The Sydney Summer

I’d been wanting to write this blog post since Sydney’s jacarandas were in bloom but my very sick little computer had to be send away to the Apple store to convalesce… I’d been thinking about the mood of the Sydney summer – the abundant flowers spilling over backyard fences, the evening swims in salt water pools, & the easy festive socialising…

looking down to the Bondi Icebergs pool…

at Kaspia’s Caravan pop up shop

Among the traditional signs of summer a new contender is emerging in Sydney: the pop up shop. Like all temporal things there is a freshness to these spaces – a low fi looseness of style. The goods are authentic- containers just unpacked from Morocco and Pakistan like in Kaspia’s Caravan and piles of cushions, throws and scarves from India at Sally Campbell’s Handmade Textiles.

mural by James Gulliver Hancock at Kaspia’s Caravan

The dynamism of the spaces often extends to collaborations with artists; the murals by James Gulliver Hancock at Kaspia’s Caravan are inspired by the motifs in the rugs of traditional nomads that are stacked and piled round the room – carrying on the bohemian tradition of what was once Sydney’s famous Yellow House.

fool house products at etsy at David Jones

etsy workshops at David Jones

The other form of the Christmas pop up is collective of Australian makers as seen at The Design Residency in Darlinghurst and Unwrap Etsy at David Jones. The inaugural Etsy event was held on the dramatic 7th floor of the David Jones city store with panoramic views out over the park and cathedral. Entering though a massive macrame and rose installation by artist Cleo Ryan I came upon a room buzzing with energy: stalls and stall holders, workshop tables under the large windows, dumplings by Miss Chu, a Photo Booth and the comforting sound of a well run expresso machine. This carefully curated collection of talent made for a stimulating experience: I loved the “curios for any room or reason” from foolhouse, Brian Dakin-Davies’ redesigned African fabrics, and the ‘stitch your own adventure maps’ from Sconnie and Jam. It’s great to have a real life focal point for these online artisans – who knows what creative collaborations might come out of casual meetings at this years event…

Cleo Ryan’s massive macrame installation at David Jones

a summer evening light

Its been a very sad week in Sydney & a shocking one. With people dazed from this unexpected turn of events, the mood on the streets has been different to ever before. But for me too it has reinforced the preciousness of Sydney and what makes it beautiful and unique.

Real, Raw Beauty

There’s a spareness, a lack of clutter in the country. The textures are different to the city. There’s more old, rusted things, lots of spare parts lying around. Sometimes they’ve been there so long that they are bleached like a bone- simmered down to an essence. Machine skeletons.

the bones of a petrol pump

the texture of a gum tree

Looking through a book on Georgia O’Keefe’s houses – you can see how she embraced this aesthetic. The cow’s skulls, the simple black and white clothes, the houses with minimal, purist furnishings. Objects gathered from nature. Stripped back, her spaces become timeless.

Georgia O’Keefe’s studio, photo by the National Park Service

up above the clouds

old cars out at the tip

Sometimes when friends stay I show them the village’s tip: a drive out into the bush, then an area with a big hole in the ground that you throw garbage into. Wild cats and crows scatter around when you come close. Next to the hole is a pile of twisted metal and old cars. It’s so different to the way waste is treated in the city. Somehow it makes you pause. An avant garde theatre director could stage a Samuel Beckett play here.

I like these layers, this access to other eras. It’s not the pretty side of the country – the lambs gamboling, the huge fragrant roses blooming. But it is real. Authentic.

the herd of wild goats that roams near the lookout… ….now I just need to find some of their horns

Spring in the Old Schoolmasters Garden

Spring is new growth, new beginnings. In the old schoolmasters garden plans that once seemed endlessly stalled, now come effortlessly into being. Decisions are made. The garage/shed is finally painted barn red. The rustic structure at the back of the courtyard is finished off – the infill made of loose cross hatched logs sourced from the local area.

blue buttons & lavender

the shed now painted red

There is an excess of prettiness in the country in spring. Swallows mate and nest, abundant lilac sweeps over old rustic fences and the garden is alive with the sound of bees. Everywhere a constant reminder of growth.

lilac gathered from a back country lane

In the gravel garden there has been a glorious eruption of irises along the path. A subtle yet heady scent emanates from them- it could be a rare perfume from a small Parisian boutique. A couple of years ago all this was contained in a basket of bulbs- a gift from a friend’s garden. Now all this beauty. Like a real life Van Gogh.

heritage iris

…the iris path

I suppose you could take it all as encouragement really. To keep going – scheming, planting, dreaming. It may yet one day all pay off…

new neighbours – some shy swallows

Hidden Cafes by the Harbour

There’s a great theatre to Sydney Harbour. It starts as you head down to Circular Quay, with strange unexpected glimpses of the Harbour Bridge; its powerful curve bisected by skyscrapers . The buildings get older and grander, the distinct yellow ochre colouring of the Sydney sandstone more dominant. Old partially forgotten monuments like obelisks and huge anchors start appearing – remnants of the former naval colony.

there she is…

on the Department of Education facade

It’s the business end of town, the tourist world held at bay by the barrier of the Cahill Expressway, an example of myopic 20th century city planning. Street wear generally fits into one of two categories: grey suits or fluoro jackets. Yet a change has crept into this fast moving somewhat impersonal world over the last 18 months – interesting, original cafes & bars have opened.

Marlowe’s Way which looks onto the Tankstream Way

At Marlowe’s Way in the Tankstream Way where they play vinyl records and serve good coffee, the owner says that he likes being in the working end of town. And it does stop things getting too pretentious: there’s no one scene but a mix of different types. More a bustle of people coming in and out- a vibrancy that’s mirrored just over in Bulletin Place with Cabrito Brothers, which spills into the lane way and above it the secret bar Bulletin Place.

old sandstone arch

Bulletin Place bar

at Cabrito Coffee

I’ve always loved that meeting point of unpretentiousness and good design. Usually it means a space that is buzzy yet comfortable. Maybe that’s the best of what big city can offer…

Learning to Love a Winter Landscape

‘You should learn to love the winter landscape’ a friend recently told me – ‘You get see the bones and the shapes that lie underneath.’ I’d never thought of it like that. Usually I’d use terms like ‘barren’, ‘desolate’ and ‘gnarled’ to describe it. Missing the colour of Autumn, the bucolic prettiness of Spring. Seeing it in terms of something lacking.

a curious alpaca

the rustic fire pit structure

But a few flowers still struggle on in the garden- even an abundance of lavender, which would seem to be breaking the rules. Surprisingly a couple of narcissus have popped their heads out; misled by the unseasonal warm weather into thinking that it is their time.

The air is very cool and bright and clear. It seems to have health giving properties; the kind of oxygenated tonic prized by 19th century European alpine resorts. I go to visit Golden Gully for the first time; it is remarkable. An area on the outskirts of Hill End where the Chinese camped & mined during in the Gold Rush. Walking through giant termite like mounds, the gully leads to a magnificent arch. No one else is around; a forgotten tourist site, eerie and beautiful. There’s a silence that seems like it is trying to tell you something.

winter cheer: records and fire

in Golden Gully

In his inspiring book ‘A Time of Gifts’, Patrick Leigh Fermor said that if you spent time in a great European city in the off season, you became an honorary citizen. Maybe that links to the secret of winter in the country- if you know its rawness, its essence, then subtly your connection deepens…

The Kangaroos Leave Town

I’d been away for a while & I’d heard that the kangaroos had left town. It had rained and rained and the grass was all green and lush, like Ireland, – so the kangaroos didn’t need to come out of the bush anymore to feed on the village Common.

I was already missing them. It’s a privilege, never quite taken for granted, to get so near to a group of wild animals. Not too close, there’s always something of an edge to human/ kangaroo interaction. Better to look from a slight distance, no need to find out where the phrase ‘boxing kangaroo’ came from…

But the village with out the kangaroos- like a Western with out cowboys. Missing the drama.

At first it seemed to be holding true, but then, the first sighting; one of the old males who has been forced out of the mob and who sticks close to town. Always a slightly haughty look, as if trying to hold onto past dignity.

They were still there, more on the edges of town, gathering in the dusk. A couple in the slightly comical reclining “Roman” pose near the camping ground. Still there, for now, those other magical inhabitants of the village.

New York: Design Inspiration

ultimate favourite: Buvette in the West Village

looking down from the High Line

There’s nothing like New York for a shot in the arm: somehow the grid of streets buzz and hum with electricity- the same energy that has inspired all those films and songs…

the dark beauty of the lobby at the Nomad

a Holden Caulfield type of day in Central Park

Visiting the new Nomad Hotel designed by Jaques Garcia is like stepping into a 19th Century novel, perhaps an Edith Wharton or Henry James. All dark and opulent yet cosy. Potted palms, tasselled chairs, unexpected seating nooks. Located close by the Flatiron building, the atmosphere of the hotel references that era of the grand & beautiful New York skyscraper yet doing so with completely modern fabrics and furniture. It’s like a master class in in interior design.

the Library Room in the Nomad Hotel

close by outside, the Flatiron Building

Having a coffee in the library room just off the bar is a delicious experience; cocooned from the outside traffic and noise & surrounded by the comfort of well chosen books. Somehow walls of books can put you at ease, the different titles give you something to look at and delve into.

uplit bookshelves at the Nomad

a coffee stop at The Smile

So many wonderful bolt holes discovered this trip- The Smile, Freemans and Buvette. Discovered from images seen on Pinterest & from a wonderful personalised guide from Thomas Murphy from Blood & Champagne, which included the shops Paula Rubenstein and John Derian. Just a few days on the ground, but so much rich imagery to absorb and savour…

that architecture

so inviting- the entrance to Freemans

Los Angeles: Design Inspiration

Passing through Los Angeles for a quick visit, picking up on the humming vibrance in the cafes, restaurants and shops. Pockets & pools of inspiration interspersed with long stretches of driving. Re-visiting old favourites, and hunting down new ones, with the clues of elusive images seen on Instagram and Pinterest.

General Store in Venice

those distinctive Los Angeles palms

In the Abbot Kinney area in Venice, stopping for a healthy bustling lunch at Gjelina then checking out the exquisite Japanses ceramics and artworks at Tortise and TGS. Then up to General Store on Lincoln, where the innovative shop design is pitch perfect. Tall indigo tie dyed changing room curtains, fresh green indoor plants, large burled wooden slab tables and original triangular shelving.

hiking in Runyon Canyon

LAMILL in Silverlake

In Silverlake the charm of LAMILL cafe. The painted mural walls of ancient scenes rendered in black and white giving the room a grace while the bright red booths make it unpretentious.

Looking up: the Bradbury

Eat Drink Americano in Downtown LA

In Downtown the wonderful work of the Haas Brothers in the Ace Hotel. A stop off at Eat Drink Americano, located in an industrial area on the outskirts of Downtown that shows signs of interesting life. Finishing at the mysterious Bradbury Building, designed in a seance, location for Bladerunner. There is something in the liquid goldenness of the light trapped by the light well and the delicacy of the black filagree ironwork that makes it unlike any another building. It’s intriguing and unknowable – offering no easy answers.

cascades of bougainvillaea

The mysterious Bradbury Building in Downtown

Country Postcards

A country fix this week – one I’d been missing.
Stillness. Country drives. Time in the garden. Twilight walks with the kangaroos.

Alby & Esthers’ Cafe in Mudgee

a big country sky

Passing through Mudgee and a stop at Alby & Esthers’ Cafe; sitting with coffee under the vine leaves in a shady courtyard hidden off the sunny wide streets.

honey eater in the gravel garden

kangaroos on the morning walk

Lots of little birds about; gathering & darting in flocks. There’s autumn in the air now.

from the vegetable patch

Pulling vegetables from the vegetable patch, picking beans. The colours so vibrant and alive. Then the endless weeding out of the kikuya grass – not too sure about the pleasure/pain ratio here. There might be a necessary simplification coming- down to the essentials and favourites: spinach, cherry tomatoes, zucchini,herbs, cucumbers.

A drive up to the lookout after the rain, the light beautiful and soft. A radiance over the landscape. This is where it seeps into your bones – creating a calmness that lasts way through the long drive back to the city.

Simplicity in the City: Inner East

I hope they never repaint this wall in Five Ways

Hot sultry nights work in the Inner East of Sydney. Even though most of the terrace houses have been done up now- there’s still a bit of ramshackle charm; some peeling paint behind the wrought iron balconies, a few palms in the backyards. The growth spurt that often happens in February means that vines get out of control, and the air is fragrant with frangipani, especially in the tropical rain.

old apartment in Darlinghurst

at Chester White

Buffalo Dining Club and Chester White, two relatively new bar/restaurants both designed by Diane Fernandes are an exercise in how to create an atmosphere that best reflects the area – wonderful vintage style signage, peeling paint textures and exposed brick, casual light fittings with clean modern lines.

an incongruous picket fence

barista at Chester White

looking out to Kings Cross

pickles on fireplace

wonderful use of a mirror to enhance a space

upstairs at Buffalo Dining Club