back corner of the garden - hard to believe this is only 6 months old.

Up until the past few days, it's been an unusually cool start to Autumn in Adelaide. This has meant that for once the weather is matching what the season says it is supposed to be - we've had rain, grey days and crisp days and nights, rather than the usual March bake of 40C weather and Autumn fashions in the stores.

David Austin "Golden Celebration"

Leaves are turning bright crimson and saffron colours in the garden, but there are still the last of the roses putting on a display as well.

I went to a lovely Afternoon Tea at a friend's house out in her garden (it's currently School Holidays) - this was the setting. It wasn't quite so serenely peaceful as it might look in this photo though, as sitting at the adjacent table were 7 children under the age of 9 all demanding constant top ups of drinks, scones and sandwiches.

My children have spent a day collecting pine cones up in the hills in my Dad's garden, which which I've created a few arrangements in lieu of flowers about the place.  

And I've been cooking up a storm out of my new cookbook, Jamie Oliver's "Comfort Food". I've always found his recipes to be very reliable. I've so far made the Moussaka and the Slow Cooked Shoulder of Pork with a fennel and potato gratin. Both were big hits, although the Moussaka was frankly very time consuming. The Pork was cooked for an Easter Lunch with my family, and was perfect as I put it in the oven the night before and let it cook away slowly overnight leaving the morning free for the egg hunt and other Eastery things with the children.

views down the side garden

With the change in season I've been turning out cupboards and drawers all through the house and taking large boxes of outgrown or worn out clothes to the Charity shop. I haven't yet read the cult book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo but may yet do so - have any of you read it? Thoughts? The clear out has left room for a couple of new Winter additions though.

Above is my new Cable Melbourne jumper in grey (this is the back view of it - love the detail in the stitching and the curved hem). I've written about Cable Melbourne before as they are my favourite knitwear brand - much of it is made in Australia and the designs are modern and flattering (and warm!). I will usually buy one or two of their excellent pieces each Winter to add to my existing repertoire of knitwear. This jumper goes well with two of my existing scarfs, one silk in grey with orange edging (it's Fleurs et Papillons de Tissus), and a more casual grey toned Mulberry one that was a gift from a friend for my 40th. I've already worn all of these combos out and about with skinny jeans and ballet flats, and once it cools down further the new leather leggings that I bought heavily reduced in the January sales from Joseph (via David Jones).

On house interiors news I finally had confirmation that the lamp order I've been patiently waiting on from the US has finally left, and is now on a very slow boat inching its way to me. I have 10 lamps in the order, so I can't wait until they're here… it will certainly be a little brighter at night in the house. I've also just ordered two more chairs for the Sitting Room/ Library. They are going to go on either side of the card table under the painting, and will be in this Neisha Crosland fabric (swatch in the photo above) that I've been wanting to use for a very long time somewhere. Believe it or not neutrals can be the hardest thing to decorate with - there are literally a million shades of beige out there ranging from grey/ yellow/ pink/ green and brown toned shades so it was a happy day to find this fabric works perfectly in the room. The cushions I've got underway are still being made up by the workroom, so I'll likely have everything arrive at once to finish off this room with the lamps/ cushions/ chairs. Fun!

And just in time for the change in season and lots of nights in front of the fire we've finally got Netflix, and I'm loving it. If, like me, you're hopeless about remembering to watch a tv series and so miss crucial episodes and lose the train of what is going on (I couldn't follow Downton Abbey after half way through Series 2 for instance) this thing is perfect. Between Mad Men and Wolf Hall starting up on Foxtel, and now Netflix it will keep me busy. 

There's the smell of wood fires hanging in the air at night, and the days are definitely getting shorter. Hope you're enjoying the change of season whether it's Spring or Autumn where you are.

The original kitchen from the real estate listing

I haven't done a Before and After of the house for a while, but I think this one is a pretty good transformation. Originally this room was the kitchen in our house, and would have been a kitchen from the time the house was built in 1901. It had last been renovated in the 1970's, and we used it as a kitchen/ dining room for the first three years we lived in the house up until the time the new extension was completed. We had made some small adjustments - during the renovations of the front of the house prior to moving in we'd bricked up one of the doors into the kitchen to the small adjacent servery (which became the children's bathroom), leaving one access point from the hallway.

and my non real estate (no wide angle lens) listing photos - this was just prior to demolition of this room

The other additional problem with this room is that the cellar is directly underneath it, and when a bathroom had been added onto the back of the house the original stairs were covered over, so a hatch had been cut out and a very steep stair/ladder added to access the cellar. As part of the extension we reopened up the original stair location which enabled us to remove the hatch in the old kitchen floor and re-board over the floors. A bedroom with cellar access would have been a little odd...

 same angle as the top photo with a bit taken out for the powder room

The kitchen was definitely past its use by date, but the main problem that I had with this space related to the change in use and the plan for the reorganisation of rooms that we made. This room faces South so gets very little natural light, not ideal for a Child's bedroom, and was something that is exacerbated by the veranda that runs around the entire perimeter of the old part of the house making it even darker. The other thing was that I planned to take out a corner of the room to create the Guest W/C/ powder room with access from a new door in the hall. This bedroom was already going to be the smallest bedroom in the house, and was becoming even smaller by removing part of it for this purpose…. coupled with it being dark, having no interesting architectural features such as cornices, deep skirting boards or a fireplace (as it was a kitchen, these things had never been put in the room), it really was the worst room in the house.

To overcome all these deficiencies I decided that the best way to deal with the small space was to build in furniture. We needed to accommodate a desk (for future study, as my son is currently only 4 years old), bookshelves, somewhere to sit, a wardrobe, bed and bedside table. The room could easily have ended up feeling crowded by all these disparate elements, but by blocking the wardrobe, bookshelves, desk and seating into a custom built in unit I designed, it freed up floor area for playing, and created a neat and practical storage solution. With the absence of visual clutter the room feels more spacious than it is.

I designed this unit to run along the wall that has the window, as our windows are unusually low it precludes having standard height furniture like a desk or bed against it as they would cover over it. So the seating for the room is a window seat with a deep cushion and built in storage under, a wardrobe to the left of this, and on the right a built in desk with bookshelves above that are covered by doors when not in use. The desk has a pin board backing to it and built in power points for a lamp and for computer charging points.

In terms of colour choices for the room, that was determined by my then 2 year old Son. I really believe it is important to involve children in the design of their bedroom. Even very small children can usually tell  you what colour they want their special space to be. I do try to balance this out though by making a room that can grow with the child into teenage years. It was therefore a slight challenge to be informed by my Son that he wanted an orange bedroom - his favourite colour. There was absolutely no way I was going to paint the walls orange - it's just not a restful colour, and I worried that he may well not want an orange bedroom as a teenager at any rate, particularly if it was so in your face. So the Anna Spiro for Porters Paints wallpaper "Higgledy Piggledy Stripe" in Chilli Coral was the perfect choice - all the white balances out the orange nicely - it's cheery and bright without being juvenile or unsophisticated. My son then said that he wanted light blue for his blind and window seat cushion - his second favourite colour. So China Seas "Aga Reverse" fabric in turquoise was the final choice (he approved all samples of wallpaper and fabric). The wallpaper needed a vibrant blue, rather than a pastel.

The main problem I then had was bedding. Unfortunately in Australia if you have a boy your choices are either blue (navy or sky) or grey bed linen. Any turquoise is usually in girls bedding and comes with flowers, as does anything with orange - usually it's balanced out with pink. In the end I ordered from the US from Serena and Lily a turquoise bedspread and matching pillow shams. I also ordered a white doona cover with orange frame border… it was irritating to have to do this, but I held off buying it for over a year in the hope that something would turn up locally that would work - nothing did.

The bed is from Lilly and Lolly (Australian company), who manufacture in Australia, and is solid Tasmanian Oak. It's the colour box bed and matching single drawer bedside table unit. I've been really happy with the quality- very solid, well made and should last a long time.

The bedside lamp is a cheapie from Freedom Furniture that fortuitously matched the turquoise colour with the shade and cord, the artwork above the bedside is from Tiggywinkle children's boutique in Melbourne who carry a large range of original artworks suitable for children. The artist is a botanical artist, so it's a beautifully detailed illustration. The other art in the room is the large framed animal alphabet scarf over the radiator, and the room really doesn't need anything more than that. I've hung all the artwork deliberately lower - you are supposed to hang art with the viewing point at eye level, but as this room is for a small child I decided to keep the scale low by hanging it lower - it works better with the low lines of the bed and bedside table too.

It's now a really cheery, cosy space that perfectly reflects the personality of its inhabitant. He loves his bedroom, and will often take himself off here to spend time looking at books on his windowseat, or playing stretched out on the floor with his cars or Lego. Hopefully it will also be a room that grows with him with only minor adjustments into his teenage years.

Wallpaper - Anna Spiro for Porter's Paint "Higgledy Piggledy Stripe" in Chilli Coral
Paint - Dulux Hog's Bristle 1/4 strength semi gloss enamel
Fabric - China Seas "Aga Reverse" Turquoise on Tint
Bedlinen - Serena and Lily "Cabin Quilt" and Sham in Turquoise, "Border Frame" duvet cover and sham in Coral
Furniture - Lilly and Lolly Colour box bed in Tassie Oak, single drawer bedside table in Tassie Oak
Lamp - Freedom Furniture
Carpet - Quest "St Louis" colour Kendall Coal
Pendant light (not seen in photos above) - Bell pendant light from Normann Copenhagen 
I've been wanting to write a post about the Dining Room for quite a while. In Australia, it's become virtually redundant in modern design to have a formal Dining Room. Our casual lifestyle means that more people have embraced the concept of open plan informal living… and devoting a space solely for formal Dining (and which will often only be used a handful of times at best per year) seems to be a waste of space.

Of course there is the other problem in that eating a meal from an actual dining table has become rare, and that more and more people fail to actually sit at a table for a meal together (or alone even). Many families, particularly those with teenagers or young adults in them, will have family members running on such varying schedules due to part-time jobs/ studying/ sport/ extra curricular activities that the act of actually sitting at one time together at a table has become a special occasion in itself due to rarity.

We all know the benefits that come with sharing a meal with others, so this post is not going to become a lecture on the importance of sitting down at a table while eating/ table manners/ placement of cutlery/social history of the dining room etc. I thought I'd instead discuss the selection of dining furniture.

Firstly: table size. Generally speaking you require 60cm per person in length for a long dining table. For a round table, you'll need a 135cm diameter to seat six, 150cm diameter to seat 8 and so on. When working out furniture placement in a room and table width, you'll need at least 1 meter behind a chair for push out/ pull in and general circulation space. It is always a good idea to get out a tape measure in the actual space and measure out your proposed table size, and use newspapers on the floor to mark it out properly so you can visualise it and make sure it works.

In terms of width of a table, a 1metre wide rectangular table is quite narrow - you won't be able to put much down the centre of the table if you like to put out dishes/ platters/ bowls with food on them. 1.2m wide is ideal, however it is better to go narrower if you don't have the 1m clearance around the table for the chairs as noted above.

John Stefanidis design circa 1990's

Tables can be very expensive, and generally it is they that make the most impact in a room in a decor sense. But I have to caution that the money you should invest in your setting should be in the chairs. If you consider how much wear and tear the chair gets, along with the fact that if you may end up sitting down for a long meal with friends for many hours (and therefore experience a sore back from a poorly designed chair), the chairs are the item worth investing in. You want something that is comfortable and durable with some degree of aesthetic flair.

If you buy cheap chairs you will get the same result that I have had with my horrible Eames replica chairs. They are uncomfortable to sit in, most are on the verge of collapse, and we are one short as one collapsed completely and could not be resuscitated. When we have people over we have to caution them on how to sit in the chairs so that they don't fall through the backs (it's happened a few times). We then spend most of the meal in a heightened state of anxiety as our guests's chairs creak and make cracking sounds, terrified they may end up on the floor. They were cheap, they are 6 years old, but I am not happy that they are going into landfill so soon after they were made. Such a waste on so many levels. The chairs were $100 each, which is pretty cheap in Australia for a new dining chair. So having said that, we bought 10 chairs, and $1,000 seemed like a lot at the time considering that the dining table was so expensive and we were paying for the entire new dining furniture all at once. Now, six years later… it seems like we've wasted the money. With hindsight I'd far rather have bought fewer, more expensive (durable) chairs and gradually built it up to a set of 10 then have bought the cheap ones all at once, with an end result of broken, uncomfortable and essentially unusable chairs. The saying "when you buy quality, you only cry once" is pretty apt.

my broken Eames Replica chairs

So the short version of that tale of woe is that now I advise people to put the money into the chairs. A cheaper dining chair that is well made is around the $400 mark when new (in Australia) with prices going up from there. $850 will buy you a real Eames dining chair, and there are of course chairs that are upwards of $3000 each depending on who designed them.

Another consideration when looking to buy your dining furniture is to consider who is using it. If you have a young family, or a family of teenagers then buying a highly polished "perfect" looking dining table may end up causing you a lot of angst if your family are not terribly well behaved with it. While I do not advocate waiting until your children leave home to buy good furniture and making do with the shabby in the meantime, you just have to buy wisely so that your choice reflects your lifestyle particulars and also has some aesthetic value. Our dining table is made from recycled wood and has a distressed finish. This has worked well with babies and small children who have scratched and banged and added to the general distress in a way that works with the original design. It was not my first choice of table - that was a more perfect looking modern designer table…. but having returned from a day of looking at tables in showrooms and then watching my oldest child (who was 2.5 at the time) smash his little fork into the existing dining table a few times that night while having his dinner, the distressed finish and more rustic table was chosen.

 my rustic style dining table in our casual living area

Similarly, buying upholstered chairs when you have toddlers or young children is a recipe for disaster. There are a lot of chairs available in either plain timber finishes or in polypropylene that are wipeable, and it's far better to accommodate the actuality of your life, than to have chairs that are encrusted with the remnants of meals past.

my Sideboard

 my sideboard with food served buffet style for a dinner party

I'd also suggest that if you can possibly accommodate somewhere else to serve food off, you'll be very pleased to have it for larger meals. We have our French antique cherry wood side board, which is extra wide. It's perfect for putting out platters of food and doing a meal buffet style, or for holding all the bottles of wine and extra things for meals that are already plated and served to table. If you're in an open plan living room your kitchen island bench may double up for this, but if you can accommodate the extra bit of furniture it's well worth it as it will keep the kitchen free for the actual act of cooking.

rustic table dressed up for a dinner party

In terms of formal dining in a separate room, things have changed drastically in the formal dining room in the past 10 years. For a start, as more and more people have done away with having a special dedicated stand alone room, the very formal furniture has naturally been jettisoned as well. Auction rooms are awash with Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian era Dining furniture from extension tables that will accommodate up to 14 or 16, sets of balloon back dining chairs, and large and heavy sideboards. In the early 1980's Victorian furniture was highly fashionable, as were large formal dining rooms, and now with our more casual lifestyle they are most definitely not. Like anything, it's cyclical so if you're after a bargain for the future and have room to accommodate it then a formal table and chairs might be a good investment. The big tip is that "brown furniture" as it has been called in a slightly derogatory manner for the past 15 - 20 years is starting to become fashionable again, so if you're interested in antiques these are the things to buy now. And if you're someone who has adult children that have stated they're not interested in inheriting your cherished family antiques, sit tight as they may yet change their mind.

Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece's Dining room in London via

It always feels special to me to be invited to someone else's home for  meal - no matter if it's a simple Lasagna and a salad (as one friend used to make for us in Melbourne - she would say she wasn't a good cook, so would make what she was good at, and wouldn't use the excuse that it wasn't gourmet fare and multiple courses to not have people over). The act of hospitality is a great pleasure when we are living in a world so rushed, and in which it's becoming so difficult to make meaningful connections due to the pace of life. It's most definitely something worth celebrating with some decent dining furniture.

This is the part 2 of the Where to Spend/ Where to Save, and these are the things that I feel are worth spending money on when you're building or renovating. Part 1, Where to Save is here

Lighting always makes a real impact and gives a designer feel to any house, so allow a decent amount in your budget for some really good feature lights. Not just feature pendants/ chandeliers, but up lighters, art lights in walls, wall sconces, outside lighting - these really personalise a home and give a lot of wow compared to other things. 

Most people cut their lighting significantly as it's the last thing that is purchased and generally building costs overrun by the stage you get to lighting. Putting aside a decent amount, or purchasing your lights at the start before starting construction will ensure you have a really polished feel in your renovation. A perfect example of underwhelming lighting can be seen below - this pendant is a little insipid design-wise, it's under scaled for the size of the room and table, and to me looks like an afterthought and a totally missed opportunity to put something in with impact that would anchor the table and create a focal point. 

Don't do masses of downlights in the ceiling - it makes it look like swiss cheese, and you'll likely use lamps more as you'll want light at your height rather than overhead (overhead is less flattering, and much harsher). If your living area has sofas that are away from the wall, get some floor boxes put in under the sofas - these have power points in them so you can put your lamp cords into that rather than having cords running across the floor. We have no overhead lighting in our casual living area, so it's all wall lights and lamps. The lamps are connected to the floor boxes and then switched on and off from the wall light switch, just like in a hotel. Doesn't cost a lot extra when you're already wiring up a new house, but it makes life much easier. 

Taps are worth spending money on. Anything you touch and use every day should be the best quality you can afford, as you'll really appreciate it. Taps are also something you really notice in a bathroom or kitchen from a visual standpoint too, so are definitely worth spending money on as they're part of the overall design impact. You should not purchase your taps directly from overseas where they are usually a lot cheaper - we have very high plumbing standards in Australia for water conservation and other regulatory reasons, and plumbers are unable to offer warranty and certification on overseas taps, so you may find it hard to get the installed at any rate. The cost of sanitary ware (toilets/ hand basins etc) can be in the bargain sector (I do think you can get high quality no name sanitary ware for low prices), but the taps are worth spending money on.

Allow enough money for wallpaper or feature finishes. There is a massive variety out there from subtle to bold, but it will give your home more of a finished look if you use it in a couple of rooms. Even using it on the back of built in bookshelves is fabulous (like grasscloth) and makes a big impact. 

Natural light is an excellent thing to spend money on - skylights such as the Velux ones are invaluable to bring it into dark hall ways or rooms and these are the ones you can see sky through (sky windows). They make a huge difference compared to the solar tubes with those plastic diffusers you can't see through (although if you have to use them due to your roof line profile, that's better than nothing). I use them extensively in bathrooms - in our ensuite bathroom we have an openable one with a remote, the powder room has a fixed glass one. Our living area has the ceiling lantern which brings in masses of light and ventilates the rear extension effectively, and a friend recently put one into her dark Victorian hall, and it made an enormous difference to the whole feel of the house by bringing light into a previously gloomy space. 

Choose a standout feature in your project and spend the money on it. For me this was our steel windows. It could be you make a special feature out of a staircase by having a special handrail made…. it could be a fireplace, a wall of natural stone, built in wall panelling or library shelves, or a really special feature light. But if you balance out the special feature by being more restrained in other places you'll highlight the feature, and save money on simplifying elsewhere. It will give your feature maximum impact and distract from other budget saving measures you've employed.

If you put carpet in, choose the best quality underlay possible rather than skimping on it. It makes more of a difference to the way the carpet feels and performs long term than you'd believe. 

I really feel strongly that you should spend money on good insulation. Always put in much more than is recommended - having lived in a house for a year that had terrible insulation in it, I can attest that you will be permanently uncomfortable in your home if you skimp. There's no joy in staring at acres of 2pac joinery and beautiful marble while you shiver, and are then hit by astronomical electricity/gas bills after running your heating and cooling 24/7. It's invisible, but completely worth it. The recommended r value in South Australia for your ceiling is 3.2. I don't feel this is adequate at all… I'd suggest an r value of 4 at a minimum (the higher the r value the better the rate of insulation), and if you can put in double layers of insulation to get to 6 you'll be very happy in the long term. 

Finally, the most obvious is that it's always with spending money on an Architect. It is always tempting to cut out the fee you'd be spending on a designer when looking at a tight renovation budget… but Architects will give your renovation all the intangible things that you won't get through using a builder or draftsperson alone. Good design does not come about from building a large physical space to maximise the floor area that you can get for your budget - it is a strange truth that you can have a much smaller space that will in fact feel larger because of the way the space and light is manipulated by ceiling height/ window choice etc …. this was something I touched on in a blog post about the Modern Australian renovation, and which are all the things that will make a difference to your experience and enjoyment of a renovation. The potential saving you will make from choosing not to use an Architect or Interior Designer can wind up costing you added light/ space/ overall experience and the elusive x factor. 
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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on
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