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My personal style signifier is my watch, a vintage Patek Philippe 1954 chronograph. I’ve been wearing it for about three years now. It’s executed with understated elegance. Patek Philippe is a brand I’ve always coveted. It evolved at a time when bling wasn’t even in the dictionary, and it’s a joy to know it is still a family-owned business to this day.
The last thing I bought and loved was a work by the English artist Flora Yukhnovich. It’s rather large and painterly, like a distressed version of a Jean-Honoré Fragonard. She has an interesting style and is fairly fresh on the scene – I’ve been following her since she left art school several years ago. My wife and I were going to see her in a show in Venice earlier this year, which of course didn’t happen, but we managed to get a preview of her work and battled hard to secure the picture – I think we were up against the Tate.
No celebration is complete without a dry gin martini with a twist. I make them myself and I’m very particular about it. You need the right glass – the smaller the better, so the drink stays chilled. The gin itself needs to be good quality, well balanced and subtle, as you don’t want a particular flavour jumping out at you. I love Plymouth gin and keep a bottle in my freezer.
The design era that intrigues me the most is the mid-20th century, be it architecture, furniture or cars. The sweet spot for me is the 1960s, a period bookended by the end of postwar austerity and before the first oil shock of the early ’70s. It seemed almost anything was possible and it was well expressed in the consumer environment. I love classic vintage cars, and it was a time before cars became a burden rather than a pleasure. Many of the designs are sublimely beautiful and well proportioned.
When I need to feel inspired, I relax in my house on the Cork coast in Ireland. It’s a good place to sit and think. The sea is an ever-changing landscape.
The best interiors advice I’ve been given is never to underestimate the importance of lighting. It could be something quite sophisticated to make a dark space work satisfactorily, or simply a case of transforming a room with some lovely lampshades. It’s so often an afterthought, which can be quite problematic as it’s difficult to retrofit. You are never going to beat natural light, but very few people have a perfectly positioned home, so you need to find ways to compensate.
The best gift I’ve ever given is homemade sloe gin. I pick the sloes in our woods and let them infuse in gin over a 12-month period. I then pour the gin into little bottles and give them to family and friends as presents. It’s a small thing but rather nice in winter and quite personal.
And the best one I’ve received is smoked salmon from my oldest friend and business partner, Tom. Most of the year he lives in Scotland, near the Kintyre Smokehouse. At Christmas he sends down a couple of sides. It’s an absolute treat.
The best souvenir I’ve ever brought home is a pair of old Indian teak doors. I came across them about 15 years ago when I was trawling through little antiques shops in Cape Town. At the time, I was building a pool house and thought they would be a perfect fit for the entrance. So I shipped them back and they work extremely well.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is The Second Sleep by Robert Harris. I love his books. This one takes place about 800 years into the future where society has mysteriously broken down and a priest is collecting archaeological remains to try to piece together the past. I raced through it.
My style icon is my late father, who understood the value of good tailoring. He was a diplomat so wore at least two suits a day – one for work and one for evening events. He had a very large collection that I always had my eye on as a child, and it has certainly influenced me as an adult. I had been wearing his dinner suit until just recently when it got too old – after serving us for 70 years – so I had my tailor copy it exactly.
The last music I bought was Miles Ahead by Miles Davis. The album was released in 1957 and is simply a masterpiece from his most fertile, creative period.
My festive decoration approach is very simple: I leave it to my wife Eugenia and our florist Chrissie Wiltshire, who’s an absolute genius. We’re not big on decorations but I love flowers in as many rooms as possible. We use a lot of foliage and berries, creating wreaths, mantelpiece and table displays. We try to stay as local as possible – foraging is all the rage but I think a lot of people have quietly been doing it for many years and we’re certainly in that camp.
My grooming and wellbeing guru is my personal trainer Darren King, who’s an ex-marine. For the past decade, twice a week, he’s been keeping my fitness to an acceptable level where I can just about keep up with my children.
I have a collection of classic cars. The highlight is a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 that I bought about 20 years ago and have completely restored. At school I was head of the motor club and we built an Austin 7 over one winter in the early ’70s. That gave me a real love not only for the skin of a car but also for what lies underneath.
With time on my hands, I go to watch my sons, Patrick and Ludo, playing polo at Guards Polo Club. I played for more than 20 years but it’s a young man’s game and I hung up my boots a while ago. I am, however, beginning to breed more polo ponies…
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is an Emmett London linen shirt. I’m not an incessant shopper but I do like Emmett’s shirts because the collars are always correct and never floppy. They also have a more tailored fit, and by that I don’t mean tight – unfortunately a baggier shirt becomes a necessity with age.
A cause close to my heart is the charity AfriKids. It does life-changing work with children in Ghana, the country of my father’s birth. They have myriad educational projects, including evening classes for street children and programmes that work with kids who have drifted to the cities to reunite them with their communities. It’s run by local people and has a holistic approach. I think it has to start with education; it’s one of the most important ways of getting people out of the cycle of poverty.
The design idea I wish I’d come up with is the hydrogen-fuel-cell electric vehicle, as it will most likely be the solution to our clean-energy transport aspirations.
An object I would never part with is a pair of cufflinks that my grandmother gave to my grandfather on their wedding day in 1920. Ghana used to be called the Gold Coast, so there’s a strong jewellery tradition. This pair is gold with a turquoise, heart-shaped stone.
The winter tradition I look forward to most is a large Christmas shop with my sons. It started when they were both at boarding school; they would come home for the holidays full of excitement and we would go out and get all the treats and indulgences such as champagne truffles that would never fill a regular, weekly shopping trolley.
The grooming staple I’m never without is DR Harris almond soap and a wonderful rich body balm by 79 Lux that is good for dry skin in the winter. I also use de Mamiel Altitude Oil to try to fend off colds when travelling. I dab it under my nose when I get on an airplane – not that I’m getting on one any time soon.
At this time of year every room needs an open fire. I live in the country most of the time and there’s nothing more heartwarming than logs burning. It sums up everything cosy and nice about being indoors in winter.
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