Solar Lights: the good the bad and the very pretty Monday, Apr 18 2011 

I’ve been experimenting with solar lights in the garden.  Lighting schemes transform a landscape into a fairyland or fantasy if done well.  They can shine gloriously up into the canopy of ancient trees, line a winding footpath beckoning you on or sparkle like diamonds in the night breeze.

Rather than spend a fortune on wiring up the garden, and then a subsequent fortune on electricity, I’ve been giving solar a go.  As it doesn’t cost the earth.

And this is what I’ve found.

Firstly, you can buy very cheap solar lights – as little as $20.  You can install them yourself easily.  They do work, and they don’t break.  However, the reason why they are cheap, is that they are very faint as they generally only have one tiny LED.  They emit more of a glow than a beam.  The more LEDs the brighter.

So it is worth spending more.

Solar fairy lights are fabulous.  You can buy them in strings of 50, 100, 200 and more.  Again, the more you pay, the more little lights you get.  And with fairy lights, more is more.  You don’t want a stingy smattering.  You want diamond laden branches, sparkling through the dusk.  So spend more.  Make sure you get super bright LED lights.

The ones I purchased last up to eight hours.  I’ve never tested this as I’m always asleep by then!  In the photo above (my camera isn’t good enough to really capture it), is a string of 60 lights.  You can see that it’s nowhere near enough for a dramatic effect even in a small tree.  I’m going to have to buy more…. but I wanted to test them first.

LEDs are available in different colours so you can be as wild as you like.  As you can imagine, I stuck to white. 

One of the fabulous things about solar lights is that you don’t have to worry about turning them on – as the light fades, they illuminate, surprising you in a lovely way.

If it has been raining for a couple of days, the light will be very dim.  Otherwise, they seem to fire up every night.

Solar is definitely the way forward – but spend up.  You do get what you pay for.


Great places for discount purchases Wednesday, Apr 13 2011 

Quite a few of you have been asking about some of the fabrics I’ve shown here.  Others about paint and so on – so this post is the list of where to find great bargains.

For fabric, I search on Ebay.  I have a favourite seller, from whom I buy almost all of my upholstery fabric.  This means I never see it in person.  And I pay up to $200 shipping from the US.  But the prices are so good, it is still usually about 10% of what you’d pay in Australia.

They stock the absolute pinnacle of fabrics in the world.  Silk velvets, hand printed linens, manufacturers (like Scalamandre, shown below) that are not available to the public.

They take their photos with flash, which, while it makes the fabric look amazing, can distort the colour.  Silks and velvets tend to come up a little more yellow.  If you need an exact shade of cream or white, this may not work for you.  You can find their shop here.

You may think I’m being kind sharing this, when you may bid against me.  But you will soon see that I have not been kind at all.  You may, like me, find yourself drooling over the fabrics you never thought you could afford (and now can), find yourself resolving to recover chairs, remake curtains, find yourself buying rather more than you need and then suffer weeks of guilt or frantic activity as you now have to make a zillion things.

You won’t be thanking me….

If you want cheap books (not a problem in most of the world – but if you live in Australia, they are ridiculously expensive) – this store ships them free all around the world.  It takes about a week and it’s just magic!  They even ship heavy interiors books free…. (I have no idea how they are making any money).

For example – they are selling this hardback for A$27.  Free postage.  Tempted??

Or this one for the same price?  These are usually $50-60 in shops.

The floor paint I use is from an Australia company called Shipways.  They make an amazing variety of industrial strength paint that will never scratch or chip.  It does contain VOCs, so is not environmentally friendly in that sense.  But it is, in that you won’t ever have to re-paint it.  So, if you want a white floor what won’t yellow over time (as polyurethane does) – they can supply it for you.

For furniture, I favour auctions (the ones where the dealers go).  My favourite in Sydney is John Williams (their beautiful dog, Bella, always helps advertise their new sale – below).  I also like eBay, and of course, whatever people put beside the road to chuck out.  I still have a pair of chairs fourteen years later, that I loaded into my convertible….  they are in their third incarnation and are still going strong.

 Finally, on the clothes front, the best fun you can have is to host a swap party.  Invite all your girlfriends (and their friends) and send the men out for the night.  Ask them to bring over the clothes that they bought that were mistakes, that are pretty much unworn (and therefore as good as new) but they can’t bear to throw out as they are too nice.  You know the ones.

Supply a bit of wine and after about half an hour of modest chit chat, and a few private changes in the bathroom, some kind of madness takes hold…  suddenly everyone is tearing off their clothes and passing items round.  Everyone hoots with laughter as something looks amazing on one person and terrible on the next.  The short girls’ offcasts work on the tall girl, the dress rejected by the slim boned woman is brought to life on a curvy friend.  You’ll be astounded at how you can pass clothes between women of all different sizes.

It’s such a lot of fun.  And you get a heap of new clothes for free, and clear your closet of guilt and unworn clobber.

Four poster beds and romantic dreams Friday, Apr 8 2011 

Would I wake in a four poster bed to find myself being kissed by a prince?  Would a hundred year sleep end and find me a princess?  Or would I just find room service?

Four poster cream bedroom romantic interiors

Four poster beds have always been a sign of wealth – and are still associated with it today – although romance springs first to mind.

They have been around since Tudor times, when often you ate slept and lived in one room.  And if you had a separate bedchamber, servants might also sleep there (in case you needed them in the night).

The ability to close curtains around a bed gave the sleeper privacy, as well as protection from drafts, insects and pests (of which there were many!)

A four poster bed creates a room-within-a-room. This idea was brought back by Frank Lloyd Wright who created furniture and spaces to do exactly that – 500 years later.

A canopy bed (see below) developed later – but provided similar warmth and privacy in cold dank castles before central heating.

Today, a canopy is a wonderful way of highlighting a tall ceiling, and adding drama to the bed.

Even a small (non-functional) canopy, hung from a rosette, can add to the romance of going to sleep.  Below, even the fabrics are simpler: no gold satin here, rather a cotton country floral print.

This works beautifully with the old oak beams and whitewashed walls.

Lining a canopy or curtains with an intense colour brings this colour scheme to life.  It takes some guts to use the same pattern on both walls and fabric – but I like it hear as the colour scheme is so restrained.  There is only the one shade of blue and the oatmeal.

I love the heraldic theme on the fabric below.  It looks very masculine and severe – but kind of sexy too.

Layering patterns and textures – the rug beneath the bed, the tapestries on the wall, the curtaining round the bed – all add up to a sumptuous room.

You need lots of internal architecture to make this work (beams, mullioned windows) or it would overwhelm.

A more modern look in red and black fuels lots of ideas.  You could take the padded panel from behind the bed and create a headboard like that very easily – and it would look dramatic and smart.

Time to book a weekend away in a castle I think….

New uses for old silver Tuesday, Apr 5 2011 

Silver (whether plate or solid) was treasured a generation back.

It was a sign of wealth and success.  Significant moments were marked with a gift of silver: a silver photo frame at a wedding, a silver vase for a birthday, a silver napkin ring for a christening.  Displayed proudly on sideboards and dressers, it was polished assiduously.

And now all this lies oxidising and black, at the back of people’s cupboards, or in boxes at deceased estate auctions.

Which means it doesn’t cost the earth.

I’m not suggesting a return to silver-laden tables.  I’m suggesting a rethink.  I’m suggesting thinking about silver as you would IKEA’s home organisation department.

old silver new use interior make-up brushes organisation

Rather than buying boxes and tubs in which to store items – you can have silver for a fraction of the price.

I  use an old silver vase for make-up brushes and mascara.  But you could just as easily use it for pencils and pens, paintbrushes or cotton-wool balls.

Why buy a toothbrush holder when an unusual silver vase looks so much more elegant?

Make-up and toiletries sit prettily in a silver tray, adding a touch of glamour to a morning ritual.

old silver new use interior make up organisation

Definitely avoid large displays of silver (this really does hark back to days past) – but including items in a practical manner adds a touch of character and imagination to a room.

old silver new use interior pens organisation

Use them for fruit, walnuts (as seen below), flowers, pens.  Fill items with keys and clutter from the front door.  But use them – don’t chuck them.  You won’t need to buy more ‘stuff’.  And you may even find a use for that old thing from great aunt Beryl.

recycled interiors chair parisian art

Leather: scuffed and sexy Sunday, Apr 3 2011 

Just as biker jackets are enjoying enormous popularity in fashion, so leather is returning to interiors.  And just as the jackets are masculine, scuffed and cool, so leather for interiors is masculine, scuffed and cool.  Smooth black and white leather is going to look dated very soon.

The leather look that is going to be around for a while is largely brown, and very worn.  Leather looks better as you use it – the patina of use is what makes biker jackets cool.  And it’s the same deal for furniture.

Think club chairs in a gentleman’s study.  Imagine the worn leather of an explorer’s tent.

And then pair the leather either with the details associated with smoking lounges, clubs and adventure: leather bounds books, specimens, fossils and interesting finds, maps.  Add some tartan, paisley or flannel and you’ll have a fabulously atmospheric room.

Alternatively, the addition of worn leather to a clean and modern room will immediately add warmth and personality.  It can take the edge off overly feminine rooms, and balance out chintz and frills.

If your seat is genuinely old, and the seat has worn through (old leather can sometimes crack – keep it moist in the same way you do your shoes with a regular polish with oils or wax) – you don’t have to pay a fortune for a new one.  You can recover the cushion in a contrasting fabric – as seen in the photos above.

You can find leather armchairs and sofas.  There are also desks and tables covered in leather, or, for a smaller accent, cushions.

Old leather trunks, complete with studs and straps look very handsome in any room.

And if you’re going all out – cover the walls in leather.  The room below, at Kingston Lacy, is covered in Spanish leather, embossed with gold.  This room was created hundreds of years ago, by a chap who was later exiled from England for various crimes.  Reading between the lines it becomes abundantly apparent that he was gay.

Of course!  Who else could have created a room like that?

Look for pieces like the one below – seen at an auction.  For tips on how to bid to win – check out this link.

Dine like a king: set your table for a feast (even if you’re dining alone) Wednesday, Mar 23 2011 


When they say dine like a king – do they mean literally?  Do they mean eat from a silver plate, surrounded by ancient tapestries, and piles of exotic fruits while liveried footmen serve endless rich courses?

Of course, far too many of us are dining like kings and have waistlines that answer to it.  But how about dining like a king in terms of the setting.  Maybe I’d enjoy my salad more if I ate it in sumptuous surroundings.

A generation or two ago, families had ‘best’ china, or “Sunday” dinner services.  These were too precious to be used every day and were saved for special occasions or for guests that were to be impressed.

We don’t have such occasions any more.  Although many of us still have ‘best’ things that we don’t use. 

I find that special occasions usually have so much going for them anyway, that you don’t need fancy crockery.  But a stressful and dull Tuesday evening can be livened up no end, with candelabra, silver cutlery and a table laid for a feast.  Even if you’re only having beans on toast.  It makes it FUN!

The table above is only dressed with a sheet – but the room is gorgeous.  Why not try a centrepiece of fruit?  It uses things you already have, so you don’t need to buy flowers.  And you can eat it afterwards.

If you’re eating in a room like this, your wine is probably stored in a cellar much like that below:

If not – a bit of dust will make your wine feel ancient.

The secret to great table decor is height – piles of marzipan (or real) fruit and candles need to start well above table level in little dishes on elegant stems.  It makes it all look so much more bacchanalian!

How are you dining tonight?

Trend alert: moulding, panelling, cornices: they’re back! Monday, Mar 21 2011 

After decades of minimalism, post-modernism and a complete move away from anything that wasn’t functional, we’re moving back to aesthetic appreciation.

Thank god!

For decades, if it wasn’t structural or vital to the form of the building, it was deemed expendable.  This was either a cheap (and shoddy) way of building. Or – if you wanted a great finish – one of the most expensive you can imagine.

Internal architecture serves a purpose – it hides joins at the ceiling (with cornices) at doorways with architraves; it protects (at floor level with skirting boards) and it can conceal all manner of faults, adding character and a sense of grandeur.

Without it, rooms can feel half-finished, or lacking in warmth. 

That’s why it’s coming back.

For those of you who haven’t discovered the free interior design magazine, Lonny, this month’s edition features a featureless house that has been transformed with masses of (fake and period-inappropriate) moulding.  It looks AMAZING!  Check it out here.

Inspirations are easy to find in houses of old:

They range from the more intricate (above) to the plainer applications.  The simplicity and beauty of most can be translated into modern day with a simple paint job or the addition of some pre-cut lengths of moulding.

Beautiful mouldings

Or it can even be painted on in a manner that is never meant to be ‘real’.  The bed may be a bit chintzy for my taste – an ultra modern look would set off those painted panels better I think – it would take itself less seriously.

Does your home smell nice? Are you sure? Friday, Mar 18 2011 

As sensory beings – the only way we engage with our world is through our five senses – we tend to focus strongly on the visual, particularly in design, for obvious reasons.

But often it is the other senses that create the feeling (or sense!) of home.

rose flower scent interior home

I’ve posted before on auditory cues – and how echoing spaces are not welcoming or even comfortable.

But what about olfactory?

How does your home smell?

Most of us don’t even notice the smell of our own home as we become accustomed to it.    A return from holiday can be a shock – of delight or horror – as your nose re-enters familiar territory.

Fragrance can be a lovely way to spice up your home.  Sometimes literally.

Firstly, ensure that BAD odours are eliminated.  These may emanate from:

Mould and mildew

Cooking smells: fish, curry, cabbage are a few of the less pleasant of these

Sweaty sportswear and gear

Pets with dirt trays, doggy hair and so on

These can be removed by either cleaning up the mess promptly, or ensuring that offending items (such as sports gear, dirt trays) are placed in low traffic areas that are well ventilated.

Adding new fragrance to your home can be fun.  And I’m not talking about those chemical plug-in devices, or air-fresheners.  To my nose, they can be as offensive as the odours they are attempting to conceal.

Perfumed flowers can fill a house with fragrance.  Lilies are a wonderful example.  You open your front door and it smells like a florist!

lilies fragrant perfume home interior

Some fruits can do this too: quinces have an irresistible exotic perfume that permeates a house – for this reason they are best not kept in your fridge – or even your eggs will taste of quince.

Nice cooking smells are lovely to walk in to: fresh bread, spiced gingerbread, rich stews.  It’s a great reason (not that you need another) to cook these from scratch.

Essential oils add different moods to a room: sultry sandalwood, or bright bergamot and citrus oils for energy, peppermint for clarity of thought and lavender for a lovely restful sleep.

Try changing the scents that greet you as you walk into your home.  It can have a surprising and subconscious effect on mood and wellbeing.  And it’s very easy to change and play with.

rose flower scent interior home

What scent would you most like to be welcomed by?

Heraldry rocks: ancient emblems for funky femmes Wednesday, Mar 16 2011 

I’ve written before about my urgent desire for a coat of arms….

Sadly, my obsession shows no sign of abating.  Happily, the interior world is catching on and there are increasingly wonderful ideas for how to incorporate heraldry into a modern interior.  We’re all so familiar with design these days, that these ancient designs hold thrall – they are still beautiful, still powerful, still heart-stopping.

This chair is a reproduction – brought to life with a fabulous coat of arms.  What an easy addition to an existing piece of furniture….

Even easier – add a cushion or two.  I love the combination of union jack flag and coat of arms here.  A mixture of two ancient and powerful crests.

This modern take on it is a great alternative to these more traditional cushions – which are stunning, but more conservative.  Plus – you could make the one above in a flash: just strips of linen in two colours, and any emblem – even the badge off an old school blazer!

Glass can feature all kinds of designs – but the combination of smooth glass and  a coat of arms looks amazing:

You could just paint the design on your wall, you could print it and frame it, paint it onto blinds… It’s such a simple and strong element that it would work in almost any room.

There are hundreds of designs you can use and translate into interiors.  The ones above can be stencilled onto walls, fabric or furniture.

I’m inspired…  are you?

The disasters, the mishaps – the truth behind the ‘perfect’ projects Monday, Mar 14 2011 

You may believe, reading my blog, that my life is a happy and carefree flit from one delightful and successful room to the next.  Perhaps you think (I wish) that I just knock off one brilliant project and then the next without even getting paint on my clothes.

Aahhh – if only that were true.  What you see is the result of years of mistakes, and sometimes hours (or even days) of frustration.

While renovating and redecorating has got to be up there as one of the most rewarding ways to spend a weekend, it does come with its fair share of mishaps, mistakes and complete disasters.

And while I usually show you the glorious finished product, here are a few things YOU might want to avoid (I didn’t….)

1.  When stepping back to admire your painted finish, you step IN the paint.  I did mention this one here.  My paint was in a plastic container I’d used for mixing, which cracked… and the paint flooded the floor….

Colourwash dining room after

2. When painting something, peacefully and concentrating, your cat jumps IN the paint….  and you end up with dark green footprints across a pale rug.  Forever.

Why cats paint interiors

3. When removing a tree stump, your beloved chain-saws through the water main.  If you’re going to do this, and you cut it your side of the water meter, you can turn off the water.  If you cut it the OTHER side of the water meter, you will be left with a spout of water, pumping out gallons, until the water board arrives.  Your house may flood. 

However, the plus side is, THEY (the water board) pay for the repairs as it is their pipe.  And gosh – they were surprisingly nice about it!

Palacio del Baililio Cordoba

4. You cut the architraves for the window angled the wrong way.  More than once.

Kitchen window after

5. You cut out the fabric too small or the wrong shape.  Or worse you cut out on the floor and cut out not only your fabric but also the carpet beneath.  Thank goodness, the last time I did this was in my parents house.  (Dad  – you never knew did you?  And you’ve since moved… phew!)

6. You buy a new plant and a new rug and the cat eats the plant and then vomits it on the new rug.  I then also discovered that the plant was toxic for cats.

Diesel the cat

7. Having lovingly recovered the screen, literally the following week, the man knocks the whole thing over, smashing the glass and the frame. The upshot of this, thankfully, was not the end of a long and happy union, but a rather large bill for glass and frame repairs.

Recycled antique screen prints Italian

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