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.
Holidays are too few and far between. To have a piece of that experience and memory reflected in your interior – even the smallest incidental that makes you smile and takes you to another place – is what it’s all about.
When you are travelling, take note of what’s around you – don’t set out to find, but to discover. I take a lot of photos (and many notes) that get edited into my stories. I use history as a reference point for many of my travels, as well as interiors I style & design. Maybe my love of research sparks this. I like the type of research journey that leads you to something unexpected, a kink in the road that can be saved up for later if it appears irrelevant for now. In many interiors or houses, there is a mix & layering of periods, styles, tastes & generations (unless you are a purist): it might be heirlooms from times gone by, a roadside find, hand-me-downs or gifts, a modern fad, original features used in a building’s structure, even a past DIY folly or the debris of family life. You can use your own travel history & memories in the same way. It’s not about shipping furniture & props home (although this is lovely if you can! And a cheaper way to go rather than getting busted for excess luggage at the airport), but about reminders of your travels that can be incorporated into your existing interior. You can use everything you already own, but simply rearrange and edit in a different way. This can be in the form of translating an observation, colour combination, planting, texture, finish even window treatments & furniture placement.
Here are things I keep in mind in the planning and experiencing phases of my journeys, which ensure that I return home with a mind full of ideas and a suitcase full of treasures:
- I like to come up with a reason for visiting a place. I save them up & add to them. Once a place goes on my ‘list’, I might get a book recommended or stumble upon an obscure museum; a fabric I like might have been woven there; or origins of an alcohol or a maker’s history of a piece of furniture might intrigue me. As I collect this information, different destinations jostle for a position in the Top 5.
- When you live as far away as I do in Australia, no trip has a single reason for travelling. The choice might be as simple as ‘While I’m in the vicinity, it would be rude not to pop in.’ While I appear to be gallivanting around the world, I might combine a holiday with a book chapter, a fair, some product development or an editorial shoot.
- When I have chosen one destination, I find it best to pull out the atlas and see what is in the surrounding areas. Take an extra day to see something wonderful!
- When I travel by myself, I follow my own agenda: usually a jam-packed itinerary of historical houses, markets, cafes & bars, walking, shopping, artists; studios, collections, trades & makers, loosely structured around early starts, writing & editing the day’s photos.
- My motto for photos is ‘Keep the best, chuck out the rest’. I believe the first impressions of a place are so important: there’s an excitement that comes from a brand-new place. I try to take lots of photos upon arrival with these fresh eyes.
- I like to shake up my companions within one trip, spending just the right amount of time before changing countries & meeting my next adventure or seeking out on my own.
- Although I can’t bring all the things I really want back with me, I still find plenty of inspiration that’s easily adapted and incorporated into my life, and home.
Let your house be a place to tell stories – the ones you’ve gathered while on overseas jaunts. By surrounding yourself with objects & translations of your very own travel observations, you create a place full of your memories; a unique, authentic space that reflects your personality. To be able to share your laughs and travel frustrations (which are often funnier) from a ‘remember that’ kind of angle is a clever, emotive way to treat your interior and be surrounded by the things you love. It’s about your stories reflecting your life.
As a bowerbird and avid collector of all things beautiful, eye-catching and, most importantly, intriguing, I can’t help but gather together curios, mementos & elements that enrich my life and my work. These pieces are all part of my mind’s extensive catalogue and each has its own place in my cabinet of curiosities. What better way to explore my stylist’s palette than to tease it out in alphabetical order? So let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start…
A is for…
Rethink your notion of what constitutes wall art – it’s not just frames and canvases. An oversized Japanese abacus is a unique substitute for a bedhead that weaves a sense of history into your space. Layers of linen in serene indigo tones add to the textural feel of this bedroom’s focal point.
To be shouted with a cupped hand announcing your arrival to shore (or anywhere really).
Amulets & talismans
Most cultures incorporate a dose of superstition into their daily lives, including a need for protection against the ever-present evil eye, I most certainly believe this and am not often found without amulets around my neck. For a while I flirted with antique Chinese children’s clothes and although I didn’t pursue this collection, I love the idea that if you dressed a child up in clothes that looked and smelt of animals (such as ears on hats and and tiger shoes with animal fur hidden within), the evil spirits would confuse it for an animal, and leave it to live a long, happy and prosperous life. As any good traveller knows, you need a little extra protection when embarking on a new adventure. I wear two amulets, both made from leather, with various items stitched inside them so they keep me out of harm’s way. Sew you amuletic bits & bobs on the inside of your clothes (and of those you love) to protect you from all evil deeds.
Antlers & trophies
Although I am very anti-hunting and concerned about extinction, I continue to have a somewhat romantic view of colonialism and hunting safaris. There’s nothing like the find of a shed antler while traversing the countryside. It feels such a score to cart home. I would love to be in the country of roaming elk and to one day stumble upon an elk’s antler, or even a pair! P.s. A papier-mâché menagerie makes a traditional room a little fun. Attach them high & low so each has room for its own personality, plus, no animals were harmed in the making.
Pastel paints, inks and dyes: the joy of finding an old artists’ set of partly used colours. I love what the palette suggests of its previous owner; often the box or housing alone is enough to entice. I based one of my colour palettes entitled ‘Atelier’ on late nineteenth-century Paris, where a shop on rue de Seine in St Germain used to sell artists’ supplies. Known affectionately as Père Tanguy, the owner supplied the likes of Cézanne, Gaugin, Seurat and Van Gogh (who painted his portrait at least three times). I can just see his shop filled with apothecary jars full of ochres, aquamarine, pomegranate rinds, crushed-up shells, cochineal, matta, indigo, snail ink, gold leaf, shellac brushes, gesso, plinths, stools that twist and bottles of linseed oil. I have since been obsessed with all the unusual and necessary things you find in an artist’s studio.
Atlases, maps & dictionaries
I like to think of myself as a globetrotter, treasure seeker & explorer, and to be those things I need atlases, maps and dictionaries form other countries. I actively seek these out in flea and antique markets while travelling and love to find ones in other languages or so very out of date that you can see how the countries’ boundaries and borders have changed over time. I have a stack of linen-covered dictionaries: Icelandic, two English, Russian to English etc. I appreciate the different texts and sounds, and even the straight columns appeal to me.
Stay tuned, as I catalogue all the pieces of my cabinet of curiosities in weekly posts.
In my job as a stylist, a 10-colour palette has evolved as the best starting point for decorating a space. This palette gives me positive boundaries to work with and, whether I use two, four, six or all of the colours, it allows me to play with the mood of a room of a house while ensuring a unified end result.
Feel free to use the colours I love as your own, but creating your own 10-colour palette relies on drawing inspiration from your surroundings.
1. Walk around your house and pinpoint the things you already own and love. It might be a beautiful porcelain bowl, a postcard, a cocktail ring, an embroidered tablecloth inherited from your grandmother, or the print on your favourite dress. Consider everything: jewellery, clothes, food, garden flora and fauna, photographs, anything made with fabric or paper, solid colours and patterns, silverware and ceramics, art, buttons, ribbons and trims.
2. Look to nature. The beauty of nature reveals colour combinations and textures that rarely disappoint. I once did a photoshoot based entirely around the colours of a monarch butterfly: Damascus red, mustard and ochre oranges, and dirty cream. I pick up feathers, leaves, flowers, rocks and tree branches. Now it’s your turn to observe nature in the same way.
3. Start looking beyond your immediate surroundings, especially at things that don’t have an interior design purpose, and make a note of what appeals to you. It could be the falling-off label on an old bottle, a swizzle stick, a crusty street lamp, coins, a weathered shop sign, a discarded playing card, wooden toys, a faded wall of graffiti, silvery puddles on rainy days, crumbly slate from an old roof, crunchy white linen, just-poured cement, or a scene from a favourite movie or novel.
4. Take photos. Make notes. Start acquiring.
5. Start to play. Soon it will become obvious that you are attracted to similar things over and over again. Put together a selection of pieces you’ve collected and see what kind of colour palette reveals itself. Add and subtract until it takes on a visual order. There are no right and wrong combinations because it is about finding what makes you happy.
Remember, you will be able to use the colours in varying combinations. Some rooms will be quiet and subtle, utilising the softer, more neutral tones. Others will be louder, denser in colour, pattern and texture.
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.
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.