EST. 2009

March 10, 2017

That Eclectic Eltham Experience



THAT A HOME IS A REFLECTION OF ITS INHABITANTS could not be more true with Eltham Palace: the lavish, eclectic former residence of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, Interwar London socialites and patrons of the arts. They were in their 40s when they married, and a decade later sought a home accessible to London that was large enough for their parties.

In 1933, the couple took a lease on the palace, historically one of only six royal residences that could accommodate the Tudor court's 800 people. Destroyed by Puritans in the 1600s, Eltham's great hall survived, with its restoration serving as a condition for the Courtaulds' permission to build. At 30.8 meters long by 10.9 meters wide, it is only second to Westminster Hall as the largest surviving pre-Tudor great hall without an aisle.

Building at Eltham took place from 1933 to 1936, led by architects John Seely and Paul Paget. They designed the house on a butterfly plan, with one wing linking to the great hall and the other comprising living areas. Highlights of the residence include the entrance hall with blackbean veneer walls, the art deco dining room with animals drawn from life at London Zoo, Virginia's gold and onyx bathroom featuring a statue of the goddess Psyche, and of course, the medieval great hall with its hammerbeam roof and minstrels' gallery.


Details from Virginia's bedroom, the dining room and entrance hall:



The variety of styles offer a strange yet sumptuous experience of Eltham, giving hints as to what the Courtaulds' home life might have been like. Modern and historic, pristine and playful, the space echoes its host and hostess' own personalities, said to have been a contrasting combination. Calm, quiet Stephen was scion of the Courtauld textile empire and a keen mountaineer. Impulsive Virginia was a marchioness divorcée with a snake tattoo.

And as if a palace and parties weren't opulent enough, the couple shared their luxuries with their Great Dane Caesar and pet lemur Mah-Jongg, who enjoyed his own heated jungle-fresco room. Historians say the house was perhaps the most advanced in England on its completion, featuring a plumbed-in vacuum cleaner, centrally powered electric clocks, speakers relaying radio or gramophone records to every room, and built-in cocktail bars.

Stephen and Virginia continued to entertain at Eltham through the Second World War, retreating to the basement during air raids. Weary of the bombing, they eventually moved out in 1944 to Scotland, and then to Southern Rhodesia.

The restored Eltham Palace today informs about design for luxury in the early half of the 20th century, but it also spells the bittersweet fact that there are luxuries even wealth cannot buy. Across the varying and eclectic ways in which we desire to live, there will always be common elements among the differences: peace and freedom to be oneself amidst people and things we love. What could be more luxurious than that?

Eltham Palace, Greenwich, London, english-heritage.org.uk Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

February 22, 2017

That Limbo by the Loire











FOLLOWING SOME TYPOGRAPHICALLY ELEGANT OPENING CREDITS AGAINST THE LOIRE RIVER,  Jacques Demy's Lola begins with a young man at a cafe, idling about in spite of being late for work. He goes on to be fired from his job, and in what appears to be the same afternoon, goes to watch a film at the cinema.

Newly unemployed, Roland's listless self indulgence is contrasted with the busy life of Cécile, a cabaret dancer under the stage name of Lola. She is shown in the film ending a work day in the morning, picking up laundry on the way home, her young son waiting outside while she continues to entertain a client in her apartment.

Through a chance encounter, the film reveals that Roland and Cécile were childhood sweethearts. They go out to dinner, in which Roland discovers that he still feels affection for the enchanting Cécile. She, on the other hand, continues to pine for Michel: the father of her child who left for America, promising to return once he had made his fortune.

Peripheral characters populate Roland and Cécile's quaint and compact world. Among them are the easygoing American sailor Frankie, the prudish Madame Desnoyers, her liberated adolescent daughter Cécile Desnoyers, and the hysterical Jeanne, who also happens to be Michel's mother.

The characters cross paths at many points in the film, echoing each other's histories while drifting through the picturesque city. Nantes in the 1960s summertime, at least according to Jacques Demy, is an inescapable maze of perfect light and shadow, idleness, longing and first loves. Throw in some mid-century automobiles, renaissance-style architecture, sailors and cabaret dancers, and you're almost distracted from the state of limbo engulfing the discontented bunch.

The film didn't get me very invested in any of the characters' fates, but I was glad it granted its more willful characters some favorable resolutions. Even in such dreamy scenarios, it's hard to root for someone who luxuriates in their stagnancy. Lola at least shows you, in 90 stunning minutes, that faith, will and action have their rewards.

Lola, 1961. Directed by Jacques Demy.

January 11, 2017

That Little Luxury


AS SNEAKER CULTURE, MOBILE WORKING and other mobility-embracing trends secure their place in the mainstream, you'd expect form to follow function with the triumph of commuter-friendly fashion. But history shows that practical isn't always necessarily the most coveted. Many of us still readily make room in our lives for beautiful, albeit impractical, things.

Such is the case with what has been dubbed "the smallest it bag ever." Launched in 2015, Simon Miller's Bonsai bag measures a mere 12 x 12.5 x 17 centimeters, with a pair of hoops as handles measuring 6 centimeters across. For scale, the iPhone 6 at 13.8 centimeters is taller than this bag. The average female palm, at 6.8 centimeters, is wider than the bag's handles.

Still, it sold out on Barneys' pre-order even before stocks reached stores. “We wanted to create something cool and cute, and to help women streamline their lives by only allowing the essentials." Simon Miller founders Daniel Corrigan and Chelsea Hansford shared with the Telegraph. The cylindrical bag has no zips or fastenings for securing its contents, and only saw the addition of straps and a slightly larger version introduced in Fall 2016.

Priced accessibly for its category, what the Bonsai truly signals, in my opinion, is luxury. I imagine that this bag's owner has nothing to lug around; neither a laptop nor an umbrella, which a P.A. or chauffeur could fetch. She wouldn't travel by bus or bicycle, because even in the absence of theft, it seems unlikely that the Bonsai would hold its contents through a rigorous commute.

That's not to say I don't want one of my own. William Morris, a 19th-century designer and poet associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, once said in a lecture: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Whether it's an item of cult status or a randomly-found pebble, driftwood or seashell from a shore, objects of beauty gain their value not from their function but from the way we regard them. And therein lies their luxury.

Simon Miller Bonsai bags, images from simonmillerusa.com

December 20, 2016

Those Spills and Surges


SURF LIFE SAVING AUSTRALIA LISTS SHARKS, WINDS, STRONG CURRENTS AND TOPOGRAPHIC RIPS as hazards at Half Moon Bay. In spite of these, and a recorded average of 18 rescues per year, the beach receives a general hazard rating of 3/10, placing it in the "least hazardous" category. Beach hazards is a concept foreign to me, having lived most of my life in an archipelago of warm, relatively calm shores. Save for typhoon-tormented days at least, Philippine beaches aren't known to pose much danger to beach-goers.

Half Moon Bay, located south of Melbourne, takes its name from its crescent shape. The bay faces north in the southern corner, west in the northern section, and is interrupted midway by the prominent rocks and cliffs of Red Bluff. Rich in iron oxide, Red Bluff's burnt-orange formation is notable on its own, but extra dramatic when interfacing with the sea. Frothy, glassy waves spill, plunge and surge against its scattered rocks, turned a deeper tan by saturation with water. The crashing sound seems rhythmic and constant, but the waves appear different each time.

The internet is awash with tracks of ocean wave sounds. But it's a singular sensation to actually walk on a rocky shore, wary of the beautiful, possibly hazardous spills and surges that could sweep in forcefully at any moment. Contemporary life is designed so that majority of our interactions are comfortable, convenient and predictable. It's good to be reminded that the best of nature isn't a product of contemporary design, or human design at all. And oh, how remarkable its force could be.

Red Bluff at Half Moon Bay, Victoria. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

December 8, 2016

That Breathing Space


THE WORKS OF LIAM STEVENS range from geometric cut-out compositions to loose paint daubs, and finally, airy pencil sketches of natural scenes. Predominant across the styles is that airiness, as if the image had taken a breath, and is prompting you to do so too. The sketches in particular impart this sensation, with foliage and other natural elements defined by lines that don't dare intersect. Save for a few, they don't even touch.

In graphology, handwriting with widely-spaced words and letters suggests that the writer enjoys freedom and independence. Widely-spaced strokes in drawing give me the same notion somehow. In Liam Stevens's nature sketches, the lines appear to be independent of each other. The spaces between them call attention to the way they interact as elements on a page; elements that give way and have room to move about.

It's a tiny detail that fascinates me, primarily as a designer who works with graphics, but also personally as an individual who values personal space. We've all been there, in public transport and crowded events, in which strangers feel too comfortable with contact. Let me out!

If you can relate, do check out anthropologist Edward T. Hall's chart assigning radii in feet and meters for the intimate, personal, social and public distances between people. According to the chart, we can reserve up to 1.5 feet of personal space for those with whom we feel familiarity and intimacy.

But alas, it seems we're better off as lines on a Liam Stevens drawing.

Illustrations by Liam Stevens, liamstevens.com

November 2, 2016

Those Scar Cymbals



A DEEP VIBRATIONAL HUM FILLS THE MAIN HALL OF THE ZABLUDOWICZ COLLECTION, a former methodist chapel in North London. At the chancel is a glass house of sorts, aglow in LED, with plywood ladders leading up to each of its four stories. At the center of the room, a platform resembling a brain is covered in fine, white sand. There is paint smeared on the walls.

Medium density fibreboard encase Kaoss pads and speakers at the back of the room. An acrylic panel rises from it. From here comes the vibrational hum, turned on and off by models loitering about. Their skin is painted in natural pigments including turmeric, coffee and clay, which stain their surroundings upon contact; an "inescapable residue of touch" rendering acrylic surfaces opaque over time.

Scar Cymbals is Donna Huanca's first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom. The installation-performance hybrid features elements from her exploration of the surfaces of identity, as well as the interface between bodies and objects. While showcasing Huanca's unique visual aesthetic, Scar Cymbals is primarily sensual, at the same time sacramental, with sculptures that respond to the chapel's architecture, and daily performances that reference the functions of the skin.

Catch the show for a neon-stained meditation-sensation challenging your instinctive reaction to flesh.

Scar Cymbals by Donna Huanca at the Zabludowicz Collection, zabludowiczcollection.com Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.
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