Monday, June 14, 2010

At home with the Crafty Minx, Kelly Doust

Until recently, the author of The Crafty Minx and The Crafty Kid has never lived in one place for too long. Since leaving home as a teenager, she has moved between London, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sydney. ‘In my lifetime I’ve probably lived in 35 or 40 homes. It feels like I’ve moved around a lot’, Kelly tells me as we sit at her kitchen table drinking tea in the late 1800s Victorian cottage she shares with her husband James and toddler Olive.

It’s hard to imagine a cosier kitchen: the sun streams through the window near the sink, we sip from floral patterned, fine bone china cups, a vase of roses in full bloom occasionally drop petals onto the hand-made tablecloth which has a placemat for each family member beautifully appliqu├ęd on top of it. Photos of her family and friends adorn the fridge, casserole pots are on the stovetop, recipe books lie opened, shelves are filled with crockery and more recipe books and the 1950s cupboard doors are painted pastel colours. Nothing feels transient here; this house is clearly a much-loved family home.

‘I’ve always been interested in styling,’ says Kelly, ‘even when I had no money whatsoever, I always used the small amount of disposable income I had to buy things like pretty paper lanterns or beautiful second-hand bedspreads. I like being surrounded by lovely things.’

Trawling flea markets and charity stores began out of necessity when she was younger and allowed her to create the ‘home’ she wanted in sometimes awful, tiny rented dwellings. As her career progressed, Kelly didn’t need to buy second-hand all the time and found her decorating tastes changed.

During her early to mid 20s, while living in Hong Kong and working in a high-powered job which involved travelling Asia and the world regularly, Kelly wanted a sleek-styled home and lived in a very modern flat with dark teak furniture. ‘I think different stages of your life bring out different parts of your personality.’

Living in England made another impact, ‘I love the cosiness of the English cottage and I think our house in Sydney has a lot of that English flavour. I love the architecture of that era and the character of the original features; the marble fireplace in the living room, cornices, picture rails, ceiling roses and archways’.

It is this house, in Sydney’s inner west, which has contributed to changing Kelly’s life in many ways. ‘Having a mortgage meant we couldn’t afford to fill our home with all the things we really wanted so I had to start making cushions, refurbishing furniture and trawling markets and second-hand stores again.’

Busy making things for the home and handmade gifts for friends gave Kelly the idea for her first book, The Crafty Minx, written especially for non-crafters who want to be more creative. ‘Craft is really simple but it can be overwhelming for a lot of people. It was for me before I started.’ Finding out she was pregnant was all the motivation she needed: she thanks her daughter Olive in the Acknowledgments page of her book for ‘giving me the best excuse ever to leave my job and get writing.’

Indeed it was the arrival of Olive that has helped make this house so special for Kelly and James. They were a married couple when they first inspected the house and both loved it. ‘I had a lovely reaction to it when I first saw it; I really wanted to live here and was thrilled when we got it at auction.’

The light streams into the kitchen as we chat on this cold, winter’s day. ‘On our first viewing we noticed how light the house was. We came back at a different time of day and it was still flooded with light. Considering it’s a little cottage it has a great feeling of light.’ In summer, Kelly loves being with Olive in their garden, lying on the grass and looking up at the dappled light shining through the gum tree, ‘It’s very peaceful and calming.’

Kelly often thinks of the other families who once owned their home, ‘I think you can feel if a house has been loved and had happy times.’ The people they bought from had brought up two children here and were thrilled that a young couple was moving in. ‘When we told them we were planning to have a family you could see that it took them back to their own time, when their children were babies in this house.’

The combination of living in this house and falling pregnant strongly affected Kelly’s emotional feelings about ‘home’. As a book publicist, she was always travelling and staying in hotels for a night here and there. Over the years she had found ways to make her hotel rooms feel ‘homely’ by taking framed photos, room spray or scented candles, books, magazines and her slippers with her. ‘I relished those trips, loved staying in nice hotels with room service and would always look forward to them.’

Then those feelings changed. ‘From when I found out I was pregnant to when I left my job I took perhaps 13 flights around the country. Those 13 trips were the hardest I’d ever made.’

All she wanted was to be home with James. ‘I felt like I’d spent years focussing on helping other people and now all I wanted was to focus on us and our family.’

And that focus hasn’t changed since Olive’s arrival; ‘I do all my work at the kitchen table. We did have a study but I didn’t like sitting in there so it’s now the spare room. I prefer being amongst my family and working because then it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like fun’.

That work also involves making all the craft projects she writes about in her books. Her second, The Crafty Kid, filled with craft projects to make with children, has just been published. ‘I’ve learnt so much more about craft from writing these books and I think you offer something to people when you’re learning yourself. I thought I’d write one craft book and now I’m onto my third and I’m really enjoying it.’

While ‘home’ for Kelly is a constantly evolving concept, ‘you need to keep adding things and changing them to keep the house fresh’, this house is Kelly’s favourite of all her homes. ‘It feels like it’s very much us, it’s been given a lot of love and we had Olive here which will always make it very special.’

At the moment Kelly can’t imagine selling, but if the time comes she already knows the story she’d like to leave behind: the overwhelming feeling that a family was created here and grew happily within its walls.

*Photos by Kelly Doust

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