Where should we visit this summer for interior design inspiration?
I’m not too good at sitting still on holiday. As I get older, I admit that the thought of staying in a horizontal position on a beach for an extended period of time is an entrancing one. But more often than not I’m on my feet after 10 minutes and ready to sniff out the nearest gallery, museum or beautiful interior. The act of looking at and appreciating beautiful rooms, gardens and objects refreshes my eyes and makes my brain fizz.
So, where to go? I suggest planning a proper trip and finding a charming place to stay. Hotels, B&Bs and rentals can be a superb source of design inspiration, so look at it this way: a minibreak might not only provide a holiday, but also spark ideas. In essence, it’s all research!
Where is on my list? I’m intrigued by Glebe House, a kind of agriturismo set in East Devon’s rolling green hills but only three miles from the coast. Run by Hugo and Olive Guest, the house features six bedrooms. An on-site bakery and ageing room provide homemade bread, pastries, charcuterie and pickles. Reviews I’ve read of the restaurant are enough to get me on the next high-speed service to the west country: think Italian-influenced, simple suppers using local produce and bits and bobs from the garden.
The interiors, created by Studio Alexandra, take their cue from the Bloomsbury Group (big old tick from me) and feature a charming mix of furniture from different periods. So often I find that the interiors of otherwise good small hotels in the country are nothing to write home about: the curse of too much plain cream linen. I’m not quite sure why this is the go-to look. To appeal to the masses, perhaps? This is not the case at Glebe House, where thoughtful colour and pattern combinations abound.
A place I’m very much looking forward to revisiting this summer is Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, which has recently reopened after a £6mn renovation. The 17th-century manor was for 25 years the family home of William Morris, the Arts and Crafts hero and pioneering designer, artist, author and social activist.
After a three-year closure for structural repairs, the rooms have been redisplayed to provide a more authentic impression of how they would have looked during Morris’s tenure, in the 19th century. The arrangement of furniture and objects, as well as the selection of new paint colours and Morris wallpapers, have been informed by visual or written sources consulted during extensive research. I cannot wait to see the result: I am hoping for much atmosphere.
If you’re after brighter, lighter spaces, how about a trip to Kettle’s Yard? Homely house museums are often my first port of call when I visit a city, over even the big guns. The experience is a quieter, more intimate one. Kettle’s Yard, the University of Cambridge’s modern and contemporary art gallery, is full of inspiration.
There is the marvellous collection of 20th-century art. But I’m also all about the sofas and armchairs with breezy slip covers, tiled floors, textiles and collections of objects in the museum, which remains much as it was when Jim and Helen Ede, two noted collectors of 20th-century art, lived in the house.
Of course, Italy always comes up trumps. I was in Naples recently with some friends, and one mentioned a gallery she wanted to visit in order to pay homage to a particular painting. The Gallerie d’Italia (which also has branches in Milan, Turin and Vicenza) turned out to be a highlight of our stay in the south of Italy.
Star exhibits include a Caravaggio and a wondrous collection of Greek pottery found in Athens, Apulia and Lucania. The building itself is a rather severe, elegant showstopper designed by Marcello Piacentini at the end of the 1930s, formerly the headquarters of the Banco di Napoli.
Afterwards, we wandered. I love nothing more than letting myself get lost in an Italian city, because almost every street will offer up some kind of delicious aesthetic gem: a gallery or church, perhaps; a stone fountain built into a wall; a painted shop sign; the shape of a window. Keep your eyes open — inspiration can strike when you’re least expecting it.
Admittedly, though, after a day doing culture on the hot, sticky streets of Naples, I was more than ready for my spritz and sunlounger. One needs the best of both worlds on holiday, don’t you think?