Monday, August 11, 2014

Designer I Love: Stephen Brady — City Retreat, Domestic Bliss

EXCLUSIVE TO THE STYLE SALONISTE:  Come with me to meet the wonderfully talented designer Stephen Brady and learn how he has created his own private retreat, a peaceful realm near San Francisco Bay.

This week we visit Stephen at home in Mission Bay, San Francisco, to capture his tips on interior design and find ideas in his tailored apartment. It’s new, and has never been published. You see it here first.

You’ll discover how Stephen designs for his own pleasure.

For the last twenty years, he has been designing GAP Inc. international flagship stores and retail concepts for high profile Banana Republic and Old Navy stores and new acquisitions like Athleta. Recently he has been traveling often to China where the company is expanding. 

Stephen has also designed several highly successful San Francisco restaurants, including the popular Spruce in Pacific Heights, and Café des Amis, on Union Street.

I’ve written about Stephen rather a lot over the past two decades. And yet you won’t find him featured in design magazines…but you will find his influence on thousands of retail stores around the world.

If you leap over to your library and flick through some of my earlier books, you will find him. His rustic house at Stinson Beach is in ‘Seaside Interiors’ one of my Taschen books (or was it ‘California Interiors’?) His city house is in ‘San Francisco Interiors’ where he is definitely on Page 129. Let me know if you find him in others. His beautiful garden was featured in Garden Design magazine (I was one of the founders) and ‘The Garden Design Book’

His private work is personal, graphic, classic, old-school, and always wonderful to photograph. 

Stephen has just completed decorating his new San Francisco apartment, and I shot it with David Duncan Livingston to give my readers the first look.

The Mission Bay apartment is in a superbly designed new complex in the newly developed Mission Bay district, formerly a tumbleweed area along the bay, east of the city. (Think former railroad yards, warehouses, an industrial area time had passed by.)

Stephen’s new two-bedroom apartment is chic, relaxed, and immensely comfortable. It’s his perfect weekend escape. Come for a visit.

As a special extra treat, I’m included below a list of design tips and ideas from Stephen. You’ll find them inspiring.

Who is Stephen Brady

Stephen Brady has devoted his life to interior design and interior architecture. He is the Executive Vice-President Creative Services at GAP Inc. and recently celebrated his twentieth year with the company. If you’ve walked into a new Banana Republic flagship store in Shanghai, Rome, London or Paris or New York, you’ve seen the work Stephen and his team have created. He directs and collaborates with highly talented teams for high-profile GAP Inc. stores, as well as Banana Republic and Old Navy. Stephen put his imprint on many stores including glossy Banana Republic interiors on Regent Street, London, the Champs-Elysées, Paris, and in Tokyo and Rome.

In other words, Stephen is devoted to style—and he is always traveling long-distance to finesse and fine-tune bold new retail concepts.

In San Francisco recently, he took six months to find his ideal apartment, a two-bedroom, 1,600 square foot south-facing residence that feels spacious, and gets sun much of the day.

His apartment is both a private refuge from a busy life, and a clubby retreat where he likes to entertain friends with impromptu dinners and casual gatherings. And perhaps because his very early career was at Britches, the venerable menswear store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, he has a deep love of menswear fabrics like suede, tweed, linen, wool, cashmere, cotton oxford, and patterns like herringbone and houndstooth. That’s a great habit to pick up. Oh, and his bed is upholstered in tan faux ostrich. 

“I was looking for a two bedroom apartment to acquire, and heard about new construction in Mission Bay by a top Canadian developer that specializes in high-quality design,” said Stephen. “I went to check out floor plans and finishes and materials when the building had barely broken ground. I love real estate and was attracted to this new neighborhood fifteen minutes from my office, and twenty minutes from SFO. I liked the refined floor plans, the fourteen-foot ceilings, and the well-considered design. My favorite floor plan had a quiet sheltered terrace where I could enjoy breakfast in the morning.”

The neighborhood he discovered has been developed over the last decade, from a neglected former drive-by area to a thriving community of top research hospitals, and low-rise apartments.

“Today’s glamour should be seductive, personal, comfortable, and just a little bit eccentric. These concepts were the motivation behind my new apartment,” said Stephen.

That’s the driving force for Stephen whose new apartment suggests the nuanced colors and connoisseurship of Coco Chanel, the quiet sculptural refinement of Jean-Michel Frank, and the wildly confident passion for art in thirties Paris.

Tobacco-colored suede club chairs, softly faded Aubusson rugs, mirrored black lacquer screens which refract shards of sunlight, and a panoply of portraits and iconic black and white twentieth-century photography whisper of the intrigue of Paris salons and the designer’s worldly travels. 

A handsome eighteenth-century French painted chinoiserie chest, a shimmering pair of mirror-topped brushed nickel cigarette tables, and a sleek glass and nickel Art Deco coffee table, along with voluptuous twenties and thirties bronze figures on tables and shelves show Stephen’s knowledgeable and discerning eye.

“Eclectic antique and art collections are always an important part of my rooms,” said Stephen.

Essentially, the furniture is overscale. This approach makes his rooms feel more expansive, more comfortable, and certainly grander. Furnishings in a chiaroscuro of dark brown, black and off-white create a background, a mood, and a frame for the paintings, photography, and objects he has collected over many years.

Brady has made it his practice to create mood, individuality and mystery in his rooms.

For his work, Stephen Brady is always on a plane or on-site or in his studio in San Francisco overlooking the bay.

His job is intense, highly collaborative with many specialist teams, and very rewarding as he sees stores designed, built, polished, perfected efficiently with his specialists, and then opened. He had previously worked in top design positions for Ralph Lauren and for Calvin Klein.

Stephen has done city chic in Manhattan, a Stinson Beach beach cottage, and a sleek Palm Springs retreat. In the Hamptons his shingled saltbox weekend house is all cushy sofas, down pillows, open doors, and sunny terraces.

When he first arrived in San Francisco from New York in the early nineties, he created richly-detailed rooms in an Arts & Crafts house near Buena Vista Park, complete with a redwood paneled sitting room and a romantic formal living room with hand-plastered walls. That apartment is in my book, San Francisco Interiors.

Stephen is a serial apartment lover. Returning to Manhattan in 1995, as a design director for Ralph Lauren Home, he shaped his French-accented art deco townhouse in the East Village. Heading uptown to Sutton Place, he designed a glamorous art deco apartment overlooking the East River.

“There’s a thread between the various California and New York City apartments and co-ops I’ve lived in,” said Brady, who heads every spring to celebrate his birthday in a rustic cottage in St Bart’s.

“Everywhere I go, I find antiques, sculptures, paintings, and my rooms have a mix of eccentric and rare antiques from London, Paris, New York, or Morocco. I like diversity. I like pieces that have odd proportions that show signs of age and wear. They all live with my collections of black and white photography by Angus McBean, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, and Horst.

In all his dwellings, Brady selects console tables, hall tables, chests, dressers and cigarette tables on which he arranges vignettes of gilt-framed portraits, crystal lamps, antique silver candlesticks, arcane design books, flea market collections of tortoiseshell boxes, along with French silver vases filled with tulips and garden roses, and antique Murano and Daum glass vases.

To give his living room a feeling of pure luxe, and to enhance its apparent size, Stephen kept the window shades ultra-simple.

“I wanted a romantic, Paris salon-style apartment overlooking trees and a quiet park,” said the designer. “For me it has a New York sensibility, and the interior could also be in Paris.”

His rooms seduce the senses with soulful paintings, wax-buffed hardwood floors, gestural sculptures, French art books and fragrant candles (Cire Trudon and Diptyque.).

“My collections have come together over decades,” said Brady. “When I return home in the evening, there’s an air of tranquility. It’s very quiet and meditative. It’s a bit formal, but I entertain very casually. I don’t stand on ceremony.”

In composing rooms of quiet beauty, harmony and elegance, he has also painted a very artful portrait of himself.

Weekends with Stephen...
“On a Saturday morning, it’s very quiet and private here,” he said. “I may go up one flight of stairs to the gym. I could swim at the Olympic-size outdoor pool. Or I might go over to Dogpatch and meet a friend for lunch at Piccino. There’s the Mission Rock Resort, with fantastic views over the bay. I can drive to the Ferry Plaza for lunch with friends at Bouli Bar on Sunday.”

In particular he said, he likes the simplicity of life here—after the excitement of working on a glamorous new flagship in Shanghai or Paris or Tokyo.

Hot Tips from Stephen Brady:

Interior designer Stephen Brady’s decorating ideas are cool-wherever you hang your hat.

COOL COLORS — Keep your color scheme uncomplicated and fresh. Brady loves timeless blue and white fabrics, and white walls. He’s also a fan of charcoal, dove, off-white and black…very Chanel…for a color scheme with an edge. Black is his go-to color.

DOUBLE DUTY — Versatile furniture makes life simpler. A large upholstered ottoman can also be used as a coffee table topped with a tray. A day bed instantly becomes an extra guest bed. (Dress it with a selection of throws, blankets and wraps.)

PRACTICAL UPHOLSTERY — Stephen loves fabrics that look like men’s haberdashery--tweeds, wool herringbone, checks, slubby linen, and flannel. For his country house on Long Island he uses slipcovers in natural off-white denim, or indigo washed denim feel good against bare skin--and can be thrown in the washing machine for instant cleaning.

CANDLELIGHT — Keep a stock of natural beeswax candles--tapers, columns and votives. Dozens. Candlelight helps everyone relax.

NO HARSH LIGHTING — In the evening, banish overhead lights. “They should be taboo,” said Brady. “Overhead lighting is harsh and unflattering.”

CUT A RUG — Choose carpets (like rush matting) that you can pick up, shake out, and change at will. Faded, somewhat tattered Oriental carpets are especially hardwearing even outdoors. They can turn a patio or terrace into an outdoor room.

TABLE OF CONTENT — Select a very generous, sturdy dining table-to use for everything. It’s the perfect family gathering place all day, children can do projects on it on a cool day, and it’s ideal for a buffet. 

CREDITS:Photography exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE by David Duncan Livingston.

David Duncan Livingston is an interior and architectural photographer working throughout the country from his Mill Valley, California studio.

Interior designers, architects and publishers work with Livingston to create photos of interiors for portfolios and editorial, along with the people and products that reside within them. Livingston brings a cohesive vision to his assignments by carefully overseeing the art direction, styling and post-production of his photography. His editorial style creates photos that are inviting, with a natural light-filled feeling.

David Duncan Livingston is the photographer of six books of interior design among them: Shingle Style, by Rizzoli, San Francisco Style, California Country Style by Chronicle Books. Hawaii a Sense of Place, by Mutual Publishing, and by Taunton Press; The New City Home, Patterns of Home.

All images used with permission from the photographer, David Duncan Livingston.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Artist I Love: Henri Matisse — The Art of Color, Grace, Joy and Life in a New Exhibition

Come with me to discover San Francisco’s surprise summer hit museum show, ‘Matisse from SFMOMA’, a creative co-production by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA (which is currently closed for major additions).

The show, presented by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, showcases four decades of paintings, sculpture, and drawings from the two museums’ collections of Henri Matisse (1869-1954). It’s open through September 7, 2014, at the Legion of Honor museum (one of my favorites).

What’s surprising about the show is that San Francisco has had a century-long, close relationship Henri Matisse.

In 1904 the San Francisco-based Steins—Gertrude Stein and her brother Michael Stein, and his wife, Sarah, and their younger brother Leo, an art critic—invited Henri Matisse, then unknown, to exhibit in their private art and literature salons on rue Madame and rue Fleurus in Paris.

It’s often said in art circles that the art-filled Stein salon in Paris of that period was the first ‘museum of modern art’, showing Picasso’s latest works as well as Matisse, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin and others not yet accepted by the art hierarchy.

San Francisco collectors were among the first to appreciate and support Matisse—at a time when he was rejected by the classical art salons in Paris (though collected in-depth by Russian devotees, with paintings shown at The Hermitage to this day).

It is not surprising then that collectors in Northern California, such as the art-loving heirs of Levi Strauss and today Diane B. Wilsey, have beautiful examples of Matisse’s work in their collections.

This delightful show, Matisse at SFMOMA offers a closer look at several paintings that are in private residences in San Francisco. One vibrant painting, “Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase’ hangs on the walls of Ann and Gordon’s house. It can be seen in my recent book, ‘Ann Getty Interior Style’. And Diane B. Wilsey’s lovely ‘ The Pink Blouse’, always in her residence, is here to peruse.

The show—an overview of Matisse’s colorful and compelling lifework—includes several exquisite landscapes from private San Francisco collections, and other works that are seldom in exhibitions.

It’s a quiet show, awaiting your gaze and pleasure.

I’ve written about Henri Matisse paintings, and Matisse in the South of France quite often. You can check out my visit to his Nice residence, Villa la Reve here. 

I enjoyed seeing the development of Matisse’s art and craft in this current show at the Legion. In particular, I’m fascinated by the work he created in the twenties…after he returned from Morocco with Moroccan décor and fabrics, and with specific models in pretty dresses who pose in textile-draped scenes. 

Jointly organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Matisse from SFMOMA brings together the work of Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954) from both institutions’ collections for the presentation at the Legion of Honor.

The single-gallery exhibition features 23 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from SFMOMA’s internationally acclaimed Matisse collection, alongside four important paintings and drawings from the Fine Arts Museums’ holdings, and works from private local collections. On view until September 7, 2014, Matisse from SFMOMA traces four decades of Matisse’s career. 

Matisse moved to Nice in 1917 to distance himself from wartime activity. The bright, warm colors of the South of France showed him "simpler venues which won’t stifle the spirit." His spirit became loyal to the "silver clarity of light" in Nice, and he returned to Paris only for a few months each summer. The years 1917–30 are known as his early Nice period, when his principal subject remained the female figure or an odalisque dressed in oriental costume or in various stages of dress and undress, depicted as standing, seated, or reclining in a luxurious, exotic interior of Matisse's own creation. These paintings are infused with southern light, bright colors, and a profusion of decorative patterns. They emanate atmosphere.

“It is a true pleasure to offer the collaborative efforts of our two institutions to our community,” declared Colin B. Bailey, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco director. “San Francisco is fortunate to be home to impressive collections of Matisse’s work, and we are pleased to present the works together for the first time at the Legion of Honor, which is known for its outstanding holdings of European art.”

“We are delighted to present these masterworks from our collection in such a stunning setting at the Fine Arts Museums,” said Neal Benezra, SFMOMA director. “Particularly exciting is the rare opportunity to view these Matisse works—so beloved by the public—in a fresh, new light.”

Matisse from SFMOMA is part of SFMOMA’s extensive off-site programming while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. Through early 2016, SFMOMA is on the go, presenting a dynamic slate of jointly organized and traveling exhibitions, public art displays and site-specific installations, and newly created education programs throughout the Bay Area. 

Matisse from SFMOMA Overview

Matisse’s expressive canvases were first introduced to San Francisco shortly after the 1906 earthquake, shocking the arts community with their startling colors and brushwork. Since then, the Bay Area has maintained a fervent connection to the artist’s work, resulting in SFMOMA’s rich collection, which showcases pieces from Matisse’s early career, and continues through the 1930s. 

Matisse from SFMOMA includes important examples from the artist’s Fauve period, along with other significant paintings, drawings, and bronzes. Iconic works such as a sketch from “The Joy of Life” (1905‒1906), The Girl with Green Eyes (1908), and portraits of the artist’s early patrons Michael and Sarah Stein (1916) are featured along with major sculptural studies that include Madeleine, I (1901), The Serf (1900–1903), and Large Head: Henriette II (1927). Also on view are pre-Fauve still lifes and landscapes, as well as The Conversation (1938), a later decorative interior.

Selections from the Fine Arts Museums’ collection include the vibrant and exquisitely patterned Young Woman in Pink (1923) from the collection of Diane B. Wilsey, and an early nude painted in the academic manner Faith, the Model (ca. 1901). This nude was formerly owned by the Steins and displayed in their Paris apartment, as were many of the works in SFMOMA’s holdings.

Books on Matisse:

‘Matisse the Master The Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Color 1909—1954’ by Hilary Spurling (Knopf) is very well researched and it's very academic in its detail, insight and information about ever aspect of his life and work. I found it compelling, as it speaks of influences on his work, locations where he loved to paint, his trip to Morocco that was so influential, and the models he painted. I’m interested in the period in the twenties and thirties when he worked so happily at Villa le Reve in the hills near Nice…the lovely house and garden I visited. Learning of his life offers understanding of his changing subjects, and the styling of his models’ outfits and scenes. It’s a massive book, essential for an art lover, and especially a Matisse fan.

‘Matisse in Morocco’ Paintings 1912-13. Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Essential for reference of this period and its influence on subsequent paintings. The book offers vivid insight into Matisse’s sketches, colors and styles. Most detailed it’s excellent for learning more about ‘how art happens’.

Taschen has fine books on Matisse’s paintings, depicting a broad range of the finest works, and with brief biographical insight.

There are also several new books on the ‘cut-outs’, with recent exhibitions in London sparking renewed interest.

"In modern art, it is undoubtedly to Cézanne that I owe the most." —Henri Matisse

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and became the Memorial Museum. Thirty years later, it was renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, a longtime champion of the museum. The present copper-clad, landmark building, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor architecture was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, which was a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The museum opened in 1924 in the Beaux Arts–style building designed by George Applegarth, on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

About the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Founded as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, SFMOMA is currently undergoing a major expansion project that will significantly enhance its gallery, education, and public spaces, enabling the museum to better showcase its expanded permanent collection and serve its growing audiences. During the construction of its new building from the summer of 2013 to early 2016, the museum is moving beyond its walls and into the community with an extensive array of off-site programming throughout the city and region. For more information about SFMOMA and its expansion project, visit Matisse from SFMOMA is part of SFMOMA’s extensive off-site programming while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. Through early 2016, SFMOMA is on the go, presenting a dynamic slate of jointly organized and traveling exhibitions, public art displays and site-specific installations, and newly created education programs throughout the Bay Area. 


Images from SFMOMA, used here with express permission.

For more information on the re-opening of SFMOMA when additions and alternations are completed check

SFMOMA is currently in full throttle with a series of magnificent off-site exhibitions all over the city. One recent one featured dramatic Mark di Suvero sculptures on Crissy Field.

Matisse from SFMOMA is jointly organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Major support is generously provided by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

Exhibition Catalogue
The exhibition is accompanied by a 40-page, illustrated catalogue, Matisse and San Francisco, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Legion of HonorLincoln Park
34th Avenue and Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94121

Monday, July 28, 2014

Modern India: Style News from New Delhi

The hotel, books, cashmere, more books, tea, and a surprising visit.

I recently returned from a visit to New Delhi. I’ve been traveling there since I was a student. I 
 love India and travel there — always exploring new regions, new experiences, and meeting new people, rediscovering old favorites. I have new pictures and new places to introduce to you.

Come with me to the subcontinent to discover an architectural masterpiece, The Lodhi, my favorite hotel in Delhi.

We’ll visit the best bookshop in India. I’ll spill my secrets and tell you where to buy beautiful cashmere shawls and the best Indian tea. And I’ve updated my best India books list.

I’ve opened my photo album of a visit to the Presidential Palace (formerly the Viceroy’s Residence) designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and a great highlight of a visit to New Delhi

Books: this week I have two fantastic lists of books on India. One list was selected by Anuj Bahri Malhotra, the owner of the great book company, Bahrisons. The other is a list of my favorites, with new additions.

I propose: this post is long and full of detail, information and insider tips on India. Print it out and read it like a magazine, perhaps. Or treat yourself to some Assam tea (or PG Tips, which I often enjoy), in a hot teapot. Perhaps a sip of mango juice, or coconut juice might be very apt and refreshing. Enjoy it—and I hope you love all of this information. Let me know.

During my recent trip to New Delhi, I visited the Presidential Palace—a grand red sandstone structure designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. I discovered this fantastic elephant sculpture near a private entrance. This was Lutyens’ way of highlighting Indian architecture motifs into his classical plan for Imperial Delhi.

New Delhi Highlight: A Visit to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President’s Palace

Designed in 1912 and completed in 1929, Rashtrapali Bhavan is one of the most fascinating buildings in New Delhi (and hardly visited at all by travelers). On 320 acres, it includes Moghul gardens, parade grounds, the president’s quarters, government buildings, galleries, statuary. It embodies Raj India. I discovered the fascinating way Sir Edwin Lutyens deployed Indian indigenous materials (red sandstone), and adapted Indian imagery in his entirely classical structure.

Insider tip for architects and designers:  
Visiting Lutyens’ Delhi is a must. Lutyens’ greatest work was the majestic Vice-Regal Headquarters. Working with the finest Indian construction company and craftsmen he incorporated Indo-Saracenic motifs, as well as Indian stone basins on top of the building as very dramatic (and very Indian) water features. 

Lutyens’ Palladio-influenced and rather austere classical buildings were modified to include Moghul chattris on the roof. Throughout the gardens are dramatic statues of elephants and fountain sculptures of cobras on pedestals, as well as bas-reliefs around the base of the Jaipur Column.

A travel tip: For your next trip to India, I propose that you book online for a visit to the interior of the Rashtrapati Bhavan building. It’s open on a very limited timetable. Much of its original furnishings and interior architect designed by Lutyens is accessible. You can imagine the residents, Lord Louis and Lady Edwina Mountbatten and their attendants, entertaining and greeting officials and royalty.

I had a Sunday afternoon private tour—and found it so fascinating, I did it twice. Lutyens is hardly mentioned in guidebooks or ‘must see’ lists.

For designers, architects, and those obsessed with architectural heritage and Lutyens, it is a rewarding visit.

The New Modern India: Architecture and Design

Where to Stay Now in New Delhi—The Lodhi Hotel:  I like to stay at hotels where I can rely on management and staff to provide me with privacy and low-key service. In particular, in India, I appreciate The Lodhi because Joint General Manager Robyn Bickford is such an insider. She'd been involved with the diplomatic world for decades and knows all the best sources. She takes care of guests, smooths the way, and provides outstanding drivers and other staff that make life in Delhi rather comfortable and efficient.

I’ve written about The Lodhi before. The hotel was formerly an Aman property—and it maintains that high standard of style and care. I find it extremely congenial. It’s quiet.

An ethereal Meier-modern new hotel with a serene garden setting and elegantly delineated architecture is the new chic place to stay in Delhi. It’s The Lodhi, just four years old, and already a favorite of stylish young Delhi couples, worldly art collectors, and international travelers intent on getting to know the fast-changing and surprising new India.

It’s a favorite hotel for Silicon Valley talent like art collector Komal Shah, a former Yahoo exec who recently joined the Asian Art Museum board. Top interior designers like L.A.-based Michael S. Smith, and Jean-Louis Deniot, with headquarters in Paris, land there on business trips.

The first impression of The Lodhi is of massive walls of carved slabs of marble deployed with precision and superb restraint. An austere and highly refined architectural sensibility is at work here. Pared down and gracefully delineated, the walls of honed ivory-colored stone are reminiscent of the pale carved exterior walls of the Taj Mahal.

India is always celebratory and ornate, and many travelers arrive specifically to immerse themselves in the excitement of hallucinogenic hues, and the jangle of music and crowds.

For me, The Lodhi is very much in the Moghul tradition of generous hospitality—but it’s India with a modern style sensibility, one that is truly Indian and poetic, without the razzle-dazzle. .

The hotel architect and designer is Australian Kerry Hill, based in Singapore and Western Australia. He is a master of his craft. The Lodhi feels India modern, but chic and 21st-century. Delhi without a trace of nostalgia.

The Lodhi hotel property includes a large sheltered swimming pool, tennis courts, and outdoor spots for quiet reflection. Guests often use the pool in the cool of evening for refreshing laps.

Hill noted that he referenced India’s great history of palaces and temples and past building traditions through suggestion and association rather than replication, and through the reinterpretation of indigenous building forms as opposed to mimicry.

“We prefer to build upon what is there and to contemporize our understanding of what it can be,” said Hill. “I think of our design for The Lodhi as being current, but filtered through a sieve of traditional values.”

At the light-filled limestone entrance a large carved black stone water basin is filled with brilliant orange marigolds. 

The Lodhi lobby is a contemporary design statement with modern Indian paintings and vivid jolts of orange on club chairs. An over-water restaurant and a terrace beside the pool offer calm respite from vibrant Delhi.

A butler silently guides guests along an enfilade of silent hallways. In the suite, a graceful bedroom has an efficient series of adjacent wardrobes, luggage stands and dressing tables. Everything in the right place. The scent of fresh tuberoses wafts into the air.

The hotel is expertly and gracefully co-managed by New Zealand-born former diplomat Robyn Bickford, and her husband, Manav Garewal. They pamper guests, opening up their Black Book for special sources for cashmere shawls, finding rare tickets for an event, taking care of all details.

In each suite, through a tall shuttered door is a wide sheltered stone terrace. Each suite has a heated plunge pool and on a terrace that’s open to the fresh air.

Privacy is perhaps the most precious travel luxury. The Lodhi feels like a personal residence. There are no obtrusive signs, and staff greets guests by name.

The hotel is set on 6 acres, has two wings, nine floors, thirty-nine rooms and twenty-eight suites, and there’s a panoply of restaurants, a hair salon, a lap pool, plunge pools, all sheltered by jaali screens to modulate light and intense outdoor heat. 

Suites at The Lodhi have a private terrace with a panoramic view with the historic dome of Humayan’s Tomb in the sunstruck distance. The heated plunge pool is large enough for brief laps followed by repose on the cantilevered chaise longue.

The décor throughout has a very light and airy sensibility of modern Anglo-Indian, with dark exotic wood wall cabinets, bronze bowls filled with pomegranates, stone bowls with fresh tuberose blossoms, everything cohesively modern Indian. All furniture was locally crafted. 

The Lodhi, a favorite for international auction houses, art dealers from London and New York, and museum types and art collectors from San Francisco, recently partnered with the Apparao Galleries of Chennai to showcase contemporary Indian art and sculpture around the hotel. Sharan Apparao, founder and owner of the Apparao Galleries, curates a revolving collection. The contemporary art adds graphic interest and vivid color to the stone interiors.

The Lodhi is a dramatic property, and a haven in fast-paced Delhi.

I can’t wait to return.

Best Books on India

On my recent visit to New Delhi, I spent hours at Bahrisons, founded in 1953, the best bookshops (there are three) in India. My favorite Bahrisons shop is located at the entrance to Khan Market, a vibrant cavalcade of style shops and restaurants. Bahrisons is crammed to the rafters with books—mostly literary, many best sellers, and books on Indian culture, history and politics. It’s very popular with the expats, with the diplomatic crowd, with students, and with politicians and lawyers from nearby offices.

I linger among the stacks at Bahrisons for hours—looking through books on design, architecture, biography, and finding dozens of books to send back to California. Staff does an extremely efficient job of shipping. My recently purchased books arrived home before I did. The bookshop is so popular that they re-stock three times a day. Careful…they close for lunch from 1-2pm.

I checked with Anuj Bahri Malhotra and he suggested the following list of books on India.


Everything written by William Dalrymple. (

“He knows India, he is a superb historian, and his writing is vivid and authoritative—and witty. Highly recommend,” said Anuj Bahri.

The witty detective novels of Tarquin Hall, featuring detective Vish Puri.

“Tarquin shows his love of India and Delhi in this amusing series. He knows Delhi today and it shows,” said Mr. Bahri.

Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveler by Raza Rumi (Harper Collins). An intimate anecdotal travelogue introducing readers to the buildings, but also people, characters. Inspiring. Said Anuj Bahri Malhotra: “It’s like a guided walk, with vivid narration.”

Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building by Lucy Peck (Roli Books) A highly detailed insight into Delhi’s architecture heritage. Well illustrated.

Delhi: A Novel by Kushwant Singh (Penguin). “It’s irreverent and inventive, it’s magical realism. A bestseller,” said Mr. Bahri.

Perpetual City, A Short biography of Delhi, by Malvika Singh (Aleph). Singh, a noted Delhi journalist, is also the author of a recent reference book on Lutyens Delhi. This is her love letter, very insider and full of lively anecdotes. Opinionated. Excellent.

Delhi: Fourteen Historic Walks by Swapna Liddle. Heritage discoveries, secret walks and classic sites like the Red Fort, Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s Tomb (I’ve written about it here).

Trickster City Writings from the Belly of the Metropolis by Shveta Sarda (editor). “These young writers are fresh, they know Delhi, and they chronicle emotion, experience, events, some rather documentary,” said Anuj Bahri.

Let’s say you’ve never been to India, and you’re excited and very curious and scared and nervous…and want to know more.

Check through all of these lists and Mr. Bahri’s list. And start collecting the ones that appeal to you. Read non-stop. The information and knowledge—and sense of India—you gather and harvest will enrich your trip and explorations.

I have a lifetime of books on India. I read biographies (the Maharani of Jaipur, Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi), history (all of William Dalrymple’s volumes), memoirs (Pamela Hicks), and many Indian fiction writers and dynasties of literary families (the Desai family) and many books on histories of the maharajahs and Indian life, films (Satyajit Ray) culture, music, architecture and textiles.

I recently read The Guide by R. K . Narayan (Penguin) about small-town Indian life. Enchanting. I also found Chowringee by Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherji) (Penguin). It’s set in Calcutta, and it immediately immerses the reader in its hullabaloo.

I love the books of writers like V.S.Naipaul, as well as Amitav Ghosh, and Jhumpa Lahiri (writing about Indian expatriates in books like ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’)…her writing is exquisite. I also love Kiran Desai (“The Inheritance of Loss) and books by her mother, Anita Desai. 

Books I favor and have enjoyed are background, in-depth learning, rich detail, research, factual information always written with grace, charm, wit.

‘City of Djinns’ by William Dalrymple (2003) is a vivid account of his first year living in New Delhi. He’s now become a favorite historian of the region’s great stories. Dalrymple’s nature is contrarian, and often dyspeptic, but he has a lovely admiration and intense interest/passion for Indian people and history.

‘The Last Moghul’ also by Dalrymple, offers the panorama of one of the last significant rulers and dynasties.

‘Passage to India’ by E.M. Forster (1924) paints a sympathetic and textured account of British/India encounters during the colonial period. 

‘At the Court of the Fish-Eyed Goddess, Travels in the Indian Subcontinent’ by William Dalrymple (1998) is a wide-ranging series of essays on Indian life, culture, politics.
A Princess Remembers The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur’ by Gayatri Devi (1996) sketches a romantic view of her childhood, subsequent marriage to the Maharajah of Jaipur, and jetset life. She founded schools for girls and a grade school in Jaipur, and was instrumental in protecting and fostering traditional fine crafts and arts of the region.

‘The Raj Quartet’ by Paul Scott. These are the books on which ‘Jewel in the Crown’, the hit PBS show, was based.) Scott’s writing is wonderfully accomplished and richly sympathetic to all of his characters. British, insider, revealing.

‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Collins and LaPierre. Blockbuster, full of detail, research. A closeup view, with private and upclose knowledge of Gandhi's life and death. Must read.

‘Daughter of Empire: Life as a Mountbatten’ by Pamela Hicks (2011) offers insight into the last days of the Raj—and she was in the center of it all.

‘Indian Summer The Secret History of the End of Empire’ by Alex von Tunzelman (2009). I read this on the way to India, when it first came out. Her research is impressive, and it’s another slice of insight into this complex time of history.

‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater (1998). Witty English writer sets off to follow the monsoon, one summer. Romantic and charming.

And Robyn Bickford recommends the following India books, for different perspectives:

Quilts of India-Timeless Textiles by Patrick J Finn published by Niyogi Books. It is such a pleasure to learn more about crafts and decorative arts of India. This is is a great record with very clear photos of another dying art.

Sam Miller, a young English writer, has written two books, Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity and A Strange Kind of Paradise: India through Foreign Eyes which are witty and fresh, and both eminently readable.

I know you’ll want to read them all. And tell me your favorites. I love discovering new books.

Happy reading!

Favorite Shopping

New Delhi is alive with fantastic shopping. I must say that for me shopping is not a major focus, though dear friends spend days finding Gem Palace jewelry, bangles, sandals, saris, Anokhi tunics, and handwoven fabrics, and beautiful adornments. Delhi has emporiums and stalls and shops and centers…and that is not how I want to spend much time in India. I want ‘only in India’ adventures, not a lot of shopping. An exception: cashmere shawls and tea (see below. And…Khan Market, which is near The Lodhi, and is bustling and colorful, with shops like Anokhi (block print shawls and dresses), as well as Bahrisons books.

The Great Find:  Kashmir Loom
Kashmir Loom shawls and scarves are available at Barney’s New York stores around the US, and at many international stores and boutiques. But I prefer to go to the source—where every style is available.

Robyn Bickford at The Lodhi suggested that I would enjoy meeting Jenny Housego, the co-owner of Kashmir Loom. I made an appointment to see the company's selection of fine cashmere, silk, wool and cotton textiles made for the Indian and international markets. Many cashmere connoisseurs consider the company's shawls and blankets to be the finest available.

Kashmir Loom was created by Jenny Housego and her Kashmiri partners, brothers Hamid, Zahid, and Asaf Ali, and their family in Srinagar, Kashmir.

Jenny, who is English and lives in New Delhi was formerly a textile historian, and worked at the Textile Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

I arrived at the Kashmir Loom showroom. The company makes the most exquisite traditional shawls and scarves in handspun and hand-loomed cashmere.

Newest designs include the pioneering use of shimmering metallic threads in hand-woven shawls. Gold, silver and rose gold shawls are very beautiful. The quality of the textiles is the best I’ve seen in India. I love embroidered shawls in very fine natural undyed handspun cashmere (think taupe cashmere with exquisite borders of contrasting silks)—but they also weave rainbow-bright shocking pink, turquoise, magenta, and indigo shades to brighten a winter day.

Prices from $150 for a natural cashmere scarf.

By appointment only: Retail

C-65, Basement, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi 10013 India
Phone: +91.11.2431.8947, 4058.8650

Indian Te

I drink tea most afternoons around 4pm. My family is English—and in the late afternoon every day, I put the kettle on, warm up a classic white porcelain teapot, and add Assam loose-leaf tea to the pot.

I love Fortnum & Mason’s Assam Superb, packaged in an elegant pale celadon canister.

But in India, I always taste and buy special teas…that are only available in India.

My favorite source is the company that supplies tea leaves to The Lodhi hotel— Mittal Stores.

The selection of loose-leaf teas includes many Assam types and Darjeeling, Nilgiri and Sikkim, as well as Chinese. Very authentic and traditional. Inexpensive and light to pack in luggage. And so enjoyable at home.

12, Sunder Nagar Market, New Delhi is my favorite of their locations.


The Lodhi
Lodhi Road, New Delhi, phone from US 800-477-9180. Rates from $550. Information:

Joint General Managers: Robyn Bickford and Manav Garewal

Note that The Lodhi has very close ties with the Aman hotel/ resort group, and travelers who are addicted to Aman resorts find The Lodhi very compatible and comparable. Like Aman resorts, The Lodhi is low-key luxury and ultra-private and discreet. Just as Aman avoids glitz, so The Lodhi has perfected comfort, elegant simplicity, and friendly unpretentious service and attention to guest comforts.

Art Gallery:
APPARAO GALLERIES, Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore.

Photo credits:

Hotel images courtesy of The Lodhi, New Delhi, used with permission.

Images: Elephant statue photos by Diane Dorrans Saeks (and my driver).

Images of Kashmir Loom, courtesy Kashmir Loom.

Images of Bahrisons, courtesy Bahrisons.