Category Archives: Fab Things


The Story of Papier Mâché

Papier Mache

Papier mâché ceiling rose at ‘Woodcot Park‘, Tarraville built in the 1850s.

Each one of my projects starts with a visit to the Caroline Simpson Library. I lean towards the historical, and how I design & style a space is dictated by a building’s past and the story that is revealed. Oftentimes I’ll add a touch of make believe, which together becomes the basis for the look & feel of a space. Working on RESTORATION AUSTRALIA with the ABC, an incredible archive of information has become available. The resident librarians at Caroline Simpson & research extraordinaires, Marina, Matthew and Michael picked up on the unique ceiling rose from Woodcot Park and shared this fascinating history of papier mâché with me. This is one example of the many oddities and curiosities and histories that the team have brought to my attention and helped me imbue in my spaces. If you ever have interiors or architectural questions look no further than these three!

When and where did architectural papier mâché originate?

We usually think of Papier mâché in relation to smaller decorative items like snuff boxes, trays and picture frames, which were really popular in the 19th century and people are often surprised to learn it had been used as an architectural material from the middle of the 18th century.

The pre-machine method of soaking paper pulp is said to have developed in France around 1740 and was fostered in England by paperhangers expanding into ceiling decoration. The industry then flourished in England, where the majority of manufacturers were found throughout the 1800s.

Why did it replace plaster?

As an architectural material papier mâche̒ was light, strong, easily fitted and could be moulded into a myriad of designs. It offered advantages over modelled plaster for manufacturers and found a ready market in tradesmen and householders. It was also an ideal material for export abroad.

With the elaborate interiors of the 18thcentury and earlier periods, highly skilled craftsmen were required on-site to do the time consuming work. Apart from needing skilled workers for mould making and gilding, the papier mâche̒ alternative could be produced at a central plant by relatively unskilled workers, bringing production times and costs down considerably. The ‘ready-made’ patterns could be easily circulated to builders and architects via manufacturers’ trade catalogues and being lightweight, the product could be shipped anywhere for installation by local craftsmen, regardless of the availability of specialists. And once it was installed, it didn’t need to dry (like plaster does) before being painted, gilded or grained.

What goes into the process of creating a papier mache mould or cornice?

By today’s standards, the process was still quite labour intensive. Designs had to be carved by skilled craftsmen before moulds could be created. These moulds could be in the form of anything, from small decorative elements to sections of repeat patterns and even large panels.

The papier mâché was made by pulping or layering paper with various binders and additives, then pressing it into moulds. The process then involved waterproofing and hardening with linseed oil before drying.

What can it be used for?

Papier mâché was mostly used in imitation of decorative plasterwork for ceilings and walls, but could also be used to model decorative timber borders, such as the carved and gilded work around doors and windows or chimney pieces.

Our curator, Michael Lech, has done research on manufacturers such as the London based companies George Jackson & Sons and Charles F Bielefeld, who used papier mâché to manufacture complete columns, corbels, ceiling centres and frames for mirrors and pictures. By 1847 Bielefeld had begun experimenting with larger papier mâché constructions and made giant Corinthian capitals, 22 feet in circumference, for an Australian bank commission, as well as large panels for steamships and even complete prefabricated houses.

In what era was architectural papier mache at its height?

From the mid-18th century it was being used in Europe, England and the U.S. It was first imported into Australia in the 1830s and by the mid-19th century, papier mâché was used extensively in this country as an alternative to plaster for architectural mouldings like cornices and ceiling roses.

When did its popularity lessen? Why?

Papier mâché continued to be used in England right through the 19th century, but here in Australia the development of another alternative in the form of ‘hemp-reinforced’ plaster, meant that papier mâché was used less and less after about the 1860s. And of course the advent of stamped tin-ware and pressed metal ceilings also contributed to its decline.

Are there any notable houses or structures that have used papier mache in their design?

Yes, papier mâché was installed into houses like the Scott brothers’ Glendon near Singleton, TS Mort’s Greenoaks (now Bishopscourt) at Darling Point and Edward Cox’s Fernhill at Mulgoa, NSW. Most recently, a papier mâché ceiling rose was featured in an episode of Restoration Australia about the once derelict home ‘Woodcot Park’, built in Tarraville, Gippsland in the 1850s. We have found an identical illustration of the ceiling rose in one of our Bielefeld trade catalogues published in 1850. This discovery not only demonstrates how papier mâché was widely used in mid-19th century Australia but also how durable this material has proved to be.


Architectural design elements, ‘The Collection of Geo. Jackson & Sons, Manufacturers of Composition & Improved Papier Mâché’, 1836. Courtesy of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.


Ceiling roses, ‘The Collection of Geo. Jackson & Sons, Manufacturers of Composition & Improved Papier Mâché’, 1836. Courtesy of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.


Plant stand, ‘The Collection of Geo. Jackson & Sons, Manufacturers of Composition & Improved Papier Mâché’, 1836. Courtesy of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.


Papier mâché ceiling rose design in Charles F Bielefeld’s ‘On the use of the improved papier-mâché in furniture, in the interior decoration of buildings, and in works of art’, 1850. Courtesy of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.

To learn more visit Sydney Living Museums.


Restoration Australia

newsletter2In April 2013 I embarked on the 2-and-a-half-year journey of a lifetime as the host of ABC’s new program, RESTORATION AUSTRALIA.

I traipsed across rural Australia, following the stories of 7 house & 7 families, their trials & tribulations, joys & sorrows as they restored their heritage houses. Little did I know I was very newly pregnant at the time!

We were a small crew of mostly men – all fathers – who gallantly nurtured me & my Silver through many a weekend shoot.

This is my journey of an incredible travel throughout regional Australia, the people I met, the places I stayed, the landscape, the historical houses and the adventures I had.

Welcome to my family album of Restoration Australia.



Luxe City Guides | The Society Inc. Terrace & Warehouse

The Society Inc. Terrace & Warehouse – Inside Sibella Court’s fabulous, maximalist world

Sydney-based style queen Sibella Court gallivants around the globe in search of eclectic objects and inspiration for her whimsical design world. And with the opening of her new Airbnb property, as well as her industri-chic decor shop, fashionistas the world over are travelling her way…


Sibella’s travel resume is as packed as any of her ephemera-laden interiors – from a career-kickstarting ten-year stint in NYC to treasure-hunting trips through Ecuador, Turkey and Transylvania. We’ve long loved her beautiful books and dined in restos she’s touched with her style stick (like Palings and Mr Wong), but we were particularly tickled to learn of her new Airbnb property in Paddington, choc full of her characteristic natty curios.

Now The Society Inc. Terrace is taking guests, so we caught up with the nomadic nest-featherer to talk favourite rooms, the best local brews, her upsized new decor store and all of Syd’s best spaces, places and makers.

Tell us a bit about The Society Inc. Terrace.

I envisaged the Terrace as a pied-a-terre, a boutique one-bedroom hotel where guests would feel perfectly at home and have all the comforts of home [ed note: that is, if your usual abode also happens to be a boho boîte complete with bitty courtyard, kitchen, dressing room and annex].

I also wanted it to be a sensory experience, as if guests were walking through and living within the pages of one of my books. I love that I have the freedom to offer a space that is a complete reflection of me.

Do you have a favourite room in the property?

The main bedroom with Anna-Wili Highfield’s floating owl is probably my favourite. I love that it has everything I need just like a good hotel room should: a comfortable bed, books, everything right at my fingertips.

With so many covetable bits and bobs in every corner, have any guests asked to take items home with them?

Yes, we’ve had some requests. Most of the items have been collected from local artisans so we encourage people to ask about them. And a lot of the time we can help source things for people either through our shop or by putting them in contact with the makers directly.


What places in Paddington do you tell guests they need to check out?

10 William Street has the best pasta and wine list in Sydney. It’s intimate and local – the best! I also love beautiful shop and coffee house Alimentari – owner Lorraine is the city’s best barista, for sure. Ask for the Iggy’s stick with tomato for breakfast.

With your former shop location now converted into the Terrace, you’ve moved The Society Inc. store into a new warehouse in St. Peters. Tell us a bit about the spacious new digs.

We have a massive space now! Half of the warehouse is dedicated to our work studio, the other half is The Society Inc. shop and showroom. It is part haberdashery, part hardware store, and full of oddities from my globetrotting adventures. We have so much room to play with now, which means I can put together larger room displays and host exhibitions. It’s fantastic being able to offer even more inspiration to my customers for their own homes.

Any favourite items or lines you currently have in store?

Right now, the range of hand-dyed indigo textiles from the Western Gulf of Africa. Each is one of a kind and tells such a story. Close seconds would be the surfboards I created in collaboration with McTavish, and my hardware range.

Other than The Society Inc., where should travellers head to trawl for treasures in Sydney?

For vintage eclectics and ephemera, Seasonal Concepts in Redfern. I also love Ici et La for fabulous antique furniture.


And can you tell us a few of your favourite local artisans?

Shibori . They are the masters of textiles, I love using their fabrics. Bednest , who make beautiful custom upholstered bed heads. And miniature boat maker Elise Cameron-Smith , her creations are so fun.

You’ve written several beautiful books (Nomad, Gypsy, Etcetera) about finding treasures on travels and how to style them, where have you found some of your favourite pieces?

Each time I travel I’ll beachcomb for a perfect, grey, egg-shaped stone – it’s easy to overlook those sorts of things but a little rock can be as special and interesting as any antique. I also can’t go past paper ephemera, textiles and fabrics from all over the world.

Can you put too many things in one room?

Never! I’m a maximalist. Spaces should be as intricate and exciting as the owner’s personality.

What are some of the other stylish spaces in Sydney you love?

I love going to Kitchen by Mike and Koskela . Both are in the same big industrial warehouse that used to be a cannery – it’s a great space. You can take a plate and pile it up with the day’s salads and seasonal specials at the communal canteen, then check out Russel Koskela’s collection of vintage and designer furniture. And Bourke Street Bakery in Marrickville is another favourite.

And outdoors locations?

When I have time I like to do the Clovelly to Bondi coastal walk. I always stop at Icebergs for a swim, a massage or coffee on the terrace.


You spend half of the year travelling, where are you off to next?

Next for me is Seoul and Ho Chi Minh City, then Copenhagen, London and NYC before I go to Portland and road trip down through San Francisco and the Big Sur to LA.

And which destination are you still itching to get to?


What do you love about Sydney? And loathe?

The beach, light and skyline. There’s not a thing that I loathe about Sydney.

With thanks to Luxe City Guides.


Shop The Post | Scissors

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Scissors in all shapes and sizes are a must in my toolkit and tackle box. I have been collecting vintage scissors for years now. At The Society Inc. studio we are spoilt for choice. I love their shape, how they can be rustic & hard or dainty & beautiful. They have so many different uses from tailoring & haberdashery, to paper ephemera, hair, nails, fur, plants & herbs, string, twine & rope. The list goes on.

SHOP THE POST | Makers Scissors, Tailors Scissors (Small), Tailors Scissors (Medium), Tailors Scissors (Large), Herb Scissors (Small), Herb Scissors (Large).


Paul Ryan

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Paint slapped onto canvases, thick and textural. Waves crashing into the sky, fierce and raging. It is this very feeling that drew us to New Zealand born artist, Paul Ryan. And it is his healthy dose of tongue in cheek that made us stay. His paintings are so tactile, you want to reach out and touch them. He brings art back to the craft and the refinement of a skill. We want to live inside one of his paintings, next to the lieutenants, the cowboys and the traders and amongst the sea light and Norfolk pines.


The Coveteur



We’re in the midst of Marie Kondo-ing. And, yeah, we know we’re as mentally and physically exhausted by the whole declutter pressure as you are. We mean, we do believe in loungewear and saving buttons. And we like presents. But cleanse we must, because clutter = a scattered mind and sadness. And your family hates you. (That’s how it goes, right?)

But then we walked into Sibella Court’s Sydney studio and all of our clutter-free fantasies went right out the metaphorical window. Forget sparse, empty spaces—Court’s veritable menagerie of collectibles is totally our new interior dream. Then again, she’s a pro (somehow our random assemblage of old invitations and random tchotchkes doesn’t quite have the same aesthetic appeal). And by pro, we mean she travels the world sourcing endless interior inspiration before bringing it all back to Sydney to arrange in perfect clutter-wonderful (think about that, Kondo!) vignettes. We guess it’s not the worst gig in the world.

And Court, who lived in New York for years before moving back home to Australia to launch The Society, her studio-cum-shop where you can peruse her curated eccentricities (if you’re in Sydney, go now), has a wardrobe as artfully bohemian as her interior style would suggest. Let’s just say that by the time we got over the space itself, we took our sweet time with her closet, going through fur and fringe collars, needle-like Saint Laurent heels and APC, Barbara Bui and Dries Van Noten separates like you wouldn’t believe—each and every piece in her signature off-white creamy beige, that’s so not beigey beige (if you know what we mean). This is a woman who knows her aesthetic. And frankly, we want in.


Jacket, APC; Hat, Akubra; Shoes, Rag & Bone


“[My career] was really written in the stars and it happened over 20 years ago. I had an incredible knowledge of Sydney’s backstreets, a love of all the plants and flowers in the world and a deep understanding of serious shopping. After many years of styling I was looking for a place to house all of my wonderful finds and the crafters, makers and creators that I discovered on my travels. The Society Inc. was due to open in New York City but a slight change of route saw it opening in the backstreets of Paddington in Sydney.”

Collar, Sass & Bide


“I can’t live without my baby and partner, amulets, a hat, iPhone, passport and ticket to ride.”

Jacket, APC; Shoes, Rag & Bone


“Other than being a master swordswoman in my imagination, the romance of seafaring adventures or that of a swinging wagon through the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania I cannot resist. I travel the world seeking inspiration that seeps deeply into my interior spaces, product ranges and books.”

Collar, Vintage


“I always have a top five list for my next [travel] destinations. Seeing trees laden with monarch butterflies as they fly into Big Sur, California, in October; following in the footsteps of Gertrude Bell and riding into Petra on horseback; catching a felucca down the Nile; or travelling to Middle Atlas searching out hand loomed rugs are all high on my list.”

Shoes, Yves Saint Laurent


Jacket, APC; Hat, Akubra; Shoes, Rag & Bone


“[The three things every woman should have in her home are] lamps, lots of blankets (I have blankets from all over the world and each has its own story) and lots of fresh cut flowers.”

Shoes, Christian Louboutin


“I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing and living where I want to be living. I travel all the time!”

Jacket, APC; Hat, Akubra; Shoes, Rag & Bone


“[Pieces with] white, caramel and cream, always with detailing [are part of my daily uniform]. I never leave home without my amulets.”

L to R. Shirts, Vintage, Dries van Noten; Bag, Henry Beguelin


“[My favourite meal] depends on the day. I do like roast chicken and dim sum for dumplings.”

Jacket, APC


“[My guilty pleasure is] peppermint chocolate-chip gelato from Messina and Caramello Koalas.”

Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


“I love the beach. Maybe I was related to the merpeople at some point because I definitely feel the pull of the sea. So living in Sydney, for me, that’s what its all about. But I have three homes: Byron Bay, Sydney and New York City.”


“Working with amazing talent for my collaboration with Mctavish [was one of my favorite projects]. Drawing on my friendships and admiration of textile designers including Shibori, Quercus & Co, Bethany Linz, Bonnie and Neil, as well as our own designs. To work with master craftsmen from shaping to glassing with the McTavish brand was so special. That’s also where I met Ben, my partner in life. I love where collaboration can take you, when two creative forces are joined together, whether working with Anthropologie or a local small design company.”

Sunglasses, Ray Ban


“My skincare routine is pretty basic. I use rosehip oil and Clarisonic cleansing brush and monthly facials by Jocelyn Petroni. I try my best to listen to my guided meditation mindfulness app everyday, but I am still learning!”

Shoes, Country Road


Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


“[My first fashion splurge] was definitely a pair of shoes. I bought these Patrick Cox knee-high silk shoes with Chinese dragons embroidered up the sides and I danced the night away, so it was worth it.”

Jacket, Barbara Bui


Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


“It appears that from every destination I pick up a local spoon and sea-tossed stones. I like to conjure up the romance of travel and my desire to take little mementos from each place is too strong to deny.”


“The show [I’ll be presenting on] is called Restoration Australia on ABC. It follows the story of seven heritage houses around Australia laden with history. We meet the owners, research the history, hear the many stories, find and discover traditional old trades and their application into the restoration of these houses. It’s about saving beautiful old homes and restoring them with love and consideration. It’s estimated to air August 2015.”

All, Carla Zampatti


Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


“Luggage plays a huge part for me because it makes me feel like I’m going on an adventure. I always carry my Filson leather strapped canvas bag. I am a product of my surroundings and the culture I am in, and my clothing and travel essentials reflect this (always in my palette of caramel, cream and white). While in Syria it was about respecting the culture, so I donned drawstring pants with a caramel and white embroidered tunic and a linen scarf. I travel with things of my own like my cashmere throw, which doubles as a blanket or a shawl on a cool desert night.”

Jacket, APC; Shoes, TODS; Hat, Akubra


“[My best life advice is] if it’s too hard, move on. Eat your greens. Keep the spring in your step.”

Bag, Swarm


Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


Dress, Carla Zampatti


Dress, Carla Zampatti 


“I bought this bikini at a fabulous shop at the Sunset Hotel on Shelter Island when I realised I’d forgotten my bikini!”


“Rose hip oil is a cure for all. I use YSL foundation and bronzer, and that’s it for me.”


Dress, Carla Zampatti


Dress, Carla Zampatti


Dress, Carla Zampatti


Dress, Carla Zampatti


“I don’t wear high heels as much as I used to [since becoming a mother], but other than that [my style] is the same. My handbag got a little bit bigger, too, to fit the essentials: bottle, toys, spare nappies. This is Christopher Fischer cashmere scarf also becomes a wrap, blanket or throw, great for being a mom!”

Scarf, Christopher Fischer


Dress, Carla Zampatti


“Everyday is a career highlight for me. I have crafted my own job description where I get to do everything I love and want to do.”

Dress, Carla Zampatti


“[The three things every woman should have in her closet are] dress-up clothes and masks, safari outfits and hats, hats, hats, for days!”

Jumpsuit, Billy Reid


“I don’t design my own home. I pick up things I love during my travels. All the things that tell my story become a 3-D lifeline in my space.”

Top, Vintage; Shoes, Country Road


“[My perfect day in Sydney] is at the beach, swimming and walking the foreshore.”


Bracelet, Céline


Dress, Carla Zampatti


Dress, Carla Zampatti