Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Robert Ettinger’s Kent

Robert Ettinger is managing director of luxury leather goods company Ettinger, which has about 200 outlets worldwide. It recently opened its first standalone store in Tokyo.

December 19 2010
Alison Gunn

“We live in an old farmhouse just outside a little village in Kent and on Saturday mornings I like to get up early, pull on shorts and an old T-shirt and go for a cycle ride – hopefully dragging my wife, Janie, along. I’ll be out come rain or shine, even snow. I love seeing the dawn mist in the valleys, and the views across the Weald of Kent. We often head towards Ightham Mote, an enchanting medieval manor owned by the National Trust (which, incidentally, has a very good café, worth a stop-off). Our bicycles are hand-built Dawes touring bikes – with mudguards – so we use the small roads and bridle paths, which are quiet in the early morning. It’s about an 18-mile round trip, but at a gentle pace – for us it’s leisure, not Lycra! Having said that, cycling is very good for getting my thighs in trim for the skiing season.

After breakfast – accompanied by FT Weekend – I’ll go to the village butcher, Coldbreath, and buy something for our evening meal or Sunday lunch. He has his own herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, so it might be beef for a stew – or lamb or chicken to barbecue. To go with it, there’ll be vegetables from our garden. We grow (or, rather, Janie grows; I do the picking) everything – potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, rhubarb, plus berries and soft fruit. I really enjoy cooking, but I’m very slow – just as well to do it in advance.

My next expedition is into Sevenoaks. I’m not much of a shopper, but I like well-written travel books. Sevenoaks Bookshop, with its helpful, knowledgeable staff, is a good source. I’m reading William Dalrymple’s From The Holy Mountain, which is fascinating. I travel a lot on business – to Japan, South Korea, India – and I love to get under the skin of different cultures. On the way home, I visit my elderly aunt in her care home. She’s seen a lot of history and it gives me pleasure to talk to her. Hopefully, somebody might do the same for me one day.

In the evening, we’ll have friends for dinner. Alternatively, we might go to The Vine, a family-run restaurant owned by some friends, which does a good British/European menu.

Sunday morning generally starts with another bike ride, perhaps via Knole Park, which is full of deer and beautiful, big trees. In spring, the surrounding woodlands are a sea of bluebells. We take house guests to walk there and they are always bowled over by the sight.

Afterwards, to stretch out the muscles, we’ll have a yoga/meditation session in what we call our “Zen” room. When I met Janie, she was already practising yoga and so I decided to give it a go. Within weeks I was hooked, both on the physical and mental aspect of it. It’s certainly not easy, but when it goes well it’s hypnotising.

With a clear mind, I often find Sunday afternoon is a good time for brainstorming. Our Ettinger designer, Lorna Turner, comes for lunch and over a couple of glasses of wine we’ll talk about our products and changes we might make. Often it’s just a matter of updating the colour or the finish – a wallet still has to do the job; although you’ll find a lot more credit card slots in a wallet these days, compared to 20 years ago. We get a lot of our ideas from looking at antiques; I love to visit the Leather Museum in Walsall, the town where our goods are made. I was recently inspired by a 1930s attaché case – I think it will help on my quest to create an elegant man’s bag, something a British man wouldn’t mind taking down the pub with him.

In the evening I’ll cook again, probably a vegetarian curry. We try to eat vegetarian at least four times a week. I like Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes, and now that I’m getting more confident I’ll adapt them to suit whatever comes from the vegetable plot. After supper, I like to sit and read; probably a travel book or The Sunday Times – that’s if I haven’t already nodded off, pleasantly tired after a relaxing but productive couple of days.

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