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The Outside In House
4 Dingley Place, Clerkenwell
28th January 2017


Some of the greenery

I've never understood the complaints about concrete buildings. London is full of green spaces; we have an enviable supply of parkruns and city farms all around us. But as we found out recently, there's greenery and then there's "Pantone 15-0343 Greenery." As soon as we stepped over the threshold, we were greeted by a veritable forest. With some help from Keith Abraham from Playful Dragons and Mark Marmont and Carmen Dunphy from Fifty Eight Gin, we found ourselves marvelling at herb gardens, sipping freshly brewed oolong, practising a bit of qigong and learning how to drink gin like pros. We know what you're thinking. We bloody well found the entrance to Narnia, didn't we? Well, as much as it seems that way, apparently the Outside In House is a pop up collaboration between accommodation and experience provider Airbnb and colour expert Pantone. (There were no lions or witches - we did check.)

The reception room is full of trees, leafy plants and paving stones fashioned out of tree stumps. Although the soundscape feels artificial and it's a bright electrical light beating down on us rather than the sun through a rainforest canopy, the rest of the environment is an authentically wondrous retreat. I find myself unashamedly jumping on the paving slabs several times, finding a real sense of childlike peace in this room. The kitchen and dining room are brighter, with natural light streaming through the large windows. They are though no less green, with a herb garden and green kitchen accessories galore crammed into every nook and cranny. Following the spiral staircase downstairs, the basement is turned into an bedroom cum indoor garden (complete with grass, albeit of the fake variety). A bathtub looks like a lily pond and the mat on the floor is made from natural moss. It's heaven or hell, depending on whether you have hay fever or not.

Wandering back upstairs, Abraham may be ex-Forces and ex-City slicker, but it's hard to reconcile either of those fast-paced former lives with the unflappably serene instructor we meet in the dining room. With a soothing, honeyed voice, he talks about his favourite teas with enthusiasm, brewing a selection of green and black teas for us, obstinately refusing to criticise any of our observations, merely adding his own. We do our best to rattle him, suggesting mixing up teas and adding herbs and all we get a is a calm response of "Well, I wouldn't do it, but you could." There's no judgement here. His breathing exercises help us find a moment of peace in a small enclosed space and despite knowing who we are already and never doubting London is the best city in the world, suddenly we find a true moment of tranquility, hyper aware of our every movement.

Some of the greenery

With only a handful of people taking part in the tai chi and tea session, the intimate group size allows us all a chance to share our thoughts over (yet more) tea. It seems like an exceptionally civilised way to see in the Year of the Rooster. Those only booked in for the first session wander off and we await the next adventure whilst reflecting on the tips given to us by Abraham and trying to hold onto the feeling of complete zen.

It's a slight disappointment that the Make Gin from Scratch class is condensed to a mere tasting, however with only an hour to spend, we were never going to make magic in the time, only learn a bit about the process, sniff some botanicals and sample an interesting selection of gins. And by gum, do we do that. Master Distiller Marmont and his Head of Operations Dunphy show us a model of a copper gin still and explain how a life-sized version would work. The welcome cocktail tastes deceptively light, with bergamot, mint and apple juice masking an alcoholic base. Although there's no doubting that the neat gin is anything other than full on boozy (that's the technical term, we'll have you know), Mark explains how to get used to the harshness of the gin before enjoying a longer taste.

Marmont and Dunphy are clearly passionate about the business, letting us into all kinds of secrets about the distillery in Hackney and their copper stills who live there, affectionately named Dizzy, Harriet, Kate, Amy, and Alice. A full length class would apparently allow us to not only meet them in person, but make two bottles of gin from scratch with botanicals of our choosing. Now, that's a tempting (if dangerous) proposition... For those more inclined to find zen on top of a high mountain rather than at the bottom of a highball, Abraham also runs regular classes outside of Narnia.

After three hours of pottering around the Outside In House, we exit into the real world, into our London. It doesn't hit us how unusual the experience has been until later in the day. As everyone knows, you can't get to Narnia via the same door twice, so whilst we won't be returning to exact same address in Clerkenwell anytime soon, we're going to be staring hopefully at wardrobes for the foreseeable.

The Outside In House ran from 27th to 30th January 2017.

Nearest tube station: Old Street (Northern)

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