Find out why the erudite British designer (and ardent Instagrammer!) is our favorite jack-of-all-trades
I’m just back from a week with my daughters on the holy island of Patmos, Greece, where I picked up this nicely twisted bit of wood. I love to collect wood, stones, and coral while walking: I found the other oak burl in Oxfordshire, and the white coral on my sister India’s Bahamian beach. I returned from Greece to find my favorite roses still blooming in the garden, and an egg from each of my hens, who are minor Instagram celebrities: Barbara Brandenburg, Lucrezia Borgia, and Caterina Sforza (she lays the blue eggs!).
“I'm making a set of gilded flame finials, like the one here, for my new London bookcase, which will hold only books about London; the rest of my alarmingly expanding library will stay in the country. My house is full of souvenirs from many journeys to India, including the little cinnabar lacquer opium box and the miniature; [I find them in] junk shops in Jaisalmer and Chittorgarh. My grandmother Edwina Mountbatten had Rex Whistler paint her boudoir walls in 1937. I love his exquisite book-cover designs. This book, The Traveller’s Companion, is one of 30 Rex covers that I’ve collected.
“For myself, I prefer to paint my own walls. I’ve done frangipani trees in the dining room and faux squares of stitched leather in the living room. [After] moving into my parents’ old set of chambers (to use their proper name) in Albany, an 1803 apartment building in Piccadilly, London, I wanted walls that looked like old tapestries but with a modern twist. They were in a state after 200 years; I needed to cover up cracks and unevenness, and give them texture and warmth. I glued on loose, open-weave burlap, on which I painted a grisaille trompe l’oeil of statues of the nine Greek muses in an ivy bower with a view of 1818 Constantinople.
“‘Hanging’ in front of the view, I added big bronze discs. Instead of classical figures, mine have abstract designs of fractured geometry, bringing the whole thing up to 2014 with a bang . . . I hope. In the bedroom, I painted part of the Parthenon Frieze, copied from Thomas Henning’s miniature version—some of which you see here, painted by me in the sort of vivid colors that the original had in 430 BC. Peeping from behind my bed is a giant eye, making the room feel like it’s dollhouse-scale. You can see the progress of the project on Instagram. Next up: the camouflage-painted cork hallway.
“I’m launching a collection of my own hand-drawn printed linens, Textures [among them the tablecloth and the four swatches below the book in the collage above], to be sold at Lee Jofa and GP&J Baker alongside my collections of David Hicks by Ashley Hicks weaves and prints. I enjoy the contrast between my father’s sharp, graphic style and my own softer edges. His Hicksonian print with the logo of four Hs [collage image, bottom left] is a typically bold statement against the subtlety of my own Ragged Sultan pattern beneath it, which was inspired by the idea of the Topkapi palace cats getting at an old bit of Ottoman Cintamani velvet. I do like a sense of history.”