This week I visited Hauser & Wirth in Bruton to see an exhibition of female artists, with works shown from the private collection of Ursula Hauser. She has collected these over the past thirty years and they range from artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Maria Lassnig, Meret Oppenheim and Roni Horn. The exhibition celebrates female artists, often overlooked in contemporary art in the past. For a detailed review of the exhibition, Rachel Campbell‑Johnston has written a great review in The Times.
I was so excited to see Meret Oppenheim’s work in the flesh. These gloves are wonderful, and a prime example of her surrealist art. The painting was a surprise as I had always associated her with 3D and sculptural pieces,
From paintings to sculptures, the works create different moods and reactions. There was a lot of work by Louise Bourgeois, and I am not personally a fan of the spiders due to my own arachnophobia, but I suppose a visceral reaction is a key element to the pieces. She also made these long legs below which I loved, they conjured up ideas of giants, myths and fairy tales.
A lot of the work was very textural, and these pieces by Sheila Hicks we’re probably my favourite in the exhibition. The textures and colours are beautiful:
The other element at Hauser & Wirth which is wonderful to see is the garden, designed by Piet Oudolf, with the serpentine pavilion by Radic as a permanent installation. I had not seen the gardens before at this time of year, and they were in full bloom. The planting is in drifts of tall perennials which float in the wind, very worth visiting.
In the Roth Bar & Grill, (a welcome part of the site, delicious food…), they have the original design of the garden. It is interesting to see the initial sketch to the final result.
So for anyone in that part of the world, it is definitely worth a visit. The exhibition runs until September the 8th.
Lambay, sometimes also called Lambay Island, is a private island lying off Dublin Bay and owned by the Baring family trust. It was purchased in 1904 by the Hon Cecil Baring, who later became Lord Revelstoke, for his new bride Maude whom he was madly in love with. The island came with a 16th century fort, so Baring hired Edward Lutyens to remodel and extend to make an idyllic castle for his young bride and subsequent family. This became a beautiful example of Lutyens architecture with his typical motifs everywhere, circular stairs, vaulted ceilings, stone fireplaces and furniture designed for the house specifically. Outside there is a huge circular enceinte wall surrounding it to create a windbreak. It’s very blowy outside this shelter on the island, and once within the confines of the wall the garden becomes a calm oasis from the brutal Irish wind (even in summer). Lutyens also designed the horseshoe shaped harbour, another building called The White House for Baring’s daughters to use with their own families when they later came to stay, and cottages for the staff. There is also a chapel on the Island and farm buildings. Gertrude Jekyll designed the gardens around the castle, and it is a privilege to see the work of both these notable designers in a private setting.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be invited to stay by a family member who still visits the island, and I realised recently that I had not shared this adventure on the blog. It was an amazing time and very memorable. The Baring Trust still own the island, and family members can still come and stay. It is also rented out privately for shoots, day trips and events. They have also recently started making Lambay whiskey.
Here is an aerial view of the island lying off the coast of Ireland. As we flew into Dublin I could not believe how big and empty of human signs of life it seemed.
So we arrived in Dublin and headed to the very smart port area that is Malahide where the boats leave to get to the island. This is a genteel port with the most expensive supermarket I have ever been to, it outdid Fortnum and Mason’s in delicacies and everything looked delicious. We had to collect food we had ordered ahead to take over to the Island, where we would be staying in The White House with friends. The Island is inhabited full time only by a few people, so this taking of provisions across the waters is par for the course. Once upon a time animals for food used to be put on the boat to take over, but EU regulations put a stop to that. Clanking with bottles, bags of food and luggage, we then were collected by the boat used by Lambay to ferry passengers and provisions and headed across the bay. In summer this crossing was fine, but I don’t think it would be quite so much fun in winter with gales.
On arriving, the first thing you see is the amazing port Lutyens designed. To the right you can see the cottages and then The White House. Towards the rear you can see the trees and wall that protect the Castle. The sea is teeming with seals who are very nosy and come over for a look at visitors.
We arrived and unpacked our food and drink and then had a look around. The White House where we stayed is beautiful and vast. All of the fitted furniture is still there as Lutyens designed it. The kitchen still has all of the old china and huge storage jars intact. The current full-time occupants of the island had just upgraded all of the bathrooms so there is not just ‘one bath a day which we share’ which is what a long-visiting family member told me used to be the order of the day. Now it is simple and spacious, but still luxurious.
What makes Lambay unique is that time has stood still. It does have generator power, but even though you can see the lights of Dublin twinkling at night in the distance, there is no wi-fi, no light pollution and peace. In fact there is no noise except the seabirds, the waves and the wind.
The castle sits nestled in its peaceful wind-free grounds, with herbaceous borders, secret walled gardens and the sound of water trickling in ponds and streams. We were given a tour of the Castle and gardens, and listened to friends reminiscing about the summers they spent as children on the island where they were literally free-range for 3 months of the year.
Photo Credit: M Baring
Photo Credit: E Kayne
Photo Credit: E Kayne
We spent our time on the island catching lobsters, fishing, setting rabbit traps, harvesting edible seaweed, picking vegetables and making all our food from scratch. Every morning the dense soda bread was baked ready for lunch, cakes and pastries were made for tea time, and then foraging began for extra treats as we explored the island. I swam with nosy seals, roamed around the spectacular coastal path and watched nature in its finest state of freedom.
The wildlife is extraordinary on the island. Many birds use it as their nesting grounds as it is far from the madding crowd, and I saw guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins to name just a few breeds. The west side of island that faces away from Ireland is the main breeding ground with spectacular cliffs, and the amount of birds on it rivalled a FA Cup stadium on a finals match. The noise was terrific; screeching birds and crashing waves reverberated as we watched seabirds dive bombing into the sea to catch their fish. The seals that dot themselves around the island are Grey Atlantic Seals, and apparently there are also Harbour Porpoises in the waters.
One evening we took a walk up to the highest point of the island to watch the sun set. The wind was blowing away, and dusk was settling so we could see Dublin in the far distance starting to twinkle with lights. A Labrador who was with us started woofing, and chased after what I thought were rabbits. But the dog then retreated bit pathetically, and looked really confused. Out of long grass sprung the most bizarre animals, which in the half light I thought were huge rabbits. But they turned out to be resident wild Wallabies who bounced around us, spinning off in all directions. Apparently a pair were taken in by one resident Baring and they breed copiously so have to have their numbers reduced every few years so they don’t overrun the island, according to one family member they are “Ok, but a bit chewy…”
In the evenings we would have drinks outside watching the sun set, and then eat all of the food we had caught or made that day. There is nothing better than lobster you have caught that day with fresh home made Hollandaise sauce… although our Soda Bread was a bit like eating dried cardboard – but that could be our culinary skills.
Then as the sun set we would light a fire (it’s damp on this island when the sun sets) and get out board games or just sit and chat. There were no televisions, phones or dreaded iPads and even the teenagers with us seemed to love this disconnect from the real world that they know. It was like turning back the clock 50 years, and I loved it. We decided to have a Lambay Art Exhibition, with everyone on the island having to take part and make something from items they had salvaged from beaches or cliffs. Considering that there were probably no more than 20 people on the island, we all did really well with just one glue gun to share and few pencils.. and the competitive streak did take over for a couple of days – people vanished and claimed beaches for themselves as they hunted for finds. This culminated in a Private View for ourselves and an exhibition party, again for all 20 of us – it was great fun.
The stylish wardrobe I took with me thinking I was partaking in an Agatha Christie style weekend (minus murder), did not see the light of day… it’s way too windy for linens in this place. And my wetsuit served me well for jumping off the port to swim with seals, (incidentally they appear behind you very quietly so when you turn around there is a curious pair of eyes right next to you). By the end of my stay I was covered in mud, bedraggled and dreadlocked, but as relaxed and happy as a lamb.
But we did go home in this plane, so I got my Agatha Christie moment in the end… sort of…
When we moved to our current house, the prior owner had been a bit of a gardening wizard. She even opened the garden to the public in the National Garden Scheme whereby money is raised for charity by allowing the public into homeowners private gardens. No pressure then to try and keep up her good works!
Fast forward a few years, and I think the garden is not quite what it was – although I do try hard to keep it up. One area especially had become very tatty, some decking next to the house. England is just not a good place to have wood as flooring outside; there is just too much water and damp, and it becomes slippery, green and needs a lot of TLC. So for a few years I have dutifully stripped it back and re-oiled it each year, but even that did not really help it survive. It started bowing and felt quite unsafe, so the joists below had definitely started to rot.
For those who have noticed a somewhat silent blog recently, I do have a very valid reason as I have been slogging away 7 days a week over the last couple of months to get this house completed. My life has been consumed by this project, but I now it is done I think I have enjoyed it…(?!)
I have learnt many new things; how to fit door architraves and skirting, mix plaster, fix windows, mitre corners properly and much more. I think I have used about 125 litres of white emulsion, and got a sort of snow-blindness by the end of it. My hands are like a workman’s, and I am exhausted and have spent hours in builders yards and sourcing things online to get the best prices But it has been worth it, and I am on budget which is a miracle…
In the middle of the job my builders’ firm went bust, which could have been a total disaster and left me up the creek without a paddle so to speak, but we managed to muddle through and finish the renovation. My builders honoured the contract and worked extra hours unpaid to finish the job, so someone up there was watching out for me I think! It meant a 3 week delay on the build, and that I had to learn lots of new skills pronto, but circumstances meant that I just had to forge on.
Here come the before, mid-point and after pictures…..
The facade of the house…. from grubby magnolia to zingy blue… I got over vertigo on that scaffolding after a couple of days, and it was a lovely view…
The garden…. from rubbish dump to a much more elegant space…
The once small and festering loo… now a wall has been moved to create a spacious shower room…
The renovation continues. We are more than half way now, with a final push this next month to get it all done. The garden is landscaped and fenced, the kitchen is being fitted, the shower room is half in and tiled, and the bathroom awaits its turn this week. My hands look appalling, all nails broken, with sugar soap having seeped into my gloves so they have puckered alarmingly. I am getting through mountains of hand cream to try and repair the damage.
Main receptions and bedrooms are now mainly painted on newly plastered walls and ceilings, I am waiting to do most woodwork like skirting and architraves until the builders are out as the dust is chaotic. New doors are primed, painted and hung. The main stairwell which winds up through the house has been lined and painted. We only have two more walls to be plastered in a hallway and a bathroom. The final job will be laying the flooring throughout. It has been a 7 day a week job for me, and I am shattered, but I can see the end now.
So, here are some things I have learnt over the past couple of weeks:
Plaster can take a long time to dry when you want it to.
Plasterers are the MESSIEST people, although the walls and ceilings they work on are smooth perfection, the rest of the room, (especially the floors), look like a plaster bomb has gone off. I have spent many hours scraping dried hunks off floorboards, windows, skirting and doors. After some chatting up, I persuaded the plasterers to clean up as they went, but only after we were 6 rooms into the project…
When re-plastering walls, you might as well replace all skirting and architrave as the plasterers are also vandals who yank the existing ones off, cracking them in the process. I have extra hours to do now repairing the damage.
New plaster also drinks paint, even with mist coats. My initial estimate of 30 litres for the whole building is now at 90. Luckily I have discovered Leyland’s acrylic based emulsion which is a one coat wonder, or I could be into the hundreds in terms of litres.
Always make friends with the Builders Yard staff. I have managed to snitch a couple of free deliveries already, and they are experts at getting me in more paint from the manufacturers pronto when I clear their stock!
Chose water based satinwood for spindles and architraves, and oil based satinwood for doors and skirting. The latter take the hardest knocks so need the 16 hour dry time, whilst the former can take the 4 hour version and get re-coated faster.
Builders thrive on a lot of tea, Krispy Creme Donuts and praise. Apart from one errant Electrician who has vanished on a stag week to Bulgaria, mine are all pretty much present and correct. We did have a few days to wait on wet plaster, but otherwise they have been pretty good so far. The electrician returns this week, hopefully not with shaking hands from too much partying as he finishes the 2nd fix.
Always make sure you lock your ladders, I have had a couple of spectacular tumbles so far. The worst day however was when my mum appeared to help paint and slid to the floor as the steps buckled under her. The guilt was unbelievable, but she was OK if not a bit shaken.
Following on from that, invest in a small platform. Much more comfy than balancing on a step ladder.
Invest in a strong metal extending pole for rollers. Some of the ceilings in this house are 12 foot and the stairwells up to 20 feet, and the pole makes painting a breeze.
Here are some more in progress pictures, remember the crappy garden full of brambles, mattresses and rubbish?
We found a patio area and an old lined formal pond under the mess, as well as a lot of bicycle parts! So we re-used the pond as a formal bed planted with box which will grow into a cute hedge with a Bay tree in the middle, and relaid new stones in the patio area surrounded with Cotswold chippings. New lawn and a variety of ornamental grasses in the rear beds finished it off. The garden was also fenced for privacy. I will add lots of pots of flowering plants when the house is marketed, plus more seating in the front patio area.