C is for…
Candlelight adds a warming ambient element to any room, whether the candles are scented or not. I have candles of all shapes & sizes: church tapers, beeswax, birthday cake, elaborate hand-moulded & embellished Mexican ones, figures, wedding cake toppers & the rest. Note: Attach tapers to a table with their own wax for a romantic centrepiece. At dusk, light them & let them pool on the table as the dinner party starts.
Cards: flash, playing & others
I discovered an oversized bundle of cards in a flea market in Illinois displaying nursery rhymes. I have since picked them up throughout The States. They are two-sided and often have typed running writing on the back. Featuring the same word in regular type on the front (or vice versa), these teaching tools translate so easily into your interior styling as wall art. Or add them casually leaning on your stairs, to read as you casually wander up & down, or put them anywhere else you choose. So perfectly die-cut on each corner and often the shade of aged paper. I like to mix up words, numbers, phrases or letters in unusual combinations, or just have one on its own. My very good friend James & I find cards, mostly in random places. Discarded cards are so curious & intriguing. I enjoy receiving texts from James such as “Soggy Jack of hearts found at Mott & Crosby”, or from me “Seven of spades found in windswept bush in Palm Beach”. My random cards often find themselves propped up on mantelpieces or just stuck in trophies on my shelves. Perhaps it is the many cards games that my siblings & I learnt from my grandmother and played constantly while we were growing up. We were very good & competitive at 500, Jim Rummy, Canasta & Black Jack, and could play an energetic game of double Patience!
I can’t go past the incredible selection of words that make up the names of different species of cicadas – I’ve even dotted a couple of them throughout my paint range! Here are a couple of evocative titles: Double drummer, Tom thumb, Green grocer, Yellow Monday, Black prince, Cherry nose, Floury baker.
Amateur collection became quite the trend in the nineteenth century as science began to compete with religion as a way of understanding the world. Bucaneers, botanists and the merely curious brought back from their travels to the new world discoveries as simple as pineapples, skeletons, birds’ eggs, shells and native artefacts – in the case of real-life human beings – the frankly outrageous.
While gentleman explorers and amateur scientists were working on the edges of official practice members of the general public were looking with a discerning eye at flora & fauna, and collecting by the pressing, pinning, preserving, capturing, skinning, maintaining specimens in books, bottles, jars, box, domes, and cases to observe, record and comment.
The personal collections were not particularly organised (not in any scientific way at least) but were more a showcase of random objects totally catering to the owner’s desires and interests. These cabinets of curiosities, which could be anything from souvenir albums to custom-made pieces of furniture were simply a place of display where pieces could be easily examined, moved and cast aside if necessary. A show-and-tell environment that encouraged visitors, debate and modern opinion in the age of entitlement and world exploration.
For the middle-class women, in particular, who had the time for rambling and combing the countryside and seashore, the plant-hunting phenomenon (including the Victorian fern craze) became a hugely popular and socially favoured pastime, allowing them some aesthetic and scientific pursuit otherwise denied. Although it was considered a leisure activity rather than a ‘career’, they did contribute to the advancement of study and understanding of botanical nature through one-of-a-kind handmade mounted illustrated albums most notably of seaweed, algae, fern and wildflowers.
The roots of many museums lie in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when the boundaries between categories of high & low, art & science, education & entertainment were not as clear as they are now. The beginning of the twentieth century saw disciplines becoming specialised and a distinct separation being created between all these things, amateur & professional.
I have a long-time love affair with the romantic side of colonialism: the campaign furniture & travelling outfits. The jodhpurs, linen shirts, moulded safari hats swathed in muslin, & browned knee-high riding boots (like Kristin Scott-Thoas in The English Patient). Gertrude Bell would travel with at least crystal, china, writing desk & a canvas bath on her forays into Middle Eastern deserts. I love all things that fold, have compartments & need staff. For the modern-day variety, Richard Wrightman in Long Island City makes the best. Years ago, my friend Crispin & I went to a night at the Explorers Club in NYC. It is majestic, awe-inspiring & fabulous. We were the youngest by a long way, but we knew they were looking for inspiring new members. However, when we looked at the regulations to becoming certified members, we fell short on credentials. With no field experience or exotic adventures under our belts, we were invited to become Friends of the Explorers Club instead.
I like to look at life in colour. it’s a strong memory trigger and, for those of us with poor memories, a gentle reminders always welcome. To me, everything is about colour. Coming from a styling background, colour has always been the most important tool with which I work. It has led me to create my own paint range based on my 10-colour palette theory, as well as many commercial interior spaces, styled sets for magazines and other product ranges. This is tried & tested – I use it every day!
One of my first memories is of beach combing for shells on the wild shores of Siletto Beach, on the NSW coast. The collection of pink kelp shells, which I gathered from huge drifts washed up on shore, sits proudly on my cabinet of curiosities. I’ve bought many fancier shells over the years and am as fascinated by the real thing as by beautiful studies, drawings and lithographs of them, and also by things made from shells. I am forever searching out shell museums & collections to pore over and use as inspiration for my own displays as well as to see what beautiful shapes, sizes & colours the world’s shells have to offer. They can be divided into so many themes, studies & families, but more often than not, I like to group them haphazardly with no thought whatever of their scientific classification.
Crowns, tiaras & masks
A paper tiara or crown of rosy thorns for me please! I have a circle of giant seaweed found at Big Sur & given to me by a past love. I’m sure a merman lost it. More pagan than regal, but glorious in its naturalness & humbleness. Not just for the human head or fancy dress, but as beautiful on a door, nail or wall. A sparkly paper tiara can brighten up any shelf or oneself. Picasso collected African masks for inspiration, but mine are a little different & not so uniform. I like them without rhyme, reason or theme; old theatre ones appeal to me, particularly if they are expressionless & unpainted, with the shape enough to inspire. Although, as I said, there are no rules – I am just as attracted to James Bond-esque snorkel goggles, the plastic animal shapes I buy in NYC from the novelty store & the painted and moustached fencing mask I bought in Burton, Ohio. A bearded man on a stick looks thoughtfully towards the light. I bought this (& others like him) from the puppet master in Khiva, Uzbekistan, while travelling with my mum. Accompany it with lines from the play he might star in, or keep an eye out in your travels for a leading lady.
I love paint. I love its immediacy. I love being able to choose eco-friendly options with a range of interesting finishes. You can do it yourself and I love that you can completely overhaul, renew, or refresh a space in an afternoon. Here are my tips for getting the most out of a tin of paint:
1. Swatch, swatch, swatch. Visit the local hardware or paint store and buy small pots of a few colours that you like or those that fit in your 10-colour palette – don’t be scared to try something new. If the choice is there, get an assortment of different finishes: matt, semi and full gloss, and metallic are just a hint at the possibilities.
2. Try them out. Take your selection home and paint large swatches, about one metre (or two feet) square, in various parts of the room. Study the results at different times of the day, in natural and artificial light. This is a very important step, as the appearance of a paint colour can change depending on the size and orientation of the room, colours and elements that surround it.
3. If you’re hesitant, choose the disposable option. If you’re baulking at painting swatches directly on walls, paint your desired colours on one-metre squares of pure white paper and paint them to various spots on the walls. Be aware that the finish and colour will be slightly different to how the paint will appear on the walls.
4. Think about it. Look at your swatches for at least 24 hours before you make your decision.
5. Relax. Once you begin painting, don’t worry if you can’t achieve a professional finish. Some colours look great when they’re slightly uneven, as they have a more tactile quality. And remember, if you don’t like it or you really do a botched job, you can always paint over the top and start again.
Check out my advice on creating your own 10-colour palette here.
You can’t be expected to store all your travel experiences in your head – you’ll need a few photos to jog your memory. But you don’t need to be a professional photographer to take a great pic. With a little confidence and some patience, you can get a fantastic picture.
It’s all about composition.
- Consider what’s in your frame – adopt a stylist’s eye for crop and angle.
- Work out what should and shouldn’t be in the pic. Check, for example, where a wall or stair ends, or that you’re getting in the top of an object.
- To avoid distortion, it can sometimes be a good idea to stand back and zoom in; likewise, you need to be careful not to stand at an odd angle, otherwise things can look as if they’re tilting.
- Take your time – a snapshot doesn’t have to be ‘snap’, but it can still look spontaneous. The beauty of digital is you can check everything and go back to correct, right then and there.
- It’s important to go back and edit; be ruthless and do it as you go along, before you download your pics. It makes for a stronger ‘story’ at the end, which often gets neglected upon your return.
- Don’t store your photos away – I get mine printed as soon as I get back. It keeps the globetrotting inspirations alive, as well as let me physically move the pics around, put them in a different order, and play with colour and content. You’ll find this plays a large part in coming up with a trip-based 10-colour palette, even if one wasn’t obvious while you were gallivanting around.
- I often think of pictures in pagination, i.e. how the pages turn and a story runs in a magazine. I like to make a strong picture story of it, which can then be put into an album if I feel like it.
By doing these things, inspiration and excitement from you trip should be at the forefront of your mind and you are ready to experiment with your own interior.
The new design of Hotel Palisade is the journey of the building, from past to present. Walk into the original character of the building in the ground floor bar, which pays homage to days gone-by, with the hustle and bustle of the early harbor port days of the Rocks.
The design is inspired by the small trades of eras passed: the handtooled, handsmithed and handtinkered. Everything you see and feel is bespoke, handcrafted items by locally based master craftsmen and tradesmen. The fixtures and finishes are a nod to this industrial past using humble and honest materials… zinc, steel, leather, canvas, copper and timber. We celebrate the materials that patina and get better with age (and with a little bit of tough love, too).
You may still hear the jeers of the larrikins and the ‘wharfies’ coming to drink after a day waiting for ships to dock. You might catch the cackles and calls of the mothers and aunties for their little ones to come in from days riding billy carts and mock war games on the streets. You will feel the ruggedness of the surface under layers of thoughtful design.
On offering is a harp back to the time of oyster bars and the staple that the sea offered. This is a place where the history of the community is both wicked and respectable, but always with a very strong sense of camaraderie. The colour palette is inspired by the spectacular views of the Sydney waters and the original tiles that line the inner walls and their many moods of green.
To bring back this iconic ground floor back to life I instilled an army of talented people:
Rowena – Murobond & colour hunter, Felix – finder & maker, Tommy – builder & solutionaire, Saul – blacksmith extraordinaire, Jonathan – furniture maker & all round finishes guy, Simon – lighting & all round MacGyver, Athol – believer & magician of shapes & forms, hard & soft, Michael – genius of all painters, with the patience of a saint, Neil – scenic painter & layerer of history & romantic grim, Ross – electrician & unruffled weaver of the unimagined, Terry & Michael – magic makers from bad to good in floors, Andrew – tinkerer, Stuart – a shape shifter in furniture, Rosie – finder & keeper of oddities & curiosities, Will & Nath – wizards of the palimpsest & lost arts of signwriting, Chris & team – layering in tiles of once was, Simon – rejoicing of the history of graphics, Matt – plumber & onion peeler, Paul – time traveller & artist, David – lover of history & measurements, Camille – draper & leather shifter of quality aprons, Andrew – fabric & notion expertise, Sam & Katie – earth benders, Alan – sourcerer of all quality furniture, Ken – eagle eyed finder of vintage wares, Avi – tanner & unturner of all stones.
Photos by Chris Court
B is for…
Beads & sequins
One of my early collections, along with ribbons & shells, was beads & sequins. As a child I loved to separate and organise, by shape & colour, the seed beads my mum would bring me back in packets from her South-East Asian jaunts. On our trips to the city (a time when we would have to dress up and catch the bus) we would head to the fabulous ballroom dancing suppliers, Photios Bros, which continues to thrive today. Although you are not allowed to peruse the floor-to-ceiling shelves of stencilled cardboard boxes, you can choose your desired strand of sequin, bags of beads, colours & things sparkly from the catalogue at the front counter.
Birds’ nests, eggs & skulls
I have always loved exploring in nature, and picking up treasures as I ramble. It’s a rare day to find unusual eggs and skulls but, after strong winds, an eagle eye can find a grounded nest. I often have nests perched on top of cupboards, on my mantel or just sitting on a block of wood somewhere. If your fossicking hours are limited, you can visit your local natural history museum for inspiration and make your own nest with twigs and sticks.
Blackboards & slate
I believe I was born in the wrong era, although I do love the liberation of technology! Ah, the romance of the time when you walked to your school and had your very own slate to write the day’s work on. I have collected some of the smaller slates bound in leather and wood, and one even has a name etched into it. I have created a range of 12 colours of chalkboard paint so you can put a blackboard on a wall or a piece of furniture anytime you please, in any colour you please.
I love bones – not all bones, mind you. They have to be a certain shape, but I’m not usually fussy about which animal they are from: the fineness & fragility of seafaring birds’ bones found on the beach; the oversized thigh bone of a camel; or the dried-out vertebrae of a snake my brother gave me from his farm, which is a sculpture unto itself. If these make you slightly squeamish, there are beautiful porcelain cast bones that can be used in the same way, or even beautiful pencil drawings that can be stuck to your wall.
My collection of books serves to discredit the maxim ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. So many of the ones I own have been bought because of the linen or board with which it is bound, the ribbon bookmarks, or paper stock. Whenever I’m travelling I pick up cheap or second-hand books with unusual fonts or typesetting and especially seek out those with foreign lettering. If they’re faded, well-thumbed, or falling apart, well, that’s even better. All of them usually make their way into my home or shop, either as the catalyst for a colour palette or as parts of the many layers of styling.
A friend of The Society Inc. lent me these beautifully built bottled boats made by a fisherman on Sydney’s northern beaches. ‘Impossible bottling’ is rarely seen these days, which in my mind makes these specimens all the more special. Keep your eyes open for objects made using dying trades and crafts like this and you will no doubt be rewarded.
One day (hopefully soon) I’m going to have my very own perfume & home fragrance range. When this happens, I have all I need on hand for inspiration. I have a vision that my perfect scent (possibly rose based) will hang on a beautiful chain lanyard or leather tie around the neck in a miniature corked bottle, on the ready for when you need some freshening up. In the meantime, I have many small bottles that I adore for their sheer tininess in their past lives: some held perfume samples, some Chinese medicine and others perhaps dosages of poison. The amber shielded bottles hold and air of mystery, and a hint of the exotic. Although they appear medieval, give them a new life and use them to house your things: rings, cotton buds, coins or even paperclips.
You always need brown paper for something. In the shop it’s a staple, and most drawers have some form of brown paper in them: envelopes of every size, letter paper, cards, rosettes, big rolls for wrapping packages, sandwich bags, tags and postcards. There’s something endearing and comfortable about it, making me think of an old-fashioned shop where you could buy canvas buckets, yardage, chandlery, stamps, ice and everything in between. Each purchase carefully brown-paper wrapped and tied up with string.
Even before I had a paint range, I had a rather large collection of brushes that my antique-dealer friend Alan sourced for me. I think about the care that painters, signwriters and barbers take of their real-bristle brushes, treating them with respect so they last a lifetime. These are attached with small brass cup & eye hooks, easy to take down for closer examination and use. A couple of stores (New York Central Art Supply & Sam Flax) have brushes I can’t resist – specialised and handmade ones made from animal fur, feathers, bamboo, wood and other lovely materials.
A favourite of mine. It’s a lovely way to use any fabric swatches you’ve collected. This one has been sewn from an assortment of vintage Japanese indigo fabric, but yours might be fashioned from colours and patterns more suited to a child’s room or other favourite place.
I have a wooden box with compartments for my own buttons, sorted into colours; and easy to find when one has popped off my shirt or coat and is nowhere to be found. Although there are some very serious collections of buttons out there, mine is not one of them. It’s a hodgepodge of my own, my mother’s, her mother’s and her mother’s. A little timeline of history in itself in ways of fashion, new technologies and availability of materials. Of course today I like the leather buttons that look like knots, tiny, irregular mother-of-pearl ones, very plain calico-covered ones and the like.
Stay tuned, as I catalogue all the pieces of my cabinet of curiosities in weekly posts.
Missed ‘A is for’? You can read it, here.
Here are a couple of the tools of my trade that always come in handy:
- All sorts of pens, chalk, paint pens, and pencils for marking and writing on any surface.
- Tape, tape and more tape. All kinds of tape, especially blue 3M-brand tape (it’s effortlessly removable), brown paper tape and masking tape in all widths. I use all of these regularly and for all sorts of purposes: hanging maps on walls, holding pictures in frames or securing paper bunting over a doorway. Velcro and 3M-brand hanging products attach to many things.
- Adhesive putty, commonly known by the name Blu-Tack, can be a cheap alternative to framing. Use it for sticking up all your ephemera.
- Look out for old or vintage hardware, such as hooks, curtain rings, clips and clasps, nails, and tacks, and you’ll find lovely and distinct shapes that are unavailable today.
- Sewing notions, such as thread and cotton, ribbon, scissors, safety and dressmakers’ pins for hanging, displaying and mending.
- Buy picture-rail hooks, string, wire, sharp skinny brass hanging tacks (they are unobtrusive and easily removed), and all kinds of nails.
- A small, handbag-sized notebook for measurements, reminders and lists. I like Moleskine and Muji brands.
- Tape measures: a lightweight 150cm (60”) one that’s always in your bag, plus a sturdy, retractable 5m (5 yards) one.
- Digital or phone cameras are a must.