Victoria and Albert Museum.
Have your design and eat it too.
Act 1: Victoria and Albert Museum
When I read to somebody a draft of Johnny Book, like, let’s say, Johnny walking in on an argumentative card game between Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington in the crypt of St. Paul’s, the question I’m oft asked is, “How did you come up with that?” It’s followed then with an, “I am just not that creative,” the emphasis on not drawn out with a tone of fate sealed. It’s the same tone God will use when he says, “Get me a espresso please and add an extra shot,” just before he flips to the first page of Revelations. This day is my response to the not in that sentence. Pun intended.
Start at the Victoria and Albert museum in Chelsea, which is a museum dedicated to the sole and lovely concept of human design, otherwise known as elevating a forgotten glance to anything that’s ever meant anything to you. Fashion. Photography. Art. Art f$&kin deco. Art renaissance. Silver work. Ironwork. Modernism decor for living your life as a concept not steeped in tradition but romantically free from it. It’s all here. This museum is the history of humans not randomly standing around and throwing bricks on top of each other but building something purposefully and saying the world we live in means something to us so let’s design something that means something to someone else. Walk the rooms of 5000 years of creativity harnessed into design, otherwise known as the gift of significance, and take that gift from whichever art form calls to you, whether it’s wedding dresses that are white because of Queen Victoria and are the founding fathers of the dresses danced in across Marriott Ballroom B’s around the globe today, or Islamic art that proves pattern and destiny are not unrelated. The history of humans coming up with ideas for design is in this museum and like all good patterns the point is for you to make the next shape with an idea of your own. Easy when you know how.
The architecture of the place is design in itself so when it’s time and you’ll know grab a coffee in the courtyard and relax and let the caffeine and the architecture and the 5000 years of design get your creativity to wake the f*&k up.
Act II: Ognisko Restaurant
Now that you’re inspired by design, a five minute walk north on Exhibition Rd. from Victoria and Albert museum and there is whitewashed Palladian architecture that is like walking up to the great white city of Gondor and one of the most romantic places I’ve ever dined called Ognisko restaurant.
Speaking of design, the chef here creates polish dishes that make you rethink anytime you’ve ever thought Polish wasn’t your favorite food. It’s exquisite. Just hop inside and sit at the bar and have a few cocktails to brine your creativity in after the Victoria and Albert museum and order form the bar menu and relax.
The bar area is comfortable with chairs made for not sitting but lounging and is lit by candles and it was warm on a cold December in London’s day and the bar tender was cool and set us up nicely. Just converse and think and let the warmth of design begin to take over. This kind of place is like a maternity ward for creativity. It’s old and let the white walls and classical architecture and chandeliers and windows to the outside ignite something within you that just needed a warm flame.
To set the scene of how intimate and romantic of a place this is, the Johnny Book team kicked off a very high profile country in Europe and replaced it with Poland as a place to feature in the line-up very soon. Sometimes when a place calls your name you just have to answer. Easy as that.
Act III: Kensington Gardens
Out of Ognisko, first pat you stomach and then also your mind because they’ve both been fed, and take a right to continue heading north on Exhibition Rd. and a few minutes later it’ll run you smack into Kensington Gardens.
So Victoria and Albert’s museum of design has inspired you, and then you found out that Polish food is your favorite food and because of Ognisko restaurant decided that Poland was going to be your next favorite trip, and now all the engines that run creativity are topped off and they’ve spilled out of the gas tank and you had to yank out the nozzle when it spilled out all over your shoes. Now, you need a place in the world to let the ideas go pedal to the metal with all of that fuel.
Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived and now do William and Kate, is on the west side of the gardens, if you want to check it out, but I take a right and one of my favorite walks in England is heading east along the park and under the trees between S Carriage Dr. and the serpentine lake. A relaxing, invigorating no matter the weather, even if it’s cold and especially if it’s cold, slow walk for the body, but a racetrack for the mind. The lake and the lawns and the trees and the walk offer designs of your own creation complimentary so take it. It’s on the house. Plus at the end of this walk you happen to be in one of the most convenient locations in London to get anywhere else you want to go.
So this might seem a little out of character but this place surprises me every time I go, and when I think about London some of the most randomly cool moments I’ve had have been at Harrods because I wasn’t expecting them. Plus the way to get there is the path the sandman uses on which to think of dreams, so from Kensington gardens head east in the park next to and paralleling S Carriage Dr., and then you will see a playground to your left, but look to your right and across S Carriage Dr., to the south, will be a little arched sign to a little alleyway that reads Park Close. Like on lord of the rings, speak friend and enter.
Soak up being a cool local and stroll down this alleyway like where else in the world would you be but in this arch-entranced alleyway of little local eateries and hair salons and all sorts of other things that can only be found in London alleyways and which you should stop into if you want. Park Close becomes Knightsbridge Green and after that take a right at Brompton Rd. and then a few steps and, speaking of design, wapow. Harrods.
Victoria and Albert museum might be the history of design but Harrods is the living use of it. I’m always expecting to hold my breath in travel snobbery and get out as soon as I can but then I come across some rad design elements from the crazy interior or what they have on display and I end up staying every time I come here not to stay.
The food is actually pretty good if you want to pull up a chair to any number of little places and you know what, last time I was there I ended up with like four Marc Chagall paintings all to myself and talking about them with the art dealer and that’s not an ordinary thing even at my favorite museums of the world. And then I spent a couple of hours in the book store checking out this like three foot by three foot book of photography and I don’t know who it is but the buyer of art books there could go toe-to-toe with the buyers of any of the great art museum book stores of the world. And dadgum I was inspired. I think, in all honesty, the people at Harrods know that most people who go to Harrods would rather spend a few grand on a trip to Europe and endless nights in European cafés that will last a lifetime and not on a handbag that people will either suspect as fake or pretend not to notice. So they make it cool for those people, people like me. It’s a fun place and it has energy of design that is intoxicating and makes me want to spend all night writing and designing. I like Harrods. Congratulations, world. You win.