Years End

The year draws to the end, routines start to break down, festivities spring up in their place. In the old schoolmasters house the broad strokes are in place – now for the delicious layers to be built up.

French film festival poster in the Opium Den bedroom

… the day bed in the Opium Den bedroom

The bedrooms have started to take on distinct characters – they even have their own names. The front room is irrevocably the Opium Den – after old Chinese doors were added to the sides of the day bed there was no going back. Next year I’ll festoon it with vintage Chinese lanterns, and paint the room a rich putty colour. There’s a stash of some beautiful, silky tassels I want to work in somehow.

the cheeky King Parrot that’s always coming round

The bedroom next to it is the Parrot Room – rather literally as it is now covered in wallpaper featuring Australian parrots! Apart from kookaburras, parrots seem the birds most interested in human beings – they can really look at you, regard you. No wonder they are they ones who can speak… I recently read about one who told someone who was speaking to him in a patronizing voice to ‘shut up!’

early morning walk

The Parrot Room

I like the idea that you could wake up in this room, look at the wallpaper and hear the sounds of parrots in the trees outside.

Something I want to focus on next year, while bringing out the character of these rooms – is the flow from one room to another. How the colours sit side by side – how to create harmony, not overwhelm.

in the Village

the hallway light is up

It’s been interesting keeping a photographic journal of this renovation. When doing costume design I’ve always referred back to photos of actors in costume fittings – sometimes you see things in them that you miss in real life. And it has helped in this process too; recording mistakes, changes, growth.

Well, this is my last post for the year, going off the grid for a bit. Time for a holiday & to relax and replenish. Back early 2013, looking forward to the next stage of the journey…

A Handmade Christmas

This year I’m having a handmade Christmas – making decorations from paper and twigs and aluminum foil.
Getting out the hot glue gun and my vintage paper craft books…

For the first time I’ve made a wreath and I love the welcoming, festive feel it announces at the front door. Working with a twisted willow base, it was so easy to jam in little bits of foliage for an exuberantly springy circle.

The little red and white balls I made by cutting out 10 circles of fine card, 5 of each colour. Then creasing each one along the middle, flattening them out again into a stack of alternating colours and binding them with a loop of fishing line down the centerfold. Then hot gluing or stapling, starting at the top, pinching a red and white piece together. Next, moving onto the bottom of the ball and gluing another two pieces together so you get a spiral effect. If it’s a bit uneven – it’s part of the charm!

the simplest decoration, stars stamped on cardboard sticky taped to a mossy branch

I like to keep it fresh and simple – the things you spend the least time on often are the best.

the night sky – up at the lookout

Paper is my favorite material. It’s humble but with infinite possibilities. Even just cutting out simple snowflake patterns and then spray-painting them with silver is effective. Fine cardboard from an art supply shop’s usually the best – it doesn’t get all flimsy and flop around.

last year’s handmade decorations – recycled

do they know it’s Christmas time?

These strands of silver bells I made last year from cone shapes cut out of aluminum foil glued along the edges and placed over knots of embroidery thread so they don’t slide down.
I like how the light reflects off the silver and the little tinkly noise they make in a breeze. There’s something so delicate about them.

I guess there’s no real need to make up decorations. And yet when I took the wreath off the front door to adjust it, I missed it being there. It makes this time of the year feel different, celebratory. A break from routine. The thought and the possibility of a fresh start.

A Painted Finish Workshop

So many beautiful textures to be found in the country, there seems to be a patina over everything. Old flaky painted fences, rusted tin remnants in paddocks, moss covered tree stumps. It doesn’t feel right to walk into a new and shiny interior after experiencing all this.

bottles found in old country shed

roses from the garden

I love hunting down old wooden crates covered with ornate typography, anything school like, and delicate china covered in flowers. The only problem is that there’s a diminishing supply of vintage industrial and it can get expensive.

The starting point – an unremarkable stool covered in flaking varnish

So I signed up for a one day furniture painting class at Porter’s Paints, taught by the extremely knowledgeable Damien Salomons. All you had to bring was a piece of furniture, – I took an ordinary stool that I was thinking of throwing out.

sheep along the way

my stool half painted

In between demos on milk paint and crackle finish, the group worked on their piece of furniture. First I sanded my stool, roughly, and then painted it a wood like colour. Next the layers, and more layers. The trick was in applying some beeswax where you wanted the paint not to take, and then sanding that area after applying another layer.

The real thing- inside an historic cottage

There was something exciting about seeing the pieces of furniture being transformed- everyone on different projects. It did take time and energy, but then things became more unique, more individual.

vats in the paint shop

the finished stool, with red flowering gums

About 3/4s the way through, my stool started looking a bit twee, somehow lightweight. I wondered if I should have stopped at an earlier stage, the green I’d chosen was too modern. But the nice thing about doing something by hand it that you can adjust it as you go. What fixed it was adding some depth to the paint, drawing it into old Australian green tones.

a horse in the village

nearly finished, just needs a layer of beeswax

I’m so happy with the finished result, it’s great to have something to show for a day’s work. I’m sure people from the past would be surprised at the all effort taken to make something look old. And of course it isn’t an authentic patina, it’s created. But somehow that doesn’t matter; it does have a story now, and it is a loved one off piece, made especially for the old schoolmasters house.

Building a Courtyard

allium growing in the courtyard

view from the window in the courtyard

Along with the sunroom, the courtyard has been the other major addition to the old schoolmasters house, built on the bare expanse of land out the back of the kitchen.

Just one of the clippings on my inspiration board, taken from an unknown magazine

Courtyards can have a dreamlike quality; the enclosed flower filled space, the covered eating area dripping with grape vines, the table set with a white cloth. Inspiration found in photos of simple Mediterranean outdoor rooms, protected from the sun and harsh winds.

the bare backyard, putting marking stakes in the ground

…stage one, the newly built brick walls

All I had to start with was a scrappy, weedy patch of land. A path that once led to an outdoor toilet. Apparently two former opera singers used to live in the house & would sing outside on the warm nights, to the listening kangaroos in the paddock over the fence.

a Sunday lunch in the half finished courtyard

My hope had been to build out of reclaimed bricks, but just a little investigation revealed how expensive that would be. So regular bricks then, two walls either side, a low wall at the end and eventually, above it a timber beam to grow wisteria on and frame the view.

Avenue of poplars in the village

gravel going in, window ready to be cut out

But it was a mistake to have a solid wall obscuring the view, it gave the courtyard an suburban feel, like you were sitting in a city back yard. The solution – to cut out a window and make some shutters. A surprisingly quick operation, the vista it opened up meant the magic of the countryside came flooding into the space.

a herd of wild goats up at the lookout

a cicada rests on the half painted wall

The next design challenge was to get the right colour on the walls. After many samples and tests that were never quite right, I ended up taking an old brick made in the area, to Porters paints for them to colour match it in a limewash finish. After a few big days of painting and spraying the walls with water so that the lime would come through, the result was a dusty pink, filled with depth and warmth.

Finally, a structure built out of local tree posts and sawn timber. Vegetables, vines, herbs and a lemon tree planted, all seemed to take instantly, happy in the little microclimate of the courtyard, protected from the wind and enjoying the warmth coming off the walls.

a white tablecloth… now for the vines to grow!

the rabbits haven’t found the lettuces yet, maybe they can’t get across the gravel…