An Englishman went into a hardware store and asked to buy a sink. “Would you like one with a plug?” asked the assistant. “Don’t tell me they’ve gone electric,” said the Englishman.
I hate to shop…unless I can do it with a click or a snipe. Although my reputation preceedes and follows me for finding the most apt and well-loved gifts, I aspire to learn more.
Who to learn more from…
Marcus Lecky Oswald Hornby Birley of course.
FROM THE TELEGRAPH: Tucked away in a discreet corner of South Kensington is Thurloe Lodge, the £17 million former home of Mark Birley, founder of the exclusive London nightclub Annabel’s. Creeping wisteria clings to its fawn-coloured bricks, its neat front garden edged with trimmed hedgerows and spring flowers. Large vaulted windows, their frames painted pristine white, are draped with heavy curtains, as if concealing treasures within.
For nearly 30 years, Thurloe Lodge was a shrine to Birley’s life. An arbiter of taste and avid collector of art and antiques, the house was a catalogue of his finest acquisitions. Inside, an elegant drawing room opened on to a panelled dining hall, where deep sofas faced a marble mantelpiece. The table was impeccably set with silver cutlery, even when Birley dined alone, and a Hermès backgammon board, personalised with a tapestry surface so the dice wouldn’t rattle, sat open by the window, ready to play should friends call round.
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES: As Sotheby’s readies to auction off the late Mark Birley’s storied estate, decorator Nina Campbell reflects on the legendary London tastemaker. Shopping was a sport at which Mark excelled. It was an enjoyable way to pass the time, but it was taken extremely seriously, whether in pursuit of a painting or the perfect chocolate. One of my earliest memories was when we went to the Rudding Park sale in Yorkshire when we were creating Mark’s Club. We took a helicopter — Mark brought along his dog, Help — and landed in a field of unsuspecting picnickers, which caused a bit of a stir. We managed to get a sofa at a huge price, and a nursery fender.
Mark had a nose like a truffle hound’s when it came to seeking out specialist shops. In Naples, there was a tiny store, barely room for more than a couple of customers, that sold the best silk ties. In Milan, there was a trip to another shop where the toothbrushes were made of bone. In 1970, we decided to open a place on Pimlico Road, to sell all the things we thought essential. This included a variety of cushions, some embroidered by a Russian count, sweets from Fauchon in Paris and the most delicious honey that we found in Italy, sold in the most beautiful yellow ceramic jars. There were also pillow cases and breakfast china from the famous French linen company D. Porthault. It was soon branded a shop selling unashamed luxury! I think this was what Mark really stood for. To Mark, a perfectly boiled egg on a beautifully laid tray was as luxurious as caviar.
As with all originals, you would never know what would catch his eye or amuse his senses. Although Mark will probably be remembered for the pictures that were so much a part of his house and his clubs, for me it will be the smaller things that you just had to pick up and touch because they were so very desirable. The pepper mills on the dining table, the apple-green opaline finger bowls and maybe most of all, the turquoise enamel taps in his bathroom.
FROM PAUL FRASER COLLECTIBLES: Considered among the 20th century’s most stylish men; the Mark Birley private collection auctioned at Sotheby’s London yesterday (March 21), bringing £3.9m ($5.9m) – more than twice presale expectations.
Birley (1930-2007) is famed for having founded the illustrious Annabel’s nightclub in Mayfair in 1962. The private members’ club catered to an exclusive and often aristocratic clientele, with the eccentric British entrepreneur its consummate figure head.
Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, comments: “Mark’s style and way of life has an appeal which has resonated not just in London and among the clientele of his famed clubs, but also with people who may not have known him but are nonetheless inspired by his timeless elegance.”
Following his death in 2007, the collection – largely the contents of his long term London residence, Thurloe Lodge – passed to his daughter India Jane. It was Jane who instigated the sale, the proceeds of which are to be placed in trust for her seven year old son, Eben.
FROM W MAGAZINE, March 2013: Birley, who died in 2007 at 77, built an empire on this drive to gild and refine every detail of his surroundings. At his exclusive members-only clubs and restaurants—Annabel’s, Mark’s Club, Harry’s Bar, and George—regulars came to expect beautifully sculpted butter curls, silver-lidded espresso cups, and all of the magnificently starched appurtenances of a first-rate Edwardian country house. “Everything in his life was scrutinized, whether a piece of fruit or a swatch of fabric,” says his longtime friend Minn Hogg, founding editor of The World of Interiors. “Nothing was good enough.”
Scrupulously dressed even as a teen and towering over his peers at six feet five, Birley attended Eton and lasted only a year at Oxford before joining the advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, where he replaced the future decorating great David Hicks as paste-up boy and, later, redesigned Tatler magazine. Birley went on to launch his own agency, and then shuttered it to open, in 1959, the first Hermès boutique outside France. In 1963, he founded Annabel’s, naming it for his wife, the former Annabel Vane Tempest-Stewart, the sparky daughter of the 8th Marquess of Londonderry.
After three children (Robin, Rupert and India Jane) and 21 years, the couple divorced, with Annabel publicly branding Mark a “serial adulterer” and the tabloids noting that she had produced two babies with billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith while still officially Mrs. Birley. The club was far more successful than the marriage.
The latest news from The Times…Thurloe Lodge, where legendary nightclub owner Mark Birley lived for almost 30 years, may be knocked down and replaced with a huge neoclassical property.
How 21st century gauche?