Concrete Jungle

I’m a city girl and having spent my whole adult life in NYC (before escaping to Italy where I lived for 5 years before moving to Australia in 2012), I love – and will always love – the  sprawling landscape of a concrete city.

The first time I really fell in love with concrete as a design feature was Circa 1998 I believe, when couple of friends of mine opened one of the first restaurants in NOLITA in Manhattan in a former parking garage (www.peasantnyc.com). Armed with a great chef but only a shoe string budget, they polished the concrete garage floors and built a wood burning brick oven in the back of the garage,to create one of NY’s newest hot spots that is still going today, close to 20 years on (the restaurant business in NYC is operates in dog years: 1 year = 7, so 140 years is not bad).

The floors though… I never did get them off my mind.

Fast forward 10 years and I was living in Milan with my handsome Diplomat. When he left the government and we had to move out of the official residence, I scoured the city until I found the right place to call home. We moved into the coolest apartment to date that I have ever lived in (and that is saying a lot considering I lived in The Hotel Chelsea in NYC for 10 years). 

The apartment was owned by an architect and his wife and they hadn’t lived there since the 80’s when he gutted the ‘trilocale’ and turned it into his very ‘Memphis’ inspired bachelor pad. As he had been a bachelor, his new wife moved them out of there in a hurry, and then some years later when I saw it for the first time I do believe no one had set foot in the place for over 20 years. It was like a time capsule. There was an inch of dust covering everything – there was laundry in the cupboards and in the washer, there was food in the fridge, there was even a roast in the oven. All dried and shriveled and filthy – and I knew from the first second that I walked in there that it was the home for us. 

It was open plan apart from two bedrooms. It had 2 balconies, timber floors, brightly painted exposed internal service piping like the Pompidou center in Paris, original Castiglioni ‘Frisbi’ and ‘ Parenthesis’ lighting, and selected raw board formwork concrete walls. There were so many wonders to this apartment, and it was the way all of these features played against one another that made it so perfect, yet is was always the concrete that really ‘floated my boat’. Perhaps a longing for my city that lives inside of me still…

These days you would have to have your head in the clouds not to notice the influx of concrete products available out there. There are concrete table lamps, concrete tables, concrete bowls and vases, concrete planters, book ends, pendant lights, stools – etc. etc. Concrete, as much as I despise the term, is ‘on trend’ and has been for a little while now.

Generally speaking by the time something is available to the masses at K-Mart, it is on its way out, but to me concrete in its many forms is a beautiful and timeless material, and although you may not love your concrete vase in a year or two, the integrity of the humble material will stand the test of time, I promise you.

Fairytale Romance

When it comes to good pairing, there are a lot fabulous combinations out there: Wine and cheese, dinner and a movie, peanut butter and banana to name a few, but in my opinion there is no better combination than love and design. 

This weekend past was my 4th wedding anniversary, so as a surprise to my husband Tim I dragged him away from his desk at Design & Diplomacy early on Friday and we hit the road to Port Fairy – 3 and a bit hours straight shoot in-land from Melbourne.

We took the long way though this time, a 6-hour drive down the Great Ocean Road. I was, as Tim pointed out, like a little girl (or a dog) with a grin from ear to ear and my head out the window (FYI he was driving). It was amazing, and after nearly 4 years in Australia my first long Great Ocean Road drive.

We drove through many a little beach town – overlooking a spectacular southern ocean paradise before arriving in Port Fairy, and let me tell you, they saved the best for last. Port Fairy was born an old whaling village and is full of little cottages and has a charming main street with a mixture of some fantastic Deco and old bluestone buildings. It also boasts two of the prettiest beaches (summer and winter) I have ever seen and the best luxury bed and breakfast I have ever stayed in.

‘Drift House’ (http://drifthouse.com.au) where we stayed is owned by a friend and amazing artist and designer, Colleen and her husband John. They packed up their family and left Melbourne for the country life close to two years ago and have carved out a slice of design bliss in the form of a 4 suite boutique accommodation in their own little slice of heaven in Port Fairy.

Let me start by saying that although I am diplomatic in my approach to design and to working on other people’s homes – there are only two things that I am a self professed snob about – coffee and hotels.  

I don’t mean to be, about either, but outside of Italy I find coffee to be almost always bitter, and wherever I go in the world I always have a very romantic ideal of where we will be staying and my expectations are almost never met.

Only once have my hotel expectations been exceeded and that was this past weekend.

Although we did arrive at Drift House all loved up after a long romantic drive, my reaction to the accommodation was all business – and that included the skipping and the squealing and the opening of all the doors and cupboards and the jumping up and down and the clapping. All of that professionalism continued throughout our stay. It continued when I discovered the pure linen bedding on the worlds most comfortable kind size bed, the big bathtub in the middle of the room, the outdoor fireplace AND the marshmallows to roast in it. It happened when I discovered the assortment of DVD’s and books & novels, the newspapers at our door in the morning and the breakfast basket! Oh the breakfast basket! Farm fresh eggs, bread and milk and baked beans and poached pears and muesli  – Oh my! All of this was to be enjoyed not just in the quaint surrounds of Port Fairy, but in the cutting edge redesign of the original property by Brunswick Architecture firm Multiplicity (http://www.multiplicity.com.au) , and perfectly styled by Colleen herself with quirky unique one of a kind homey little touches – no beat was missed. She rocked it. 10 out of 10.

And in closing the last of my gooey gushy mess is for my husband – the reason we went to Drift House in the first place and, the reason I get up in the morning. Tim Gauci, you complete me. Happy anniversary. Let’s do it all again next year. xxx

Shelf Life

As a property stylist, I am often thrown design curve balls and challenges. I do love a challenge and one of the best parts of the job is having to think on my feet and to come up with a really cool solution to what could have been a major problem (that I can later pat myself on the back for having solved). 

That being said, there is one thing that as a property stylist I (used to) dread: Wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelves! The reason for this feeling is because my job as a stylist is to make the property feel lived in, and nothing says ‘staged’ like a few lame vases on an expansive bookcase.

Epic bookshelves are a challenge for a stylist for a few reasons. Firstly, they are expensive to fill. The more you have to put into a property the more it costs. Secondly, books are bloody heavy – God forbid your library is up a flight of stairs or two! and thirdly, it takes time. Don’t expect me to be in and out in two hours if you’ve got a 4-bedroom house and a library for me to fill!!

Well, all that being said, I have yet to encounter a design challenge I can’t handle (no wall-to-wall shelf is going to beat me!) however I did encounter the Mac Daddy of libraries at a recent property I styled for Kay & Burton in Hawthorn East. There were not one but two adjoining rooms with wall-to-wall shelving, as the previous owner was a QC and had had 2 bedrooms converted into a study plus meeting room.

“What did you do!?!” you must be muttering to yourself right about now while biting your nails down to the quick. Well I will tell you – I did what I always do when faced with a design challenge – It’s called ‘thinking outside the box’ – or in this case, shelf.

I did use books, yes, and a lot of them too (for one of the rooms). A good way to save books while not skimping on the look of the shelf is to use a small stack of horizontal books on either end of a few upright ones to act as book-ends. You can top it off with a nice little object to seal-the-deal. I skipped the top shelf but filled the others sufficiently to make a super substantial book heavy library without filling every square inch of space.

It was, however, the other shelf filled space that was my masterpiece. I wanted this space to be about the room and not the shelves when you walked in. Property styling is all about first impressions, but GOOD styling is all about the details. I went neutral and non descript by tearing the covers off of “Opp-shop” books and mixing them with other neutral coloured objects. I also used hard cover books with their covers intact but either turned them so the pages not the spine were exposed, or took off the paper sleeves so they were just a non descript solid colour. Some shelves had no books, only objects that blended with the neutral palate where I applied all the stylist tricks of a perfect vignette.

I also got creative. I consulted my wise and loyal friend Pinterest for a tutorial on a little DIY book sculpting – folding the pages of old books to make some really cool sculptural objects that require little else to make a shelf interesting – all up these tricks made for some pretty snazzy yet not back-breakingly beautiful book shelves. The over all result was a success. You saw the room when you walked in and were not overwhelmed by oppressive book-shelves. If you wanted to linger you had a bevy of sweet surprises to run your eyes over.

When styling your own shelves, the time constraints are not there but the challenges that present themselves often are. Take a page from my book and try these little tricks and tips at home.

PS I Love You

Yesterday, in yet another mad Sunday dash to IKEA for another car load of feather cushion inserts before a massive week of properties to style, I was caught off-guard and I fell in love….again.

Maybe it was the intoxicating aroma of warm cinnamon buns wafting through the air that got me in the mood, or maybe it was the first summery dose of sun and warm weather over the long Melbourne weekend (Grand Finals Footie! Go figure!!), but right there between kitchen and bathrooms I made a B-Line for the floppy, brightly coloured linen and feather scatter cushions.

Unfortunately they were handcuffed to the display and after a frantic search on the shelves below I was forced to hunt down one of the elusive IKEA employees.

“PS” She told me, sending my heart a flutter. The set of three different coloured pure linen scatter cushions were from IKEAS’s PS range of limited production ‘designer’ pieces.

In addition to the first ‘PS’, there was a second uttered from the lips of my friend (after all the IKEA’s all over the world the I have been to, I believe I have earned the right to call her and all her colleagues in yellow a ‘friend’) the second ‘PS’ was far more heartbreaking then the first – ‘‘P.S. they are sold out’’. 

Well, after the initial internal death, I quickly pulled myself together and put on both my ‘designer hat’ and my ‘international IKEA specialist hat’ (PS. They are exactly the same from Melbourne to Toronto to Rome to Newark New Jersey – EXACTY)  – and – brace yourselves – I was able to buy the display set at a discount!!!

The IKEA PS range, as I may have ranted about before, is fantastic. So fantastic in fact, it often sells out. Virtually all of their range, and it is ever growing, is fantastic. True design, not your run of the mill IKEA Billy – so snap it up if you can. 

I will close by saying that I recently had the pleasure of visiting a $24,000,000 property decked out I the most prestigious of all international big ticket brands, and the interior designer was brave enough to pair a couple of PS IKEA cabinets (retailing for $200 a pop) with a B&B Italia sofa worth roughly 20K. 

It takes guts to recognize good design at any price point. Don’t be afraid to see things for what they are and not what they cost. End of sermon.

PS. There is a heaven. 

Work it if You’ve Got it

I recently saw a hilarious ‘DIY’ meme on Facebook that read “Why buy it for $7 when you can make it yourself with $92 worth of craft supplies”. So true in most cases really, unless you are just repurposing what you already have.

I am not a hoarder. Let me make that clear – but I really, really hate waste and if there is something I think I can reuse in the future I will keep it – sometimes for years but it will always get used. I keep ribbon for example, I keep gift boxes, I keep paper bags…

I have always been like this really. I remember keeping paper bags way back when I was in high school and I did a series of oil paintings on them. I kept fur from the collar of a vintage coat and used it in a sculpture project (it was an arts high school by the way and the best school ever! (www.walnuthill.edu). If you’ve got it, use it I say.

Since starting the property styling division of Design & Diplomacy – which is a waste intensive industry, I am proud to say that I have not bought a single box or piece of packing material. I reuse it. I reuse all of it over and over. It’s not hard to do. If you just think outside the box a little (literally), most things can be repurposed into something else.

It’s not just about not creating waste, but it is about creating beauty. If you look at the things you have from a different perspective, if you ask yourself the question – ‘what other use does this thing have’ or ‘ how can I turn this thing into something beautiful’ then I do believe you will surprise yourself. Whether it’s your left over dinner, an old dress or a piece of furniture, sometimes the second – or third times the charm. 

Case and point – above is a headboard that Tim and I made out of 2 discarded shipping pallets and a quilt cover.

Styling 101

They (whoever they are) say that ‘style’ can’t be taught – well I beg to differ. Style can be taught if you are willing to learn, and today I was honored to teach the first ever workshop – Styling 101 – at The Institute of Colour and Design’s (ISCD) brand new Melbourne location.

The workshop was packed full of design tips, facts and basics. We talked furniture layout and styles, we talked colour texture and accessories. We created mood boards and stylish little vignettes that were posted on Instagram (#ISCDstyling101).

One thing I told my students today that was not in the lesson plan was that rules are meant to be broken – not what you would expect to hear from an educator I presume. Some of the students asked me about ‘rules’ for this or that – like how far apart do you hang art (it depends on how many pieces you are hanging, where they are being hung, how big they are and what shape they are), what are the rules for rugs under beds (see my blog post ‘Floor It’), my answer was the same across the board – once you know the rules feel free to break them.

Yes – there are rules in design and once you know them you will know when breaking them equates to creative ‘outside of the box’ thinking versus a design disaster. Having the education and the knowledge will give you the tools and confidence to know the difference. I encourage rebellious thinking and rebellious design, however what I encourage before you step out of the box is to understand the box first. The first step in styling a room is to understand the space. Know your box before you tear it down.

Education is fundamental, and yes – you can teach style (‘they’ were totally wrong). If you want a career in design implore you to learn about it. Keep on Pinning and reading the magazines and Instagraming your bedroom, but if you are really serious about turning your passion into a career, them sharpen your tools by educating yourself.

Not sure you want to commit? Well you can take workshops like mine to whet your whistle and if it does just that you can enroll in a flexible course. Check out this link to discover more. (http://info.iscd.edu.au/book-info-session/)

My students today came from varied backgrounds and careers. The only thing they had in common was a love of interiors, a desire to learn and the guts to take the first step. Hats off to anyone who is willing to follow their passion.

Above is a lovely little vignette created by some budding stylists in todays workshop. 

More Than You Bargained For

As far as I am concerned there are two types of people in the world: Those who brag about getting a bargain and those who tell you they paid full price when they didn’t.

I definitely fall into the first category – much to my husband’s chagrin….

Despite the pleasure I find in disclosing my deals and steals, I also believe in sharing in the wealth – or in this case the bargains, so allow me to impart upon you some of the wisdom of living a million dollar lifestyle on a shoestring budget.

1. My first tip when hunting for a deal is not to get sucked into trends simply because they are ‘on trend’ (gag) because as it will eventually go out of fashion. Make sure you really love something before you buy it. A true test of that love is if you can hold out a little. That thing you liked so much will eventually go on sale. If you still love it, buy it! And feel the victory.

2. Know how to hunt – where to go – and when. (These tips are directed towards homewares and furniture because that’s what I do, but trust me – they work for fashion too!).

3. Shop the sales – get on mailing lists and Facebook to learn when they are. Go to them! Ordering on line can be a big bust. Unless I have seen what I am ordering I avoid on line shopping because things are never what you expect them to be.

4. Go regularly. At a good sale things get moved around a lot and misplaced. They also replenish stock often, so keep popping in. The best part is at a lot of shops they continue to mark things down so it pays to keep returning to the same haunts.

5. Dig. Don’t be ashamed. The best bargain hunters out there will know that people hide stuff with the intention of returning for it, or things get lost in the back of the shelf, leaving the goodies behind for those willing to spend a little elbow grease.

6. Floor stock baby! Floor stock is great for people looking for furniture bargains. You can often get new things for half off simply because they want to make room for new stock. 

7. Don’t judge. Just because its not a brand you normally like (or even generally dislike) doesn’t mean they won’t have the occasional great item. Remember it’s all about context. Something might look like crap in one setting surrounded by ugly stuff, but amazing in your house surrounded by beautiful stuff!

8. Do not be blinded by a sale. If anyone is guilty of that it is me, but I have learned my lesson (more than once). A deal does not always and exclusively mean ‘sale’. Remember that too!

And there you have it! My parting gift for you today is a list of a few of my favorite spots to score a deal. Mostly for those of you in Melbourne, but some are international!!

www.westelm.com.au – great sales on all the time! Good turn over of product too.

www.weylandts.com.au – amazing annual sale but they also just have some great reasonably prices homewares daily.

outlet.countryroadoutlet.com.au super cute homewares and linen on sale!

www.H&M.com – check out their homewares! It is my go to for feather pillow inserts too. $10! 

www.freedomfurniture.com.au – good sales, good for basics, good in moderation mixed with good stuff (see point 7.)

The above shot is of some West Elm throw pillows – if they still have them they would be on sale for sure!

Life’s a Beach

As a New Yorker one thing that has always amused me about Melbournians is how you’re always whinging and moaning about the freezing winters – 11 degrees (52 degrees Fahrenheit) does not a freezing winter make! (That being said today is bloody freezing – and it’s spring! I must be turning into an Aussie…).

Maybe it’s the ‘long hard winters’ or just the perpetual Aussie ingrained longing for summer that has inspired a trend that I first spotted at the beginning of winter and is still going strong: beautiful, dreamy, watery prints of lucky beachgoers and endless coastlines.

From Bells to St Kilda beach and back I have seen these prints dotting walls from the high end to the low end of the market and let me tell you – I too want to kick off my shoes, toss off my coat and dive head first into them.

On the higher end of the spectrum is a really nice series from my fellow American, Thom Felicia for Coco Republic (http://www.cocorepublic.com.au). Thom is an interior designer and one of the early reality stars – about 10 years ago he was on a show called ‘Queer Eye for The Straight Guy’ where he and 3 other gay men from various disciplines would try and de-butch a bunch of straight guys that had no style or taste so that they could impress their wives and girlfriends…. Anyway, I’m digressing – Thom is still a very talented designer with a very American style and still a strong ‘brand’, but a good one at that – and he has created a range of out of focused beach scene prints for Coco Republic (which is actually an American company). These prints, mostly because of the soft focus, create a sensation that they belong to you – that they are your shots and you’re memories, or perhaps your future memories. I find them rather beautiful and nostalgic, however despite their nostalgia, they are rather contemporary, which I also quite like.

At the other end of the spectrum is Freedom Furniture’s range of beachy prints. They have a few going at the moment – a Beach Boy’s-esque throw back to the 60’s – black and white framed porthole prints of boys with their boards; they have an early bird filter framed ‘Surf Beach’ print and ‘Summer Holiday’- an aerial beach shot printed on canvas. As a general rule I really don’t like images printed on canvas, however this one is in a shadowbox frame, which is a little better but not so much so that I would buy it. The image, however, is rather beautiful. http://www.freedom.com.au/homewares/decorator-accents/wall-art/23524248/wave-rider-wall-art-80x80cm-solo/)

Speaking of aerial beach shots – my friend and photographic genius Tom Blachford has an aerial series of his own called Aerial Summertime. These are not your average beach shots, let me tell you – Tom’s shots are rich with summertime longing and with dark mystery – not what you would expect of beach shots perhaps, but that is where the genius lies. From frolicking beach goers in crystal blue waters, to specs of colourful sails amidst oily black seas, Tom’s Aerial Summertime gives you just enough to suck you in and take you to that far away place where imagination and dreams merge. (http://www.tomblachford.com/aerial-summertime)

Above is a Blachford beauty. Dive in!

Neutral Territory

As an interior designer and stylist, I can spot a property that has been styled for sale (and a real estate agent) a mile away. Because of this I go to great lengths to make each of my projects unique and full of little details that create the illusion of a real, stylish ‘home’ and not a staged property.

For me, one of the biggest give-aways that a property has been styled for sale is when it’s awash with beige. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall beige – oh and vases full of giant sticks – but that’s a whole other story…

When styling a property for sale I tend to steer clear of a pallid palate in favor of a bit of pop through colour, however that being said, the beauty of my job is that anything goes. I do what is right for each property and for the market (putting my own spin on it of course), and when done right, a neutral palate can be extremely beautiful, deep and rich – quite the opposite of dull in fact.

Neutral, by the way, does not mean beige exclusively. In fact I tend to avoid beige when putting together a neutral look, because lets face it – beige is dull. A neutral palate consists of earth tones and can include various shades of white (of which there are countless), browns, taupes and greys – I sometimes even cheat a little by adding some really muted tones of dusty pink, pale blues and other very light pastels but traditionally a neutral palate is devoid of any colour or variation of colour you may find in a rainbow.

The key to a successful neutral look is texture and layering and mixing elements. Find the interest in the components you add to the space through the materials you select. Some great combinations for a neutral palate are jute, leather, linen, hemp, timber, stone, etc. See the theme here? Earthy materials work beautifully when creating a neutral interior.

Don’t forget the details! A successful space goes beyond the general furnishings and into the little things like accessories, artwork, textiles and objects. Remember – we are not after a beige sofa on a beige carpet against a beige wall. It is the little things that will really pull any space together – especially when you are working with neutrals and it is the little things that are the most fun and personal and add the true character to an interior.

Above is a beautiful shot I found on Pinterest that exemplifies the beauty of a neutral palate and how the objects you add can really create a sense of depth and meaning.

Retro Active

If you are a regular reader of my blog posts you may have noticed that I have a few loves – great design at great prices, repurposed design, and vintage design. I am nothing if not consistent!

If you really pay attention to my blog posts, then you will also note that I mourn the death of some (once exceptional) design classics, due to over re-producing and their bastardisation by countless Chinese manufacturers that supply Aldi and Officeworks and the like. They are given new names like “The Jackson” or  “The Gus” or “The Charlie” or the name of some other random bloke – but at the end of the day we know who they are (supposed to be)! 

Some of these infamous classics include the Eames Eifel Tower Chair, Tolex stools and even repros from your very own local king of Australian modernism Grant Featherston.

 Aussies – especially Melbournians love a bit of vintage and a bit of retro – hence the repro-reflux.  (Hey – I am all for the idea of ‘accessible’ design – but I do have my limits).

 There is, however, great news for the purists out there  – and it’s better than a single chair. It’s a house – or in this case – many houses, as Melbourne’s outer suburbs are awash with some really awesome and original modern marvels. 

As an interior designer and property stylist, I have been privileged to have worked on some of these very (cool) properties, and the best ones are the untouched time capsules that transport you right back to the crazy era of polyester suits, Peter Pan collars, blue eye shadow and the Brady Bunch. 

These properties are abundant in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs, and are often found sandwiched between newly built monolithic monstrosities that are all the rage these days. Sadly, most likely what previously occupied the plot on which the monoliths now stand is another modern masterpiece. RIP Modern Marvels.

I implore you – suburban home hunter, do not buy into the cookie cutter dream of a charcoal coloured box with tiled floors and a 2 car garage – indulge instead in a palatial single story brick clad wonder with a covered 2 car carport (as most of them have). These homes are built for living – they are built for families and they are built for entertaining (keys in the bowl please!). These homes are full of character and details that they just don’t pay attention to these days such as double-wide doors, timber cladding and built in bars. If you are really lucky you may even score some of the original lighting that was installed when the house was built, which in and of itself is worth big bucks.

Look, I am not saying don’t renovate – clearly the amenities of the 50’s – 70’s are not what they are now – all I am saying is put down your sledge hammer and preserve the beauty of the past and save yourself some money in the mean time. Once it’s gone you can’t get it back, so don’t ditch the special details for stock standard Bunnings fittings – think beyond the moment into the future.

Here is one that I recently styled to whet your appetite – it sold for 700K over reserve – I would like to think my styling had something to do with it.

http://www.realestate.com.au/property-house-vic-caulfield+north-120340681