As autumn begins to cool off Monocle’s Midori House HQ, we take a trip to the Pacific Northwest to find out how to give seasonal wind and rain the boot – for good. We also set up shop in France for a lesson in how to keep ourselves in cheque, before visiting a Copenhagen exhibition where diamonds are, well, forever. Andrew Tuck gets the conversation started.
On Thursday I went to see the new Covent Garden headquarters of Hines. It’s one of those vast companies that most people are unaware of but it wouldn’t surprise me if it managed or had developed a chunk of real estate near you. Perhaps the very building you’re sitting in. Hines is a global property firm with more than $94bn (€88bn) in assets so, as you can imagine, its new London set-up is pretty nice. And it needs to be a piece of statement design because every potential partner walking through the front door will see it as an expression of the company’s ambitions. I had been invited over by Rebecca Matts, Hines’ managing director and head of marketing and communications for EMEA, after we had got talking at a recent Monocle event. How could I say no when she mentioned that she had been listening to The Urbanist for years?
The Hines HQ was once home to a Victorian seed warehouse, which is why the building is now called the Grainhouse. The site was somehow never developed during all the waves of investment and change that has taken place in Covent Garden since its fruit-and-veg market closed in 1974. And here’s what I discovered about the future of the office according to Hines: it looks and feels like a boutique hotel in downtown New York.
As in many a modern inn, it has done away with the front desk in favour of a more discreet, concierge-style service on arrival. There are views across the city through walls of Crittall-style windows, a soft and enticing colour palette, a cute library, a barista in the café and a multitude of zones for quiet conversations. I don’t know whether a hotel vibe increases productivity or the desire to be in an office among the die-hard remote-working champions but it looked busy. And perhaps it does somehow ease the transition from home to work, though I might encourage people to drape fewer coats over the backs of chairs. (That’s one of those Monocle stories that I am delighted to say is true. Coats go in the wardrobe, please.)
Just a couple of hundred metres away from this polished HQ is Macklin Street, aka Memory Lane. My first work experience in the world of media was here in a building that housed i-D magazine and the Time Out guides, which was where I was set to work researching all manner of things for articles that would be printed on tiny bits of paper to fit inside a Filofax. There was a moment in the 1980s when Filofaxes were the ultimate displays of your coolness and connectedness, containing maps for cities that you had never even visited, all your contacts scribbled in ink and places to store your bank cards. In essence, they were a precursor to the smartphone, just on paper. But back to the office.
The building was a former school. It had retained the old outside loo, which was bum-numbingly cold in winter, and the desks were simple pine trestles. The whole vibe was less hotel and more Tribeca-industrial. It was vibrant and creative: the perfect place to be introduced to the world of journalism, one meticulously checked Filofax listing at a time.
One week a freelancer, Jane Ferguson, came in. She was writing for numerous titles and embodied the kind of gutsy confidence that I lacked – well, it was only week four of my career. She generously suggested that I get some story ideas together and that she would help me pitch them. One lunchtime, she sat next to me as I called a series of commissioning editors (this was back when people answered office phones) and, miracle, I sold my first feature. I bumped into Jane in Soho a couple of weeks ago and we agreed that we definitely needed to have dinner. So, a few days ago, we sat at the counter in Bloomsbury’s Café Deco and talked journalism and lives.
I don’t know what will endure in the world of office design but the thread that links an impeccable new HQ and a long-since torn-down office in a former school is that an office needs to be a place that fosters easy conversations and encounters, with the potential to create connections that endure. It should be a place where experience and knowledge can be easily shared. And who knows? More than 30 years later, you might find yourself having dinner with someone, feeling grateful for how a modest office helped to shape your life.
Slippery season is upon us. Any rainy day turns a city walk into an obstacle course of slick surfaces (writes Gregory Scruggs). The combination of smooth brick pavements, tiled subway stations and polished marble floors mean that the ground is like a skating rink in my trusty wool Allbirds Mizzles. Add a slurry of wet leaves and you’re looking at dirty footwear to boot.
Boots, it turns out, are the answer. I recently visited the Danner boots factory shop in Portland, Oregon, for an autumn wardrobe upgrade. The “Made in the USA” brand has been a lumberjack staple since Charles Danner shifted the business to the Pacific Northwest in 1932. When I walked into the boot emporium, which offers on-site sole replacement, nearly a century later, a satisfied road crewman walked out. The brand has achieved the admirable balance of retaining its customer base of outdoor workers, while also serving up stylish models that appeal to journalists who might daydream about working in a road crew – but simply write about it instead.
After sizing up models with stern names such as the Logger and the Bull Run, and giving the hunting and tactical shelves a pass (since I won’t be lugging a rifle down to the shops any time soon), I settled on a pair of Pine Grove Chukka boots in charcoal, lured by the promise of an oil-and-slip resistant Danner Wedge sole. The verdict, weeks of soggy strolls later? As advertised.
When was the last time you paid with a cheque? You might be struggling to remember (writes Mary Fitzgerald). But if you live in France, the chances that you have signed one recently are higher than in most other countries. I discovered my adopted nation’s enduring love for le chèque when I moved here six years ago. But since then, little has changed: when I opened a new account recently, my bank in Marseille gave me two cheque books. The covers featured artists’ impressions of a pretty Provençal landscape. I have since signed one cheque – just for the retro thrill of it – and put the rest through a paper shredder. According to a European Central Bank study in 2020, more than 80 per cent of French people use a cheque book, making France a European anomaly. In comparison, little more than 25 per cent of consumers across the wider eurozone use cheques.
In France, many tradesmen, landlords and small shops, particularly in rural areas, prefer to be paid by cheque. In 2020, €614bn was exchanged in this way, making it the third-most-popular non-cash payment method – behind bank transfers and direct debits but ahead of card payments. The coronavirus pandemic that year has since caused something of a change of habits. Many more businesses here now offer contactless payment and the French – or at least some of them – are learning to love the debit card. When I see people buying something with a cheque these days, they are usually of a certain age. Some habits die hard.
A proud Houstonian, author Benjamin Moser has lived in the Netherlands for more than 20 years. There, he wrote his biographies of Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector and American writer Susan Sontag, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020. Today he tells Monocle about his new book on Dutch art, his love of good vegan food and his shameless self-googling.
A few words about your latest project?
The Upside-Down World: Meetings with the Dutch Masters is about my 20 years spent living in the Netherlands and the Dutch painters who have haunted half my life. The questions that they raise, such as, “Why do we care about art? Why do we make it? How can it save us but how can it also kill us?” have only grown more urgent as I have become older.
What news source do you wake up to?
Since I have a new book out, the first thing that I do is Google myself to see if anyone out there is taking my name in vain. All writers should light a candle for Elon Musk, who has utterly killed what used to be called literary Twitter. It’s completely silent now – thank God. The need to preen for Twitter, and the horror of seeing what was said about you and your work, terrorised a whole generation of writers.
Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I’m addicted to coffee but I’m always surprised that tea actually tastes better and makes you feel less poisoned. Old habits die hard.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”.
Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The Burlington Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, the FT Weekend Magazine, the Gagosian Quarterly and Brazilian literary magazine Quatro Cinco Um.
McNally Jackson Books and Strand Book Store in New York, John Sandoe Books and Daunt Books in London, and Boekhandel Bijleveld on my corner in Utrecht.
Is that a podcast in your ear?
I never miss the Species Unite podcast, about animal rights and veganism. It’s a strange thing that almost everyone I know, and certainly everyone who I am close to, understands that the meat industry is destroying the planet. Few people question it, yet you still can’t convince them to leave animals alone and eat something else. Species Unite is about the people who are trying to change that.
What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Last night I called an old friend who lives in the US. I’m still a phone person – I love to lie in bed to talk to my friends.
Any good restaurant or bar recommendations?
I recently had dinner at Gauthier Soho, a vegan restaurant in London. I could have stayed there forever. It’s exciting to see how classic French cooking is being reinvented by a new generation of chefs who are refusing to take part in the meat industry. I felt that I was tasting the future.
‘A Shining’, Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls. Norwegian essayist, novelist, poet and playwright Jon Fosse has been compared to Henrik Ibsen and Samuel Beckett, and has attracted a loyal following with his “slow prose”. This 56-page novella tells the story of a man who gets lost in the woods as he sets off on foot through the cold and dark in search of help after his car breaks down. It is beautiful, haunting and sensitively translated.
‘Beyond Utopia’, Madeleine Gavin. Filmmaker Madeleine Gavin’s latest work, which picked up an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is a stark examination of life in North Korea. Using secretly filmed footage, Beyond Utopia focuses on the hazardous journeys that defectors make to flee the country, as well as the underground networks that assist them. It’s a film that explores the lengths to which people are willing to go in pursuit of freedom.
‘Anime Parallele’, Laura Pausini. The Italian popstar Laura Pausini’s new record sounds as fresh as her debut single, “La solitudine”, did in 1993. She sings as alluringly as ever on the ballad “Durare”, while dance number “Il primo passo sulla luna” tells the story of a friendship that ends over a refusal to compromise. Laura Pausini was recently named 2023 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year and starts her world tour in Rimini on 8 December.
Danish jeweller Ole Lynggaard returns to Hellerup this month, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, where the brand’s founder set up his first goldsmith workshop in 1963 (writes Natalie Theodosi). This year the brand is celebrating its 60th anniversary at an exhibition in the Øregaard Museum, located minutes away from Lynggaard’s original workshop. Amid the museum’s extensive collection of watercolour and oil paintings, the exhibition displays archives of Lynggaard’s sketches and fine jewellery designs from the 1960s to today.
The brand is best known for its handcrafted gold and silver designs that feature modernist lines and motifs inspired by nature. The show, which opens this week and runs until 17 December, also aims to tell the story of how three generations of the Lynggaard family turned the local jeweller into an international success, with shops in Copenhagen, Munich, Paris and Sydney. Lyngaard’s daughter, Charlotte, a trained goldsmith, is currently the brand’s creative director and this year her own daughter, Sofia, has joined the company, designing her first collection for the label. Copenhagen might be better known for impeccable interiors but brands such as Ole Lynggaard, alongside a new generation of local labels from Sophie Bille Brahe to Elhanati, are helping build the city’s reputation as a destination for modern fine jewellery too.
Morocco is still dealing with the aftermath of the tragic earthquake that hit Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains region in September 2023 (writes Lucrezia Motta). Now, the city’s historic hotel La Mamounia is partnering with Artcurial to host an exclusive exhibition and auction to contribute to the relief efforts. The art sale showcases a series of works by some of the most influential contemporary African artists. Among the highlights are three works by Mohamed Melehi, whose colourful paintings, which blend modern influences with traditional motifs, make him one of Morocco’s most influential modernist artists. His piece, “Constitution in Puzzle B”, is estimated to fetch up to MAD100,000 (€90,000).
The proceeds of eight lots sold at the auction will go to the Moroccan government’s Special Fund for managing the effects of the earthquake. The lots include private visits of the Villa Oasis and the Fondation Serge Lutens, and a print by Moroccan-born British artist Hassan Hajjaj. The hammer falls today at La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech.