Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘London’

My urban balcony garden: One year on

It’s become something of a tradition to share a few photos of my favourite garden sanctuary. For my urban balcony garden, adjoined to the London apartment I call home, is still my pride and joy, and one of my favourite places to indulge in a little R’n’R.


One year ago, almost to the day, I posted views of my balcony, newly regrown after our return to London from Mallorca required the recreation of our garden from scratch. One year on, my balcony is flourishing once again, but not with a further year’s growth. For after one of the worst winters on record, my balcony was ravaged by severe frost and decidedly inclement conditions. I lost my geraniums, my grasses, and very almost my adored brugmansia. By June of this year, those plants which had survived by a whisper were only growing small shoots, and the leafy flurries which followed were then attacked in turn by a decidedly roasting summer, and all the insects and diseases which accompany near-tropical conditions.


Now, in September, things have finally settled down. The plants, twice ravaged, have found peace and have engaged in a period of harmonious regrowth. Grasses of deep reds and chocolate browns are growing beautiful seed pods fluffy like squirrel tails, while geraniums create splashes of brighter red in amongst a sea of green. And after a very hard year and a near-death experience, my favourite peachy brugmansia is finally bearing fruit – or flowers I should say – those sublimely perfumed melon-sized flowers which cause passers by to stop in the street. We’ve had a mere handful so far, but things are looking good for a late summer spurt. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an Indian Summer, and a winter which is very slow in coming.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Breakfast at La Baita

Autumn is a love-hate time for me. On the one hand, I relish the new spectacle of fiery colours transforming the landscape from green lushness to a wealth of auburn warmth. On the other, I bemoan the passing of my favourite season of Summer, and the conclusion of my sun-drenched travels, which feel as though they have ended before they even begun. But in this latter respect, I have an antidote, right around the corner from my London home; a place where I can go and feel every inch as though I am back on holiday, surrounded by the vivacity of the Sicilian spirit, and food to match the very best Italian fare: La Baita on Clapham Common.

Located at the very centre of the Common, alongside the grand Victorian bandstand after which the cafe is named, from a distance you would assume La Baita is your bog-standard park cafe selling bacon butties and ice cream. However the Italian name signifies that this cafe is more than your British norm. Rather, run by Sicilians and southern Italians with a true passion for the food of their great nation, it is a fantastic little eatery with food so good that I have never found an Italian restaurant in London to beat it.

Clapham Bandstand

Breakfast at La Baita (2018© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Whether it be because of the fine food, the passionate staff, or the beauty of its parkland surroundings, La Baita has become our “local” in every sense of the word. Some weekends we even go twice a day! So it felt only natural that over our last few visits, I should capture the cafe’s terrace in my sketchbook, at the season’s leafy best. After all, it won’t be long before those leaves have fallen ground-wards, and the terrace of La Baita becomes paved with a transient crispy carpet of auburn gold.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit 

London, Rediscovering My City: Into the Wimbledon Wilderness

It’s been well over a year since I first discovered Wimbledon Common, despite its location but a few tube stops down from my humble abode. But even then, our walk straight through the wilderness did not betray the full extent of rurality (is that a word?!) which is retained in this mid-urban idyll. A recent revisit changed all that. Dragging my visiting mother in turn, we wandered back into Wimbledon Common to discover anew a bucolic enclave mere miles from one of the world’s most developed capital cities.


Taking random turnings off the horse-beaten paths, we found ourselves delving deeper into denser forest, whose clearings became scarcer as bounteous ferns filled the forest floor, and nettles and wild berries crept up in between them. It was one of those late summer days that dreams are made of… The sun was tempered by a honeycomb filter and tree trunks were spattered intermittently with the resultant golden light.


We got ourselves lost quite successfully and could have imagined that London was another country away were it not for our sudden emergence onto a neatly trimmed golf course in the middle of all this beauty. While not exactly detracting from the aesthetics, angry pompous golf fanatics did not take kindly to our pausing on their path to take photos and admire the scenery. The photos in this post are thus a fingers-up to their absurd pomposity, and a nod to the nature which, after all, dominates their frolics and makes them a mere oddity, secondary to the glory of the landscape.


Eventually we found our way out and back into Wimbledon Village where afternoon tea awaited. We may have loved the hours we spent disconnected from all civilisation, but were nonetheless grateful that urbanity never lay too far from reach… were it not for mobile phone connectivity, we may well have never found our way out of that forest jungle!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

London, Rediscovering My City: Eltham Palace

Of all London’s historical palaces, rich in Medieval armour, Tudor ceilings, Stuart art and lavish Georgian interiors, there is one which is a little more unique in its ability to showcase a chapter in England’s history. For Eltham Palace, located just a few miles away from Greenwich, was not just the childhood home of Henry VIII. It was also later the jazz-age cocktail-swilling party palace of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld who found the Tudor palace in a stage of complete ruins. Therein began an ambitious architectural project which not only undertook to restore the Great Hall of the Tudor age, but to create a brand new palace alongside it which would turn out to be the very celebration of the Art Deco age.


Looking at its heavy stone exterior, created to intone with the Great Hall, only the addition of some curving but unmistakeably 1930s nudes in the stone work betray the modern masterpiece within. Step through the doors and you enter a modern, minimalistic space where decadence and luxury are founded in a perfect, uncluttered line, curved white spaces inlaid with gold and aluminium leaf, and a complete dedication to perfecting the design fashions of the era.

The result is a true wonder of Art Deco, and as historical houses go, this is one that truly comes alive as you imagine the endless society receptions which went on there. The character of the hosts is evident wherever you look, from the lavish gold-mosaic bathroom of Virginia (I want one of those) to the centrally heated suite created solely for use by the eccentric couple’s ring-tailed lemur.


But as ever, half the joy of visiting a great house is to enjoy its great gardens, and we cannot have picked a better time of the year to go. For the grounds of Eltham Palace were alive with the most lavish display of multi-coloured tulips and fragrant blossom which wafted gently in the breeze, settling upon the sparkling pond which, like a castle moat, encircles the palace like a silk scarf from a 1930s couturier.

Eltham Palace is a true example of how the ancient and modern can partner one another with spectacular results. And while the Art Deco house is now itself something of a historical artefact, it feels as modern and liveable today as it would have done 90 years ago. So if English Heritage ever feel like giving it up, send me the keys… I’m moving in!


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Beauty and the Beast from the East

They call it “the Beast from the East” – a Siberian shock wave of icy blasts and perilously wintery temperatures which has swept onto the shores of the UK and shows no sign of budging. Yet with the “Beast” has come the snow: a transformative blanket of pure, frosty white which has proved to be the very antithesis of beastly, as a very chilly but utterly mesmerising walk around my local park was to prove.

I have seen Clapham Common in every season, and have often obsessed myself over the light filtering through its lush summer leaves, or the auburn tones of its autumn face. Yet I don’t think I have ever been so stunned by the beauty of Clapham Common as when I was seeing it dressed, like a blushing bride, in an unbroken veil of white. Covering metre upon metre of grassy planes, and managing to find its way onto even the tiniest of tree branch, lamp post and railing, the snow rendered Clapham Common completely transformed, and the result was divine. I have never seen a familiar place so changed, nor the local residents so equally dazzled by this new manifestation.


It’s incredible what nature can create when left to its own devices. Take the pond for example. It wasn’t just frozen, but some effect of the water underneath had created large circular patterns all over its surface like a retro design from the 60s. Meanwhile, the way in which white would gather at the trunks of trees, but leave green and orange trunks and branches revealed, lent an ever better contrast to the colours, like a freshly daubed application of unmixed paint on a white canvas.

But of course beauty is fragile, and within an hour of taking these photos, the sun disappeared, and a fresh gale of blizzards took its place. The Belle of the ball had left the dance floor, and the fearsome Beast had returned to dominate the airwaves once again.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Post 1001 | Your favourite ever Daily Norm article

Continuing the week’s celebrations of reaching 1000 posts on The Daily Norm, I wanted to revisit the post which, statistically, was the most popular of my original posts. When I say “original”, I am referring to posts containing my own photography – for the posts when I reviewed art exhibitions scored the most visits of them all. But with over 20,000 visits, this post, which originally went out on 5 July 2012, is my post popular ever collection of photos. And happily, some 6 years on, we are still very much enjoying this little corner of urban garden paradise…

First posted 5 July 2012: My Urban Balcony Garden

When you live in a city, like I do, here in the big smoke of London, every inch of greenery becomes important. When I travelled down to Glyndebourne the other day, surrounded by all of those lush green hills, and the conspicuous silence interrupted only by the occasional sheep cry, it made me realise just how lucky rural dwellers are to be surrounded by that constant beauty and tranquility. Yet it is only human nature not to appreciate what we have when we’ve got it. For all I know, the residents of those sussex country manners probably envy we Londoners who have the whole cultural world right on our doorstep.

I do like to count my blessings however, and I actually think writing a blog, which encourages one to reflect more on one’s life, making the most of occasions, events and opportunities for the sake of sharing and recollecting interesting and unique snapshots of life, makes us bloggers appreciate life with a renewed vitality and a very sharp focus. And one thing that I have always appreciated, albeit perhaps more so as my time living in London grows longer and my hours of work increase, is the green space around me.


I may only have a balcony to exhaust my green fingers, but that balcony, which runs along the front of my entire flat, is my pride and joy. There is much to be said for the urban balcony. Not only does it help to make urban life more bearable, more colourful, and more sensorily enriched, but also helps to give nature a bit of a kickstart – there have, for example, been reports of huge rises in the numbers of urban dwellers keeping beehives, so many in fact that there are now a surplus of bees for the numbers of suitably pollinating flowers available across the city. I don’t have bees, but what I have created on my balcony is my own piece of tropical paradise. I’ve surrounded my small table and chairs and my all important sun lounger with my own little slice of Spain. There I have a large brugmansia (whose flowers are spectacular bell-shaped blooms which smell glorious at night – they’re not out yet but rest assured, I will share on The Daily Norm once they are), a passion flower, an olive tree, grasses and plenty of geraniums. I’ve also encouraged honeysuckle to grow up the wall, and this year, for the first time, introduced some strawberries into the mix.

Because my urban balcony garden is a natural extension of my lounge which has a very contemporary red, black and white colour scheme, I have attempted to continue that out onto the balcony, with modern galvanised steel planters, and plenty of vivid red geraniums, which mark a wonderful contrast against the building’s crisp white washed walls and the black and grey grasses I have planted intermittently amidst blood-red cala lillies and those red-burst strawberries.


Whether you’re a city-dweller or otherwise, I strongly recommend you import some plants into your life – even if it’s only a window box hanging out of the window. The introduction of plants always creates a new geometric mix into any design scheme, bringing curves and floral bursts into often boring square buildings, which are enhanced further as day turns into night, and interesting plant-shaped shadows dance across the surfaces of your home. Whats more, as a plant grows and changes with the seasons, your home too will adapt to the altering cycle of the year, and as the plants rise and fall, you will find a great sense of achievement in tracking their story and progress in your home (just remember to water them, occasionally!)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Christmas Comes Home: St Petersburg Palace

Christmas is in full swing. Ridiculously there’s only a week to go! While that makes me panic ever so slightly, the best tranquiliser is to switch on some Christmas carols (or Nigella Lawson’s Christmas series on TV…oozing pure aesthetic) and sit in the warm glow provided by my beloved Christmas trees. Last week I shared with you my new kitchen-inspired carrot-laden scheme. Today I want to take you to frostier quarters, where elegance reaches an all time high: my tree inspired by a St Petersburg Palace.


Replacing the annual real tree whose needles played havoc with my cream carpets, this year we have introduced a new 7ft snow sprayed false tree adorned with warm lights and begging for the fake polar-bear throw which is wrapped around the base of the tree and provides a wonderful soft landing for all those gold and white presents. On the snowy white branches, I added golden fern leaves for embellishment, and thus set the scene for my favourite ever set of decorations: an abundance of whites and golds and blues of every shade, all in homage to the glory and opulence of a Russian Christmas.


Choosing Russia as a theme meant a stark contrast to the interior design of the bedroom setting which is very Mediterranean in feel. But what better way to get cold blue and warm gold into a tree theme than to translate the tones of a Mediterranean beach into the frosted splendour of a St Petersburg Palace. With its onion-roofed houses, night-sky baubles, glass whales, white nutcrackers and elegant Russian dolls, I love the way this design has pulled together. It is the ultimate bedroom tree and a true delight to both see out and see in these festive wintery days.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Christmas Comes Home: The Kitchen Tree

I am ashamed to see that the last post on my blog is entitled “An Autumn Overview”. It’s shocking testimony to the fast passage of time. Now in mid-December, the comforting glow of Autumn leaves have been replaced by ice and snow. But December brings with it a very joyous respite from the arrival of cold in the form of the festive season – simply my favourite time of the year. And while work has largely prevented me from hanging out on The Daily Norm, it has not precluded me from that most important of annual tasks: decorating the Christmas tree.

Regular readers of The Daily Norm will know that I love Christmas decorations, to an almost obsessive degree, and while I always make a few small tweaks to my scheme as each year goes by, I enjoying taking out the old familiar decorations year on, year out. However, this year, as if in celebration of our return to London and the house redecoration that accompanied it, I’ve shaken things up a bit in the Christmas decoration department.


The modernist black trees of old went into black bags, and out came an altogether more traditional look. Sage and forest greens now host warm oranges, berry reds and a little silver and black (a small nod to the modern surroundings). Glass carrots and green glass mushrooms bring something of a culinary vibe, while ravishingly regal cheetah heads sit proudly upon their festive boughs. And as if to complete the animal theme, underneath the tree, fox furs and presents round off the scheme with a cosy but finessed twist.

And that’s just the lounge. In the bedroom we’ve gone all white and frosty, like a scene from Dr Zhivago. But I’m going to save that until next time…


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

An Autumn Overview

Time is moving fast. I opened my eyes the other day and suddenly realised that Autumn was already being displaced by Winter. The tree opposite our apartment is clinging pathetically to its last remaining leaves which will be jealously snatched away by Winter winds in a matter of days. And the heavy fall of foliage is gradually being reduced to a new layer of mulch as rains and morning frosts start the process of decomposition before Spring.

Of course the light at the end of this cold and windy tunnel is Christmas, and it’s already close at hand. In London, the streets are sparkling with wall to wall lights and glowing shop windows exhibit more and more extravagant festive displays. And in my own home I am giving myself over to plans of how to diversify my customary Christmas decor to match new interior designs.


But before The Daily Norm immerses itself once again in the festive season, I thought it an apt time to review a few photos I took of the stunning autumnal colours which graced London this autumn. My shots are largely collated in Clapham Common, the large expanse of grassy planes and tree-lined paths which we are lucky enough to call our front garden and to enjoy every day of the year. I don’t know whether it was a combination of climatic factors, but something about the colours of autumn really excited me this year. And I didn’t have to go far to find them.

So let us enjoy a little last glimpse of Autumn in these final months of November. Very, very soon the Winter will be upon us…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Beyond the apples: Cézanne Portraits

I have never found an artist better able to reflect the earthy, softly glowing light of a landscape as well as Paul Cézanne captured his native Provence. Whether it be his landscapes of L’Estaque or his obsessive interpretations of the Mont St Victoire, Cézanne’s landscapes breathe and quiver with the the warmth and vivacity of Aix. With their strident, vibrating brushstrokes, Cézanne perfectly replicates the quavering undulations of heated air rising from the dusty ground. And in his palette of earthy tones, Cézanne immortalises the ochre glow which characterises the villages and Mediterranean habitat of his homeland. Even Cézanne’s famous still lives of oranges and apples are characterised by the same Provencal light, and his paintings of peasants playing cards are tinged with a sense of poverty but not without the hope which the light of the Mediterranean climate always provides.

However the one aspect of Cézanne’s oeuvre which often goes overlooked is his portraiture. It’s not a genre which is synonymous with the artist – the man charged with being the father of modern art – who is better known for his first dabbles into cubist forms and semi-abstract expressionism. Yet as the new exhibition just opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery shows to stunning effect, he was truly a master of the portrait.

Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in a Red Dress

Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, 1888-90


Gustave Geffroy, 1895-6

Self Portrait Rose Ground 1875

Self Portrait Rose Ground, 1875

Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair 1877

Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, 1877

His virtuosity of the medium is manifold. First it is the intensity of character which he captures in often coarsely applied brush strokes and thickly layered paint – the brilliant portraits of his Uncle Dominique painted with only a palette knife being one such example. Through a mastery of light and shadow, and a multi-tonal handling of colour to represent the contours of skin and the movement of fabric, Cézanne’s sitters have a depth not just of tone but personality too, as his portraits emerge from the canvas as wholly realised individuals. Secondly, Cézanne’s skill resides in that same innate understanding of composition which make all of his works – even the most simple still life – such works of brilliance. For in constructing his portraits, Cézanne’s sitter is but one part of a perfectly balanced whole. Every daub of colour, every angle of sitter and background is fantastically conceived to create a harmonious balance. The result is a portrait which is deeply satisfying to behold, and which touches its audience for reasons which many will be quite unaware.

Self Portrait in a white bonnet 1881-2

Self Portrait in a white bonnet, 1881-2

Boy in a Red Waistcoat 1888-9

Boy in a Red Waistcoat, 1888-9

Uncle Dominique in Smock and Blue Cap 1866-7

Uncle Dominique in Smock and Blue Cap,1866-7

Seated Woman in Blue 1904

Seated Woman in Blue, 1904

While my regular strolls into the wonderful Courtauld Gallery (happily located so close to my work) have introduced me to the world of Cézanne portraiture before, I had no idea of the scale and prolific mastery with which Cézanne meddled in the medium. With works spanning his entire career including some 26 portraits which demonstrate the same level of self-examinatory intensity as was previously mastered only by the likes of Rembrandt, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition offers fans of Cézanne a truly unique opportunity to understand a crucial aspect of the artist’s genius. His mastery over fruit and landscapes is undisputed and well documented. But now, happily, this impossibly important third genre sees the light of day, and marks a further reason for attributing Cézanne as the true father of all modern art.

Cézanne Portraits is on at the National Portrait Gallery, London until 11 February 2018