Knitty Gritty

One of the things I noticed a lot of when I first moved to Melbourne (some years ago now) was that Aussies were mad for macramé – and crochet, and frankly simply knits in general. The love for all things knit went beyond personal wardrobes and home-wares to just about anything with ‘mass’. I saw push-bikes that had been crocheted, crocheted bike racks, knitted trees and lamp posts – you name it. (That bike I spotted in my first weeks in Melbourne is still there by the way – looking very much in need of a new sweater!)

Even though it has been going on for a while now, there is something about the wintery chill in the air that has really amped up my love of chunky knits and knotty textures. Whether I am wearing them or decorating with them, I simply can’t get enough.

Chunky knits are exceptionally luxurious and playful at the same time, and I love that contrast. There is both a modern and an old world charm to an over sized, knotty knot, cable knit or simple stitch out of unexpected materials like t-shirt jersey, wool felt or nylon cord. The play in proportions is what makes the ordinary extra ordinary.

These types of products are available everywhere and at every price point, from Hub Furniture http://www.hubfurniture.com.au/products/flooring/rugs to Kmart http://www.kmart.com.au/product/knitted-ottoman—natural/185877– proving you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a bit of the chunky love. For a bargain delight to snuggle up with, I am quite fond of the new Chunky Knit Throw for Real Living at Freedom Furniture. http://www.freedom.com.au/homewares/soft-furnishings/blankets-throws/23488267/chunky-knit-throw-130x170cm-for-real-living-emerald/. There is also a scatter cushion to match, and there is a sale going on now – Score!

When it comes to working oversized knits into your home, try layering different style chunky knits on your bed or sofa in the form of throws and cushions, and you can add to that with an ottoman or a rug, or even an oversized crocheted hanging planter. Have a play with the proportions – that’s when the fun happens. And remember – the trick is not to be fussy in your presentation. The nature of the knit is loose and easy, so don’t over think it. The other trick is to break it up with non-knits. Even better is to really mix the textures and patterns. I love the pairing of large knits with linen because it is nice and contrasty. Why knot give it a try? (Sorry – I couldn’t resist!).

Above is a beautifully successful example of chunky knits (that I found on Pinterest). Get inspired and cozy up for winter.

Dark and Stormy

They say that ‘once you go black you never go back’ – but I would also like to add navy, charcoal, indigo and chocolate to that old adage. What could be sexier than a dark room comprised of rich mouthwatering tones?

Yes it’s true that dark walls, ceilings and window coverings can make a room look and feel smaller but bigger is not always better if you ask me. There is something so emotive and sexy about a dark room that I think it can be worth your while to sacrifice light and airy in favor of dark and stormy.

If you’re feeling sheepish you can always take baby steps and start with bedding and soft furnishings, working your way up to furniture, art and window coverings. But if you ask me, the real impact comes in the form of paint or paper. When you go for a dark tone on the walls the room embraces you in a silky hug that you can than take in many directions.

Do you like contemporary pop decor? Then make a bold statement by bringing in some colour against your dark wall and see it really come to life. Don’t be afraid. Can you imagine a bright yellow or a hot pink sofa against a charcoal wall? I can!

Are you the earthy type?? Try a dark chocolate wall with rich rustic textures such as distressed leather and sisal. Hey – you can even get leather look wallpaper for that extra depth and movement. Add mirrors and art and maybe even a set of antlers to achieve that rich textural warmth and depth of a ski lodge or cabin in the woods.

Are you a minimalist? You can still be a minimalist and have black walls. Imagine your slim-lined white contemporary furniture on a sleek black backdrop. Maybe a white floor to add to the contrast – I like it!

Don’t want to paint your walls dark, OK then, why not paint or paper your ceiling? How about an indigo ceiling with white walls and indigo furniture cushions and rugs?? Oh yes please! Bring it on!

What are you waiting for?? We only live once – go out there and take some design risks and reap the rewards of your ‘gutsiness’.

New York State of Mine

Having lived away from New York now for 8 years (5 in Milan and 3 in Melbourne), there have been massive and notable changes to the landscape of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Some of the more noteworthy additions to my city have been the completion of the new Freedom Tower, the building of the High Line, the new Whitney Museum in the Meat Packing district, and the official and thorough gentrification of Brooklyn – which is almost completely unrecognizable with new luxury buildings shooting up on every corner. I remember when the sheer mention of Brooklyn gave most Manhattanites hives, and now those same people are elbowing their way onto the L train faster than you can say ‘Hipster’.

One of the great losses since my departure includes my old home The Chelsea Hotel – once a bohemian enclave for artists and musicians alike (some former noteable residents include Sid Vicious, Dee Dee Ramone, Blondie, and Andy Warhol. The hotel was sold to the trendy Ian Schrager Group and is being converted to a boutique hotel. Although ‘The Chelsea’ as it was known still stands and still houses a few die hard residents of the past, it will never again be the place of broke artists about to make their indelible mark on the world of the arts, and is a sad reminder that New York’s ground zero of crazy, bohemian, rock and roll history is a thing of the past.

What I did notice during my trip to NY, is that even though there is bit of a ‘Mayor Giuliani era’ Time Squareification going on from Harlem to Wall Street (mega brands, bike lanes, manicured public mini parks), there is at the same time also a sense of nostalgia for times past. New Yorkers have always loved a Parisian style bistro, but it appeared that every other bar, café or restaurant oozed a cozy, homey warmth that one would not immediately associate with the hustle and bustle of the city. From prohibition era like bars, to rustic Italian ennotecca’s to West Bank style eateries, to cowboy chic watering holes – both Brooklyn and Manhattan were filled with the type of décor that makes you want to curl up with a book, a bottle of red and pack of unfiltered smokes and while away the day. There were distressed leather sofas and smoky mirrors, deer heads and snowshoes on the walls – there were southwestern prints, dream catchers and rustic wood paneling. It was in a way, the antithesis of the Mega City – a throwback to NY’s bohemian roots finished off with a $25 cocktail.

Don’t get me wrong – these are not criticisms but simply observations. I love New York and I will always love it. If I seem critical or judgmental, perhaps it’s because New York has gone on without me and I feel a little hurt by that even though it was inevitable. It has continued and grown and changed (as I have too, I know), even without me there, and that makes me kind of sad. It’s like I imagine breaking up with someone you have been with for a long time would be, only to find out later that they have marred, had 3 children and bought a dog. It just seems odd that something I knew so well could have changed so much with out me. Silly I know, but what can I say? I want to be everywhere at once. I want to have my cake and to eat it too.

New York, I love you. Goodbye for now, and until next time. I will miss you. Don’t change too much on me. I like you the way you are in my memories.

Maine Attraction

For as long as I can remember I have been going to Maine (in the North East of the US) with my mother on antiques and lobster expeditions. Every year for my birthday from when I was a little girl we would drive up with my two best friends and spend the night in a charming B&B, eat lobster rolls and fried clams on the water and troll antique shops for vintage treasures. My mother collected silver matchboxes and Bakelite shoe clips, and I collected faux pearls and funny hats full of feathers and lace.

As I got older and friends came and went, I still continued to go to Maine with my mother. The treasures I hunted for changed from jewelry to art and furniture (although to this day I can’t resist a cool vintage statement necklace), and my previously ‘general’ admiration for the charming and the quaint surroundings became a more specific appreciation for the close to 300 year old houses, their colour palates, windows, roof lines, etc.

I don’t believe I have ever visited my mother in Boston without at least a day trip to Maine. This visit has been no exception. This time my sister came too.

There is a story-book charm to the properties in Maine that is distinctly New England. It is ‘Ralph Lauren-ie’ (as we refer to it in my family) – the colours, the chill in the air even in the summer, the salty smell of the ocean, the weather beaten shingles and the antique stores that line the streets. It is as if the doll-houses of my childhood have been blown up to life size proportions. It is almost like a fairytale land – America 101.

I am literally like a kid in a candy store when I am in Maine. The antique stores are so plentiful and the bargains are endless – it is impossible to leave empty handed (even if I do have to schlep it all back to Australia – I try to limit my treasures to things that will easily fit in my suitcase – I can not say the same for my mother and my sister however). I run through the rows with elation breathing new life back into things someone once loved.

I do love a treasure in its original state – like a piece of jewelry for example, but I also love to ‘contemporize’ something – like a print or a picture that no longer seems relevant and current – by framing or reframing it. It’s amazing how a simple modern frame can bring a previously daggy piece of art into the 21st century. My sister for example, found some really great old buttons stitched to coloured card stock which she plans to frame in a simple white shadow box and hang in a grouping. Presto! What was old is new again.

Maine is a special place full of history and memories and treasures waiting to be discovered and reinvented. Although it is a place full of nostalgia both on a personal and historical level, it never fails to offer up new memories and adventures and leave me feeing inspired and thoroughly charmed. I can’t wait for the next visit where we will stuff ourselves full of antiques and lobster rolls and memories of old world Americana. Thank you Maine, you are like a glamorous older lady that never has a hair out of place. You are full of class and wonder and you never disappoint.

Take What Your Mama Gave You

I am writing this on the back of a visit to my grandmother in California. In fact, I am at the airport right now after a teary goodbye.

My grandmother – Nana Banana – Banana for short, is 92. She is hard-headed and can be stubborn, and she knows how to hold a grudge like it’s nobody’s business – but, she is also the most loving, caring and not to mention sassy person I know. I am blessed to know her and to be her granddaughter.

Banana, the 92-year-old fireball, is at ‘that’ stage in her life. She is transitioning from independent to dependent living. She is downsizing from a 2-bedroom apartment where she lived by herself for 13 years, to a single room in an assisted living centre. She is struggling with the transition to the point where it sometimes seems as if someone had cut off her arm, and it was almost too hard to watch.

I did what I could to help her move (my aunt, uncle and mother have done the rest), but it is a big job and a slow process due primarily to the fact that she wants to keep EVERYTHING. Letting go of her belongings too large and too plentiful to fit in her tiny new home means letting go of her life and her history in a way, and it has really made me think about the value of our stuff, and the objects that have real meaning.

On this my thoughts were two fold – firstly, how we infuse everyday objects with such meaning throughout our lives only to sell them for peanuts or give them away at the end or close to the end, and how silly it seems that we gave such importance to them in the first place – and secondly how the things that do have meaning should be cherished and shared and passed down. (Real) meaning equals value whether it has monetary value or not, and not all stuff is created equal.

I wish I could decorate my home with the things that meant so much to my grandmother – I wish I could take her furniture and her lamps and her art back to Australia with me, but I can’t. Hopefully it will remain in the family – the things that have a story and a history like the rug she bought in Morocco with my grandfather some 60 years ago, or the gorgeous Mexican lamp with an intricately cast metal base and silk shade that must have weighed 20 kilos (I would have taken it in my carry on if it hadn’t). Passing these things on along with their stories is how we maintain our share of immortality. Most stuff is just stuff, unless it has real meaning to someone you love, then stuff becomes life – it becomes a shrine to the one you love or loved.

The moral of the story is – buy wisely, shop considerately, and take what your mama gave you, then pass it on.

My Thai

It is no secret that most of the furniture sold in Australia these days is made over seas – in Asia specifically – primarily China. Although the quality of some things has improved tremendously (not the sad, sorry want to be ‘Eames’ chairs of course), there is something about that ‘Made in China’ label that still makes many people recoil just a little bit. Everyone wants it to say ‘Made in Italy’, but the likelihood of that is slim these days.

Well the good news is that there is a new player in town – Thailand – and its full of wonderful surprises. Unlike the Indonesians who are a one and and a half trick pony – producing cane furniture by the container load peppered by their twist on Danish modern replicas – Thailand is full of innovative originals of great quality to boot.

The Thailand International Furniture Fair (TIFF) wrapped up in May, and was awash with hungry Australians – not hungry for some fresh Pad Thai (well maybe that too), but hungry for fresh innovations in the furniture world. I am not the only one who is tired of looking at the same old replicas, and the Australian furniture retailers are onto it. The Aussies arrived in hoards to snap up some very cutting edge and well crafted contemporary furniture designs at amazingly reasonable prices. This is high design for those that can’t usually afford high design.

On a recent visit to Click On Furniture in Melbourne (www.clickonfurniture.com.au), a store that formerly sold only replicas but has now changed their business model due to the replica market being over saturated – I was whisked from one new piece of furniture to the next by the friendly store manager. “It’s all from Thailand!” he exclaimed excitedly (to be clear – not all their furniture is from Thailand, but the new pieces he was showing me were).

I flipped and turned and wiggled the chairs and stools checking the quality (fantastic by the way), I admired the variety of colours things came in – but mostly I admired the great design. It was exciting. I was excited to finally have affordable, quality, great contemporary design that everyone and their dog did not already own.

Click On Furniture are not the only retailer selling Thai products, and after the turn out at this years TIFF, containers full of quality cutting edge design should be pulling up at our shores any minute now – and I myself can’t wait!

Above is a little taste of the clever Thai designs from MilliMatter.com.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do…

When you have experienced great love it can be hard to admit when that love has faded to nothing and that it’s time to let go. Breaking up is hard to do – especially if it is no fault of the object of your affections: they did nothing wrong but you can’t stand to look at them any more.

You hold on to the memories, dream of the good times and try to recreate them – but the flame and the passion that you once had has disappeared – the butterflies you once felt at the sight of your great love are long gone – gone to the point of resentment even – and that love cannot be replicated.

I’m talking to you – replica Eames Eifel Tower chair, and to you replica Tolex Stools, and yes you too replica Tom Dixon pendant light, and watch out replica Wishbone chairs – although there is still a flicker of romance between us, you may be next to show up at Aldi or Officeworks or Kmart, and when that happens we’re officially through!

Look – although I am a purist at heart and all of my designer pieces are original vintage (sourced at flea markets and consignment shops around the world at amazing prices), I am not opposed to the odd replica here and there – it is accessible design on a budget, and I am a firm believer in democratic – diplomatic – design for everyone, not just those who can afford to spend 10K on a chair.

I must say, I have grown to RESENT the people who have destroyed some design classics by modifying, cheapifying and multiplying them to the point of making me despise something I had such respect and admiration for – many beautiful pieces of modernism have been reduced to a piece of junk you can pick up for $20 at the supermarket next to the canned foods. I resent that because they have taken things I once loved dearly and now I can’t even stand to be around. The chair (or stool or sofa or light….) committed no crime, but I can’t look at it any more. It’s like when your favorite song is playing on every radio station, in every shop, every restaurant and, finally every TV commercial – and it gets to the point that your skin crawls when you hear it and you have to block your ears.

I plead to the manufacturers of these replicas – or, for the sake of accuracy – these cheap knock-offs – stop now before all great design is reduced to a piece of disposable garbage. Design is not meant to be disposable. Lets respect authenticity and allow these classic designs to maintain their dignity.

Look – it’s natural to be tempted – temped to give in to the desire to possess the thing you have lusted after for so long – but for the sake of the future of design, please choose wisely. A good replica or ‘re-issue’, when well made and true to the original design can be as nearly as satisfying as a vintage original. Some steamy flings do turn into long and meaningful relationships. I beg you though, please stay away from the cheap one-night stand of replicas. Do not feed that beast as it will pave the way for the future bastardization of so many pieces of great design.

Dream Catcher

One of the greatest things about being an interior designer and stylist is that it allows me to live many lives. I have the honor and privilege of living vicariously through my many different clients, and I get to enjoy the fruits of all their quirks and varied styles.

Design, of course, is subjective – you know what you find beautiful – you know what you like and what excites you – but you may not be able to create it or re-create it. I like to think that I provide the tools – I am a design translator – I fill in the gaps – read between the lines – because beauty is personal and design is a language, one that not everyone speaks fluently. It is a great joy to be a part of the creation of a dream, and to have the pleasure of enjoying so many different styles. It’s like being an actress playing different rolls, wearing different hats.

Like everyone, I have my own style – my own taste. That style is constantly evolving and morphing as trends and styles change and grow – as I grow personally and have experiences that influence how I style and dress my home. But of course you can’t have it all at once – all together in one space.

I want to say thank you to my clients for allowing me to have it all. By living through your hopes and dreams and helping to make those dreams a reality, I do get to have it all. Thank you for sharing your private worlds with me, thank you for trusting me to help make your dreams come true.

Above is a gorgeous image I found on Pinterest that originally came from www.pertolandporcelain.com. What a beautiful place for dreaming….

The Bold and the Beautiful

You may have noticed a recent surge of all things Memphis lately. For those of you that are not yet familiar, Memphis was a 1980’s pop art inspired furniture, homeware and graphic design movement spearheaded by Italian designer Etore Sottsass.

Memphis appealed to the lyno loving, colour block barracking, amoeba print-supporting fan of all things overstated. This was form over function on a heavy dose of halucinagens.

As with many other styles of the 80’s (like mullets, high wasted jeans and acid washed demin) Memphis is making a surprise and unexpected comeback that is seeping quickly into pop culture (no pun intended).

Most people have pretty strong feelings towards the eye-popping style – either they love it or they hate it. But if you ask me, Memphis, and Memphis inspired designs (unlike mullets, high wasted jeans and acid washed denim) can be quite stylish when carefully mixed into your interior in moderation.

If you are inspired to give it a go but are too intimidated by the combinations of strong angular shapes, bold colours and asymmetry – then take baby steps. My approach to incorporating Memphis is to deconstruct it.

The first and most obvious element of Memphis is colour, followed by form, followed by print. For the beginner, I suggest starting with small objects and soft furnishings – if you find you don’t like them you can put them in the cupboard (not to be seen for another 30 years when Memphis has its second revival). If you DO like them and they leave you feeling bold and beautiful, try bringing in some larger swathes of colour – maybe in the form of a quilt cover or a bedspread. You can also get some really fun Memphis inspired amoeba printed bed sheets from many different retailers these days, which mix well with the solid bold colours. I would only suggest painting or tiling in these pop colours in small doses and if you have always had a penchant for the bold. If you’re just jumping on the fad wagon than best to stick to smaller things that are easy to change.

When it comes to Memphis inspired furniture (the real stuff will set you back a pretty penny and is really only accessible to collectors with deep pockets), there is not that much on the market yet but lets face it, that may be a good thing.

Book Smart

I was lucky enough to go to a specialised art high school, where – although the academic courses were very good and I had some teachers who’s lessons I will never forget (I mean you Mr. Carver!) – we students (well, me) put more emphasis on our art over our traditional studies. I would spend hour after hour in the art studio painting, sculpting and drawing – those were the days!.

The term ‘Book Smart’ was something we often threw around, as in “I may not be book smart, but I’m life/street/art/people smart”.

In recent years – especially with the introduction of e-books, Kindle, iBook and other digital devices that ‘for some’ are more convenient than a traditional paper book – my desire to be ‘Book Smart’ has grown – both in the traditionl sense and from a design point of view – with a touch of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. This desire has grown to the extent that I want to be surrounded by them – wrapped in them even.

Nothing beats the touch and feel of a real book – the way they smell and the way they transform from a stiff, flat little rectangle to something swollen and dog-eared – each with their own character. What could be better than a library full of them – floor to ceiling stories of romance – tales of conquest – maps to the stars…. It’s just not the same on a tablet, and you certainly can’t decorate with or dedicate a room to Kindles.

Let’s honour the book, I say. The paperback, the hardcover, the leather bound – let’s dust them off and bring them back into the foreground. There is little that is more beautiful than a wall full of much-loved spines – touched and worn and patinated. Could there be anything more luxurious than a home library? A real home library where books wallpaper the room?

Not really I say, but if you do not have the luxury of a personal home library, you can still have the wallpaper. Library wallpaper. There are several companies these days that offer that old school charm of a traditional library, giving you the look and even the feel. You too can have that wall of spines – a true to life tromp l’oeil library. Many of these companies even offer a textured wallpaper so you can actually feel the ridges in the leather binding. The smell, however, can’t be replicated.

My favorite is from Fornasetti manufactured by Cole & Son (http://www.cole-and-son.com/en/collection-14/). It may not be as traditional as some, but it is a nod to the old and I think it’s fabulous.