Stephen Bayley

Stephen Bayley is an honorary fellow of the RIBA, a trustee of the Royal Fine Arts Commission Trust and the co-founder of London’s design museum.

What Donald Trump’s taste tells us about him

Elsie de Wolfe was the pioneer interior designer whose motto was ‘plenty of optimism and white paint’. She banished brown Victoriana from America. And her work on Henry Clay Frick’s private apartments introduced new American money to old French furniture. If only she were with us today. For his first television interview as president-elect, Donald

Roving the world

In these books, two handsome and popular telly adventurers consider, from viewpoints that are sometimes overly autobiographical, the culture of internal combustion in two of its most distinctive forms. Ben Fogle is obsessed by Land Rovers while Richard Hammond is fascinated by motorbikes. Fogle came to notice in 2000 when he survived a harrowing year

Making America crass again

Elsie de Wolfe was the pioneer interior designer whose motto was ‘plenty of optimism and white paint’. She banished brown Victoriana from America. And her work on Henry Clay Frick’s private apartments introduced new American money to old French furniture. If only she were with us today. For his first television interview as president-elect, Donald

Contours of the mind

In Australia, I have been told, the female pubic area is sometimes known as a ‘mapatasi’ because its triangular shape resembles a map of Tasmania. And since we are discussing cartography and the nether regions, it is wonderful to find in the British Library’s new exhibition, Maps and the 20th Century, that Countess Mountbatten wore

Nicholas Serota

In this week of toadying obsequies after the (rather late) retirement of Sir Nicholas Serota from his imperial throne at Tate, an alternative narrative (briefly) enters the minds of the mischievous. Alone, aloof, fastidious, austere, he is sitting, suited darkly, in his office surveying, with a basilisk stare, the spreadsheets and data-sets his cowering elfin

Belly of an architect

Depending on your point de vue, Haussmann’s imperial scheme for Paris created townscape of thrilling regularity or boring uniformity. Whatever; against a backdrop of serene haute-bourgeois perfection, intrusions have always been controversial. Eiffel’s tower of 1889 was attacked by the intellos of the day. Maupassant, Gounod and Dumas fils thought it a hideous construction of

Estate agent

A big misunderstanding about art is that it excites serene meditation and transcendent bliss. But anyone who has worked in a public museum or a commercial gallery knows that this is untrue. The moral climate of the contemporary art world would embarrass the Borgias. Art excites peculation, speculation, back-stabbing, front-stabbing and avarice while fuelling nasty

Peggy Guggenheim

She had come a very long way from the shtetl, but Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Guggenheim was still the poor relation of her fabulously wealthy family. Although these things are, of course, relative. It was her uncle Solomon, enriched by mining, who first made the family’s name. Peggy’s father sank with the Titanic in 1912. Eventually Solomon’s

The original and the copyist

Architecture is sometimes described as the second oldest profession, but often — in both theory and practice — it competes with the first. In his splendiferous office in Manhattan’s Seagram Building, Philip Johnson confirmed this when he told me, ‘Remember, son, I’m a whore.’ True to his vocation, this was a line he had often

Requiem for a designer dream

Threnody. Dirge. Lament. Epitaph. Elegy. Wake. There are so many English terms to describe the passing of people and things that you wonder if introspection about demise might be a national characteristic. All these words are on my (doggedly cheerful) mind as staff have moved out of London’s Design Museum, securing the last open door

The faceless man in the bowler hat

Surrealism was, at least initially, as much about writing as painting. A plaque on the Hotel des Grands Hommes in Paris’s Place du Pantheon records that the oneiric movement began in 1919 when André Breton and Philippe Soupault invented ‘l’ecriture automatique’ at numéro 17. Automatic writing, with consciousness suspended, was supposed to open a conduit

Taking the pissoir

You have to imagine the lines that follow in separate fonts to get the full sense of the nonsense in ‘Karawane’, one of Hugo Ball’s ‘verses without words’: jolifanto bambla ô falli bambla grossiga m’pfa habla horem égiga goramen And it ends not with a bang, but with … ‘ba-umf’. See the original and it’s

These foolish things | 9 June 2016

No reliable statistics exist — it’s not the sort of thing you can audit — but England is surely the most haunted country on earth. And haunted not just by white ladies, ghosts, headless highwaymen, spooks and phantoms, but by a recurrent dream of Eden and other more recently lost pre-industrial worlds. Thus follies and

The great pretenders

There is fakery in the air. And maybe the French are done with deconstruction. A drone operated by a French archaeology consultant called Iconem has been languidly circling Palmyra, feeding back data about the rubble with a view to reconstructing the ruins and giving the finger to Daesh. Cocteau said he lies to tell the

‘A good boy trying to be bad’

Robert Mapplethorpe made his reputation as a photographer in the period between the 1969 gay-bashing raid at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street and the identification of HIV in 1983. This was the High Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the Bourbon Louis Romp, the Victorian imperial pomp, the Jazz Age, the Camelot moonshot, the Swinging

You’ve been framed

‘I like ordinary people,’ says the extraordinary photographer Martin Parr, pushing a few high-concept smoked sprats around his plate at St John, the Smithfield restaurant. Parr is Britain’s best-known photographer, but he is no acolyte of celebrity. Like the Italian anti-designers, his Seventies contemporaries who wanted to dull the sheen of modernism by elevating the

Public offence

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Stephen Bayley and Posy Metz from Historic England discuss public artwork” startat=1206] Listen [/audioplayer]There are, as adman David Ogilvy remarked, no monuments to committees. (That’s not quite true; Auguste Rodin’s ‘Burghers of Calais’ — you can find a version in Victoria Tower Gardens — is somewhat collectivist in subject matter.) But there are

The painter as poser

Bernard Buffet was no one’s idea of a great painter. Except, that is, Pierre Bergé and Nick Foulkes. Bergé was Buffet’s original backer and boyfriend, later performing identical roles for Yves Saint-Laurent, turning the sensitive designer into a global ‘luxury brand’ and turning himself into one of France’s richest men with pistonnage to spare. Foulkes


Before cheap flights, trains were the economical way to discover Europe and its foibles. Personally, I enjoyed the old fuss at border crossings. By the time I was 18, I had memorised those warning notices in the carriages: Nicht hinauslehnen; Defense de se pencher au-dehors; E pericoloso sporgersi. Those three different ways of saying ‘don’t