My personal style signifier is my Swaine Adeney Brigg leather briefcase, which I started carrying when I was a kid and wanted to look like I had a job; there was just a Walkman and a toothbrush in there. I get so many compliments on it, but you never see anyone carrying them. Also double-breasted jackets with white jeans. You can be buttoned up, natty and respectable or leave them open, pop the collar and be a rock star. It’s handy, as one gets older, to be able to transform and still get away with wearing jeans; good tailoring in the jacket does that. From £1,095;

Netto’s Swaine Adeney Brigg briefcase
Netto’s Swaine Adeney Brigg briefcase © Weston Wells

The site that inspires me is a house called Locusts on Hudson in Staatsburg, New York. It’s one of the most beautiful sites on the Hudson River, with a romantic and singularly crescent-shaped quasi-baroque stucco house built in 1941 for Helen Hull and later owned by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. Billy Baldwin said, “Of all the country houses I’ve ever seen or known by photographs, the most beautiful of them all was hers.” It’s sitting up there, visible from the river, shrouded in a history of dreams and surprises.

A candlelit dinner in Swedish Lapland
A candlelit dinner in Swedish Lapland

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is the Tree Hotel, near Luleå in Swedish Lapland. My daughter Madelyn found it in a book about tree houses and said, “Let’s go here.” I have never been steered wrong on any holiday by a child. It’s a highly personal, intelligent fantasy of design and ecological tourism – and very intimate. The most memorable thing was being taken on snowmobiles at night to have dinner on a frozen lake in a candlelit tent. Ice dining, SKr2,500 (about £210); rooms, from about £375;

His beachside home in Amagansett, New York
His beachside home in Amagansett, New York © Weston Wells

My favourite room in my house is my bedroom at the beach in Amagansett. Particularly in a storm. Terrifying. It’s a hexagonal sort of lighthouse tower on the ocean, which rocks a bit in the wind when things really get going. When a wave pounds ashore, you feel the shock coming up through the pilings and the house. 

The person I rely on for personal grooming is Wendy Kidd, my hairdresser in New York since 1992 – it’s unbelievable; we laugh about it. 

Pollock at Kitty Fisher’s, London
Pollock at Kitty Fisher’s, London

The last meal that truly impressed me was at Kitty Fisher’s in London. I’ve noticed that many well-informed English people haven’t heard of it, which surprises me. I was taken there by the great Lauren Adriana and her husband. The atmosphere is Hogarthian, in a dark and intimate basement, like all secret great things should be. The house cocktail is called a Bad Kitty – so they had me for life right there – but the food is a sort of simplified, clarified, intellectual take on English cuisine. I had incredible duck, squash and turnip.

The best gift I’ve given recently? I was sitting on a plane and saw a girl being escorted aboard, flying alone for the first time and maybe just 10 years old. She was very nervous, having said goodbye to her parents, who were even more nervous. I anonymously bought her an upgrade to first class.

In my fridge you’ll always find Campari. Most people don’t keep it in there, but they should.

Captain Kidd shell watercolour
Captain Kidd shell watercolour © Weston Wells

An object I would never part with is my watercolour of a shell from one of Captain Cook’s South Sea voyages from Ursus Books in New York. I love the journeys of objects; I look at that tiny shell and it feels like I’m watching Master and

An indulgence I would never forgo is chemically relaxing my hair every few months, with the aforementioned Wendy. I wanted to look like a Kennedy – but not Rose Kennedy.

Robert Kime upholstered chair
Robert Kime upholstered chair

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Pimlico in London. It’s a ghost of what it was in the 1980s, but with Jamb for furniture and mantels, Soane for wicker and mirrors, Christopher Butterworth for lamps, Hemisphere Gallery for sculpture and art, Robert Kime for upholstered furniture and Syrian tables and Rose Uniacke for light fixtures, it’s still my favourite place.

My style icon is Peter Cushing. He’s dashing. I have this thing for Edwardian England which his style captured perfectly, and he was not a complainer. Favourite line from The Brides of Dracula, which came out in 1960: Vampire: “You know who I am?” Cushing: “I know who you were.” 

Netto’s Richard James double-breasted jacket, from £695
Netto’s Richard James double-breasted jacket, from £695 © Weston Wells

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a double-breasted blue jacket by Richard James. I like to buy the same thing over and over again. From £695;

The thing I’m eyeing next is a John Woolf house in LA. I’ve lived for many years in a great Richard Neutra house, and I would love to make a change and design a life for myself working off a completely different style of architecture. LA has everything, any style you want, but I love the work of John Elgin Woolf because he isn’t quoting anything. It’s a totally original vocabulary, a form of classical glamour invented for that town, and lots of great personalities like Sue Mengers and Robert Evans have used it as their backdrop. 

Netto at home in Amagansett
Netto at home in Amagansett © Weston Wells

The best souvenir I’ve brought home is raw sable pelts from Soviet Russia, when I was 17. My mother shrieked with delight, made a hat and changed a bunch of mink-trimmed things to sable. 

The best gift I’ve received recently was being put on the Elle Decor A-List. I have trouble getting on these lists, for one reason or another. Am I a writer? Am I a designer? Am I cool or old-hat? Do I work for enough celebrities? For years I pretended it didn’t bother me, but it really was nice when I finally turned up on one.

Erebus by Michael Palin
Erebus by Michael Palin

The books on my bedside table are Ritz and Escoffier by Luke Barr, which tells the story of the invention of the modern luxury hotel in late-19th-century London (people didn’t eat in public before the Savoy made it fashionable – think about that!). Erebus by Michael Palin, which is the story of one of the ships in The Terror told by my favourite character in A Fish Called Wanda (who was also the president of the Royal Geographical Society). And The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy, which is like taking vitamins for anybody who’s a writer – the structure is a radical one for biography and the humour relentless.

A recent “find” is The Terror on Amazon Video. It’s a sci-fi gothic capriccio on what could have happened to the lost northwest passage expedition of HMS Erebus and Terror, which both disappeared in 1848. They interact with the Inuit disastrously, are slowly poisoned by lead in their tinned food, then are pursued by something that settles the score nicely. I find it the best television there is.

Netto’s 1993 Land Rover Defender 110
Netto’s 1993 Land Rover Defender 110 © Weston Wells

The last thing I bought and loved was my 1993 Land Rover Defender 110, which I’m about to joyfully restore with Alex Reinwald, king of Defenders.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is David Hockney. I do have one, but not the one I wish I could tell you I have. You sort of don’t need to own them, though – the recent landscapes are so beautiful, so explosively joyful, it’s enough just knowing they’re out there. 

If I didn’t live in Los Angeles and Amagansett, the city I would live in is Charleston, South Carolina. I love its architecture and food, and the relentless friendliness of the way of life there. It’s not really a museum town, so the thing is to eat – old-school Southern at Fleet Landing and new cuisine at Fig. If I can, I get myself invited to Miles Brewton House, the greatest of all American Georgian townhouses, lived in by the greatest of all American hostesses, Lee Manigault. I also love the Roper House – you can visit by appointment – lovingly restored by Dick Jenrette. And I could buy prints and frame them at the Audubon Gallery. And take the Amtrak Silver Meteor train overnight from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to get there. Audubon Gallery, 190 King Street, 29401 ( Fig, 232 Meeting Street, 29401 ( Fleet Landing, 186 Concord Street, 29401 ( Miles Brewton House, 27 King Street Roper House, 9 East Battery, 29401 ( 

The last music I downloaded was Father of the Bride, the new Vampire Weekend album.

The grooming staple I’m never without is Elgydium toothpaste. £3.30;

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be trying to do what the clients do. Aren’t they smart, dammit. Decorating is the opposite of an efficient business – and writing is no business whatsoever; it’s philanthropy. So if we’re dreaming, and I weren’t doing those two ignominious things, I would like to be in private equity like [many of] the people who hire me – doing something I can’t understand but seems to be an extremely good idea. 

My favourite websites are Frank Dale & Stepsons for fantasising about buying vintage Bentleys (I did buy one from them once, and I should never have let it go); the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, for fantasising about moving to Kenya to work with orphaned elephants; SheltonMindel for fantasising that I am a real modernist like Lee Mindel; Alexander Palace Time Machine for looking at weird photographs of Imperial Russia; Boston Athenæum for following what is going on at my favourite library in America (I am a member but I never get to go); and Bentley Spotting for seeing what people are doing with the cars. I should never have sold.

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