Editor’s letter: the strange allure of isolation

Jo Ellison on the beguiling beauty of barns and the world’s best swimming pools

The Long House, a barn conversion in  the Cotswolds
The Long House, a barn conversion in the Cotswolds | Image: Gilbert McCarragher

I’m writing this during a period of self-quarantine in the wake of fashion month, and almost inevitably before a period of self-isolation awaits us all. It’s been a timely moment to recalibrate. Coronavirus has thrown so many things in the air. At the time of writing, the furniture fair Salone del Mobile had been postponed, major watch fairs cancelled and a dozen events designed to capture the immersive quality of the new luxury experience are in the balance. Even James Bond has succumbed to the Covid: in the interests of public safety, film producers have postponed the premiere of No Time to Die until November this year. 

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

With this in mind, home really does feel like the safest and most reassuring place to be. In the current world order, luxury has become a fully stocked pantry, lots of dry goods in the cupboard and a huge hoard of loo roll. Marooned in the city, I’ve also allowed my mind to wander. Thoughts of escape to the fresh winds of the countryside now seem especially appealing – presumably a country bolthole is a dream to which we all aspire. There’s something especially magical about the vast barn conversions that feature in the property special of this week’s magazine. Barns inspire in me a kind of pioneer-style excitement. I love their sense of scale, the promise of secluded isolation, as well as the possibility that I might get stuck into some sort of Amish-style community activity involving craft beer and calico skirts (OK, so possibly I’ve watched Witness one too many times). Whatever. Barns are big, they’re beautiful and they put life in proportion. I’m tempted to make an offer. 

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Lou Stoppard examines a more liquid distraction in our article on unwild swimming, a prelude to her forthcoming book, Pools: Lounging, Diving, Floating, Dreaming, a photographic tribute to the world’s best swimming pools. I feel the tiniest intellectual ownership over Lou’s obsession with bathing. Years ago, she happened to mention that, in adulthood, she had developed a deep phobia of any body of water, despite having been a keen swimmer in her youth. That same day, I had been swimming with my daughter in Hampstead Ladies’ Pond and suggested that were she willing to plunge into its silty, murky waters, she would completely overcome her fears. Lou has since become a veritable water baby, swimming numerous times a week and always ready with excellent advice about non-chafing bathing suits and unexplored new watering holes. When I heard she was editing a book of pictures that might capture the dreamy escapism of swimming and the joy of immersion, I asked if she would write a personal account of her own experience in pools. The resulting piece captures perfectly their unique, beguiling beauty – and makes me long for summer.

The pool at La Colombe d’Or, Saint-Paul-de-Vence
The pool at La Colombe d’Or, Saint-Paul-de-Vence | Image: Nicholas De Lacy-Brown

And then there is Ralph Lauren, a man for whom barns – and pools for that matter – are essential life accessories. Lauren is unapologetic about the amassment of beautiful things to surround him, be they his cars, which include a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO and a 1938 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic, or his houses – a string of properties that mark each major landscape of the States. They all contribute towards the picture of Lauren as the perfect lifestyle plate, and a public persona on which he has built a billion-dollar business. His watch collection, however, is more personal: an obsession born in early childhood and nurtured by instinct ever since. In an interview about the favourites in his collection, the US designer talks about his life and timepieces with fellow watch obsessive Nick Foulkes. Watches trigger an almost childish wonder in some people. Listening to Lauren’s stories, about the dozens of examples in his wardrobe, one is reminded of the wide-eyed kid that lives within us all. 

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 @jellison22

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