Design Trip – Denmark

I recently returned from a design trip to Copenhagen, where the Interior Design department visited many museums, galleries and buildings to develop our practice.  What I noticed on the trip was how I have started to question design in relation to my visual cultural studies since starting the academic year.

In relation to areas in which my practice is specifically connected, I found that there is a real hierarchy of design ‘owners’, in that a small number of people have classed items as being of importance, and to that end the rest must follow suit in agreeing and accepting those definitions.  In terms of design history that makes absolute sense, eg: The Bauhaus changed ornamentation into form follows function and delineated all items, and given the age in which it happened it connects to social and economic change.   I do love modern architecture, especially Brutalism and post modernist hard lines, as it visually inspires me, but every item has a subjective reaction.
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Photography Excursion – Lourdes

Last week I travelled to Lourdes in France with a band of local pilgrims.  I went along as a) it was the sort of thing I would never do and I want to push my boundaries, and b) I was generally just curious to see it.

A bit about Lourdes…

Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is part of the Hautes-Pyrénées department in the Occitanie region in south-western France. Prior to the mid-19th century, the town was best known for the Château fort de Lourdes, a fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its center.

In 1858 Lourdes rose to prominence in France and abroad due to the Marian apparitions claimed to have been seen by the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who was later canonized. Shortly thereafter the city with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes became one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage and religious tourism. Today Lourdes hosts around six million visitors every year from all corners of the world. This constant stream of pilgrims and tourists transformed quiet Lourdes into the second most important center of tourism in France, second only to Paris, and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy Land.

I took along my trusty Canon E0S as I knew there would be interesting photo opportunities, and although I wanted to respect the privacy of people there I knew I could get some good documentary type shots.

I am a born and bred ‘intermittent’ catholic, (although my local priest calls me a ‘have a go catholic’ – i.e. I just pick the bits of doctrine which I like and ignore others), so I went with some scepticism if I am totally honest.  But I can convey that is a great place to visit, and not a bastion of the Catholic Church itself in terms of rules and regulations, but one of Faith, pure and simple.  The atmosphere was amazing, and what I liked most was that ill and disable people were treated with the utmost respect and courtesy.  They were not the invisible as in so many places, but instead the most focused upon and respected.

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The town is set at the foot of the Pyrenees, and I went up the funicular on the Pic du Jer to get a birdseye view.  This is a very high hill overlooking the town, and the funicular was so steep I had to shut my eyes going up, but once up on the top you can see snowcaps in the distance even in the summer.  It is simply beautiful.

Around the Basilica and Grotto in the town were a multitude of people;  Religious, Medical Staff, Pilgrims and Volunteers.  I loved just watching them all go about their business, whether it was praying, talking or just moving through the town.

The town has stations of the cross set on two levels, low and high.  I climbed up to the high ones which are life size and cast in bronze, to get a set of photos for a pilgrim I was with who could not make the steep walk.

The statues of Saints and Angels around the Basilica are amazing.

It really is an inspirational place and I recommend a visit for anyone, religious or not, to see such kindness to the sick and disabled.  I bathed in the waters at the Grotto, and it was an incredibly experience and very humbling.

There are bits of Lourdes that have lots of shops selling religious souvenirs, some tasteful and some very garish, but it’s all part of the experience just to see how many different statues and types of water bottles you can count…!

So if you are ever in that part of the world, I really recommend a visit.  It puts life into perspective a bit more and was a very calming experience.

A Visit to Lambay

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.

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Photo by Joseph Mischyshyn

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.

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This rather buxom beauty reclines in Malahide overlooking the sea

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.

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Photo credit: M Baring

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.

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.

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A Lutyens gate in the distance

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.

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On the left is my Lambay artwork – a spoof dinosaur skeleton find of a ‘Lambaysaurrus’

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…

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There is some great drone footage of island you can watch https://player.vimeo.com/video/233184732 <p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/233184732″>Millie’s Island Club, Lambay</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user50024027″>Miranda Baring</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>here

Marrakesh Moments 3 -Jardin Majorelle

No trip to Marrakesh is complete without a visit to these famed gardens, initially created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle, and then later purchased by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980 to save the gardens from redevelopment.  After Yves Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, the gardens were donated by Pierre Bergé to the YSL charitable foundation.  On November 27, 2010, the street in front of the Jardin Majorelle’s entrance was renamed the Rue Yves Saint Laurent in his honour.

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The famous Majorelle blue and vivid lemon colours dots the site, and the selection of cacti, palms, bamboo and exotic plants creates a shady oasis in the heart of the business of the city.  Water creates reflections and sounds, and it is a garden to sit and while away the hours in contemplation.

I first visited these gardens in 2007, when I was a bit disappointed at the time if truth be told, the gardens seemed shabby back then and had graffiti scratched into all the bamboo canes by eager tourists.  Then last week I revisited them, and they have been transformed, along with an amazing museum set inside the original house.

The area near the former Art studio, which now is a new museum of Berber Art opened in 2010, has wonderful ponds and terraces in vivid blue and yellow colours.

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Marrakesh Moments 2 – Carpets

When in Morocco…

You cannot avoid the fact that there are a lot of carpets and rugs in this country…  They hang all over the souks in the Medina in Marrakesh, and each one seems different in pattern, colour and style.  I spent some time at one carpet shop where the sheer amount of carpets was astounding, and it was just one of hundreds in the city and surrounding area.  Rugs were stacked floor to ceiling through the whole building, and even hung on the roof.

Types of carpet

Moroccan carpets can be grouped into rural or urban, Berber or Arab. Urban carpets are influenced by the fine, oriental designs of the Middle East and are intricately detailed.

Rural Berber carpets are handwoven into abstract patterns and symbols that tell the stories of a tribe. Carpets from the Middle Atlas – zanafi – have a deep, woollen pile to keep out the cold and are usually long and narrow.

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Marrakech moments…

Last night in this exotic city, and after a ride home in a Caleche it is time to share some lovely photographs of the palaces and museums that I visited today.


Starting at the Dar Si Said palace, I saw amazing painted ceilings, carved plaster and mosaic work .  This place is not for people who do not like symmetry!  The museum is in a bit of a bad way, with some floors missing tiles and crumbling.  Some western conservation would not go amiss so that preservation and conservation rather than replacement happens.
However the museum staff were lovely and let us peek at the out of bounds harem’s courtyard as a treat.  They were very proud of the museum and gave us lots of information, which my schoolgirl french just about managed to intepret.


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What is it about the light on holiday?i

Whenever I take photos when I am not in the UK (ie: in sunny places), the light always seems better… Clearer, more intense colours and so on. So far, in all my travels India and Africa seem to have the best light for photography, but then again it depends what you are photographing I suppose…. This week I have been in Turkey and the colours are inspirational in the sun… I love the fiery reds and oranges against green.  Photos trying to upload on dodgy local wifi so they may appear late on to this text!

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Moroccan Architecture and Design

I have just returned from Marrakesh, where I visited lots of places and became obsessed with the patterns used in their tiles and decorations.  Situated in Northern Africa, as one of the only three countries to have a coastline along both the Atlantic and Mediterranean, Morocco is extremely diverse, with residents that are Arab, Berber, and many European and sub-Saharan African immigrants. The interior design that originates in Morocco reflects this diverse area, rich in cultural traditions and history. Characterized by intricate carvings, arched doorways, and colorful dyes it should come as no surprise that Moroccan interior design has become quite popular around the world.   The pigments all come from the area, and are mainly from crushed stones, these are widely sold in herbalist shops including the famous Majorelle blue.

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Tiles:

In the Palaces and Mosques, Zellige tiles are made featuring intricate carvings, inlaid tesserae and bright coloured hues.  The design tends to revolve around a 6 or 8 point motif with repeating patterns.  Even flower patterns are made from geometric smaller shapes.

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Painted Decoration:

Doors, lintels, ceilings and pretty much anywhere that is not tiles is hand painted.  Again, the repetitive 6 or 8 points are commnly used, but also flowers and natural forms.

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The craftmanship is amazing, and it takes many years for the artists to train in this ancient skill.  All of the photos in the post are of ancient tiles and paintings in the Bahia Palace and Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh, and their hues are as vivid now as when they were created.

Tassels by the hundreds – Passementerie in Marrakesh

I have just returned from a break in Marrakesh, one of my most favourite places, where I spent a few days wandering the souks and Medina and taking a lot of photographs of the Islamic and Moorish architecture.

By chance, I found the most wonderful shop buried deep in the Medina where they sell only tassels.  Every size, colour, type and style was catered for.  Materials were mainly silk but they had some very cool leather ones as well which I have not seen before.  The owner was lovely, and can make me some to my size specifications and ship them to me.

I usually only use tassels for either curtains or as key tassels, but these got me wondering what else they can be used for?  I found these ones used as lights which are quite different:

Here they are used behind picture frames: