Monday, April 9, 2012

London: Part One

We were there for eight days, but it went by in a blur, as great vacations are wont to do.
(Photos by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti)

After landing at Heathrow, we jumped into a taxicab and headed into the heart of the city.

Hotel-wise, we had decided to switch things up. Usually, we stay at The Gore, but this time we opted for the Dean Street Townhouse, part of the Soho House group of hotels. It's small, just 39 rooms, and occupies two Georgian townhouses built in the 18th century. Design-wise, I call it "Modern Hogarthian."

We loved it.
It was so thoughtfully designed with such a keen attention to detail (the massive bed with impeccably crisp white sheets, the braided rush matting, the vintage silver DIY tea service with fresh-baked daily treats, the artfully hidden electric tea kettle inside the cabinet, a complete range of full-size Cowshed products in the bathroom) that the size of the room didn't matter (we stayed in Number 13, one of the biggest "small" rooms).

I even loved the hallways: isn't this combination of gray-green paint and rust and orange striped carpet so lively and fun?

And oh, the lobby. Nick Jones certainly knows how to create a sexy elegant space. (The gentleman on the left is Damian, the uber-concierge who made our stay so memorable.)
Here's an element-by-element breakdown to create this look:

1. Ancient floorboards
2. Salmon-colored walls
3. Turquoise velvet fringed furniture (super low and super comfortable)
4. Vintage Persian carpet
5. Antique hammered brass front desk
6. Dark floor-to-ceiling bookshelves
7. Golden wall lighting
8. Old gilt mirrors
9. Dark rattan fishing baskets
10. Glass beaded chandelier

If you're a regular to this blog, you know I love looking at the world through a dark frame, so this glassed vestibule of the hotel was a wonderful sexy way to greet each day.

The big news story in London the week we were there was the sunny warm weather. I've never seen the streets so crowded with happy people. It was almost like everyone in the city had decided to live outside. The air was thick with exhilaration.

And the flowers. Everywhere. And the flower sellers. This lovely fellow was so "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" I couldn't not ask him for a photo.

Walking through Hyde Park, the world became a 3-D stripe of green, white and blue.

London is filled with countless vistas that make it easy to forget that the 21st century has arrived.

English wit abounded. Would you have guessed this was an art gallery?

This museum headline must have been written to appeal specifically to 10 year old boys because Luca wanted to visit straightaway.

And this sign kills me. Only in the land of Charles Dickens would you find a posh Mayfair dental practice with a sign that gives you the impression they pull teeth with 100-proof anaesthetic.

Want an easy way to reinvigorate your front door? Stud it with brass knobs. I can think of a house in Hollywood that might have them very soon.

This owner painted over the studs for a look that's still visually textured but slightly more subtle.

That night, we had a quick dinner at Antonio Carluccio's in Spitalfields, a historic neighborhood in London's East End. (For a fascinating blog about Spitalfields, click HERE.)

Our meal was quick because we had a very very important 7:15 pm appointment around the corner at a private home I've been dying to visit ever since one of you fabulous people mentioned it on this blog four years ago.

We were going to Dennis Severs' House, a living time capsule of ancient London. (Read my previous post about it HERE.) The guide met us outside to give us the rules for our solo candlelit journey.

Guide: No photos. No talking. Only in silence will you be able to properly hear, see and smell what life was like centuries ago.

Luca: Is the house haunted?

Guide: (lengthy pause) Some people would say yes.

I swear to God at this very moment (when I snapped a photo of the front door) my camera started acting strangely. Everything went blurry.

I checked my settings to see if they had changed, but no. I snapped a photo of the pub across the street. Another myopic mess.

We went into the house.
And the next 45 minutes were some of the most magical of my life so far.
I won't give too much away because part of the thrill is discovering the rooms for yourself, but there is no question that the house is alive. As our guide told us, "In this house, you can walk through the painting."

What I will tell you is that I have officially travelled back in time -- and I can't wait to go back.

Walking to the tube station, my camera captured a double decker bus full of ghostly riders.

Even back at the hotel, I couldn't take a clear photo of the ground floor restaurant. (That's Luca perusing the menu.) I ordered fish pie. After three months of eating super healthy, it was high time. And it was creamy and rich and sinfully delicious.

It wasn't until I had a glass of champagne that the world was restored to rights again. That's Flo and Tom down there in the corner, the most darling staff ever. (Aren't Flo's eyebrows amazing?)

That night I couldn't sleep I was so excited. (The jet lag didn't help.)


P. S. Settle something for Piero and me. What does this hardware store sign say? (I say "Posh London", Piero says "Gosh London.")


Tricia Rose Rough Linen said...

Gosh, you take me back Lisa - I lived in Soho (London that is!) for five years, and absolutely loved it. Isn't the Dennis Severs house amazing!

Posh or Gosh, both fit!

Chedva @Rooms and Words said...

Oh Lisa, I missed your posts! London sounds and looks even more magical through your words. I must return soon. 8 years is way too long. And of course it says "Posh"!

Lily said...

POSH: Port Out Starboard Home
From stern to bow, port to starboard, armchair traveling via your blog is absolutely the best!
Loved all the vignettes and photos and am dying for more hints regarding Chez Severs as I've never been!
Glad you had a fabulous trip!

Jane said...


I too love the way the Londoners crowd the streets the minute there is a warm day. They do not take the sunshine for granted that is for sure.

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

So thrilled to hear about the Dennis Severs house - we were in London several years ago, but we did not overlap on the evening the house was open, so were so disappointed - next time for sure! Your hotel looks divine! I will be diplomatic - I see posh AND gosh!

kim at northerncalstyle. said...

Lisa, SO enjoyed this trip to London. Can't wait for the rest of the posts. Your hotel looks so cozy. I'd love to take my boys to the Dennis Severs house.

Dreaming of future trips... London is one of my most favorite spots on this planet.


Jessica Thor-Miller said...

I've been awaiting this all day! I must see the Dennis Severs house someday. You make me want to book a flight to London post haste - and I'm going to go against all and say "gosh". My internet sleuthing found this:


mary said...

Gosh. (You chose the right week to visit as Easter weekend has been cold, windy and rainy.)

I finally got round to visiting Dennis Severs' house just before Christmas ... you're so right, it feels haunted. Benign, busy ghosts, I felt, in the parlour and in the kitchen (it was full of warm, spicy scents as they had been baking) but the attic felt steeped in misery.
Some day you must visit Hemingford Grey Manor, second oldest inhabited house in the country ... now that really does feel haunted!

Purple Flowers said...

Love your post. With regard to the witty sign, it appears to me to read "Posh".
Love the idea of ghosts in the house. Tell more.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh jeepers, you're killin' me!
The best city in the world!!
So happy to read of your wonderful stay, and sooo glad you got to Mr. Severs' house!! Was the food all freshly baked?

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Modern Traditionalist: Thank you for your sleuthing skills -- I can't believe that Piero is right! I just googled "Gosh Hardware" and sure enough, there was a photo of the exterior of the shop we passed. You have made my husband extremely happy.

But I think "POSH" would have still been better :)

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Someone just told me that Dennis Severs' House is a favorite of Tracy Emin's. We're in good company.

Congratulations on your new blog!

One more hint about Dennis Sever' house: In some of the rooms, there were big piles of lavender in all the corners. When I asked the guide about it later, he told me that houses were so drafty and London smelled so noxious 200 years ago that people would strew lavender on the floor so that when the wind blew in, it would smell better. Love that, don't you?

Just put Hemingford Grey Manor on my list -- thank you -- I'd never heard of it! I learn so much from this blog thanks to you all!

Purple Flowers: The beds were unmade, there were whispers coming from other rooms and distant laughter. And a black cat roaming the premises!

Pamela Terry and Edward:
The food was half-eaten, the sherry glasses were half-empty and we were convinced the owner of the house was going to reappear and throw us into the Old Bailey. :)

Fran said...

Sorry to tell you that it is Gosh. With our sense of downplaying everything, no proper Englishman would use the word Posh even if they were aristocratic and stinking rich!!!! Anyway I am glad you enjoyed your stay with us here in Blighty and I look forward to more pictures xxx

Mr Paul said...

Glad to see you had a great time, love your photos.

Sharron said...

Thank you, thank you! What a great way to start my day; with an armchair trip to London! Love your sumptuous descriptions and wonderful photos.

Emily said...

You know how to tell a story, I tell you!
We were going to London this summer (not for the Olympics) but now our plans have changed. I can't wait to get there next summer, and I will be referring to this post when I do. Please share more of your trip!

Sneaky Magpie said...

I went to Dennis Severs House at Christmas time in all it's seasonal splendour. It looked amazing and was one of the best experiences of my life. It was daytime and there were other visitors but I want to go back after dark.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Sneaky Magpie;
To have seen it at Christmas must have been amazing! How lucky you are!

louise said...

It's always lovely to see my city through the eyes of a visitor. What a great week weather wise you chose! Love the photos, especially that flower seller - a real diamond geezer!

Looking forward to Part Two.

Chez Laurel said...

Lovely, lovely post. Thank you.

Kate @ Savour Fare said...

Adding Dennis Severs' house to my list. (Perfect to pair with a trip to St. John Bread and Wine. Last trip our St. John res got cancelled because of Chunnel delays. Humph.)

That picture with the red door -- made me smell London. Occasionally you get a picture that just conjures a place, and that one did it for me.

And I can tell from your last post that you hit the Museum of the City of London - another favorite. I can't wait until child 1 is old enough to appreciate it.

Amy said...

So happy you finally made it to Dennis Sever's -- I went again last summer and that sweet kitty was lying on one of the beds and I got to pet him. Such an enchanting place.
Can't wait for part two--thanks so much for sharing!

Slim Paley said...

Not too many cities more fun than London when the weather's gorgeous! Lucky YOU!
I'd love to visit Chez Severs &
Fish pie- yum! said...

Maybe it is OSH our own Orchard Supply Hardware...HaHa! Spitalfields is where my husband's new London office is located. Did u get any Montezuma's chocolates while there? If not for sure next time...I can't wait to go back myself. Will visit the 'house' for sure, not too creepy for kids I hope as I will have my girls with me. Also, thanks for the book...really enjoying it.

Olga Roth said...

I Die. Your camera's mistakes turned out to be happy accidents! I love them

kate in kigali said...

Posh London - as I read it

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