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Iconic Swedish photographer JH Engström is currently exhibiting 'From Back Home' in Berlin, a collection of images tracing his childhood memories back to the province of Värmland READ MORE...
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There's something so irresistible about miniature food, the treats we love made into tiny packages you can just pop into your mouth - virtually guilt-free! READ MORE...
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"Three friends taking pictures of themselves in a photo-booth as they go off to Glastonbury festival''. This was the brief John Galliano (remember him?!) gave to Nick Knight READ MORE...
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As an amateur photographer, I'm fascinated by the universe of possibilities we can explore in creating images with our digital camera - why limit ourselves? I read a debate a while ago READ MORE...
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Since 2007, Montreal photographer Nicolas Ruel has been refining an in-camera double exposure technique, where with a quick swivelling motion of his device, a second plan is overlaid on a main READ MORE...
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Lula is about to pretty up Japan even further this October with its unique mix of memoir, philosophy and fantasy, as interpreted by editor Kazuo Sazuki READ MORE...
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February 27, 2013

Harrogate by Night...

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Earlier this month I spent a girls weekend in Harrogate in North Yorkshire. I'd heard Harrogate was a lovely Victorian town and being not that far from where I live - about one and a half hours on the train (if your train connection from York isn't cancelled like ours was) - I probably should have visited before now. Unlike Canada, which is the size of the universe compared to the UK, here you can get on a train and visit all kinds of charming towns and villages up and down the country, from coast to coast. However, it would definitely help if train tickets weren't extortionate - flying is cheaper! I would be off for something with the family in tow nearly every weekend otherwise. Lottery tickets. 

(Thanks go out to my lovely friend Caroline who arranged the weekend and then got too sick to go!) 

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Every time Harrogate was mentioned to me the name "Betty's" was tagged in there as a place I would love. My friends know me well. And so we went, twice. When I first came up to it I was surprised that it looked French and would seem right at home on St-Germain in Paris. Betty's was first established in 1919 by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss who was orphaned at an early age and so immersed himself in the world of bakers and confectionery through apprenticeships all across Europe. This one in Harrogate is the original, still family owned, and you can feel their commitment to keeping the spirit going in the manner it was intended. We queued outside in a line that eventually snaked around the corner (Betty's is massively popular and they don't take reservations) but a smiling host would greet each guest and take their names, and because the place is so big - cafe and shop with a large tea room on two sub-levels - it didn't take all that long to get inside. And it was worth the wait. I had the butternut squash tortellini after struggling to choose between several equally appealing options - you can see the menu here - and my two friends had the afternoon tea, one for the first time so she was in the right place. I didn't have a dessert but I raided the shop for the last of the macarons to bring home for my daughter, along with some Valentine's treats including a box of pink and white fondant fancies. There was also a chocolate heart lolly with chocolate ganache and raspberry inside, and if they do that in a more permanently offered incarnation, I would hignly recommend seeking it out. I had a tiny taste and it was so good I made noises. 

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There was a green space in the town centre and all of the trees were lit up. I'm assuming they do this throughout the winter. 

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Who knew Harrogate had a French district? Not me. We certainly had our choice of French restaurants (well, we would have had we made reservations earlier.) We were lucky to get a late table at Mirabelle which was just fantastic, our waiter was great fun and the food was gorgeous. I went for the Oxtail soup with dumplings for my starter as I'd never had it before. It was served in a Le Creuset mini cocotte so I was happy before I even took my first spoonful. (It was delicious with a bit of a gamey flavour, you'd never mistake it for beef.) Mirabelle's chef and co-owner Lionel Strub has a cookbook out for his recipes that fuse French and British cuisine, and I'd meant to pick it up on the way out but that one and a half glasses of wine really hit me and I forgot (unfortunately it is true that that's all it takes to do me in).  If this dining experience is anything to go by, Montpellier certainly warrants future investigation. 

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This unusual staircase was an eye-catching feature of the lobby of the Hotel du Vin where we stayed (I highly recommend it, and the mini bar is actually reasonably priced, I did not think such a thing existed):

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This mostly Orla Kiely decor shop window had every passerby pausing for an eyeful:

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The L'Occitane window was a nice reminder on a cold weekend that spring is on its way, which is when I'll be returning. It'll make the queuing for Betty's a bit more comfortable. 


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Photos © The Swelle Life

September 21, 2012

Lavender Fields For-e-ver


A few weeks ago when my parents were visiting from Canada, we took advantage of the great summer weather that finally arrived and took them to my favourite places in Northumberland, some of the most gorgeous country you'll ever see. I'd been to Cragside before and we hiked the incredible rhododendron forests that lead to their formal gardens, which we saw here and here, but we didn't really have the energy to give Lord Armstrong's spectacular Victorian mansion the attention it deserved, so this time we made a point of it. That post is yet to come, there is just so much to show and tell and research further (the house is a feat of engineering brilliance), so this one is more about the scenery. After making our way to the other side of the estate's miles of gorgeous forest, I looked to my right and saw lavender fields as far as I could see. What I'm showing you is like a spit in the ocean, pretty but no indication of the grand landscape it is a part of with its rolling hills upon rolling hills, all spiked with lavender. I have to go back.



The historic Victorian mansion at Cragside which literally sits in the crag. You can see that better here

TheSwelleLife_bridgeThe suspension bridge that takes you across the estate's forest (see the lavender in the foreground)

Photos © The Swelle Life

April 30, 2012

Cupcake Monday! Celebrating 150 Years of Ladurée


It's been 150 years since Louis Ernest Ladurée, a miller from the southwest of France, opened a bakery at 16 rue Royale in Paris. Baguettes, pain, brioche. No macarons, no Religieuses just yet. The patisserie was built after a fire destroyed the boulangerie during the Paris Commune uprising of 1871 (I guess it gave them a chance to rethink their potential alongside their luxurious neighbours?) and Jules Chéret was commissioned to create the interior decor. The cherubs dressed as pastry chefs that he painted on the ceiling, and the gorgeous celadon green he used for the exterior and interior (one of the  most beautiful pastel colours in existence), were used to create the Ladurée emblem and are a strong element of their branding today. 

Ladurée began celebrating the anniversary in January and have been introducing a special edition box of macarons and a pastry each month.



This gorgeous box by Tsumori Chisato (I included a look from her SS12 collection that seemed reminiscent of the box design) contains special anniversary Cherry Blossom macarons created by Ladurée chef Vincent Lemains, who, for the first time in their history, changed the filling to a guimauve, or marshmallow.  There's a scented candle as well if you want the full cherry blossom olfactory experience. You'll have to find your own matching coral-pink hanky to wipe up the drool.

I will be checking out the anniversary collection for myself, preferably on the other side of the Channel. (And in all likelihood I will not feel like sugar that day - that happened last time I visited the Champs Elysees location in Paris last spring, I was in the mood for savoury! Good thing they do gorgeous food, but come on eh?)

January 01, 2012


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Click to view the show on BBC

This is the spectacular display that is surely responsible for hundreds of small animals in and around London having heart attacks last night. Every New Year's Eve the BBC presents this world-class fireworks show put on by the City of London which you can watch by clicking the image. If you want to skip past the audience chat and get right to it - I highly recommend doing this - forward to about the 3:00 mark for the countdown.

Happy New Year! I for one am looking forward to a 2012 that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the last half of 2011. Onward we go!


August 26, 2011

Floral Friday! Niagara-on-the-Lake's Blooming High Street

A restaurant I can't remember the name of that is beautiful with so-so food (so I've heard)

Following my afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara-in-the-Lake with my awesome friend Bridget (she is lovely but that word is getting played), I took some photos of their very pretty, very floral, very English high street named Queen Street, of course. (A funny fact - we noticed that they don't really age the Queen on notes in England, she's completely smooth in her 80s and we all know she didn't take the Joan Rivers route. So we showed a friend here a Canadian bill which shows her appropriately craggy face, and he had a good laugh at the extreme difference.)






TheSwelleLife_876A very pretty Sunflower umbrella displayed outside the shop

Photos © The Swelle Life

August 25, 2011

The Last Days of Summer (please don't kill me)


Well, these are the last bits of my summer, hopefully you still have some left to enjoy. We've returned from our six weeks in Canada and so the next 10 days will be spent trying to become normal again (I know, good luck eh?), the jetlag is pretty nasty. And then it's back to school for Baby Swelle, the indisputable sign that the fun is over.

After the Butterfly Convervatory and afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, here are the rest of the snapshots (minus flowers, those are for tomorrow's Floral Friday) from my Canadian summer. The header photo is at my aunt Linda's pool which comes in very handy on those days where it's so hot that you break a sweat checking for the mail. They repainted the pool house the most awesome shade of pool blue which they should never, ever change.

Niagara-on-the-Lake's Shaw Festival for English period plays

This is the Romance House. No, it's not the most charming brothel you've ever seen but the commercial home of local artist Tricia Romance. She once lived in the King St. dollhouse (doesn't it look like a giant dollhouse?) with her family, but after people caught on she opted for a little more privacy and moved to the outskirts of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It would take some real creepiness to get me to leave that house, but then maybe her new house was even neater.


I love that no opportunity was spared in making the most of the pinky-beige and that fantastic greenish slate shade -  notice the contrasting detail and painted edges all over. You just don't see this kind of attention to detail with colour all that often, and when you do it's usually weird. (There's a house in my neighbourhood that looks like Rainbow Brite threw up all over it.) And it's impeccably maintained, it looks brand new every time I see it.


And lastly, we have the Port Dalhousie carousel. Borrowing from my first post on this three years ago (in which I investigated why a grown man would take a ride on it):  The carousel was handcarved between 1898 and 1905 in Brooklyn, New York, this Charles Looff original was first an amusement at Hanlan's Point in Scarborough, Toronto. It found its current St. Catharines home on Lake Ontario way back in 1921, and still functions using the original organ - complete with twirling dancing girls - which was restored in 1985 thanks to Lottario funds. It boasts 68 animals and  many of the horses tails still sport real horse hair (cool or gross, depending). The nostalgic sentiments are reflected in the teenage carousel operators' uniform of a blue newsboy cap and shorts with red suspenders over a white, short-sleeved dress shirt (you know that a little piece of them dies every time they get dressed for work but it's a nice touch). To top it all off, it's still only 5 cents a ride. Imagine! You can take the family down to Port Dalhousie with a loonie and ride until all your butts are aching!



If you drink the Lake Ontario water, this horse will start talking to you.


Pink skies in Niagara-on-the-Lake, just before a big thunderstorm threw it down

Photos © The Swelle Life

August 12, 2011

Versailles Series: Le Théâtre de la Reine


Last week we saw Marie Antoinette's wee bedroom (I just read that this was indeed her original bed) and that was the last view from inside the Petite Trianon. Walking outside, I had no idea which way to go. I stared into a small marsh trying to see one of the bullfrogs loudly croaking and did. And off in the distance was the Temple of Love filled with people, in the middle of nothing (I think, maybe I would have seen something had I gone out there).


I saw pathways in at least half a dozen directions and didn't know which one to take, I didn't want to miss anything. I hate maps and the one for Marie Antoinette's domain was so busy I didn't even bother to check it. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm not one to plan a route, I'd rather just go and see what happens. (When I was much younger I drove, or rather 'fled' to New York City once with a friend and stupidly refused to look into just how I would get to Manhattan where we had arranged to stay with her friend (who was an assistant photographer to Annie Leibovitz at the time. I wonder what she's doing now). I wound up in the Bronx talking to a gas station attendant through a drawer. Well, I talked and he didn't. You couldn't even see the guy, he was behind opaque black bullet proof glass with duct tape all over it and I knew I had to get back in the car and out of there fast. So I  followed a police car into a sketchy apartment complex for help getting out and they thought that was suspicious - it was 3 a.m. - so the two officers got out of their cars and walked over to talk to us. They saw my Ontario plates and one asked in his thick New York accent 'Ontario's beautiful  - whaddya doin' here?' I explained and they gave us directions, and as they were walking away they stopped to talk, looked back at us and came back over. The one said 'Hey, can you do us a favour? Our friend over there (pointing to another police car parked at the side of the building) is sleepin'. Can you bang on his window and scare 'em?' I said 'No thank you, I don't want to get shot in the face'. We arrived at the place in Manhattan soon after and I've never been happier to be in a stranger's tiny, weird-smelling apartment. I no longer 'just see what happens' in those situations.)

Back to Versailles. Here's the rear view of the Petite Trianon:


You can see one of the paths on the left:


Then I found myself in a garden of manicured hedges and those neat rectangular trees that look like tree lollies: 






When I walked out I found myself in front of a building. I didn't know it (remember I don't look at maps) but I was entering the Théâtre de la Reine, or the Queen's Theatre, and what a surprise!


I'm going to quote what the Chateau de Versailles website tells us about this small, breathtaking theatre, le Théâtre de la Reine:

Richard Mique’s work, architect of Marie-Antoinette

While the Opera of Versailles was a theatre of court, the small room at Trianon was a theatre of society, as many existed then in residences in the countryside where, to pass the time, the owners and their guests would put together plays or operas. During her childhood in Vienna, Marie-Antoinette had gotten used to these familiar performances. She wanted to do the same with her close relations, princes of the royal family and some rare friends.

In 1780, on the orders of Marie-Antoinette, Richard Mique built this theatre whose severe exterior contrasts with the refined interior which, through its harmonies of blue, white and gold, recalls the opera of Versailles, only smaller since it has a capacity of only a hundred people: the domestic service on the floor and the guests on the first floor behind the boxes with grids. But the greatest luxury is not in the wooded room painted in a false, veined white marble and adorned with sculptures made of pasteboard, it lies in the machinery used for the scenery changes, which was fortunately preserved. On the stage of Trianon, plays by authors who were fashionable at the time, such as Sedaine and Rousseau, were acted out and entire operas were sung, and everyone agreed that the Queen was very good.







The view from the foyer of the theatre

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To see the previous posts in the Versailles Series click here!

Photos © The Swelle Life

July 29, 2011

Versailles Series: Marie Antoinette's Petite Chambre


I've been dying to get back to my tour of Versailles! We're back on track now with Marie Antoinette's bedroom. I know what you're thinking, "This can't be it." Well, this was just one, her bedroom in the Petite Trianon, her private chateau (which really was private - husband Louis had to ask permission to enter, not that he really cared to).

It's very modest in contrast to its salons, though surely better than anything we have, but still very small (which is why the angles in the photos are short):

Either she was incredibly petite or she liked to sleep in the fetal position. I don't think she had a choice here!



The reflection in the mirror looks odd due to my crude eradicating of the tourists (yes, I know I am one, too, we're all guilty of ruining each other's photos) 



TheSwelleLife_9 Marie Antoinette's other 'throne'

Now I found this a bit odd. As you stand in the doorway to her bedroom you will find a tiny salon to the left. I guess this was her ensuite sitting room and there's nothing strange about that, but it just felt so awkward, kind of shoehorned into the space. Though still lovely and not lacking in the handcrafted detail of the grand salons, done in white with gorgeous silvery blue tapestry accented with lots of gilt, of course.

TheSwellelife_10 That second mirror on the outside wall seems strangely placed?




Lots more to come next week (and the next week, and the next week...)!

Photos © The Swelle Life

July 22, 2011

Floral Friday! The Walk Into Wallington


(Apologies for missing Versailles which I promised for yesterday. We travelled back to Toronto to find that the cable and internet were out. So Rogers made a liar out of me. Ach. However, I am flagellating myself for not delivering, it's way overdue.) 

The proper title of this post is actually 'The Walk Into Wallington's Walled Garden' but that's a big of a tongue twister. Last week I showed you the incredible pond, dense with lily pads and frollicky baby coons, which is actually what's behind this gate after you've walked a couple of minutes through the forest:

And we continue the tour which makes no chronological sense at all because I'm taking you back to the beginning!



The mansion at Wallington is a real treasure trove of curiosities. Last year I showed you the dollhouse rooms but there's so much more and I'll get to it one day ...


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Next week we finally get into the walled garden which is so beautiful you won't be able to stand it.

Photos © The Swelle Life

July 19, 2011

Cupcake Monday Revisited: (Still) Sew Yummy

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(Today I was travelling, we're going between families while we're here in Ontario for our summer visit home, and now the time zone is five hours behind the UK so things might be a little off here and there(like this post), but I do plan to be blogging regularly.)

Before leaving Toronto this morning I had hoped to pick up some pastries and Cupcake Monday subjects from Petite Thuet but the sign said 'Ferme' on Monday. I'm not being cute, it did say it in French and I like that.  There's an interesting story behind the man, renowned and controversial Alsatian chef Marc Thuet, who apparently has wrapped up his second season of Conviction Kitchen, a TV series in which he opens a high-end restaurant in Toronto from scratch and staffs it with convicted criminals. No murderers, I checked. It's hard to prepare food with butter knives.

Just one or two doors down is Pastis where we had a great French dinner on Saturday night, and I noticed a few other French places that warrant exploration in the dense with goodness Rosedale area. I know where I'll be focussing my attention when we go back, things have changed from last year as they tend to in the city.

The house fish soup at Pastis was divine as was their Assiette Gourmand which included a mini creme brulee, profiterole and double chocolate torte which was like firm butter and was served with a pistachio creme. We each ordered one and must have been nuts not to just share but I guess it's just not a successful dining night out if I'm not doubled over in cramps on the way out. I also had Steak Frites and I'm sure they cook the frites in duck fat, and they give you a ton, so I felt like I'd eaten a bowling ball and not one of those little 5-pins either.

The photo I'm showing has absolutely nothing to do with this post! To save time and get Cupcake Monday up (which I blew by writing a lot) I dug out an old edition, one I didn't even remember when I saw it so I'm hoping it'll be new to you, too!

This sewing machine topper was made a few years ago by the amazing cupcake sculptress Zalita who I featured in the not so final Cupcake Monday post and earlier with her utterly charming vintage tea party cupcake. They may not be a tie-in but all of these things sure are adorable and amazing.

Hopefully I'll be able to show some Petite Thuet next Monday...

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