Handmade walls

I’ve come to see that artists and designers have different attitudes to walls. For artists walls are a gallery space for works of art. For designers they are an element used in creating a mood. I wish I did have an amazing art collection for the old schoolmasters house, but it’s going to have to be a mix of textures & collections – a sleight of hand that evokes an atmosphere.

my heart embroidery wall hanging

a horse in the village

As a set designer, the aim is always to avoid plain freshly painted walls. I’ve been on the lookout for wallpaper for the old schoolmasters house and am thrilled to have found a sweet trellis design featuring Australian parrots for one of the bedrooms. Looking through wallpaper sample books it is so easy to be seduced by magnificent toiles and glamorous European scenes – you can forget it is just an old house in the Australian bush. It comes back to discipline, a sense of place, and thinking of the house as a whole. Back to simplicity.

love the painting layout in this country hall

slate painting by the previous owner, found in the garden

The idea of a mural is now set for the dining room.. A room used only at night, there is a theatrical ceremony in lighting the candles, choosing a record to play from the collection, and all sitting around the table. I want to cover the walls in an Arcadian scene; lots of vertical trees, simple monotone colours and something representing Australiana. Strongly influenced by the mural in LaMill café in Silverlake in Los Angeles.

detail of the new parrot wallpaper

LaMill cafe in Los Angeles

Wall colours are proving another challenge. How to be bold but not garish. Have started on the guest bathroom, a strong shade of green, based on a bright table napkin. To offset a wonderful collection of hummingbird prints, a series of five left over from a film set. Birds have become an inescapable theme in the old schoolmasters house, in spite of the Portlandia sketch of ‘Put a bird on it”. Birds are just so much part of the experience of the area, you want to have them inside as well as out.

guest bathrooms- hummingbird paintings

going for a bold shade of green

For the sunroom I am planning a naturalist wall. To get some printers’ boxes and little wooden shelves and create a pinecone collection and space to put the pinky yellowy rocks gathered on early morning walks. Mixed in with the most special of all design elements – handmade craft and artworks from friends near and far.

great typography on a country store

village ducks out for an evening waddle

House of Baby Wombats

It comes so easily to say being in the country it is about ‘getting away from it all’. But after a week cut off from the Internet, I found I missed being in touch with the world & friends in far off places. I do like getting away from the distractions of the city – but it’s better with connectivity and a good coffee machine!

This week also bought one of the most magical country experiences, a visit to a house full of rescued wildlife. I’d heard about it from the local motel owner who, amazingly, had performed an emergency caesarian on a dead wombat. He cut open the stomach of the mother and there neatly inside, compact, was the baby. He pulled it out gently and took to the couple down the road, who look after motherless and injured animals with a little help from WIRES (Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation).

grass attached to the pouch, so that she has something to nibble on

Entering their home, past some excited dogs and a collection of beautifully carved didgeridoos,out into the front room. There she was, Jess, a delicate little kangaroo in a make shift pouch, not yet 12 months old.

bought out of his trunk…

… the littlest wombat

Then the little wombat of the emergency caesarian was bought out of his box in his blanket. Later, like a magic trick, another wombat emerged from a trunk – I asked if there were small wildlife in all the containers in the room…

The second littlest wombat

Then outside to the corrugated tin enclosure of three older wombats, teenagers. These were rambunctious fellows- two came barreling over and tried to eat my sneakers, the third hung back, hissing, not in a mean way, more like he wanted to join in the fun but had to make his point. Apparently wombats are know as the “Bulldozers of the Bush”. They have a hard plate on their backside and like having it scratched. The effect is instantaneous – the wombat collapsing down on the floor, all limbs splayed, immobile and blissed out.

The hissy wombat

even more wombats were hiding somewhere in here

When wombats get older and are ready to go into the bush, the carers have to treat them aggressively to make them want to leave and be with other wombats not humans. Like the story of Mowgli, they have to depart the world they have come to know, with difficulty, to go off with their own kind.

The Discreet Charm of Federation

Sometimes it’s hard to really see something you’re so used to looking at. There’s so many Federation style houses in Australia, bricky, sitting squarely on the block- the old schoolmasters house seemed just one of many.

But in redesigning a house, I like to work with the style- not fight it or try to make it into something it’s not. So I bought a copy of The Federation House by Ian Evans to start to grasp the logic of these homes. Not to do a perfect restoration job, but to find a way of reinterpreting the elements.

And then a surprising thing; through looking intently at these houses- I came to really like them. Even though there are elements of English Queen Anne and American east coast– they express an emotional connection to Australia. Kangaroos & emus make their way into carved windows and stained glass and gargoyles. Waratahs and flannel flowers are transfered to wallpaper patterns & pressed metal ceilings. Sunrises are captured in wooden grilles. The political event of Federation, the states becoming Australia in 1901, changed the way people saw what was around them.

the front bedroom

from The Federation House by Ian Evans

The front room of the old schoolmasters house has a beautiful bay window, customized now with a built in window seat. Found this splendid drawing in the Evans book, really an encouragement to go all the way! Something even Chinese in the design, which goes with the history of the village – there were many Chinese miners here during the Gold Rush. One time I found a large exotic opium poppy growing wild out the back door. This will be the “Opium Den bedroom”.

The most popular element of the Federation era still used in interiors today has to be the pressed metal ceiling- they are being uncovered, put in new, the metal sheets used in bars in Sydney. Had carried a hope that some might be hiding under the new ceilings of the old schoolmasters house- but a roof investigation didn’t reveal any.

Wunderlich factory 1895- making pressed metal ceilings

Along with the ceilings, the other inspiring part of Federation style are the windows- epecially the ones with coloured glass and patterns. The new sunroom was basically designed around these recycled windows – a beautiful reminder of the grace notes left behind from the Federation builders & the surprising vitality hidden in their craftsmanship.

Federation rose window in the bathroom

coloured glass windows used in the new sunroom