The Aesthete: William Smalley talks more personal taste

The architect rounds up his list of likes with Philippe Jaroussky singing Bach, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant Spring and the timeless appeal of CDs

William Smalley at home in London
William Smalley at home in London | Image: Harry Crowder

My style icon is the late Mexican architect Luis Barragán. I took up riding after seeing a photo of him on horseback when I visited his beautiful San Cristóbal stables in Mexico City. In the picture he was wearing an elegant dark tweed suit. The riding ended with a titanium wrist after a fall, but I spent ages looking for his suit and then found it in passing at Walker Slater in Covent Garden. Barragán was slightly aloof, but he evidently thought deeply – his Pritzker acceptance speech contains great wisdom on the need for serenity, reverence for religion and myth and the importance of beauty. Walker Slater, 38 Great Queen Street, London WC2 (020-3754 9787; walkerslater.com).

The last thing I bought and loved was a new CD player by Denon. I bought my previous one when I was a student, so it lasted well, but it got to the point when it wouldn’t get through a CD. I asked my youthful office, “Should I get a new CD player?” and they all laughed. But I’m banking on CD production continuing and have cancelled my Spotify account. The new player is very simple and wasn’t expensive. It gives me deep pleasure – I like the act of selecting an album and putting it on, and the glide of the drawer has pleased me since I first experienced it as a child. From £179; denon.co.uk.

Castelfranco, clementine and hazlenut salad at Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant at Somerset House, London
Castelfranco, clementine and hazlenut salad at Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant at Somerset House, London

The last meal that truly impressed me was at Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant in Somerset House in London. I tend to remember the occasion more than the food when I eat out, but I can still taste the lemon pasta. Everything they cook has the same freshness and clarity to it – and the room is a wonderful, light space that feels permanently like the first day of spring. Somerset House, Lancaster Place, London WC2 (springrestaurant.co.uk).

The last music I bought was Philippe Jaroussky singing Bach cantatas. I heard this recording on Radio 3, my staple radio station. Goethe wrote that architecture is frozen music, and Bach’s is surely the most architectural of all music – but I’m not sure that Jaroussky’s ethereal voice could easily be translated into architecture. 

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The site that inspires me is Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, the house-gallery of curator Jim Ede, which was originally four tiny workers’ cottages he and his wife Helen knocked together in the 1950s, with a gallery added in 1970 by Leslie Martin. Artworks and everyday objects are placed happily together, which elevates both. It has a mesmeric calm. Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AQ (kettlesyard.co.uk); Tuesday to Sunday, 12-5pm.

A recent “find” is Donald Judd’s 101 Spring Street studio, in downtown Manhattan, where he lived from 1968 to 1972 and where he continued to work until his death in 1994. I was on the last site visit of a New York project and managed to finally get in – there are only eight to a tour, and it was booked up every other time. It’s a cast-iron-framed former textile factory on a corner in SoHo, with large windows that have fantastic uneven glass. Inside it’s basically one room per floor, with the luxury of space, and the whole place has a wonderful rough texture. 101 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012 (+1212-219 2747; juddfoundation.org).

Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge
Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge

The last items of clothing I added to my wardrobe were three Luca Faloni cashmere sweaters. Two have a button neck and collar, just the right level of formality for the office. And the third is a hoodie that I put on before I’ve woken up in the morning to take Dylan, my eager Jack Russell, for his walk. From £260; lucafaloni.com.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Cy Twombly. Clearly, I’ve missed the boat on that. It’s a fine line between a scribble on the page and high art, but his work kept an intuitive voice – hard to do. And there are those explosions of colour, which is perhaps unexpected for me; people don’t associate me with colour. 

La Fromagerie on Lamb’s Conduit Street, London
La Fromagerie on Lamb’s Conduit Street, London

The person I rely on for personal grooming is Byron at Aveda, in Covent Garden, who cuts my hair. But I’m pretty low maintenance; a number-two grade is the same the world over. 174 High Holborn, London WC1 (020-7759 7355; aveda.co.uk).

An indulgence I would never forgo is half a grapefruit every morning, every day of the year. It’s such a ritual that friends know to get a grapefruit in when I come to stay. I don’t drink coffee – this is the slap round my face that gets me going.

Clinique for Men Anti-Age Moisturiser, £26
Clinique for Men Anti-Age Moisturiser, £26

My favourite room in my house is my living room. It’s my refuge, as it should be. There’s a mix of new things – a Candil Madrid lamp by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón – with old things like an antique Afghan kilim and the Georgian gateleg table my grandfather had when he was a student at Cambridge. And a grand piano, a year older than me but looking in better shape, which had to be craned in. 

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose my own: Lamb’s Conduit Street, in Bloomsbury. Not to be too smug, but it’s my village. It has La Fromagerie, which is pretty much my kitchen; Oliver Spencer, where 90 per cent of my clothes come from; The People’s Supermarket – actually a local Spar, but which has amazingly good fruit and veg; they should rename it The Ripe Avocado Store. And the Spanish restaurant Cigala, which has been there longer than me and does a great paella. Cigala, 54 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1 (020-7405 1717; cigala.co.uk). La Fromagerie, 52 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1 (020-7242 1044; lafromagerie.co.uk). Oliver Spencer, 62 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1 (020-7269 6444; oliverspencer.co.uk). The People’s Supermarket, 72-76 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1 (020-7430 1827; thepeoplessupermarket.org). 

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The grooming staple I’m never without is Clinique for Men moisturiser. I’ve used it for 20 years. I had a freakout when they changed the packaging in 2005. I guess when it comes to grooming, I fear change. £26; boots.com.

If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is maybe Venice. My final year university project was a members’ club on the Grand Canal, and I formed a bond then. It would be a complete change of gear, but there would be such incredible beauty every day it would be life-affirming. I would happily move into a floor of the Palazzo Fortuny, have breakfast at the Gritti and dine at Trattoria da Gigi. There would probably be a calling for an architect in Venice, so I‘d have something to do. The Gritti Palace, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio 2467, 30124 (+39041-794 611; marriott.co.uk). Palazzo Fortuny, San Marco 3958, 30124 (+39041-520 0995; fortuny.visitmuve.it). Trattoria da Gigi, Salizada San Lio 5410, 30122 (+39041-241 0573).

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a painter – making bad art – on a Greek island. I am about to go on a painting course at The Slade to get it out of my system.

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