Monday, August 30, 2010

When Home is... a Food Parcel

Two of my friends are heavily pregnant at the moment with their second children. One lives interstate and has suffered awful rib pain this time around; the other is on crutches due to pelvic pain. Thinking about them brings back the more unpleasant memories of late pregnancy but also the more pleasant ones of friends arriving with food parcels during that time.

Gifts of food are a bit like flowers: they are constant throughout the highs and lows life throws at us. I remember after our first baby was born, a very special friend arriving with small portions of her delicious lasagne and pasta sauces to stock in the freezer. When I think of my daughter’s early weeks, the taste of that lasagne is as memorable as her newborn baby smell.

After our second baby arrived another friend came to visit with a homemade curry, a small tub of natural yoghurt and a packet of pappadams. I remember being so appreciative of the extra touch with the side dishes. With two small children herself it seemed beyond thoughtful.

Eating food someone else has taken the time to cook and package up for you, for you to enjoy at a later date without them, is a most loving gesture of friendship. And perhaps most loving during times of hardship.

Joan Didion, in her wonderful memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, wrote about a book of etiquette written by Emily Post in 1922. In her chapter titled Funerals, she discusses food and the bereaved. ‘Food, but very little food may be offered... tea, coffee, bouillon, a little thin toast, a poached egg.’ After the funeral friends are advised ‘it is also well to prepare a little hot tea or broth and it should be brought to them on their return without their being asked if they would care for it. Those who are in great distress want no food, but if it is handed to them, they will mechanically take it, and something warm to start digestion and stimulate impaired circulation is what they most need.’

Didion herself writes, ‘When someone dies, I was taught growing up in California, you bake a ham. You drop it by the house.’ But when her husband John died suddenly, ham was not what she wanted. ‘I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for those first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-ginger congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat.’

For me it was soup, after my father died. Perhaps because it’s easy to swallow around the permanent lump of grief that feels stuck in your throat in those early weeks or perhaps it’s the image of soup bubbling away on the stovetop in a friend’s home creating those comforting but gentle fragrances. Smells that will be packaged up and passed over your doorstep only to be recreated on your stovetop, in the comfort of your home. Such an evocative way to be reminded that you are loved and cared for.

Chicken Soup

Ingredients (serves 4)
4 (about 900g) chicken thigh cutlets, excess fat trimmed
1 large brown onion, halved, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1 celery stick, trimmed, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbs finely chopped fresh continental parsley stems
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
2L (8 cups) water
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
Sea salt flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh continental parsley, extra

Combine chicken, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, thyme, water and peppercorns in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 40 minutes or until vegetables are very tender.

Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a clean work surface. Hold with tongs and cut the chicken meat from the bones. Discard bones. Finely chop the chicken meat and add to the soup.

Taste and season with sea salt. Ladle soup among serving bowls. Sprinkle with extra parsley and serve immediately.

Recipe can be found here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Home is Sundays...

At Home with Marnie Goding of Elk Accessories

Marnie Goding and her husband Adam are the couple behind the Elk accessories label. Running their own successful business also means working long hours – most weeks six days – and travelling to source new materials and emerging trends regularly.

The result of all this time away from home is that their home has become a refuge: their ‘Sunday House’.

‘Sunday for us is our day off. We make sure we always have time to ourselves on this last day of the week to recuperate and gather our wits. I am a winter girl and our house, even though it’s tiny, is very cosy. My favourite place is the lounge, it is open plan with the kitchen combined and a big open fire in the middle. We call it our perfect Sunday house!’

The couple built the house 10 years ago with the help of Adam’s father and uncle. ‘It took ages but was worth the wait. It is a small, white weatherboard cottage in inner Melbourne. The living spaces overlook a small courtyard which we have planted with ornamental cherry trees and magnolias.’

Originally built as an investment, Marnie and Adam gave themselves a time frame of five years before they moved again. ‘Needless to say after 10 years we are still here. It is hard to imagine leaving now - we just couldn’t imagine being anywhere better. As it was built for investment purposes we didn't go into the detail I would now if we were building again so 10 years on we need to make some changes. Our feelings changed from a business to an emotional attachment. There has been a lot happen in our little house and other than more family members coming along we will be here for a while yet!’

It is not just the physical building that gives Marnie her sense of home, but rather a combination of elements, ‘Our house is not formal and is full of photos and souvenirs from our travels. It means that anyone who visits feels a part of our home; they can sit with their feet up and become part of our environment. It is so important for us that guests feel comfortable and not like they are intruding. Nothing is precious in our home either so we always welcome dogs and kids!’

Their Elk Winter 2010 collection is called ‘Sunday’ and the idea for it came from spending a weekend at a friend’s ‘Sunday House’ in the country. Says Marnie: ‘The perfect day is spent beside the fire with the weekend papers and yummy breakfast; you can’t get any better than that!’

Overall, Marnie and Adam’s aesthetic at home and in their designs is about comfort and practicality. ‘We never design anything that is impractical and makes everyone feel comfortable but stylish. I suppose this is the same with our home, it is practical yet comfortable and little bit stylish!’

As city dwellers, Marnie feels that their designs and ideas are influenced by the ‘culture and community that surrounds home’.

‘We like to have fun with what we make and typically we consider the type of people who live around us - we ask would they wear what we are making? We have a great local following and a loyal fan base so we design with them in mind. The area we live in is not flashy but full of creative people with a great food scene and emerging music community.’

For more information about Elk Accessories and to view their collection (the latest being Away We Go Spring / Summer range), visit here

Elk Accessories
395 Plenty road,
Victoria 3072

Monday - Friday 10am -6pm
Saturday: 10am - 4pm

All pictures © Marnie Goding

Monday, August 23, 2010

Author Maggie O’Farrell’s Kitchen Table

Are you the type of reader who likes to imagine their favourite author typing away their favourite books? I am. I find that if I really love a book I feel a connection to the person who wrote it. And when you feel a connection to someone you want to know what their house looks like, don’t you?

I have loved British author Maggie O’Farrell’s writing since she published her first book, After You’d Gone, back in 2000. Since then she has written five novels, her latest The Hand that First Held Mine, published earlier this year.

Luckily for me, Maggie O’Farrell has also been a regular contributor to The Guardian and Observer newspapers for many years and has written about aspects of her home several times. I think this one is my favourite though. In the following article taken from The Observer on Sunday August 15 2004, she wrote about a piece of furniture in a house; both of which have played a key role in her writing...

“The three books I've written have all been worked on in very disparate locations: a borrowed desk in an unheated flat, my parents' dining-room, on my lap in a damp bedsit, various trains, a shed in Yorkshire, a bench overlooking an Italian forest, an alarming bus ride in Bolivia. The one place they have in common is a kitchen table in Invernesshire.

It is a squarish, pine table, somewhat rickety and smelling slightly of all the dinners that have been eaten at it. With each book, I've found it easier to concentrate if I've moved the table to a different place in the room. For my first book, it was next to the fire but that corner seemed too crowded with those characters when I came back to work on the second, so I had to move it near the doorway. For the third, I turned it round and sat by the window.

The table is in a small, wooden house on the banks of Loch Insh, in the village of Kincraig. Behind the house, the East Coast line rattles on north to Inverness; in front of it, the Spey begins to pull itself together from the depths of the loch, re-forming as a river. If you swim out from the bank below the house, stepping carefully over the sharp stones into the brackish water, you can feel the drag of the river, its urgency to get back to itself. The water is icy, cold enough to compress your lungs, but you get used to it.

What's overwhelming about this place is the hugeness of the sky and the absolute quiet. I've never found silence like it anywhere else in the world: it's a spellbound, almost animate hush. When a city-bound boyfriend came up north to meet me there once, he found it too much. He couldn't sleep, he said, because of the nothingness of the night. The unbroken dark (no noise, no streetlights and, on a cloudy night, no moon or stars) was too much for him: 'I can't tell if my eyes are open or closed,' he panicked, during one of his sleepless nights.

I've been going there for almost 20 years, initially with my family on summer holidays. In those days, we stayed in a stone villa, a hundred yards or so from the place I rent now. It is, possibly, the most perfect house in the world: on an incline beside a bridge, it overlooks the loch and the valley, with a sweep of garden down to the water.

My parents are of the generation that finds it acceptable, not to say requisite, to talk to whomever they choose. We were staying somewhere else in the area - I forget where - when we drove past this perfect house. My parents turned round and drove past it again, and then again, much to the horror of their embarrassment- sensitive daughters in the backseat. My mother then got out, opened the gate, walked up the path, knocked on the door and asked the rather startled person who answered if we could come and stay there. Amazingly, they said yes.

Its remoteness is part of its attraction. It's a devil of a place to get to without a car. You have to catch the train to Aviemore or Kingussie then track down a taxi-driver willing to take you the extra distance, or hitchhike and hope for the best. There's a tiny post office that will sell you milk, bread and other staples and newspapers, of course, but I never buy them when I'm there as it goes against the grain of a retreat. And once you are there, it's not that easy to leave. Local bus timetables tend to be erratic and indecipherable, so the only way to get yourself anywhere is to walk or cycle. Mobile phone signals flicker and vanish, days pass, night comes, the loch goes on filling and emptying.

I think I always knew I would write about it. It would be impossible to be so enmeshed with a place for it not to make an appearance in your fiction. When I began my third novel, about two people who exit their lives for a place so remote that no one can find them, I knew it would have to be set in Kincraig.

I found, though, that I had to write those scenes while I wasn't there, that those parts of the book were the only things I've been unable to write there. You need to be elsewhere in order to recreate a place, you need distance for imagination. The last thing you want is reality getting in the way.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stepping Over the Past at Home

An engineer came to our house last weekend to draw up construction plans for our renovation. He talked about taking down walls and digging through floors to get support posts in the ground then patching it all up so no one would know the room had been touched. It got me thinking about all the other walls and floors in our home that have ‘been touched’ during the 130 years it has stood here.

I think the stone slab at our front door would perhaps be the oldest, least touched feature of our home. I love that it’s not level having been worn away by the many feet and pairs of shoes that have entered the house over more than a century.

Yes, it creates a draught under the door and we can hear the wind whistling through but I could spend hours thinking about what that stone has witnessed: warm welcomes; tearful farewells; newborns in arms; babies crawling, toddling, stumbling over inside; children leaving in school shoes for the first time; stiletto heels wobbling in after a night out; banished drunken husbands sitting on it, arguments ending with the front door slamming over it and perhaps (hopefully) embraces in the middle of it.

Has this stone slab seen wives farewelling their husbands off to both World Wars? Or mothers farewelling sons? Has it witnessed tragic, dreadful news delivered at the front door? There have certainly been flowers left lying on it for both happy and sad times, likewise brown paper parcels sent from countries far away. And just think of all the Christmas trees carried over it leaving a sprinkling of pine needles difficult to sweep up thanks to the stone’s aged unevenness.

Who would have thought a piece of stone could do so much to capture the imagination?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Home means to Australian Author Carmel Bird

Since reading the 1997 Government Report on the Stolen Generation, titled ‘Bringing them Home’, Carmel Bird has been intrigued by the concept of ‘home’. As she says in the Introduction of Home Truth, the newly published collection of essays she has edited, ‘this is a most striking example of the powerful use of the word ‘home’, a word which is used so frequently in speech and writing without necessarily very much reflection.’

Home Truth is the result of Carmel ‘wondering what [home] means to people, how writers might explore it and describe it.’ The book is a collection of ten essays from Australian writers, including a powerful essay from Carmel herself. The other writers she chose because, ‘their work had impressed me over many years, and I was very keen to see how they would approach the subject of 'home'.’

For Carmel the end result was what she had hoped for; 'Every single essay was a delightfully fresh insight into both the writer in question, their mind and process, and into the notion of what is “home”. The essays were a great enrichment. And I was very pleased with the wide differences between them all - as well as the places where they crossed over. ’

Indeed every essay is very different and for me, the most powerful included Andrea Goldsmith’s intense study of home and grief, and Marion Halligan’s exploration of family and the homes they made in different countries throughout her life. But, most importantly, all are beautifully written and will demand further thought and reflection from the reader.

Carmel’s essay, titled Start with the Tulip, is particularly astute with such observations as ‘the charm of home is its elusiveness’ and ‘the real home is not a real place’.

She says, ‘What I meant by the unreality of home, by its not being a “real place”, was that the essence of “home” rests in the heart of the person. It is possible to describe details and to express hopes about what home is, but it seems to me that “home” really is “where the heart is” and is lodged in the heart.’

While the details of ‘home’ have changed for Carmel over the years, she says ‘I think I have always had the sense that home is the place of safety, of comfort, of nurture and warmth and love.’

So, which house has most felt like home for Carmel? ‘Actually (and fortunately perhaps) it is the house where I live now. I think that’s because it is private and spacious and has many large windows and a garden on several levels with a wide back patio where there is an ancient wisteria.’

‘My little grandson comes often and we explore the garden together, and play here. It is a sweet place. He and I plant things and cook and paint and make music. It all feels full of heart, and is a place of nurture - for me as well as for him… It seems like a world.’

For more information about Home Truth and Carmel's previously published work, click here to visit her website.

Images © Harper Collins Publishers Australia

Monday, August 16, 2010

When Home is... a Workshop

‘A workshop is the foundation for home improvements’, a March 1956 copy of Australian House & Garden tells me. Yes, it’s the same magazine that talked about expanding living areas into garage spaces and such articles make me realise that back in the 50s it would have been hard to get a job as a handyman. It seems that DIY really did stand for ‘Do-It-Yourself’ back then.

And it feels like everyone would have had the skills – and the workshop – to refurbish the bathroom, make a fireplace surround, build their own back fence and chairs (!) all in the same month.

But the DIY project that stood out for me the most in this issue was step-by-step instructions for making your own cocktail table:

‘Want to make your own cocktail table quickly and easily? Here’s one you’ll have little trouble with, modern as tomorrow, very inexpensive and fitted with a tricky feature you’ll like – a top that is automatically self-dusting. Crumbs and dust will drop right through for the sweeper to pick up below.’

I like the idea of regular cocktail parties at friends’ homes. It seems very glamorous and grown up yet I don’t know anyone who entertains this way anymore. Amongst our friends, brunch is as adventurous as we seem to get at this stage of our lives.

Anyway, back to DIY. The instruction that stood out for me was: ‘To attach the table to the brass legs, your husband can drill holes through the brass rod for thin screws.’

Obviously husbands took care of DIY AND the use of any power tool back then. If my husband and I existed together in the 1950s, our house would be falling down around us. While my husband is fantastic in many ways, one of those ways is certainly not while holding a power tool.

He cooks, cleans, shops for groceries and gets up to the children in the middle of the night but when it comes to DIY we’ve had some disasters. Most notably, a very crooked towel rail in the bathroom which seems to be sloping more as time goes on.

Yes, he can put Ikea furniture together but I don’t fancy his chances with the cocktail table. Perhaps it all comes down to the state of our back shed. Today, it’s certainly not any ‘foundation for home improvements’ and definitely not with all those cobwebs growing across the doorway.

B&W picture taken from Australian House and Garden magazine, March 1956

Friday, August 13, 2010

When Home is... an Object

Is there any one object in your home that encapsulates all the emotions of home for you? For me it would perhaps be my collection of old silver cutlery, which I slowly bought during a number of trips to the UK when I was in my 20s.

I remember walking into those antique shops in tiny little villages and feeling so excited matching up odd bits of cutlery for my future home. I imagined my future children using the cutlery and knowing its history; knowing I lugged it home at the bottom of my suitcase all those years ago from the other side of the world; knowing it was now part of our family story.

I often think of an old lady who died during the Victorian bushfires of 2009. She was found in her car with a full china dinner set beside her. What memories did those plates, bowls, cups and saucers hold for her? Perhaps it was her wedding china; or her mother’s? Imagine all the meals eaten off them. Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries... the precious conversations, intimacies, maybe even arguments that those plates may have been privy to?

The power to attach emotions to objects is very strong and this is also one of the reasons why my sister wanted to open a shop which sells, amongst other things, vintage and retro objects.

She says, ‘What I really feel like I am doing is giving objects from the past with their own stories and histories the chance for a new life with a new "custodian" for want of a better word. These pieces all have something appealing about them - be it their colour, shape, function ... or quirkiness. And when someone sees something they just love and have to have that makes it all worthwhile.’

Justine’s customers may already be collectors: ‘I have a lady who comes in only to buy coloured glass and she just keeps on adding to her collection: sundae dishes, wines glasses. It's the colour and the design of them when all combined together that she loves.’

Or they may have just started collecting: ‘Another customer owns almost as many ramekins as I do now (and she owned none before!). I'm pleased to see I am not the only one who is obsessed with the most practical invention in the world: everyone needs a ramekin...or 50.’

And have now become passionate about it: ‘An older man comes in regularly to buy different pairs of vintage champagne glasses; he likes that his collection is made up of numerous different pairs. He told me he has never collected before but is now addicted to it and he looks forward to family celebrations so he can pull them all out and tell everyone the story.’

But there are also those special stories of customer’s looking for a very specific object:

‘A woman once came in to buy the exact 1950s mixing bowl - colour, shape and brand - that she and her grandmother would make cakes in together when she was young. It was the only thing she wanted to keep after her grandmother died but it was broken in the cleanout of her home. She had been searching for years and she found it here. I don't think I have ever seen someone so ecstatic to buy a yellow & white polka dot mixing bowl.’

‘One lovely lady, who has always popped in since I opened the doors 12 months ago, asked me to keep my eye out for a 1950s set of MacArthur Splayds - just like the set she was given as a wedding present but had since lost after numerous moves and life changes. I did search and of course she checked in every week to see if I had found any. For months I couldn't; it was like they were hiding!’

‘Then one day I did and that morning I was so excited to call and let her know. Literally as I picked up the phone she walked in the door! She was so elated about them and the timing she went straight across the road and bought a lottery ticket for us to share. We didn't win anything but that's not the point. It was just one of those moments you couldn't make up.’

Of course, there doesn’t need to be a significant history or price attached to an object to create strong emotions: ‘A customer who works nearby is addicted to the handmade felt flowers I stock so every few weeks she pops in and adds another to her collection. She says they just make her happy.’

When I think of the favourite objects – new and old – in my home they all have one thing in common. They make me happy too.

Retrospections is open Tuesday – Friday 10am-5pm; Saturday 9am – 3pm
498a Miller St

Photos © Justine Joffe

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When Home is... a Message from a Previous Owner

Last week, while rushing out the door to pick up kids’ from school Louis – in a way that only a two-year-old can – knocked a photo album out of the bookshelf. It was one I hadn’t looked at in years and it happened to fall open on a page of photos of us renovating our first flat. As I picked up the album I noticed a folded piece of paper shoved behind one of the pictures. ‘A letter for you’ it read on the front in childlike handwriting.

I’d forgotten all about this letter until now. We found it when pulling down a false ceiling in one of the two bedrooms. Our flat was built in the basement of a 1930s building, complete with high ceilings, archways and a lovely sandstone wall in the kitchen. But it had been renovated in the late 70s so down had gone slate floors in the hallway, bedroom and bathroom. And up had gone false pine ceilings in one of the bedrooms and kitchen.

A modern look of its time, I suppose, but we still found it hard to believe they covered up a plaster ceiling complete with a rose and cornices. Anyway, they did and thanks to the letter we also know they built the ceiling themselves, on Wednesday August 1st, 1979.

I don’t remember feeling bad about ripping down their handiwork. After all, it had lasted 20 years. I do remember feeling more connected to the home though. It was nice to think that a family had stood in this room, just as we were, working together to create a space they loved.

Friday, August 6, 2010

At Home with ... Children’s Illustrator Mandy Sutcliffe

A few months ago I was looking for a card for my cousin’s 40th birthday. She is one of those innately stylish people and I expected to find her a very sophisticated, ‘grown-up’ card. Then I saw a child’s birthday card illustrated by Belle and Boo creator Mandy Sutcliffe and I no longer wanted to be thinking like a grown-up.

The card was an illustration of a little girl with long brown hair sitting on a branch of an enormous tree. There was an expression captured in the little girl’s face: one of utter contentment, perhaps daydreaming of a future where anything is possible.

Instantly I saw my cousin as a child and our lives as an extended family. While we grew up in different cities, we would spend every second summer together when my aunt and uncle would bring my three cousins to Sydney to stay with our grandparents. Those were long days filled with playing on the beach and evenings spent in the house where my mother, my cousin’s mother and their two brothers grew up.

This illustration had managed to send me straight back to that time and childhood home. Indeed, all Mandy’s illustrations carry a similar power as she expertly captures simple moments in time and the emotions of childhood. How does she do it?

Mandy Sutcliffe studied Illustration at Leeds Metropolitan University but it was during a university exchange trip to France that she discovered a passion for capturing such moments of childhood.

‘Aesthetically children are really pleasing to me: the bigger head, masses of hair, huge eyes, small nose, rose bud mouths, turned in toes, skinny arms and legs and rounded belly, what could be cuter to draw? I also like the freedom that drawing children gives you. A little boy in a paper boat or riding a winter woolly is more acceptable to the viewer than if an adult was doing it, as it ties in with the imagination of a child.’

As a child, Mandy’s imagination was captured by the book Milly Molly Mandy. ‘This was the book I was read most as a child. I was given it because of the name and weirdly I did look a lot like her. I wonder now if I liked it so much because Milly Molly Mandy was an only child and had the full attention from her extended family of adults; parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. My little sister arrived when I was three-years-old which must be a shock for all first-borns!’

But it was also the sense of adventure closely tied to the security of home that Mandy remembers, ‘I loved the map printed at the beginning of the book as I could see where she was at all times during the stories. For Milly Molly Mandy to be able to go camping or into the woods on a big adventure and for me to see from the map that it was just next door to her home or the village shop was reassuring.’

Mandy grew up with a similar sense of freedom and it was also these childhood experiences that have informed her work. ‘Friends of ours had a house with a huge plot of land, with a wood, a field, a pond with an island, a pool, a river running through it with a beach and a bridge and, and, and... I am sure if I went back it would seem much smaller, but I remember endless summers of playing made-up games with lots of kids of all ages. We felt free, creative and alive, but very aware our parents were nearby in an emergency.’

The illustrations in Milly Molly Mandy spoke so strongly to Mandy that she now hopes to recreate those same emotions for children looking at her own work. ‘Of course the illustrations were a HUGE factor in my enjoyment. I still think they are stunning and constantly look at them for reference. In one of my books I have coloured them in with felt tip pen. I wish I could remember how I felt when I was doing it: did I know I wasn't meant to but had an overwhelming feeling that I must? Or was it just complete happiness in the moment?’

‘I am about to launch the first Belle and Boo activity book, which is designed for kids to colour in. I have spent ages on the line drawings and it is printed on good quality paper as I think children appreciate quality as much as adults.’ (For those of us in Australia, thankfully this book as well as all other Belle and Boo products, are available through Lark)

Mandy’s children exist in an era long gone but it’s an era that symbolises for her much about the magic of childhood. ‘I want to capture the sense of family and simplicity, quietness and nature rather than all the technological rush and business of today.’ She hopes that for children and adults the illustrations evoke feelings of innocence, happiness, safety, escapism and beauty in the minutia.

Inspired by the toys children played with the blurred photos that exist of that time, Mandy also loves capturing ‘the big floppy hair bows, the wrinkled down ankle socks, shorts for boys, dresses always for girls, the colours, the material and the hair styles.’

Such real people to her, Mandy says ‘you will often hear me talking to one of my illustrated children when I have got them just right, saying "ooohhh you are so cute" or "I love your shoes".’

It’s unsurprising then that the physical space Mandy first considers home is her studio. ‘We had it built three years ago in our back garden and it is wonderful to have a place to work & even more wonderful to be able to lock the door and leave it behind. I used to work in the lounge room, so I never switched off. My flat is now lovely and calm and tidy, my studio on the other hand is always in a huge mess!’

But first and foremost, home for Mandy is being with Russ, her partner of 16 years. ‘He makes any place home: we have travelled, house swapped, rented and moved a lot, and all I need is him and a few good friends. A great art shop, book shop and cafe nearby also help!’

To find out more about Belle and Boo, visit
their website
If you are in Australia and wish to see more Belle and Boo products, visit
If you would like to visit Mandy's blog,
click here
All photos © Mandy Sutcliffe

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

When Home is all about Living Spaces... or lack of them

Like so many families with growing children, we’re renovating to get more living space. It’s ironic, isn’t it. When you have toddlers and preschoolers, all you want is an open plan house. In fact one HUGE room would be plenty. No doors to squash little fingers, no stairs to fall down, a view from the kitchen or laundry (where parents of young children seem to spend an obscene amount of time) to all corners of the house, including the garden.

But now it’s getting busy and chaotic in our kitchen / family / dining room. Particularly in Winter when I can’t open the back doors and send everyone outside. And when we have friends and their families around... let’s just say it’s very loud in here.

Recently I was flicking through my sister’s collection of 1950s home magazines and laughed. So many articles were about how to create more living spaces for growing families. Yes, nothing much has changed. In particular, one titled The Garage gets Playroom Gaiety from a March 1956 copy of Australian House and Garden caught my eye:

‘If you like entertaining – and particularly if you have young folk in your family – you need an all-purpose room. Like this garage-through-to-living-room shown here. Come any party night, the car goes out, overhead door from living room has a colourful canopy tacked over it, and in go the bridge tables and chairs ready for the card game. When teenagers take over for dancing, there is still plenty of room for adults to lounge.’
We don’t have a garage, I don’t know anyone living in inner-city Sydney who does, but I liked the sentiment behind the idea. Here was a way to get more space that didn’t involve sending children to one end of the house and adults to another; a way of continuing to socialise together. Mind you, I don’t know about the dancing and card games. Being a ‘lounger’ myself, I definitely relate more to the need for ‘plenty of room for adults to lounge’.

Monday, August 2, 2010

When Home is... Shelves & Shelves of Books

As a passionate reader I have always been surrounded by books. Their presence on my shelves makes me feel at home and even when renting flats and moving every six months, my books were the last boxes packed and first unpacked each time.

There was a quote, originally penned by Ancient Roman Statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, posted in the front window of my local bookstore recently: ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’. It resonated but also got me thinking. What is it about books that can give a house such a feeling of soul?

And, what better person to ask than Lucy Clark, the Books Editor for the Sydney Sunday Telegraph and Brisbane Sunday Mail.

“To me books are integral to the idea of home and the people who live there:when I walk into someone’s home I am immediately drawn to the books on their shelves because they tell me so much about those people – do they read political non-fiction and social commentary? Romances? Crime thrillers? Do they have endless reference books, or mainly volumes of poetry? In a way, those books compose a story of their life. These are the important books that have meant something special to them, the ones they have decided to keep and place upon a shelf, and this communicates much.

In my own living room I have two walls filled with books that I have been collecting since teenagehood. In most areas of my life I am a fairly haphazard sort of person – I certainly couldn’t be called a neat freak – but I am very organised with the arrangement of books in my living room (my office is another matter). I have a reference section, where I have all my dictionaries and writing reference books, then I have a journalism section, a history section, a poetry section, a feminist literature section, biography and memoir, politics, a parenting section (which bears my most-thumbed books), and then – my largest section – I have all my literary fiction organised alphabetically.

I have another shelf for the overflow, because I can’t stop accruing books and of course there is limited space. Every few years, or every time I move, I go through a brutal process of culling books I don’t love as much as newer books which deserve a spot on my shelves. There are a couple of duplicates; for example there are two copies of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera because one belongs to my husband and one belongs to me, bought for ourselves long before we ever met. I can’t throw one out because it says something about our shared love of literature.

Every now and then I’ll get lost looking at the spines and I’ll see a book that takes me back to a certain place and time in my life because I can remember where I was when I read it. I keep only the books I have loved, but also I have books there that I have bought because I want to read them but haven’t got around to it yet. So, on my shelves there is both memory and possibility. One day I’ll read Boccaccio.”

Photo © Lucy Clark


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