Thursday, September 29, 2011

London, England - London Design Week 2011

For those of you at all interested in interior design, this week was one of the biggest weeks of the whole year for the industry here in London. I met so many of the famous interior designers that I adore, that I had to keep pinching myself. The week kicked off on Sunday with Decorex, a trade show that has been taking place for over thirty years, where all of the exhibitors are hand-picked and allows anyone in the industry to see the best of what is new in interior design, all under one roof. The show, which takes place over the course of four days in Chelsea, also includes a daily speaking program. On Sunday I listened to the world-renown Nicky Haslam speak. I was so intrigued by his life and background that I went out and bought his autobiography, Reedeming Features.

Nicky Haslam
On Tuesday I went to the Design Centre at Chelsea Harbour for their annual Focus/11, where each showroom launches their new collection for the season and features lively discussions, book signings and "in conversation" sessions with famous industry personalities. I started the day by having Kelly Hoppen sign my copy of her latest book, Ideas. I almost lost it when she asked me what I do in London and then handed me her personal card with her mobile number and asked me to come give her a private showing of the new Liberty furnishing fabrics range!!
Kelly Hoppen signing a book for me
Next up was a discussion with Barbara Hulanicki, a fashion designer that started the super iconic store, Biba, in London, in 1964. Revolutionizing fashion with her offerings at Biba, and catering to the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie, it is a little known fact that Anna Wintour worked in her store for the summer helping cutosmers in the fitting room! Barbara later went on to re-invent herself and became an interior designer in the early 80s in Miami. She is largely responsible for making Miami what it is today. You can see her Miami hotel work here. Today she continues to design for various brands including Top Shop.
After visiting various fabric showrooms at the Design Centre, I ended the day by going to hear Barbara Barry in conversation with Susan Crewe, the editor of House & Garden Magazine here in the UK. What an inspiration! The talk was followed by a lovely tea in the Baker showroom, where Barbara made the rounds to speak with each of us individually and sign copies of her new Baker furniture collaboration catalog.
Barbara Barry in the Baker Showroom

Couldn't resist taking a picture with BB
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Sardinia, Italy - Stella Maris

Now that I have started my degree in interior design and decoration, I am even more interested in different construction methods, colors, materials, patterns and certainly architectural styles that are indigenous to a certain area. So you can see why I fell in love with the tiny Catholic Church of Stella Maris, on the glorious Costa Smeralda in Porto Cervo, Italy. Sitting atop a bluff, overlooking the comings and goings of the old port and marina below, the white bell tower is a stark and  impressive contrast against the deep blue Sardinian sky.

The Stella Maris was built in the 1960s by the famous Roman architect Michele Busiri Vici, who was hired by the Aga Khan, together with other noted architects of the time (including Luigi Vietti and Jacques Couelle), to build up what is today known as the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) of Sardinia. The Stella Maris was Vici's masterpiece. 

The inside of the church is very modest. Here is a local wedding taking place
The red tiled roof of the front portico is supported by local juniper wood
Different works of art may be admired inside the church, like the Mater Dolorosa attributed to El Greco, an organ from the 17th century, local juniper wood pews, and the massive bronze doors with bas-reliefs representing the theme of the Annunciation, created by the Bolognese sculptor Luciano Minguzzi (shown below).

A side door to the church displays beautiful fish
As if the beautiful simplicity of this church were not enough, the view down below to the old port and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda is simply stunning. Funny to note the juxtaposition between the pure modesty of the Stella Maris and the exhibitionistic luxury yachts over which the church keeps a watchful eye.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Paris, France - Au Coin des Gourmets (Indochine)

The location on 38, rue du Mont Thabor
Absolutely loving the authenticity and flavors of Au Coin des Gourmets, a Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant a French colleague recommended in Paris. I visited their Right Bank location (38, rue du Mont Thabor), which is frequented by locals and the fashionable ladies who work in the Chanel offices on nearby Rue Cambon, though they have another outpost on the Rive Gauche (5, rue Dante). Overseen by matriarch owner, Barbara Ta, you should reserve in advance for both lunch and dinner, and ask for a table upstairs instead of in the basement.

Dishes are wonderfully flavorful with subtle and delicate notes of ginger, jasmine, mint and other various spices that never overpower. We ordered steamed pork dumplings, which literally melted in the mouth, followed by plates of chicken and ginger, beef and chilli, and the piece de resistance: a cod fish marinated in coconut milk cooked inside a banana leaf with delicate leaves of cabbage; all complemented by pots of warm sticky rice. This meal was the highlight of my four day weekend in Paris, and for anyone who enjoys this type of cuisine, Au Coin des Gourmets is not to be missed.

Pork dumplings
Sliced beef with chili
Chicken with fresh ginger
A banana leaf wrapped cod
Cod fish cooked in a banana leaf with coconut milk and cabbage
A packed house at lunchtime
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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Venice, Italy - Westin Europa & Regina

Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal
I spent last weekend in Venice for the nuptials of my dear friends, Federico and Cecilia. As the wedding reception and dinner was held outside on the Grand Canal at the Westin Europa & Regina hotel, many guests, including myself, chose to stay at the same property. I had a lovely, extremely spacious room (#612), and the best feature, by far, was the absolutely enormous terrace overlooking both the Grand Canal and the famous church of Santa Maria della Salute. The hotel is only a five minute walk to St. Mark's Square, yet secluded enough to feel sufficiently at a distance from the tourist crowds. Having a dock right on the canal made taking water taxis, as well as the free hotel shuttle to the famous Excelsior hotel on the island of Lido, very easy. 
Room 612

The enormous terrace of my hotel room
View from my hotel room terrace overlooking Venice
View from my hotel room terrace overlooking Venice
Two dressing areas and the bathroom (below)

Breakfast in the morning takes place in a stunning setting overlooking the Grand Canal and the buffet is abundant: eggs, bacon, sausage, cold cuts, cheeses, croissants and homemade baked pastries, cereals, breads, fresh fruit, even champagne and smoothies. Sipping your morning cappuccino while a gondolier rows by singing "O Sole Mio" almost makes you want to pinch yourself. 
Morning breakfast
Breakfast tables in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute

My overall experience at the Westin Europa and Regina was a good one, though I have to admit that there are other properties in Venice that I have stayed at and prefer:  Hotel Bauer and Luna Hotel Baglioni. My pros and cons of this hotel are the following:


  • Room size and amazing terrace
  • Location on the Grand Canal
  • Great bar for drinks with outdoor space too
  • Ample morning breakfast selection
  • Free private shuttle to the island of Lido
  • Friendliness of cleaning staff (I wanted to take that Signora home with me!)
  • Complimentary bottle of Veuve Clicquot from the hotel manager  

  • The front desk and concierge always had lines and they seemed overwhelmed. They could have been much friendlier/accommodating as well. I call the concierge dozens of times when I am at a hotel and hate when I am made to feel like an inconvenience or rushed off the phone.
  • It took the hotel two days to communicate to the maid service that my hotel room category should have been stocked with luxury Etro bath products instead of the generic ones.
  • The bathroom had a bit of an odor
  • The birds picking at crumbs on neighboring dining tables at breakfast are unmerciful!
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