My style icon is Peter Cushing. He’s dashing. I have this thing for Edwardian England which his style captured perfectly, and he was not a complainer. Favourite line from The Brides of Dracula, which came out in 1960: Vampire: “You know who I am?” Cushing: “I know who you were.”
The thing I’m eyeing next is a John Woolf house in LA. I’ve lived for many years in a great Richard Neutra house, and I would love to make a change and design a life for myself working off a completely different style of architecture. LA has everything, any style you want, but I love the work of John Elgin Woolf because he isn’t quoting anything. It’s a totally original vocabulary, a form of classical glamour invented for that town, and lots of great personalities like Sue Mengers and Robert Evans have used it as their backdrop.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is raw sable pelts from Soviet Russia, when I was 17. My mother shrieked with delight, made a hat and changed a bunch of mink-trimmed things to sable.
The best gift I’ve received recently was being put on the Elle Decor A-List. I have trouble getting on these lists, for one reason or another. Am I a writer? Am I a designer? Am I cool or old-hat? Do I work for enough celebrities? For years I pretended it didn’t bother me, but it really was nice when I finally turned up on one. elledecor.com.
A recent ‘find’ is The Terror on Amazon Video. It’s a sci-fi gothic capriccio on what could have happened to the lost northwest passage expedition of HMS Erebus and Terror, which both disappeared in 1848. They interact with the Inuit disastrously, are slowly poisoned by lead in their tinned food, then are pursued by something that settles the score nicely. I find it the best television there is. amazon.co.uk.
The books on my bedside table are Ritz and Escoffier by Luke Barr, which tells the story of the invention of the modern luxury hotel in late-19th-century London (people didn’t eat in public before the Savoy made it fashionable – think about that!). Erebus by Michael Palin, which is the story of one of the ships in The Terror told by my favourite character in A Fish Called Wanda (who was also the president of the Royal Geographical Society). And The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy, which is like taking vitamins for anybody who’s a writer – the structure is a radical one for biography and the humour relentless.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is David Hockney. I do have one, but not the one I wish I could tell you I have. You sort of don’t need to own them, though – the recent landscapes are so beautiful, so explosively joyful, it’s enough just knowing they’re out there.
If I didn’t live in Los Angeles and Amagansett, the city I would live in is Charleston, South Carolina. I love its architecture and food, and the relentless friendliness of the way of life there. It’s not really a museum town, so the thing is to eat – old-school Southern at Fleet Landing and new cuisine at Fig. If I can, I get myself invited to Miles Brewton House, the greatest of all American Georgian townhouses, lived in by the greatest of all American hostesses, Lee Manigault. I also love the Roper House – you can visit by appointment – lovingly restored by Dick Jenrette. And I could buy prints and frame them at the Audubon Gallery. And take the Amtrak Silver Meteor train overnight from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to get there. amtrak.com. Audubon Gallery, 190 King Street, 29401 (audubonart.com). Fig, 232 Meeting Street, 29401 (eatatfig.com). Fleet Landing, 186 Concord Street, 29401 (fleetlanding.net). Miles Brewton House, 27 King Street Roper House, 9 East Battery, 29401 (classicalamericanhomes.org).
The last music I downloaded was Father of the Bride, the new Vampire Weekend album. spotify.com.
The site that inspires me is a house called Locusts on Hudson in Staatsburg, New York. It’s one of the most beautiful sites on the Hudson River, with a romantic and singularly crescent-shaped quasi-baroque stucco house built in 1941 for Helen Hull and later owned by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. Billy Baldwin said, “Of all the country houses I’ve ever seen or known by photographs, the most beautiful of them all was hers.” It’s sitting up there, visible from the river, shrouded in a history of dreams and surprises.
The grooming staple I’m never without is Elgydium toothpaste. £3.30; sanareva.co.uk.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be trying to do what the clients do. Aren’t they smart, dammit. Decorating is the opposite of an efficient business – and writing is no business whatsoever; it’s philanthropy. So if we’re dreaming, and I weren’t doing those two ignominious things, I would like to be in private equity like [many of] the people who hire me – doing something I can’t understand but seems to be an extremely good idea.
My favourite websites are Frank Dale & Stepsons for fantasising about buying vintage Bentleys (I did buy one from them once, and I should never have let it go); the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, for fantasising about moving to Kenya to work with orphaned elephants; SheltonMindel for fantasising that I am a real modernist like Lee Mindel; Alexander Palace Time Machine for looking at weird photographs of Imperial Russia; Boston Athenæum for following what is going on at my favourite library in America (I am a member but I never get to go); and Bentley Spotting for seeing what people are doing with the cars. I should never have sold. alexanderpalace.com. bentleyspotting.com. bostonathenaeum.org. frankdale.com. sheldrickwildlifetrust.org. sheltonmindel.com.