pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

I’m back at the sumptuous Merchant Hotel in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, site of a rather infamous party I threw almost three years ago. (let’s just say people are still talking about it, thank you very much.) It’s posh, for lack of a better word – meaning attentive, attractive, and very well-proportioned – with an Italianate sandstone facade of columns and capitals backed by carefully restored High Victorian interiors. In fact, the former Ulster Bank headquarters wouldn’t look out-of-place in London or Paris. For a city which ten years ago had but a single boutique hotel, the Merchant is a perfect example of how much in this city has changed. Even at the height of the property bust two years ago the hotel was able to build an Art Deco extension and more than double in size, adding rooms, a spa, and the city’s only authentic jazz bar. To call it a success would be an understatement. From the soaring grandeur of the Great Room Restaurant (where even the profiteroles are swan-necked), to the perfectly judged and beautifully friendly staff, to the overstuffed beds and ample marble bathrooms, the Merchant is an all-out triumph.


just published: spa couture

You love designer duds, covet a closet full of fashionable shoes and handbags – why would you even think of staying anywhere other than a designer hotel?  That’s exactly the thinking among a handful of the world’s top fashion houses, including Armani, Versace, Bulgari, Missoni, and Moschino, who are boldly taking the idea of lifestyle chic where no hotel and spa has gone before. Haute holidays have arrived. Here’s our peek at the new chic: vacationcouture.

READ MORE (pdf download)


set in style

Who doesn’t love a pretty piece of jewelry? Yet the recent retrospective of Van Cleef & Arpels at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum makes it as clear as a cabochon that there’s a lot more to those bright and shiny baubles than just a cut ‘n’ polish. Founded in fin de siecle Paris by brothers-in-law Alfred van Cleef and Salomon Arpels, the prominence of inspired design as a cornerstone of the company’s philosophy provides a unique opportunity to view the evolution of 20th century jewelry in the context of decorative arts. (For instance, some of its Art Deco-style jewelry anticipated the official initiation of the Art Deco style by more than five years.) Many of VC&A’s innovations were both technical and stylistic, with advancement in one area often leading to leaps in another. Among the most notable are the groundbreaking Mystery Setting, above, in which matched gemstones are grooved and set in channels so the setting remains invisible; and the Minaudiere, a ladies’ vanity case the size of a small clutch which was patented in 1934. Innovative use of materials, methods and motifs has made the company a significant force for over a century, creating transformative works of art far greater than the sum of their parts. Like the stunning Walska Brooch, pictured below: the wings come off to form earrings, the tail comes off to form a brooch, and the pendant can be detached and worn separately. Who’d have thought that pretty could be pretty practical, too?


we bring good things to life

Everybody knows the General Electric Building, the iconic structure that stands as a towering focal point of the Rockefeller Center building complex.  (Or at least everybody thinks they do)  Yet the other night while skyline-gazing on the magnificent rooftop of The Palace I discovered what turns out to be the original G.E. building – one of the most impressive examples of Byzantine-influenced Art Deco in the city – just a few short blocks  away to the east.

It was easy to get distracted by the southern view, which captured both the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in one sweeping panorama.  However, looking to the east I quickly became enamored of the tall building on the corner of 51st and Lexington with Art Deco detailing in a warm rosy granite and an astounding Gothic latticework roof of carytids and sunbursts.  Thanks to the wonders of iPhone, I learned the 1931 skyscraper was first the home of RCA Victor, before becoming the General Electric Building.

Tucked in and behind St. Bart’s church, which fronts Park Avenue, the tower serves as an almost unofficial campanile, complementing the warm color of the church’s stonework while rising high above it.  It’s an unusual move for a commercial building and a very early example of contextual design.  And though by today’s standards the lobby would be considered small and sedate, there is a refined beauty in the details of  intricately vaulted ceilings and polished pink marble walls.

Even the subway entrance outside the building has a flash of Deco extravagance. Plus, notice the attention to detail afforded the glass lighting fixtures  along the perimeter.  Occupying such a small plot of land, the slim tower is adorned with a quantity of decorative detail that belies the building’s significance – which makes it the very quintessence of civic romance.


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