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.



My No-Rules Rules For Table Setting


1.     Seek out all kinds of fabric – second hand, offcuts, wondrous new patterns – in your chosen colour palette and throw them on the table like a deconstructed patchwork tablecloth.

2.     Embrace imperfection. It doesn’t matter if the table shows through or the fabric hangs haphazardly.

3.     Offer an assortment of patterned plates and let your guests choose their own.

4.     Don’t always pick flowers for decoration. Use Japanese fortune sticks, or poem cards or items that draw in textural appeal or provoke a conversation.


Superhouse by Karen McCartney

Karen McCartney’s big & beautiful book, Superhouse, takes you on a tour through the houses of the world that demonstrate the sheer scope of ‘super’. She takes us from the Solo House in Cretas, Spain to the Concrete House in Sant’Abbondio in Switzerland to our very own Upper Hunter in regional NSW and back again. Lavishly photographed by Richard Powers, this book is certainly beyond the everyday, just as it promises and now it is being turned into an exhibition with Sydney Living Museums.


The word ‘super’. A recent descriptive to imply big & expensive. What is your definition?

I was sure from the outset that while some houses could be ‘big and expensive’ as long as they were architecturally fascinating it could not define the entire content so I wrote a definition of what ‘super’ meant to me in this context to see if it stacked up.

This was my outline “A super house is one that delivers a 360-degree completeness of form, its exterior and interior have a seamless execution and above all else it is awe-inspiring. This quality can be elicited from the perfection of its natural setting, a remarkable use of materials; an exceptional level of craft, groundbreaking innovation or a use of space that lifts the spirit. All the houses chosen will be beautiful and possess a quality that sets them distinctly apart from the everyday. A strong connection with nature would provide the choice of projects with a necessary thread of coherence.”

How did you choose & find the houses?

This was a case of research, research, research. I looked at architects I admired to find recent projects, and tried to create a geographical spread and a broad range of house types. I also wanted to deliver great interiors, even if spare, that reflected the aesthetic of the house. This was hard, as often the interior décor had changed – often not for the better. It is interesting how many houses are good but not quite great and so I kept looking until I found that x-factor.


What were the logistics of shooting all over the world?

This was an added factor of difficulty. Richard Powers, the photographer for the book and exhibition travels the world constantly but aligning his travels with where I could find the house took a bit of logistical planning. We tried to get to Japan but couldn’t make that work but have managed to cover South and North America, Europe (UK, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy) and of course locally in Australia and New Zealand. I tried to get to as many as possible as there is nothing that quite beats the experience of being in a house but it just wasn’t feasible for them all.

Do you write on the go or in chunks of time? And where?

I tried to have just one project and one architect in my head at one time. You really need to absorb his or her particular philosophy, and I could only do each one justice by approaching it individually. I interviewed all the architects and found them to be inspiring in each and every instance and always came away with a renewed understanding and appreciation of the craft.

For this book I hired a tiny office in George’s Height, Mosman where I would go and write for a few hours at a time. It was a great way to focus.


Why do an exhibition?

The exhibition was a chance to expand upon the themes in the book and also to draw on a greater range of local Australian examples such as work by Chenchow Little, James Stockwell and Clinton Murray and Polly Harbinson. We have pulled the houses into themes such as The Land, Small Spaces, Finding Form, The Re-imagined, and the role of Roof tops and Skylines. Each house has a different way of prompting thought about how we live or could possibly live. For some people one place would be a delight while to others would be inconceivable. It makes us question the norms.

Any favourites?

Once I had my definition I could enjoy the sheer scope of ‘super’. A Meisian pavilion, in Ireland by modernist architects Scott Tallon Walker was super because, not only did it cantilever dramatically over a river, but also, in a land dominated by low-lying white thick-walled cottages it was a cultural anomaly. Likewise, a Brutalist house in Sao Paulo by Mendes da Rocha, which combines fluid, forms in concrete, both inside and out, with patterned Portuguese tiles and ingenious window systems. It is also furnished with great creative aplomb.


How does the exhibition move beyond the book? 

Richard’s photographs are of incredible quality and so can be blown-up to super-size and retain all the detail. But we didn’t want it just to be a book on the walls and to that end immersive spaces of three key, and very different houses, have been created.

These include Astley Castle by Witherford Watson Mann, Almere House, a pre-fab by Jan Benthem of Benthem Crouwel and the cover image, Solo House, by Pezo von Ellrichshausen – each of these is accompanied by an audio interview with the architect. We have also produced a video which interviews key Australian architects and is interspersed with sound bites from a selection of Australian influencers (such as Nectar Efkarpidis, Neale Whitaker, Dana Tomic Hughes and Andy Griffiths) giving their definition of what the term ‘superhouse means to them.

Superhouse: architecture & interiors beyond the everyday’ is published by Penguin/Lantern ($69.99 rrp) and the eponymous exhibition launches with Sydney Living Museums on 29th August and runs until 29th November 2015.


My Scottish Colour Palette


As we traversed the Highlands and isles of Scotland, a very obvious palette revealed itself in the expected and the unexpected.


A much-anticipated falconry lesson offered all deep browns and soft caramels in feathers, claw-proof suede gauntlets and leather hoods. Those same tones were also found in comical shaggy Highland cattle on a backdrop of impossibly green fields and again in whisky, which we sipped with a water chaser in old-fashioned inns.


The tiny bell-shaped heather flower carpets every hillside of the Highlands landscape giving it an overall smoky soft purple tone with a scent that smells of the earth. It’s so springy to walk on, and is tough enough to make brooms and brushes from – and is also very lucky in a gypsy kind of way.


At Jupiter Artland we walk into Anya Gallaccio’s magical amethyst sunken grotto and are surrounded by a deep chamber of amethyst-encrusted walls – so magical in the range of purple hues that complement the landscape outside.


The Gulf Stream swings right past the west coast of Scotland, meaning that Inverewe Garden is full of palms and other unexpected tropical plants. Created in 1862 and sheltered by 40 hectares of woodlands, this is an oasis of bright greens amongst the Highlands.


When Dad and I were driving north on hedge-lined lanes, we passed a few lovely old-fashioned sports cars in British racing green with go-fast stripes, the kind of cars that leather goggles need to be worn to drive.


These colours enriched my journey to Scotland and, by the same token, were easily accessible and fresh in my mind when I returned home. Tune in next week as I detail the way I translated the inspiration from my jaunt to Scotland into my interiors.

Discover the start of my Scottish fling here.


The Stylist Alphabet: E is for…

E is for…


Inspiration comes in all forms. A newsletter dating back to 1939 showcasing the H.M.S. Bounty inspired this embroidered cushion, custom-made in Bali. Shop my new scrimshaw napkins here.


Paper for a purpose; the incidentals made from it, often overlooked or discarded with marks from being many times thumbed. Here, a tonal collection of ephemera picked up in Japan, a lovely reminder of my travels: poetry cards, calling cards and a random ‘4’. I can add and rearrange as I discover more pieces.


Evil eye
You see the imagery of the evil eye throughout Turkey as well as West Asian cultures. It’s the protective measure used against curses bestowed upon you by an ill-wishing gaze, the effects of which can be bad luck or death! People with light-coloured eyes are relatively rare around the Aegean Sea, so people with blue eyes are thought to impart the curse, intentionally or otherwise. Turkish charms are normally blue as a result. I’m a big believer in any additional protection in life and always wear my own amulets. Shop my collection of evil eye ornaments here.


To be relished! However you travel, whether it be via sailboat, puddlehopper, motorbike, taxi, horse & cart, vintage Mercedes or old-fashioned hiking, seek out adventure & beauty where you can.

The Stylist Alphabet:
A is for…
B is for…
C is for…
D is for…


Creating & Displaying Your Collections


A collection is more often than not emotive, with direct connections between you and the objects in it. A collection is a memento of people, places, past times and experiences – made up of memories of characters you’ve encountered, meals globetrotting adventures, explorations and travels, the details of daily life, time spent with friends, gifts and a million other things. Here’s my advice for creating and displaying your personal collections:

  • Think outside the museum or gallery format of categorising and systematically formalising a collection. Your collection can encourage interaction, conversation and involvement. It can have a sense of humour, be a lifelong project or exist only for one day.
  • The display of a collection should not be static but change to suit the occasion and place – moving from dinner table to a spot outdoors, become an unexpected feature in an entrance area, a home-warming gesture or an element of celebration.
  • Don’t be shy about creating 3D adaptations of your cabinets as I do with all my interiors. Let things fly, crawl up walls, lean or sit on the floor. This is organised chaos.
  • Remember, the process of collecting, discovering ‘the find’ and interaction is as important as the final display – the story it encapsulates exists as much as the object.
  • You don’t have to build a cabinet for each of your collections, or in fact, even display them together. Collections do not have to live together – I tend to spread my collections everywhere.
  • I cling to the idea that your pieces are dynamic, can be moved, lent, touched and experienced by you, your family and friends. They can be functional as well as decorative pieces. There is nothing better than being able to utilise them in daily life: meals, workspaces, at home, mantels and wherever.
Bowerbird Instagram Competition Pins - The Society inc. by Sibella Court
  • Think of a collection as your own 3D self portrait. Reveal tales and memories with your collections through object choices, placement and the way you display them: there can be communication between those objects.
  • You are the curator of your collections; edit, be selective, picky or accommodating. These are your collections and objects that make sense to you and make you happy. Make corners to explore, study and enjoy. Line things up on a baseboard on the floor, place a length of ribbon or fringe over a doorway, stones in the bottom of a bathtub, or hang textiles on a suspended pole from the ceiling.
  • Do not limit yourself with display and, depending on their format and shape, let collections speak for themselves. Make the world more beautiful, take care but let go – although I talk about being slapdash, it’s more a case of casual abandon. Remember the display of your collection can be changed if you are not totally satisfied – embrace the stylist within and rearrange on a whim.


Note: ways of acquiring & expanding a collection.
Exchange with fellow collectors, mongers & local fisherman, dealers abroad, mail order from natural history specialists, personal expeditions, exploring, hired collectors who work in remote parts of the worl, donations, purchases form settlers, buccaneers & missionaries