March 05 2010
My style icon is Terence Conran, who remains a genius entrepreneur of style and ideas. I met my wife in his studio and, one way or another, in the breach or the observance, the Conran view that the purpose of life is to acquire a better salad bowl – that sort of pantheist-puritan-hedonism – has framed the past 30 years. Otherwise: Palladio? George Gilbert Scott? Dieter Rams? And in matters of personal style, I attach great value to being mistaken for a Milanese architect.
The grooming staples I’m never without are eye drops, Miller Harris Feuilles de Tabac scent, and Plax mouthwash. Of the latter I very much prefer the red version; it provided a sometimes misleading sense of oral perfection. But it has been discontinued. The blue version makes your mouth look a bit like a corpse’s, but I still use it. Feuilles de Tabac, £55 for 50ml eau de parfum, Miller Harris, 14 Monmouth Street, London WC2 (020-7836 9378; www.millerharris.com) and branches/stockists. Plax alcohol-free mouthwash, £2.99, www.boots.com.
A recent find is a brilliant new-wave B&B in Avignon called Lumani, which occupies a fine 19th-century house on the ramparts. The proprietor is a Swiss architect with a special interest in jam. Which reminds me that I just visited a superb little food shop called Italo in Bonnington Square, which is run, somewhat eccentrically, by Mark and Arabella Boxer’s son. Lumani, 37 Rue du Rempart St Lazare, Avignon 84000 (+334 9082-9411; www.avignon-lumani.com), from €90. Italo, 13 Bonnington Square, London SW8 (020-7450 3773; www.italodeli.co.uk).
An indulgence I’d never forego is wine. Although I’d say it’s a necessity rather than an indulgence, like sunshine.
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the last year – sadly in all the wrong ways; the most unforgettably horrible place – was Capo d’Orlando near Messina. We had anticipated our first trip to Sicily with childlike enthusiasm and were, perhaps inevitably, disappointed. No one remembered to tell me that most of northern Sicily was bombed to oblivion and rebuilt in a fashion that would bring Harlow into disrepute. It was impossible to eat well; and it was raining.
The last item I added to my wardrobe is a pair of Paraboots – brown leather lace-ups, with rubber soles. I bought them in the Bon Marché in Paris. From £175, www.paraboot.com, and see Pediwear, 01422-367 609; www.pediwear.co.uk.
The book on my bedside table – well actually, on the floor next to the bed, as we don’t have bedside tables – is Robert Byron’s The Station. Overwritten by today’s standards, but an intoxicating account of his visit to Mount Athos.
The last music I downloaded was actually a quick-listen snuck of Ruby & the Romantics’ Our Day Will Come. Truthfully, though, music interests me not much at all. I mislaid my iPod on a plane in August and haven’t bothered to fill up a replacement. I should explain that I admire the iPod hugely as a piece of jewellery or a miniature sculpture; indeed, I’d rather look at one or feel one than listen to it.
The site that inspires me is the Alcázar. And the Alhambra; and a Palladian villa in the Veneto, and John Pawson’s Baron House in Skåne, Sweden. I don’t find unmodified nature inspiring; I enjoy man’s interference in it, or adaptation of it. I believe it’s the purpose of art to improve on nature.
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Venice’s Rialto market. The only shopping I really enjoy is for food, and I consider that the ultimate food shopping.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be... not much, I’m afraid. I am psychologically unsuited to anything other than being self-unemployed. But I would have loved to have been suntanned, whip-thin, better at tennis... that, or a Fellow of Magdalen.