycle’ is a simple, perfect machine currently enjoying a long overdue renaissance. It’s enticing a new kind of rider onto the road and reinventing a culture that for years was dominated by fluorescent Lycra-clad 18-gear vulgarity. The most popular bikes for the contemporary urban rider are simple, largely single speed models that have infiltrated design stores and fashion shoots, and chime with a sunny, sepia-toned Continental dolce vita. These updated classic frames are as practical as they are beautiful. No fuss, minimal or no gears; get on and ride off.  Forget the aggressive trappings of the Tour de France; think instead of the freewheeling lovers in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and the romance of cruising in the open air. As James Thomas, product designer and editor of the influential website says, ‘People want objects that do one thing very well and don’t have a lot of extra features that just add clutter to their lives.’

Many of the most coveted bikes on the market have an impressive design pedigree. The Pedersen Model T (£1855) – based on Danish designer Mikael Pederson’s 1893 design – has the visual presence of an updated museum piece. Originally built in Gloucestershire at the turn of the 19th century, to very high specifications, manufacture is now in Denmark, though no less craft-intensive. Its look is thrillingly modernist, a whisper-thin crossbar angling upwards from the saddle at the top of a frame that resembles an artful bow and arrow. It’s also exceedingly comfortable, forcing you to sit pronouncedly upright.

‘Nostalgic bikes are actually a perfect fit for modern life,’ explains Tom Morris of the Islington cycle boutique Bobbin, the self-proclaimed ‘most beautiful bike shop in Britain’. ‘The chains are often covered so you don’t need trouser clips. You have mudguards, lights and broad handlebars for luggage. You can choose a step-through frame if you wear a skirt. It’s all pared down and functional.’ As well as selling their own brand of bikes – constructed by Pointer in Holland – Bobbin stocks the very popular entry-level Pashley, the Poppy (£435).  ‘It has straight handle bars so you sit a little more forward than usual and feel nippy through traffic,’ says Sian Emmison, Tom’s business partner and wife. ‘Also, it comes in blush pink and has cream tyres which is rather delicious.’

British heritage brand Pashley is one of the most renowned manufacturers of classic town bikes. ‘We’ve found that, all of a sudden, we’ve been “doing retro” for 84 years,’ says Pashley MD Adrian Mills. ‘The bikes seem to click with people’s imaginations. A daily commute through the city feels more like a Sunday ride down a leafy village lane.’

Pashley bikes are amongst the most popular at Adeline Adeline, a boutique-styled store that opened in New York’s Tribeca in May, aimed primarily at Manhattan businesswomen. It’s the first New York space to stock classic European frames. Owner Julie Hirschfield rides a Pashley herself, which she likes for its ‘stability and comfort’, but appreciates that some of the lighter-framed Abici bikes she stocks – the GranTurismo Donna and GranTurismo Uomo (both $950) – might be more suitable for New Yorkers with walk up apartments. ‘I ask people how they are going to use their bikes and where they live before making recommendations,’ she says. Adeline Adeline also stocks Biomega’s Amsterdam bike ($2000), a piston rather than chain-driven model with no exposed greased elements. Alongside this, there are carbon belt-driven bikes entering the market; unlike chains, the belts do not need to be changed every 30-50km. These new bikes are for people who don’t do maintenance.

In the window of Push, a new cycle store on London’s Newington Green, there is a latte-coloured Bianchi Pista Via Brera (£699) with cork grips and a light praline-toned suede saddle. It’s simple, slightly retro and so beautiful that it stops passing foot traffic. ‘Those bikes are like gold dust now,’ says Push’s proprietor Ciaran Carleton. ‘We’ve had so many people see it and come in who’ve never cycled before.’ Push is a paradigm of the new culture in bike retail. ‘I initially thought about having a sign above the door saying “no Lycra”,’ says Ciaran. ‘I’ve never liked bike shops. They’re stuck in the past. I used to work for Paul Smith and I wanted to open somewhere that would offer the same quality of service that you’d get if you go to Floral Street to buy a jacket. After all the expense is the same, if not more.’

Adeline Adeline is based on the same principal. The casual design-literate cyclist doesn’t necessarily know anything about mechanics and doesn’t want to. ‘I wanted a retail experience that made sense to me as a woman rather than going into a gritty and cluttered garage atmosphere,’ says Julie Hirschfield. Adeline Adeline have adopted a system first pioneered by Bobbin in London – the appointment-only, personalised consultation and test drive. As Sian at Bobbin says ‘It doesn’t have to be about talking techy. Sometimes it can just be about getting the right red bike to match your red jacket.’ Customers try out what looks good, and buy according to what feels right.

One of the first boutique-style cycle stores to appear in the UK was Velorution, which opened in London five years ago. ‘I’ve seen changes comparable to the development of the restaurant scene in the 80s,’ says owner Andrea Casalotti. ‘We’ve seen a huge boom in the number of riders, but also more interest in different designs. We’ve seen a lot more women come in. When we opened, the riders in London were probably 80% male, now we have more women customers than men.’ The Brompton, the award-winning British-designed fold-up bike (from £600) is a key functional and commercial success story at Velorution. It’s a bike that Castalotti believes ‘will end up in every home at some point’.

Many of those who will be taking advantage of the planned ‘cycling superhighways’ within central London, and who have been making use of the recently opened 170 extra miles of cycle lanes in Manhattan are part of the Bobbin, Adeline Adeline, Push and Velorution zeitgeist. They are more likely to own Dutch, upright, town bikes, not garish mountain ones. Some of them may be nostalgia enthusiasts who take part in the annual Tweed Run in London, meandering 12 miles through the capital in dapper attire, but more of them will be patrons of the recently opened Old Street café Look Mum, no Hands! where they can have a puncture fixed while working on their laptops with an espresso and a slice of millionaire shortbread. It’s a functional and stylish lifestyle enterprise on one of the capital’s main cycling arteries.

Patricia Barrameda is a Financial Services Manager at KPMG LLP and rides a limited edition Pashley Phantom Roadster, numbered 75 of 80; Bobbin continue to stock several versions of the original (£495-£615). She’s typical of the new urban cyclist. ‘I cycle because I gain a different perspective on the city than when travelling on foot or by tube,’ she says. ‘I also like the new London bike culture because it’s thriving and accepting of everyone and a bicycle can say a lot about a person, it becomes an expression of the individual.’

Barrameda was recently photographed with her Pashley by Marcus Ross, editor of the online style magazine Jocks and Nerds. He’s been working on a documentary project called LondonBikeStyle, shooting portraits of Londoners with their bikes. It’s a personal passion for Ross. He believes that cycling is the most sensible as well as handsome form of modern conveyance. ‘For all the engineering, technology and money bestowed on cars, it’s difficult to see how they function better than a bicycle. They’re certainly not quicker in London. I’ve often ridden several miles through the city and kept pace with or whizzed past a Porsche.’ One of Ross’s photo subjects is Sir Paul Smith, who has collaborated on two bike frames with Mercian and a sold-out limited edition striped saddle with Kashimax of Tokyo. Smith is a cycle devotee. ‘My love of cycling started when I was 11,’ he says. ‘And I think bikes are just getting more and more special and beautiful.’

The advances in design-led bike culture can be attributed partly to the style press. Liberated from its garish sporting shackles, cycling is more fashionable than it’s been in over 100 years, something that has prompted Giorgio Armani and Chanel to collaborate on long sold-out limited edition frames. Filmmaker and journalist Mikael Colville-Andersen set up the website Copenhagen Cycle Chic in early 2007, documenting riders going about their business in one of the most sophisticated cycle cultures in the world. Now there are similar websites documenting riders in cities from Japan to Canada. ‘It started when I took a picture of an elegantly poised Copenhagener at a red light,’ says Colville-Andersen. ‘I didn’t notice the bike. I just saw the morning light, the poise and the street. The photo proved to get a lot of attention on Flickr; so many people thought it was odd that the subject was wearing a skirt. I thought it was ridiculous because that’s how you ride, in your normal clothes.’

People are now, as Sian at Bobbin says, ‘buying bikes the same way they buy shoes, on impulse.’ And the accessories are just as desirable, from polka dot pannier bags to helmets disguised as bowler hats and stylish jackets cut from fabric that blends traditional tweed with high visibility reflective material. More than anything, the cycle revolution is happening because the bikes are beautiful and they fit with their owners’ lifestyles. People who never saw themselves as cyclists are being seduced by the healthy, eco-conscious ‘two wheels better’ ethos. As Mikael Colville-Andersen says: ‘Go and open your closet. It’s already filled with cycling clothes.’

Adeline Adeline, 147 Reade Street, New York NY 10003 (001 212 227 1150;

Bobbin, 397 St John Street, London EC1V 4LD (020 7837 3370;

Look Mum No Hands, 49 Old Street, London EC1 9HX (020 7253 1025;

Pedersen Manufaktur, Kalle Kalkhoff, Donnerschweer Straße 45, 26123 Oldenburg (00 49 441 88 50 389;

Push, 35c Newington Green, London N16 9PR (020 7249 1351;

Velorution, 18 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 8BD (020 7637 4004;

LA interiors: Sam Nazarian (Sunday Times Style)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , on August 6, 2010 by markcoflaherty

Sam Nazarian is the new king of Hollywood nightlife. You might know him from cameo appearances on The Hills and Entourage, but LA’s A-list know him best as the Iranian-born jetsetter who owns and operates their favourite velvet-roped stomping grounds. From various branches of Katsuaya – the futurist-chic Japanese restaurants that have out-Nobu’d Nobu – to the SLS hotel, which opened last year in Beverly Hills, he’s the man making the scene in LA right now.

‘We’ve come a long way in a short time,’ says Nazarian. ‘Three years ago it was Paris Hilton turning up at Hyde (his 100-capacity, ultra exclusive hole in the wall lounge bar next to the Chateau Marmont), and this week we had the Beckhams having dinner with Kate Beckinsale at XIV (his lavish, highly acclaimed restaurant with chef Michael Mina). He counts many of his guests as close personal friends, including his neighbours in the Hollywood Hills: ‘Leo (nardo) and Toby (Maguire) live next door to me, we grew up together.’

Nazarian might be the man about town, and the brains of the club, hotel and restaurant operation, but it’s Philipe Starck who has given his company its look. ‘We’re creating the next generation of smart luxury with Starck,’ says Nazarian. ‘When he was working with Schrager some of those projects were done very cheaply, and I think he’s ready for the next chapter… a lot of people questioned my choice and said that Starck is finished, but I felt that he’s just beginning.’

Nazarian’s most exclusive venue is, undoubtedly, his home, which he built from scratch and which he moved to in 2007 after selling his previous mansion (which he bought from Jennifer Lopez) to Gwen Stefani. For his recent 34th birthday party (Nazarian is nothing if not a business prodigy) he threw a party for 175 guests on his pool deck overlooking the city. ‘This house has the best spot on the best ridge in the Hills,’ he says, which would, ipso facto, make it the best house in the city. But then, it’s only fitting that the king of Hollywood has the most impressive castle in La La Land.


The furnishings in the guest bedroom are 1950s in style. ‘We’re a culture based on trends and cycles,’ says Sam. ‘The green upholstery is something you might see in my grandmother’s house, but it’s warm and comfortable.’ The photograph is by Slim Aarons. ‘His work gives me a peek into the 50s, yet some of the beach scenes could have been shot yesterday.’ A red leather chair is vintage Scandic from JF Chen in LA (; try in Nottingham for similar.

Sam Nazarian poses next to an artwork by Milton Glaser, the designer who created the ‘I love NYC’ graphic: ‘It was for my 30th birthday,’ says Sam. ‘He actually hates LA – the pink is supposed to be a Playboy Bunny colour and the grey is smog.’

Sam Nazarian describes his home style as ‘ a mixture of warm contemporary with mid century modern.’ The white oval dining table, by Eero Saarinen, is available from the Conran Shop (£4,395 for the same size as pictured; The chairs are a 1930 Brno design by Mies van der Rohe, made by Knoll. Beach stock reproductions in black or cream for £350 (

Nazarian has a sizeable collection of art – the triptych is by Kirtland Ash and the mirror by the entrance is a Jeff Koons.

Much of Nazarian’s furniture is custom made, including the armchair in the lounge. For similar styles try The black chandelier is a Zenith 24L by Philippe Starck for Baccarat and sells for over £25,000 from Baccarat in Paris. ‘I also have one of Starck’s gun lamps and a crystal floor lamp identical to one at the Delano hotel in Miami.’ Try for a range of black crystal chandeliers, from £124.99.

Many of the walls in Nazarian’s lounge are covered floor to ceiling in framed family photographs: ‘Parts of my life that I never want to forget,’ he says.

The lounge opens up to a vast deck with an incredible view over West Hollywood and the rest of the city.  Much of Nazarian’s furniture is custom made. For similar low L-shaped sofas try the Como and Celano modular ranges at Bo Concept (

The house offers astounding privacy: ‘When I stand in the tub and shower I get to enjoy the view across the city but no one can see me because the house isn’t overlooked,’ says Sam. For a similar bath, try the Cleo Freestanding (£1771 from

When Nazarian has friends over for dinner, they invariably dine at the long dining table on the pool deck. He can also host up to 200 people for private parties. ‘This is actually a serene house for me, not a party house,’ he says. ‘There are stairs to the decking from the front of the house so that people don’t have to go through the house.’