Container Yourself

Tragedy often leads to innovation, inspiration and invention – and that is exactly what happened in Christchurch New Zealand after the 2010 and 11 earthquakes that destroyed a large portion of the city’s buildings – both contemporary and historic.

As of about a year ago over 1240 of the quake damaged buildings had been demolished – and this does not take into account the buildings that came down on their own during the quakes.

I was intrigued when I first heard about Christchurch’s unique approach to the loss of so much of its city centre in the form of its Restart Container Mall

( that was entirely made up of repurposed shipping containers.

When I heard about the container mall on the news some years back I imagined it to be a bit of a shanty-town or street market full of optimistic homemade soap and candle sellers – but upon a recent visit to NZ over the holidays I discovered that it is not only really cool and dynamic – but a tightly run ship with international brands and retailers, coffee shops, banks – even a NZ post office – all operating out of brightly coloured single or double story shipping containers – it was super cool! I was quite surprised by how well organized and planned it was, and how this colourful pop up city flowered amidst what is still a very devastated city. It was full of contrast, promise and enthusiasm and I totally dug it. 

If you read my blog regularly then you will know that I love a bit of re-purposed design action. Re-purposed containers have been sprouting up across the world for some years now and I think they are simply brilliant. The first time I heard of a shipping container being re-purposed was back in 2006 – it was a great project spearheaded by Russian model Natalia Vodianova – she collaborated with American architect Adam Kalkin to design container based recreational centres for under privileged kids in Russia. 

Many architects (and now earth conscious hipsters) have jumped upon the container bandwagon. In 2008 when visiting my mother in Boston there was a pop up 3 story Puma shop in the heart of Fenway made up of three rows of stacked containers. It was the talk of the town and really held it’s own as a piece of contemporary architecture.

Even here in Melbourne you don’t have to go far to find a repurposed container-cum-something-else. The People’s Market was a traveling design and food market set up just down the block from me in Collingwood a few years back. All the stalls were set up in old containers, making it really similar to the Restart Mall in Christchurch.

This trend shows no sign of stopping and it’s great. Recently I had a meeting at a container café in Footscray called Rudimentary ( It was made up of three 40 foot shipping containers side by side, but you would never have known it from inside. It was light filled and spacious and the food was great. Check it out!

Beyond offering an alternative up-cycled shelter and instant shopping hub in the centre of Christchurch, shipping containers were also used as structural support to the dilapidated historic buildings that had been badly damaged. Stacked one on top of the other acting as a barrier wall, these versatile metal vessels not only made up the footprint of what has become the bustling new hub of the city, but they are also doing their part in preserving what remains of the old.

I commend the clever cookies that come up with these simple but effective – and in the case of NZ, life-altering adaptations.

Check out these Remodelista ( and Pinterest links for a plethora of funky container adaptations – Puma, Peoples Market etc. Included. (

Flying High

In 2015 I jumped off a mountain – both figuratively and literally. Just a few hours ago Tim and I Para-Glided off New Zealand’s highest commercial launch point and sailed smoothly and safely into the end of 2015.

As this will be my last blog post of the year, I feel that it is only appropriate to reflect on the year gone by – and oh what a year it’s been. 2015 was a year to remember – one of great changes, challenges and accomplishments – most noteworthy of course was the birth of our baby – Design & Diplomacy. 

D&D was conceived one night in 2014 after glamorous cocktail event for Kay & Burton Real Estate. That evening Tim and I befriended the husband of the then Kay & Burton CEO, and the following day he sent us an email telling us how great it had been to meet “the Designer’’ and “the Diplomat” – the subject of the email read ‘Design & Diplomacy’.

It stuck. The seed had been planted and in early 2015 (after a turbulent 2014), Design & Diplomacy was born. It was a smooth take off in the beginning – sailing into the year winning Inside Out magazine’s People’s Choice Stylist of the Year competition and working closely with private interior design clients for the first 6 months before our real master plan took shape and we launched the property styling division of the business. Boy did we hit the ground running!!

As soon as word got out that we were back (well, I was back and Tim had ‘arrived’), we were off. The calls and the clients and the property styling jobs came in hard and fast and we delivered. From day one we delivered a product that exceeded expectations in style, service and value for money. 

The calls and emails have not stopped – right up to Christmas day and through today. We have an, ‘almost full’ dance card for January and so will hit the ground running once again as we always do, in 2016.

We are blessed and grateful and willing to work our ass’s off to prove it. We thank our family and friends and clients and supporters from the bottom of our hearts for making 2015 a year to remember. We will continue to work hard for you going into the new year – proving that with commitment, dedication, passion love and long hours there’s no stopping us.

Thank you for your continued support. Wishing you a blessed, healthy, safe and prosperous New Year. See you in 2016. XXX 

P.S. I haven’t forgotten the tragedies and atrocities of this year gone by. It was a year of great loss in epic proportions across the world. My heart weeps for all the terror, mass murder and natural disaster that caused such epic destruction. All this sadness magnifies the depth of my gratitude. I thank my lucky stars every day, and pray for those who have suffered immeasurable loss.

Size Matters

When it comes to the very sensitive matter of size, let me assure you – it matters.

Of course I am talking about the size and scale of spaces and the objects you fill them with. So often when I go out on a quote, be it for property styling or interior design, I come across the same thing over and over, regardless of the property type or the demographic, most people think that bigger is better but that is simply not always the case.

What matters much more than the size of a space is what you do with the space. The most common mistake I hear again and again when I’m out on a styling quote is in the master bedroom. The vendor very often says ‘I think you should use a double bed so the room looks bigger’ – wrong! Lets get something straight friends, a bedroom is for sleeping (amongst other things where size is once again up for debate – no pun intended). Bedrooms are not for soccer matches or riding bikes, therefore the most important element of the room is the bed. Rule number one when styling a master or guest bedroom is to put the largest bed possible that still allows adequate flow around the room and doesn’t block doors or windows. Simple. Don’t over think it. When it comes to beds, bigger is better. At the end of the day prospective buyers can see that they CAN fit a big bed in the room, and they can go smaller if they want to. Most people are not that creative (sorry) and if they can’t see it with their own two eyes, they won’t believe it is possible.

Space is great, space is fantastic – my whole life is designed around space, but like with anything it is what you do with it that can make or break it. Most of the time it is just a little common sense, however another thing I see often is poorly proportioned furniture (often too large but also too small) that is ill suited for the space.

Furniture is not ‘one-size-fits-all’ for a reason. When selecting your furniture you really need to look at how the space will flow, where the passageways are and the size of the room. Very often, when done correctly, a tiny apartment can look bigger when furnished. Alternatively, a large space can look small and feel cramped due to poor selection and placement of furniture.

Pick you furniture wisely. If you want to sprawl out in your living room you can still do that without having enormous chunky furniture. There are many factors that make up a sofa and you can have an ample seat without taking up the whole room. Consider the type of legs, the arm height and width as well as the back. Also coffee and side tables – if the space is not huge use a slim framed table and avoid chunky legs and table tops – make sure it doesn’t take up the whole floor and that you have plenty of room to walk around it.

The same is true for dining. If you don’t have a huge space pick a table that is relatively narrow, has thin legs or a pedestal base and make sure you can push the chairs in all the way. If you have a huge dining room and need to fill the space so the table doesn’t get lost, than do the opposite of the above. Get a wider heavier table, chairs that don’t fit all the way under the table (like a Wishbone chair for example), and if the space is really big, add a rug that extends beyond the footprint of the chairs. Easy!

The best advise I can give you when it comes to size and space is this – spaces are designed to be used for certain functions, so design the room for that function and do not design it around the negative space. Step outside yourself and look at the room with fresh eyes and ask yourself if it is really functioning. If it’s not, often it’s just a matter of shifting things around or eliminating an item or two. Lastly and most importantly don’t be sucked into the whole ‘bigger is better’ because quite frankly, it’s what you do with the space that matters and not how big it is.

Modern Love

There are not a lot of things that turn me into the likes of a horny – out of control – sweaty palmed – teenage Justin Bieber fan – but vintage modern design does just that.

When I walk into a vintage modern house, furniture shop, gallery etc. my heart starts pounding and I get short of breath with excitement. (I once jumped out of a still moving car to get my paws on an early original Eames RAR at a roadside thrift shop in New Mexico). This love of modern design is so deep inside of me it’s practically part of my DNA. 

I may have a double degree in furniture and interior design, but my greatest and most pleasurable education came when I worked at Lin-Weinberg gallery in NYC during my under graduate studies at Parsons School of Design. Located on a prime corner in SOHO, Lin-Weinberg was one of NY’s premier vintage furniture design galleries in the 90’s and Larry Weinberg and Andy Lin were way ahead on the game when it came to showcasing unique design objects from the 40’s through to the 70’s. They were hungry for knowledge and in a time that was virtually pre internet (I remember when they finally got a computer – a painfully slow PC with that horrible high pitched dial up squeal), they would hungrily scour their voluminous library of vintage design magazines like ‘Interior Design’ and ‘Domus’ to name, identify and catalogue all of the pieces they would buy on a (educated) hunch.

Maybe it was Larry that turned me into a lover of Flea markets. He use to get up before the crack of dawn and go the 24th street market in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood armed with a flashlight and a wad of cash. He would look under tables and in the dealers half unpacked vans to try and snatch up a bargain before anyone else did. I remember his energy when he would come back to the gallery having found another amazing score – a rare Ico Parisi arm chair, a Stig Lindberg vase, a Tapio Wirkkala leaf plate. His energy, love and knowledge of great vintage design was truly infectious.

Now when I go to a flea market – especially in Europe, I look like a mad woman who has had far too much coffee. I simply cannot control my excitement – the joy and possibility of discovery, the thrill of the hunt, the satisfying win. As I write this I can feel the emotion bubbling up inside of me. As I write this I am also admiring my prized possession – my 1963 Gio Ponti for Bonicina bamboo armchair (in perfect original condition) that I got a few years back at a consignment shop in Milan.

What I took from those years at Lin-Weinberg and from Larry in particular was so much more than a salary. I was given knowledge, passion and an eye that never fails me. Not to mention expert bargaining skills. You taught me well ‘Grasshopper’. You gave me a love that has never failed me – that will never let me down. You gave me a love that is ever growing – you gave me a very Modern Love.

So, do yourself a favor and go visit Larry at the New York Design Center,

200 Lexington Avenue Suite 407, now just ‘Weinberg Modern’ ( Make sure to give him a hug for me.

Put a Cork in It

Let me start by saying that I am not behind the 8 ball on this one, I have just taken my sweet time in announcing to the world my love of cork. At first I thought it was just a passing phase so I held off on the big announcement, but with every new product out there on the market I fall deeper and deeper in love.

Cork is cool. It’s not the cork of yesteryear either – often used as flooring in houses built in the 70’s, cork flooring was heavily lacquered rendering it a pretty gross bright orange – a colour you want in small not large doses. But now – NOW cork is having a new moment and can be found anywhere from furniture to accessories and even wallpaper. Cork has had a modern makeover and I’m digging it. 

I dove head first into my foray of the world of cork back in May this year when I styled my (peoples choice winning) mock cover for the Inside Out Magazine’s ‘Search for a Stylist’ competition. I chose a cork backdrop that I schlepped in a giant roll all the way to Sydney from Melbourne on the flight. I chose cork for a couple of reasons – I loved the patterns and texture and I was able to tack things onto it, which suited my ‘layer it on me’ theme. Everyone was impressed that I was so ‘on-trend’.

Since then I have spotted cork products everywhere and they are still popping up. I guess it’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you start noticing it all over town. However cork really is all over town! That being said, unlike some other trends (like copper and marble everything), the market is not so saturated that I have started to dislike it.

Since the shoot for Inside Out, I have used (real) cork wallpaper in a client’s wine cellar, I bought out IKEA’s new cork lamp range and I put up a cork wall in our office. My cork lust continues and if you want to know what to buy me for Christmas/ Hanukkah, consult the list below for my top 3 designer numbers.

  1. Cork Smed bar stools from Great Dane
  2. Jasper Morrison ‘Cork Family’ Stools / side tables for Vitra available at Space Furniture
  3. ‘Moooi Corks’ – side tables produced by Moooi, also by Jasper Morrison and maybe my favorite of the lot

Designer brands and names are not the only ones successfully ‘popping corks’ – my good friends at IKEA are really on top of this one producing some cork items that really rival the big-ticket brands.

Do yourself a favor and check out the completely corky Sinnerlig range at IKEA ( but make sure to leave some for me because I will be coming back to stock up whilst supplies last.

Around The Block

Sometimes when Blogging, things you never intended to reveal have a way of coming out. Through the process of writing and researching, little secrets and guilty pleasures you never intended to expose to the world bubble their way to the surface and burst onto the Internet.

That brings me to today’s big reveal: once upon a time, way back in 2012 I was a fan of channel 9’s renovation show The Block. Back in 2012 Tim and I had just moved to Australia from Milan and we knew very few people and were just getting to know the lay of the land. On top of that we had no furniture for the first 6 weeks due to a delay in the arrival of our container, so we borrowed a few bits and pieces – including a crappy old TV, and camped out in our new home for 6 weeks before our stuff came. It was depressing to say the least, but we were entertained by watching a bunch of amateur renovators having a crack at being designers and builders on The Block, and we enjoyed it.

The love affair with The Block however was short lived and now we have moved on to not actually watching much TV – due to working 18 hours a day… and so don’t get to experience the same level of fascination with The Block and the plethora of other Reality Reno/Styling programs that have emerged in droves…

On one hand The Block and others like it have brought the importance of property presentation (for sale) to the foreground, and that is great. But, on the other hand for many ‘average Joe’s’ out there programs like this have become the pinnacle of design – and for that I feel a bit gipped for everyone. Some of these ‘Reality Show Designers’ have gone on to create product ranges for various design companies, and others have built booming careers on the coat-tails of prime time TV. Good on them for raising awareness but… the foundation is often not rock solid, moreover perhaps ‘whimsical’ and what looks good ‘right now’ rather than what will stand the test of time.

When I visit a property to quote on the styling for the sales campaign and the vendor tells me that that want it to look like ‘The Block’, I smile politely and assure them that we can do that but will make it even better. My many years in professional interior design and styling, my multiple degrees and international qualifications never really prepared me for the day when the design standard I was held to was that of former football player, gym teacher and Penthouse centerfold to name a few (however in all fairness one of my favorite world renowned interior designers Kelly Wearstler did actually pose for Playboy many years ago!).

As satisfying as it is that your average punter is now aware enough about interior design to pay some meaningful attention, the buck stops with The Block and other reality shows for most of the new ‘I must have it’ crowd. And that is where the problem lies. It is true that ‘everyone wants to be a designer’, but lets face it – not everyone is and not everyone can be, and for consistent quality without the fads and gimmicks it is still best to go pro

So ‘Block Heads’, I implore you – step out of your comfort zone and embrace your new found Block sparked design inspiration, don’t just like what you are told to like because Shaynna Blaze gave it a ‘10’. Seek design, follow design and learn design. It is far move complex, deep, inspirational and genuinely interesting than an “on-trend” emotion.

If you are really interested then some of my favorite design sources are The Design Files for some daily inspiration (, Pinterest ( where you can find whatever you can imagine and file it for your reference, and Habitus Magazine for some really interesting ‘outside of the block’ design projects (

So by all means, enjoy the guilty pleasure that is The Block, but take it a step further and go around the block for a couple of laps too.

Hotline Bling

As a stylist and interior designer, I have seen many many properties of all shapes sizes and styles (some modest, some quite the opposite indeed…). I do however, believe that style is subjective and that if you love the way something looks – regardless of how other’s feel about it – it really can’t be ‘wrong’.

That being said, if you are styling your home for sale – or if I’m doing it – the intention is to present it in a way that is unique, fabulous and high style while appealing to as many potential buyers as possible. If you – the vendor – love it, that’s a bonus, but lets face it, you aren’t buying your own property (so best to just leave the styling to the professionals who have your best interest at heart).

The key is to know your market and to style accordingly. What may entice in one market can just as easily repel in others.

When it comes to ‘bling’, it’s really not my thing. In some markets however, like the wealthy Chinese market (which is steadily rising in Melbourne and across Australia), Bling is just their thing, and for many Chinese buyers there is no such thing as too much. This is due to the belief that crystals and shiny things attract and represent wealth, so the more the merrier. My job is to use just the right amount of bling to get the likely buyers ‘eyes a-twinkling’, but not too much that it might be off-putting for other ‘Non-Chinese’ prospective buyers. When it comes to styling properties for sale, moderation and restraint is the name of the game.

It is true most people understand that you, as the vendor, are selling your house and not the furniture, but purchasing a property is a very emotional thing. If you are not down with the diamonds and you walk into a property and are blinded by Swarovski crystals dripping from every available surface, it is highly likely that you won’t really see the property you have come to inspect. However you can have both – subtlety and bling believe it or not, and it is achievable through careful selection and placement of furniture, lighting and objects.

Here are a few pointers on how to successfully use bling when styling your property for sale.

–       Quality is key. Not all bling is created equal. When using things that shine or reflect light it is the finishes and scale that make or break the look.

–       Stay traditional. Polished steel chandeliers dripping with oversized crystals by the thousands are too much of a statement. You need to leave room for the perspective buyer to envision their own touches on the property. If you go for a more traditional antique chandelier you get the sparkle in a whisper rather than a shout.

–       Reserve your bling for the heroes of the house. Not every room needs to sparkle. Home bling should be formal. If you want to use it focus on the entry, the formal living, formal dining and or the master bedroom.

–       When adding bling to a bedroom, moderation, once again is your best friend. Bring it in as accents in your scatter cushions and small accessories. No need to drape your bed in it.

–       Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give in the bling department – and this goes for every room, is when you think you have finished styling, take one thing away. This will ensure you don’t overdo it.

At the end of the day, if you are styling your property for sale you are doing it in order to maximize your profit. If you need to step outside of your comfort zone and into the bling ring, than I advise you to put your personal style aside for a while and cash in that golden ticket and watch the dollars pour in.


Hack Job

Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that I am a fan of IKEA. This doesn’t mean that my home or the homes that I style and design look like an IKEA catalogue – quite the opposite in fact – IKEA in moderation blends with other more prestigious brands or vintage and repurposed items disguising its true origins but looking every bit as lovely (when you select the right pieces).

I have been in and worked on all kinds of houses all over the world from multimillion dollar mansions to modest little flats and to this day I can’t think even of one that hasn’t had some bit of IKEA in the mix – the most common repeat performer is the good old Billy bookshelf – of which IKEA apparently produces a mind boggling 41 million of every year!!

There is no denying that ‘Billy’ is no looker – his cousin the ‘Expedit’ shelf (who shows up at the party just as often as Billy does) got most of the looks in the family, but when you combine the function of an IKEA item with the creativity of an ‘Outside of the box’ thinker, what you get is an “IKEA Hacker”.

There are whole web sites dedicated to IKEA modifiers or ‘hackers’, and there is some really clever stuff out there – some simple, some not so simple – but the ideas keep on coming and are great for people that like the convenience and price of IKEA but prefer to add some personalized flair or to completely repurpose and reinvent.

Some of my favorite hacks are simple towel rails attached to the inside of kitchen cabinet doors to act as pot lid holders, magnetic wall mounted knife holders used to organize kids match box cars, and “wall mounting” and illuminating a Besta cabinet (like we did in our apartment in Milan).

Above is my very own IKEA hack – One weekend when Tim was out of town I potato stamped my KIVIK sofa with acrylic paint to give it a touch of Memphis and a touch of me. I knew a white sofa in my house (where the red wine flows freely) was a bit of a risk, and although the KIVIK has a removable machine washable cover, red wine (OK – and dark chocolate too), were just too much for my white sofa to handle. The potato stamp not only provided a cool and irregular (and still washable!) print, but most importantly it provided camouflage for wine and chocolate stains old and new.

Design hacks are not limited to IKEA of course, however it’s the plethora of options that make it the go to choice of Hackers world – wide. So friends, put on your creative hat and get hacking!

A Whole Lot To Love

Even though I have been in Australia for nearly 4 years and styling properties for sale practically since I set foot on this red earth, I still find it hard to get my head around the fact that most properties in this country are sold under the hammer. My friends and family back in America can hardly believe it either. ‘What do you mean they auction off properties?’ They ask ‘ You know’ I reply ‘ It goes something like this – A crowd of 30 to 100 people gather outside a property in the street or on the sidewalk and a fast talking man in a suit stands in front of them and talks loudly about how great the area is and how its in walking distance to cool shops and the best schools – he talks about the layout of the house or apartment and the high ceilings and European appliances – hands start going up through out the crowd and 15 minutes later someone’s bought themselves a home.’ I have to say even now I still find it a bizarre concept. I mean, I get it – but it’s still bizarre.

What is not bizarre or unusual to me is another kind of auction – a furniture auction. Be it eBay or some country farmyard auction, I confess I find these quite thrilling and there are some weekly Melbourne auctions that have become the highlight of my week.

My first auction purchase was in fact on eBay and it was just a few weeks after arriving in Melbourne. We had moved into our apartment in Collingwood where we were sporting a rather ‘minimal’ interior due to the fact that our furniture was delayed to arrive from Milan by about 6 weeks. Perhaps that’s why I was (and still am) so fond of the 1950’s cabinet with a beautiful honey coloured patina that I picked up for $150 – more than I should have paid due to the on line bidding war I got into with my sister in law over the same piece, but it was still the deal of the century.

These days I prefer to preview an auction as you get the opportunity to see what you are bidding on – you get to dig around, to touch and sit and wiggle and turn things upside down – I have learned over the years that what you see on line is often not what you get in real life (and that goes for any on line buy – not just from an auction).

The preview is the best part. Auctions can be like the best Op shop you have ever been to by the power of 10. You never know what you will find or snap up for a bargain price. There are treasures galore from antique oddities to vintage European lighting to contemporary furniture – even Jardan pieces in nearly new condition.

Furniture (and art and object) auctions tick all the boxes for me. Firstly, I love the hunt, secondly I love the score, thirdly I love the win.

They call it a ‘winning bid’ or ‘winning lot’ due to the fact that all items have a lot number, and even though you pay for it you still feel like a winner. I don’t always go to the auctions but leave absentee bids so I don’t find out until hours after the auction what I have won or not – which adds to the excitement.

One final point about why I love auctions so much – Forthly, it’s a green way to shop. If I can minimize our footprint by buying pre-owned not ‘assembly line’ new items AND get amazing pieces at amazing prices, a happier designer you will never meet.

I am getting better at the score and every time I go I find a whole lot to love. Design & Diplomacy is amassing quite the unique and varied collection of art, objects and furniture and it is the one off pieces I have scored at various auctions that sets our collection apart. Auctions have made shopping fun again because they add an element of adventure and mystery to the act of shopping for furniture.

It’s all about the big win, and winning big.

How To Pair It

Many years ago now (before moving to Milan and then Melbourne), when I was living at the famous New York bohemian enclave “The Hotel Chelsea” – or, as it was known to us locals, just ‘The Chelsea’, I was asked by another one of the residents, who worked for American Vogue, if I would agree to be shot for a little monthly piece they did called ‘How to wear it’ – where they photographed ‘real’ women like Kelly Wearstler (!) and Jennifer Beals (!) mixing their own favorite clothing items in with Vogue stylist selected designer pieces and featured in the magazine. After much soul searching and interpersonal debate, I agreed.

They shot it twice actually – the first shoot was in my apartment at The Chelsea with some of the furniture pieces I had designed. It was however, re-shot because it was a little to ‘Downtown’ for Anna Winter (!!!). The second shoot was very far from downtown – it was in fact uptown on the street – Park Avenue of course.

Not much of the outfit was mine to be honest (at the time I was still in my ‘starving artist’ phase) but that was just fine with me. The concept was great and it applies to your home as much as it does your out-fit – how to mix in things you have and love with special purchases of coveted items.

Great design, whether it’s fashion you wear or fashion for your home, is not about only ‘what’s trending’ – great design is about things that stand the test of time – and don’t let ‘them’ tell you otherwise. Pieces that make you smile years after you bought them (or inherited them or found them or however you acquired them), – that is great design whether the magazines tell you they are ‘Hot or Not’. Great design is not just about AN object, but how it relates to other things, how you wear it, how you pair it.

Great design is also about taking risks. It’s about mixing styles, prints, textures and patterns to evoke a mood or a feeling. A single sofa or bed (or dress or bag) can have many incarnations depending on how you pair it. It’s a small risk to mix it up, but if you love it, if it makes you smile, if it makes you feel fabulous, how could it be anything but perfection?

Above is an old Polaroid I dug up from the second Vogue shoot. The only thing in the shot that’s mine is the little vintage hat I got on a trip to Paris with my parents when I was a kid, but if you ask me its that little vintage hat that makes the look.