For centuries, the focal point of life in the village I grew up in, was the pub on the green. It was the glue that held the community together, and when, in the late eighties it was sold to developers, who converted it into housing, something was lost forever. With the onset of loft living in the 90s, any building type was considered ripe for conversion, from factories and warehouses to schools and pubs. Being one of London’s most famous pubs, did not spare Jack Straw’s Castle in Hampstead, from this fate. The loss in some of these conversions is twofold. Firstly, architecturally, even if many of the buildings features are retained, the spaces within are inevitably carved up to provide different rooms. Secondly, we are in danger of losing variety in our communities, if every building of interest is converted to housing. From the exterior of Jack Straw’s, all is as it always was, so I was curious to see inside, and while it certainly makes for lovely accommodation, a slice of London life has gone for good.
It’s not every day one walks into a house with walls populated by Picassos and Braques, and where the dog wears a diamond encrusted collar. The most interesting aspect of this opulent house in Mayfair, designed by Joanna Wood, was that from the front door, one had to walk along an open sided colonnade, bordering a stunning courtyard garden, before actually entering the house. In order to get the best shot of the garden, I had to hang out of the top floor window, clasping my precious Hasselblad, while my assistant kept a tight grip of my ankles.
One thing the last decade may well be remembered for, is the boom of home makeover shows on TV. Standing head and shoulders above the competition is Grand Designs, and its spin-off magazine, has been a regular editorial client. I remember the presenter, Kevin MacLeod, from his former days as a decorator with his own shop in Fulham, specialising in gilded light fittings and crackle glazed paint effects. In my days at Jigsaw, I frequently commissioned him to supply fixtures and finishes. All very different to the slick modernism he has espoused more recently. While the interiors are always a joy to shoot, the portraits are always more challenging. For one bathroom feature, where to place the owners had one inevitable solution.
An unusual but welcome commission for me, was to travel up to a farm in Yorkshire. The client was Birdseye who wanted shots taken of one of the farms that supplied their peas. The aim was to give Birdseye a cosier image, showing them working hand in hand with small farmers, as opposed to the image of a huge faceless company, freezing and packaging vegetables in soulless factories. Whatever the intention, I had a very enjoyable day out.
I have photographed one or two penthouses over the years, but in late 2004, a vast bar, club and restaurant of that name opened in a building overlooking Leicester Square. People were suddenly waking up to the value of a view. This panorama also includes a glimpse of the film poster for the Bridget Jones movie on the front of the Odeon, which was shot by my old friend Jason Bell.
Another boom industry of the noughties, was gambling. I shot several casinos, though none as grand as Fifty St. James. Housed in one of the grand old club buildings of Piccadilly, it offered cuisine from Jean Georges Vongerichten, Cocktails from Salvatore, the irrepressible barman, a catwalk dancefloor, a second restaurant, oh and the grandest gaming room this side of Monte Carlo. It came as no surprise last month, to read that it had become another victim of the recession and had closed its doors for the last time.
Charles Rutherfoord is a designer who is at home with both traditional and contemporary design and succeeds in combining both to great effect, without making loud statements, or one swamping the other. This large terraced house in Kensington allows both space, juxtaposing elegant furniture with contemporary detailing.
Another designer I started working with around this time, is Stephen Ryan. His work is in strong contrast to that of Charles Rutherfoord, using strong symmetry, bold patterns and overscaled pieces to create richly textured spaces. His tiny apartment in the Marais district of Paris, belies its size with its dramatic arrangement of colour and shape, giving the main space a temple like quality.
The 34th floor of London’s latest architectural icon, the “Gherkin” was one of the highlights of that year. An office fit-out by young architectural practice, Hanson. As lovely as their design was, it was of course the view that really caught my eye.
Right next door to the Gherkin, stands the Baltic Exchange, whose original headquarters stood on the gherkin site until it was destroyed by an IRA bomb. 2005 turned out to be a busy year for my design work too, and I was asked by the Baltic to redesign their Members bar, and restaurant. The main thrust of the brief was that the spaces should retain the air of a gentleman’s club, but with a more modern edge. Somewhere was also needed to house their wonderful collection of model ships. The bar and the panelling were all faced in leather, supplied by Alma, a old established firm in the East end.
The following shot has always caused a lot of head scratching, with very few able to tell what or where it is…
Well, if you’ve ever traveled down to Brighton on the train, you’ve been over the top of it. It’s the Balcombe viaduct, which I shot as part of a commission from a developer to shoot local landmarks for a luxury housing development brochure.
The same developer employed me to design and style a showflat in another development in London. A wonderful job, mostly spent shopping on someone else’s behalf.
A large and enjoyable part of my work over the last few years, has been in the hotel industry. Those early shoots for Caterer magazine have a lot to do with that. The G Hotel in Galway is particularly stunning. The interior was designed by local boy, Philip Treacy. Although he is better known for his hats, the hotel design is a real tour de force, from the all black palate of the reception, to the three hundred-odd suspended metal ball lighting extravaganza that hangs in the Salon, and the shocking pink of the bar. Note the rug in black and white concentric circles, which was first to be shot on the morning after a long night of Irish hospitality.
Meanwhile in London, there was the Mandeville Hotel, which had recently been refurbished by Stephen Ryan.
And the Rockwell, with its fabulous garden, by Squire & Partners.
Besides all the glamour, it’s sometimes the quirky little places that really appeal and make for an interesting story, such as F-art, a little gallery / shop off Brick Lane, which I think sadly no longer exists.
I also rather liked a little house near Waterloo belonging to Adrian Koppens. I more recently visited his current house in Herefordshire. (See earlier post)
Having already shot his flat in Paris, I was itching to see Stephen Ryan’s Notting Hill apartment, which did not disappoint.
At the beginning of the year I embarked on a project to document my local park in Crystal Palace. We had moved to the area during the previous year, and I immediately became interested in the park and its illustrious past. It is also set to have an illustrious future, if redevelopment plans by Latz & Partners go ahead. Meanwhile the park is in a forlorn state. Although some improvements have been made over the years, such as the restoration of the famous dinosaurs, much of the park is in dire need of investment, and large areas are permanently fenced off. While there is no shortage of images from the park’s past, I thought it worthwhile capturing it in its current state, prior to the proposed changes. I have since returned at all times of year to capture the park, warts and all.
Having only recently moved to Crystal Palace, I intend to stay for some time, but if pushed to choose another part of London in which to live, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Barbican. The apartments are well designed, there is a strong sense of community, and culture forms the bedrock of the district. Architect Ken MacKay’s spacious apartment there, was converted from store rooms and offices, and therefore has a layout and volume, unique to any apartment in the Barbican. It does however have the trademark chiselled concrete columns, which makes its location unmistakable.
Early in that year, The Royal Mail was already planning its Christmas stamps and first day covers, and I was sent to the Surrey countryside, to shoot a real gem of a building. Watts memorial chapel was a complete revelation. Externally it looks like something one might expect to find in a remote corner of Greece, but the real surprise is the decoration within. Every inch of wall and ceiling is covered in a bas-relief of angels and Art Nouveau flourishes.
Setting up some shoots can be more complicated than the shoot itself. Shooting in Heathrow for example, understandably involved untold amounts of security, but more awkward still, was trying to get into Harrods “Designer Kidswear” department on behalf of Architects, Douglas Wallace. Fort Knox probably wouldn’t have been so complicated.
On the wild west coast of Ireland, near the water’s edge, and with its own pier, stands Westcove House. It has had an exotic past involving an eccentric Austrian Baron, who was responsible for the equally eccentric interiors. Both the main house and the various outbuildings are available as holiday lets. This story featured in Coast magazine (March 2008)
This year saw the completion of a project I had been documenting throughout its construction. A swimming pool, partially submerged beneath a country house. Progress shots can be seen in the section titled Site.
The pinnacle of 2007 for me was undoubtedly having a feature published, for the first time, by House & Garden. A charming project by Charles Rutherfoord for Art consultant, Mary Bonn.