We have had a very hot start to Summer, with temperatures above 40C (104F) for the past few days. For this reason I never decorate with snowy themed Christmas decorations - it just feels all too wrong. While the fashion for flocked (fake snow dusted) Christmas trees has finally hit Australian shops, I prefer to theme with greenery and silver tones, which feels slightly more cooling on a hot day.
I've been baking up a storm since our long school holidays started (Romy's Chocolate biscuits about to go into the oven are pictured above). One thing I've been meaning to share on the blog is a literally life changing discovery I have made. I think I first became aware of Martha Stewart using mini ice cream scoops to measure out cake batter during the occasional time I caught her tv show, and I probably filed it away somewhere mentally. Earlier this year I decided I was sick of uneven height cupcakes, remembered the ice cream scoop thing, and so bought a small one from Wheel & Barrow to ensure easy measuring and distribution. This was so successful it then lead to hunting for smaller and smaller scoops suitable for biscuits until I found The Holy Grail of Scoops - the OXO brand small sized biscuit/ cookie scoop. I bought it from Williams Sonoma, and it is no exaggeration to say that this thing has changed my life. The speed with which you can scoop and release is unprecedented, and the fact that all my biscuits are now even sized is very pleasing to me. It's the little things...
Of course the biscuit distribution then lead to the next progression - using it for other things, which is where it has saved so much time and been life changing on a busy week day. Family dinners are generally fairly trying at our house. I have one fussy eater, and children who in general all have different tastes. Some one will be crying/ sulking about what I've served pretty much every night of the week. But one thing the entire family enjoys are meatballs, and I have a variety of different meatball recipes that I turn out. Unfortunately they can require a lot of pfaffing about with teaspoons and hand rolling etc. But the scoop works for these too, and it's cut the prep time down to about a minute for an entire batch of meatballs.
Here are a favourite above - Ottolenghi Chicken and Zucchini meatballs with Sour Cream sauce from the Jerusalem cookbook. They are supposed to be burger sized, but meatball sized works better for children and can also work well as finger food with an adults drink party.The meatballs are also gluten free, and the recipe is fantastic - tasty for adults and kids.
Another favourite are classic spaghetti and meatballs, which I make using a Bill Granger recipe (minus the chilli). It has a lot of herbs so they have a fresh flavour and the bread in milk trick makes them stay moist. If you have a thermomix (as I have) then meatballs are the easiest thing in the world to make as it does all the grating, chopping and mixing for you, so a batch of meatballs from start to getting cooking will take around 5 minutes.
My second big food recommendation is not quite so life changing but has helped speed things up as well. It's a pancake pen, pictured above and purchased also from Wheel & Barrow. I don't use this for actual pancakes, a ladle does just as well for that, but for pikelets and blinis it's perfect. I'm a veritable production line churning them out for an after school snack/ lunchbox filler or for drinks with smoked salmon.
In big news around the house, the long awaited Dining chairs finally arrived. This was perfect timing as another two of the old dining chairs broke in the week leading up to their arrival, so things were getting desperate. They are so comfortable I'm pretty sure our next dinner party will be a very late one. For all those interested in why I've chosen an upholstered chair having in the past pointed out that with children they become repositories for food, these ones have a clever design that solves the problem. The covers are removable and are velcroed under the seat, so they look fully upholstered, but can be wriggled off and washed as needed. The chairs are from Molteni & Co, and I purchased them directly from an Italian online retailer as the local importer price gouged so badly that they had added a fat 120% margin onto the full retail price + shipping+ tax + import duty comparable pricing from Italy.
The garden has been growing like crazy in the heat, although we have woken this morning to cooler temperatures, rain and grey skies (which are very welcome). While my roses have mostly fried in the past few days and the flowers are looking a little crispy, other plants just love it. The Crepe Myrtle is shooting out in all directions and putting out fuchsia coloured flower heads.
All the perennial grasses have gone crazy
Back corner of the garden
Same garden bed a few months ago in Spring
I've also planted out a whole heap of black flag irises in the garden and can't wait for them to bloom. I have a thing for dark foliage plants and flowers.
Baby irises to the front, mini agapanthus to the right
a lone David Austin Heritage that's opened out
It's been a while since I've reviewed any books - this is because I've not read a great deal as the end of year has been so busy. But Faux Fuchsia recently sent me this book on Nancy Lancaster, and I absolutely loved it. Nancy was a founding partner in Colefax & Fowler, the venerable English decorating firm, and lived an interesting and quite pampered life (she was independently wealthy, plus married into money several times over). Her fascinating with houses with patina and age and layers and her ability to create a mood in a room was unparalleled, and she is credited with creating the English Country House look, which is amusing considering she was originally from Virginia in the USA. So much of the book resonated with me with her philosophy on decorating, I highly recommend it. The main thing I liked was that she bought things that she just loved and felt right, rather than what was in fashion or was considered the best quality by others. She would happily mix high and low well before that was a concept.
If you're looking for an unusual gift for a garden lover, then this book will appeal. It's vintage style cover grabbed me - it is a reissue of the original edition of "Down the Garden Path" by Beverley Nichols. I picked it up when visiting Hobart a few months ago.
Here he is on the back cover.
He was a very popular writer in Britain, and wrote a semi fictional series set in a country village. This was his first book, written about the creation of his own garden, and the descriptions of purchasing an English cottage, his difficulty with his domestics, and trying to find plants that would grow in his garden are very entertaining.
With all the hot weather my sun dresses have been getting a work out. I rarely write anything about my own wardrobe on the blog these days, I'm really not sure anyone is interested… but I've had to purchase a couple of new sundresses to replace a few that were looking very worn out after hard service. This one appealed to me in its vaguely Dolce & Gabanna style tile print. It's from Binny and is a tent dress in a thick cotton, so not only cool on a hot day, but good for expanding waistlines over the Christmas period!
Busy times, but I think that's caught things up a little. Hope you're not being baked wherever you are in the world and that all your end of year prep is in order.
During construction, the corner taken out of the room.
To refresh your memory or to explain if you didn't follow along with my renovation posts from all that time ago, the powder room was created from a tiny bit of the carved up original kitchen, pictured during construction above. The old kitchen was turned into one of my children's bedrooms (post here on the before and after of that), and this room was created by stealing a corner of it and knocking a new door in from the adjacent hall.
The new door was in fact old: we reused one of the original doors that had been rendered redundant during the renovation in the old part of the house a few years prior, and put one of the nicer old brass door knobs on it from another door.
This room was to be for guests, not children, and being in the older part of the house, I wanted to do something interesting in it. Otherwise it would really end up feeling like no more than a cupboard. I was keen to use wallpaper to create interest, and the wallpaper I really wanted to use was De Gournay. I figured that having lusted after it for nearly 15 years I could probably afford it in the smallest room in the house… however it was not to be. It was still just too eye wateringly expensive.
So my next choice was this Schumacher grasscloth with an overprint on it. It's hand blocked so it's not exactly a budget option, but it was still considerably less expensive than De Gournay. The main problem that I had was that it was sold on an 8 yard roll (American lengths), and not available in double rolls or in one continuous length which limited the number of drops you can get per roll. It also had a large pattern repeat, so the combination of the two factors meant that I was only able to get one wallpaper drop per roll due to my high ceiling heights. This caused it to start going into the pricing of the De Gournay due to the excessive waste, so my solution was to do a dado level panelling, which enabled me to get two drops per roll, and thus cut down by half the cost of the wallpaper.
I didn't panel this side to make it easy to clean. Now I think I probably should have still panelled it.
I designed the dado panelling, higher than normal to match the hand basin height and matched the style to the Victorian era door panelling elsewhere in the house. The other thing that I wanted to do due to the small space was to create a continuous flooring in from the hall, so that it didn't seem so separated an element with a change. I continued in the floorboards that we'd used in the hall (Spotted Gum), which also gave less of a 'bathroom' feel.
The toilet model was part of the job lot I purchased for the house 5 years ago along with all the other bathroom items at a warehouse sale in Melbourne, and is from Duravit. The handbasin was the big bargain in this room, coming from Recollections/ Early Settler and costing only $99 in a sale. Tapware and assorted fittings are from Astra Walker and are in the same style used elsewhere in the house, but in unlacquered brass, which has now aged down nicely to match in with the patina on the mirror.
And as for the mirror, well that was the part that took the longest. I wanted to find an antique gilt mirror. I like things with a bit of age, and didn't want something super shiny and new looking. Unfortunately supply in Australia of old mirrors is fairly limited. A lot that are available are far too large for this little space, or the ones that were the right size were very, very expensive. Additionally while I love old mirror glass, sometimes it starts to become so distressed or foggy that you can't see in it properly. This wouldn't be a problem hanging elsewhere, but in a powder room it wasn't so ideal. Finally I found the mirror at a local Estate Auction, and it's perfect.
As for lighting, I've kept it simple. There was wiring done for sconces on either side of the mirror, but I changed my mind when the wallpaper started going up, so they're sitting there behind the plaster. I thought they'd be just a little bit too much. The room is lit during the day by a fixed velux skylight (clear so you can see the sky through it). There are two LED down lights for night, and that's it.
So, the littlest room in the house completed at last.
Handbasin - "Manhattan" from Recollections/ Early Settler
Taps & accessories - Astra Walker 'Classic' range in unlaquered brass
Toilet - Duravit
Wallpaper - Schumacher Celerie Kemble "Hothouse Flowers" in Fog
Mirror - Small & Whitfield estate auctions
Floors - Spotted Gum wide floorboards
looking up to the ceiling lantern - windows on two sides
The sofas were purchased at the end of the renovation, so we've had them for nearly 2 years now. One is a four seater, the other a 3.5 seater and they are upholstered in a very fine slate grey and beige woven linen. I tend to do upholstery in main living areas in neutrals, and then bring in the pattern in other things - on an armchair or cushions or in the curtain or blind fabric. However having the neutral sofas sitting there in a neutral room for so long started to do my head in. I craved a bit of colour and pattern.
viewing point as you enter the extension from the hall
I wanted it to go here because my main concern was that it not be seen when you walk into the living area from the hall. I always have what I think of as a 'viewing point' (I have no idea if this is an actual design thing, it's just the way I think of it) in a room. It's what you see as you enter the space, and it sets the tone for the room. I like my viewing point to be inviting. A giant black void of a tv screen is not. It draws the eye and distracts from all the other good things in a room. Additionally I didn't want our living area to revolve around the tv. I prefer a focal point of garden windows and the fireplace, not a blank screen that guests line up facing when you have people over.
glimpse of the tv from side on
Planned changes for the future include the armchairs… our new point of argument! Plus there will be another lamp and table to put in-between them. I will probably have more cushion covers made in velvet for Winter too. The colours will be in the warmer palette taken out of the rug and throw rug, rather than the fresher greens and yellows I chose for summer.
So, that's progress for the time being on this room with lots more tweaking required. Having never really done a proper post on it I thought it was well and truly about time!
Sofas - Jardan "Leila"
Side Tables - Pottery Barn
Table Lamps - William Yeoward
Cushion fabrics - Designers Guild
Throw rug - Designers Guild
Floor rug - The Rug Establishment - custom
Coffee Table - Zuster - custom
Wing Armchair - Small & Whitfield estate sales
Flooring - Linoleum
exterior by Marco Meneguzzi
Rattan itself is a type of climbing vine that grows in rain forests , and produces long, thin branches. The branches are harvested, debarked, sanded down and then woven into the product. It's entirely environmentally friendly - the Rattan plant will regrow and due to its reliance on large rainforest trees to climb up, it's meant that natural rainforest has been left intact in areas that are now suffering from large scale deforestation (such as Indonesia).
The term "wicker" is a general term, used to describe woven product made from anything natural and of plant origin - bamboo, straw, cane and rattan.
Wicker furniture has been around since the Egyptian period, but its popularity really soared during the Victorian era, when conservatories and palm houses became highly fashionable and a process of manufacturing was invented that mimicked rattan, but that made it durable and allowed for a finer weave- Lloyd Loom. Lloyd Loom furniture (this refers to a manufacturing process, rather than a specific brand name) is not made from a plant based material - it's wire with paper twisted and wrapped around it to make a durable, thin and long lasting fibre that is easily woven and shaped. While Lloyd Loom in its original format is still available today, the modern version of this is the plastic wrapped wire - UV stable, able to be left outdoors year round and therefore more suited to modern life without an army of servants to carry the pieces indoors when the weather becomes inclement.
Interior by Marco Meneguzzi
And perhaps that is why wicker furniture has such romanticism attached to it. Images of wicker conjure up languid afternoon teas in the garden. or reclining on sun lounges in palm fringed conservatories, or sitting outside a cafe in France.
Bunny Mellon's back hall via Architectural Digest
However, wicker has not just stayed stuck in the Victorian/ Edwardian era in styling, but undertook a revamp in the 1950's and 1960's when using materials in innovative ways resulted in a period of radical reinvention of furniture design. Many of these styles are still available today.
I've been particularly taken with the wicker designs of Sika furniture (a Danish company), who have produced rattan furniture since the 1940's and who had Arne Jacobsen, Nanna Ditzel and Franco Albini to design pieces for them that are still in production. These particular designs are not suited to outdoor use, but their use in interiors is what has interested me at any rate. Nanna Ditzel invented the original egg chair, which is much copied, but still manufactured by Sika
So, wicker is not all just about French bistro chairs (heavily in fashion in recent years).
But if you don't feel that the furniture has a place in your house or garden, then you can always spring for a wicker bag and carry it around instead.
via Snob Essentials
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