A Summer Evening in Coogee

Cabinet of Curiosities: hand made mushrooms at the Coogee Pavilion Rooftop bar

The beachside suburb of Coogee takes its name from an Aboriginal word meaning “smelly place”. I would associate the main intersection of Coogee with a fast food smell but I think they were referring to the decaying seaweed that washed up on the beach…

large bird mural in the Coogee Pavilion rooftop

the Ross Jones Memorial pool in South Coogee

Just recently Coogee has had a major shake up with Justin Hemmes opening the Coogee Pavilion Rooftop bar. Designed by Amanda Talbot, the Rooftop is generous in scale and feels fresh and new. To sit up on one of the city’s few rooftop gardens sampling the Turkish inspired dishes while the sun sets and the air gets all salty is a true Sydney summer experience.

the previous incarnation of the Coogee Pavilion; it has been and aquarium and a swimming pool

Many years ago, the Coogee Pavilion was housed an aquarium and 1935 saw the infamous “Shark Arm Murder” case. After a local fisherman caught a large shark at Coogee, he donated it to the aquarium: a few days later it vomited up a man’s arm. On closer inspection the arm had not been bitten off but sawn through. Tattooed on it was a distinctive tattoo of two boxers that led the police to the identity of the victim- a member of the vicious 1930s gangster underworld…

a Coogee apartment block

the whale nook in the Coogee Pavilion

There were no references in the current design to the shark arm that I could see but lots of interesting little nooks and vignettes. Sydney artisans from knitters to blacksmiths have been involved and it gives the space a real individuality. An eccentricity that somehow relates back to Coogee and its Victorian funfair history.

dramatic sting lights at the Coogee Pavilion downstairs

the bird inspector

At the south end of the beach are the fabled McIver’s Ladies Baths and the entry fee is still an unbelievable 20 cents.

how can anything be 20 cents ?

like an element from a stage set

Walking down the sandy grassy path to the pool, past the narrow old fashioned changing sheds is like entering a secret world. The pool itself is more like a rock pool and winds its way around the cliffs. Apparently this is where the Aboriginal women would come to swim. This is another magic spot in Sydney- a swim here followed by roof top drinks could just make a perfect night.

at McIver’s Ladies Baths…

the rainbow lorikeet tree

Designing a pop-up bar at the Opera House

The Sydney Opera House transcends being a building- Utzon’s sails are embedded deep in the collective unconscious. It’s kind of mythical. I’ve loved it for a very long time, ever since I was a child & then later when studying Architecture at Sydney University. This summer I designed a pop up bar to go on the Western Promenade for the month of January. . .
sometimes a dream job just finds you-

the magical approach by ferry

the bow tie & braces uniform of the bar staff

Being a UNESCO heritage building there are many protective regulations in place but for 40 days of the year the rules are relaxed with the “Summer at the House” program. In 2015 the theme was “Beach”. To get a handle on it I started to think about the unique flavour of Sydney in summer- that relaxed, casual, abundant feeling. Anyone can go down to the harbour, to a park or a public area, take a picnic and have a millionaires’ view. I wanted this bar to be somewhere where people would feel at their absolute best. . .

the inspiration – Jackie Onassis on Skorpios

The reference that seemed to encapsulate that feeling was a photo of Aristotle Onassis and Jackie on their private Greek Island, dressed all summery, under a pergola dripping with vines. Also influential was the look and feel of the Soho House group: their masterful mix of the simple and rustic with the sophisticated that create a unique feeling of comfort and charm.

checking back over my concept document

the lucky anchor I found on the beach

Even though it looks onto the stunning vista of the city, the Bridge and passing boats, the actual area in front of the Playhouse is windswept and harsh. The bar needed to provide patrons shelter from the rain and sun. I also wanted to bring in a sense of fun and to do this, used a colour palette of Indian Red, Turmeric Yellow and Aqua Blue. Hot spicy colours that promised a good time.

the front of the cool room

the waterside bar front of the kitchen/bar cabana

The footprint was 1000 square meters and comprised of a lounge area, bar/kitchen cabana and a pergola where musicians would perform every night. An engineer had to certify the structures for a high wind rating. Given that is was only for a month, the strokes had to be broad.

looking through to the kitchen/bar cabana

the circus like canopy of lights

The bar is coming to an end in a few days: it will be dismantled and packed up – the show will be over. What I’ll remember most, apart from the challenges of the process, are the actual nights spent there. Lying on the cushions with friends drinking pina coladas and listening to beautiful live music. The canopy of lights glowing next to the sails. And a couple of times when stepping back and looking up, the privilege of designing a space, however temporal, at the Sydney Opera House.

that view…

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

Old & New in Bordeaux

the bakery at Magasin General in Bordeaux

After a week of travelling through quaint little French towns it was invigorating to arrive in Bordeaux. Here was that mix of old and new that fractures and enlivens. The grand old boulevards giving way to the medieval cobbled streets and secret passageways – enough for the tourist world but with plenty left over for the locals.

heading down the long roads to Bordeaux

arriving in Bordeaux

The first stop out of the hot and dusty Smart Car- the Magasin General complex. Walking with slightly cramped limbs up to the startling entrance; a mass of ornate vintage chairs in a covered space between two warehouse, connected by an overhead walkway made out of swirling salvaged wood. Magasin General is an unusual mix of bistro and grocery store that also sells artisan bread and surfboards. It has the look of a place that would have attracted people from the very start- its random mix of old and new materials sending off radar signals of vibrance and energy.

the dynamic Magasin General complex

the entrance to the bistro…

Back over on the main bank of Bordeaux, I see my paltry 24 hours are no match for a city of this complexity. With some recommendations from fellow Instagrammer Caroline Gomez, a local designer who favours a natural and slow approach to her craft , I find my way to the fresh and lovely Plume Small Kitchen behind the Cathedral in the old quarter. Later a wander down the Rue Notre Dame, home to unique clothing & design shops , including the Scandinavian home wares boutique o design where Caroline’s work is sold.

the lovely Plume cafe

topiary time…

So just a taste of Bordeaux. A little sip. But definitely one you where you would nod to the waiter and ask them to fill your glass….

the grand boulevards of Bordeaux

Palais des Papes

Seen jet lagged, through the mist, the Palais des Papes doesn’t seem to be quite of this world. Almost hovering above the ground – in a children’s book illustration it would be built on clouds…

outside the Palais des Papes

a hall that almost feels modern

In the Middle Ages when Avignon was the centre of Western Christianity, the Palais des Papes was the residence of 6 successive popes. The Medieval architecture a mixture of simplicity and power, it is the biggest Gothic palace in Europe.

There are large groups of tourists passing through, but the surprising thing is how easily you can sidestep them, spending quiet time in the massive rooms, stepping through the pools of filtered light from the mullioned windows. The grace and scale of the large halls, the depths of the secret treasury and the view out over the gargoyles make for an over whelming experience.

up looking down

autumn coloured ivy

In a way it is a castle mixed with a church. A rare & beautiful building. Its power radiates through the historical centre of Avignon.


Sometimes a house is more than a house, it carries the imprint of a way of living and an approach to life. Such is Meroogal, a much loved house built in the nineteenth century primarily inhabited by the four Thorburn sisters. Heading south out of Sydney, through the rain and towards the now vivid green hills round Nowra, you come across Meroogal on the corner of a suburban block. Painted in a pale fresh mint green colour, the architecture a gingerbread style called Carpenter Gothic; it charms from first glance.

the laundry at Meroogal

the back door

Inside, it’s a 100 year old time capsule. The lighting is dim, to preserve the delicate fabrics. It’s not styled or redone in heritage colours; it feels genuinely old. The bedrooms up under the eaves are the most endearing. With sloping ceilings and the walls painted half pink half blue its easy to imagine the Big Bad Wolf awaiting Little Red Riding Hood here; lupine features obscured by the shadows falling around the iron bed.

fairytale tree ferns

It’s when you hear the story of the Thoburn sisters that the house comes to life. It’s impressive and strangely invigorating to hear of their lifestyle and routines. In summer the sisters rose early, often at 4:30 am. Household chores commenced; flowers were picked and arranged, the laundry started, soap made, kindling collected and an abundance of fruit gathered from the orchard. They had afternoon siestas and read Dickens by kerosene lamps in the evening. There was much baking at Meroogal: fruit pies, Christmas cakes, scones, pikelets, soda loaves, shortbread and apple cake – a lot of friends visiting from Sydney. The sisters made their own clothes and frugally repaired them. It’s appropriate that there is now a yearly Meroogal Women’s art prize where artists respond to the house and grounds and have their art works displayed there.

a bedroom of charm

cupboard with fabric for doors

Heading back through Berry and a nourishing late lunch at the Sourdough Cafe. An exploration of the picturesque main street revealed some finds- I’d known about the extensive embroidery shop, but was new to the unexpected treasures of the Moss Nest store( subtitled flotsam & flora for nature lovers) and found a great hat in Little Rae ( clothing, lifestyle, home, cacti)next door. There’s an artistic spirit in Berry: I think the Thorburn sisters would have liked it here.

The Moss Shop in Berry

moody hills

Simplicity in the City: Vaucluse House

Early morning with the fog horns sounding on Sydney Harbour; Vaucluse House mysterious in the mist. Entering the grounds like walking into a Somerset Maugham novella. The architecture is British but the warmth of the sandstone and the depth of the verandah tell of warmer climes.

the red earth drive that leads you in…

view of the house from the vegetable garden

Bought in 1827 by the explorer and politician William Wentworth and his wife Sarah, Vaucluse House was developed over the next five decades and used to cover most of the present suburb. Now it’s run by the Historic Houses Trust – one of Sydney’s few remaining 19th century mansions still surrounded by its original gardens.

fairy tale like pumpkins in the vegetable patch

a path through the Pleasure Garden

I think they were romantics William and Sarah. Maybe they read Byron and Shelley round the fireside. The garden has rills and tree ferns and hidden corners. The approach to the house from the car park is over a little bridge, then through a ‘Pleasure Garden’ with towering exotic flowering plants and shrubs. Palms frame the house. There’s a time in spring when purple wisteria envelopes the verandah.

the kitchen with rows of copper jelly moulds on the shelves

Going into the house it’s the servants quarters that are now the most desirable spaces. They seem strangely luxurious; the huge copper pans shining, the fire going during the day, a large table hit by shafts of sunlight. The scale and the spareness appeal. In the busyness of today, time spent in such a kitchen would be a pleasure – a thought no doubt surprising to a scullery maid of the Wentworths.

the fire going during the day

old fashioned geranium leaves that smell like peppermint

Some recent additions to the House are a large and impressive vegetable garden, with a possum proof cactus fence, and some chickens, ducks and goats. It’s relaxing just to wander about…

exploring the old stables

mountain goat perched on fig tree roots

It seems a rarity now- a beautiful space devoid of commerce. Instead of wanting something from you it actually gives you something; ideas for the garden, inspiration for the kitchen. And a little quietude.

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…