The Aesthete: Claud Cecil Gurney talks more personal taste

The de Gournay founder concludes his list of likes with foraging for antiques in France, making olive oil in Croatia and hiking through Californian forests

Claud Cecil Gurney with Mowgli, his German Shepherd, at home in London
Claud Cecil Gurney with Mowgli, his German Shepherd, at home in London | Image: Jooney Woodward

My style icon is a Buddhist monk: loose- fitting robes, simple sandals, a comfortable bag thrown diagonally across one shoulder, a wooden begging bowl, a shaven head, a few moments’ reflection to understand the beauty of all and the emptiness of being. Moments of nothingness are vital to a complete balance in life.

A recent “find” is the Déballage antiques show in Montpellier. It has everything from 17th-century to 1980s pieces in various states of repair. Déballage basically means unpacking. It’s like Ardingly or Kempton Racecourse antiques market, but with more than 700 sellers from France, Italy, Spain and Belgium. There’s a Déballage in Parma that’s lovely too. There’s one in Chartres and another in Le Mans, which happens every month. It’s a way of learning, making mistakes, getting a good deal. I recently bought some lovely cast-bronze art deco lights for about €2,000 in Montpellier.

Pears soap
Pears soap | Image: Alamy

The grooming staple I’m never without is Pears original soap – when it gets very small, you can put the old one in the hollow of the new one. And maybe some suncream, if I remember. Pears soap, two for £1.20; La Roche-Posay Anthelios Body Milk SPF50, £22;

The last meal that truly impressed me was at home. Meals in restaurants always disappoint me. They have rules and expectations that I hate. I don’t eat salt. I need to know that all my food is organic and fresh and that only the best oils have been used. The ultimate luxury is to have a chef come to your house and if you want a handsome, charming and modest chef who follows your instructions and leaves no mess, then I would recommend Jake McConville – although I have to admit he is my future son-in-law and I don’t really wish to share him with anyone.


The last music I bought was Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for the piano solo. It has melody but also enthralling changes of tempo and mood.

Something I would never part with is my horse Toby. He is an Irish piebald and skewbald who loves people. He’s about 17 hands, and has the kindest and biggest head imaginable – my sister says she would never have a horse with such an ugly head, but beauty is often defined by wabi sabi.

The ingredients for pesto can always be found in Gurney’s fridge
The ingredients for pesto can always be found in Gurney’s fridge | Image: Getty Images

The best gift I’ve given recently was olive oil. Hand-picked, estate-bottled and recently cold-pressed. My farm in Croatia has 600 olive trees and we make a little to give away, but we don’t sell it.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Valentin Serov. Russian art is so expressive and beautiful. It’s life at the extremes. I’d love to own Mika Morozov, which is in the Tretyakov in Moscow – my favourite gallery in the world – or The Coronation of Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia. My favourite work by Serov is Portrait of Nadezhda Derviz with her Child – there is nothing more poignant and romantic than a woman and a child. His paintings don’t come up for sale that often.

A hiking trail through Muir Woods, California
A hiking trail through Muir Woods, California | Image: Alamy

My favourite room in my house is the pavilion in my garden, where I can find peace with my dog, lying in a hammock, reading a book. I watch my bees collecting nectar and smell the scented white flowers I have planted specially: osmanthus, jasmine, lily of the valley and elaeagnus.

In my fridge you’ll always find kefir, caviar, smetana, fresh double cream and ingredients for pesto: pecorino, pine nuts, cashews, olive oil, basil, garlic, lemon. Everything is better with pesto. I buy the most amazing Italian stuff, including burrata and mozzarella, from a delicatessen called Terroni of Clerkenwell. I go to New Covent Garden Market to buy fruit and vegetables. You have to get there early in the morning; there are also truffles, mushrooms and a place where they sell smoked salmon. New Covent Garden Market, Nine Elms Lane, London SW8 (020-7720 2211; Terroni of Clerkenwell, 138-140 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 (020-7837 1712;


The person I rely on for personal grooming and wellbeing is myself! But I do get my hair cut at Sanrizz in Knightsbridge and love the head massage, although it never lasts long enough. 134 Brompton Road, London SW3 (020-7589 4531;

If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is San Francisco, with Marin County, Belvedere Island and the city of Sausalito all within striking distance – the most marvellous variety of landscapes in one area. Sushi Ran is a wonderful sushi restaurant. There are excellent cheese experts at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art houses Rothko’s beautiful No 14, and there’s the impressive Marin County Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. And the Muir Woods hiking trail winds through some of the most spectacular forests on the West Coast. Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods, 80 Fourth Street, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956 (+1415-663 9335; Muir Woods, Sushi Ran, 107 Caledonia Street, Sausalito, CA 94965 (+1415-332 3620; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (+1415-357 4000; Marin County Civic Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael, CA 94903 (+1415-473 3762;

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be caring for the oppressed, standing up to the oppressors, selling false passports so that everyone can go everywhere in the world freely, dismantling all barriers to movement, pulling down all the walls and recognising the beauty in every living soul.

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