HTSI editor’s letter: Colm Tóibín, cavewomen and a cult novelist
I’ve been trying to get inside Francesca Amfitheatrof’s cave for nearly two years now – in a manner of speaking.
I first spied her project to burrow into a cliff in Ventotene when she posted an image on her Instagram account. A cave. Of course. It seemed a perfect kind of destiny that the artistic director of watches and jewellery at Louis Vuitton, someone who has spent her career creating wonders with precious gemstones, should have decided to drill into a rock as well.
Completion of the cave and its surrounding garden on the tiny Italian island culminated earlier this summer, so we pounced at the opportunity to take the first look inside. The garden is slowly gestating. The rooms (or rather room, as it is one vast space into which Amfitheatrof has carved occasional living areas and sleeping alcoves) are spectacular. The acoustics require a robust approach to one’s ablutions. As Francesca told me: “You can hear everything.”
Francesca has overseen a project that has required dazzling engineering and creative ingenuity, but the results look deceptively simple – the home is an organic celebration of the curvilinear. Maria Shollenbarger visited in September with photographer Stefan Giftthaler. They have created a portrait of a 21st-century cave woman that I hope will tantalise.
I wonder what John McAslan would make of Francesca’s cave project. A master of architectural intervention, he has helped conceive some of the world’s great infrastructural wonders, from the upcoming Sydney metro system to the redevelopment of King’s Cross station, and from the Elizabeth line’s new outpost at London’s Bond Street, to, now, the reimagining of Penn Station in New York. In a fascinating interview with Jackie Daly, he describes his path towards architecture: from boyhood in Glasgow to working on massive projects of national interest, passing by quieter, more philanthropic works. His abiding pleasure lies, he says, in “taking something broken” so that he might fix it, and I admire his pragmatic attitude. It’s one of the features in our property special, which also showcases the mysterious Gardiner Estate. David Kaufman unpicks the intriguing history of the 12-bedroom mansion in East Hampton, on Long Island, that sits behind Main Street and which for centuries was hidden in plain sight.
On a more prosaic note, I was deeply curious to discover whether Michelle Ogundehin managed to win her war on drafts. The interiors writer and presenter of Interior Design Masters has spent the past nine months exploring how to make her Georgian home more energy-efficient, and presents the results of all her findings here.
As we approach a winter of predicted power cuts, her conclusions are pretty grim. UK homes in particular are dreadful, with one of the worst overall ratings in Europe when it comes to preventing escaping heat. Michelle also discovers that simply bunging insulation in every crevice might not be the magic solution – it turns out a house needs a lot of air to breathe.
Time to throw on another blanket then, and curl up with a great read. It’s a huge honour this week to feature two literary giants in HTSI: the magnificently sparky and sometimes spiky Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who is interviewed with choreographer Wayne McGregor about his upcoming dance adaptation of her MaddAddam trilogy, and the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín. Colm has written a guide to his home county of Wexford; a tribute that nearly made me cry. “This is not an Ireland of tourist posters,” he writes of the local strand between Curracloe and Morriscastle. “There are no rocks or crashing waves. Just sand dunes and then cliffs made of soft, marly clay… In the winter sometimes it is better than the summer; in the summer it is out of this world.”
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