Tuesday, September 28, 2010

At Home with... Real Living’s Natalie Walton

Back in the 1930s, the American author on etiquette Emily Post wrote in her book Personality of a House that ‘if the house expresses the architect or the decorator and not the owner, then its personality is a song out of tune.’ For Natalie Walton, deputy editor of Real Living magazine (and author of the Daily Imprint blog and the new Frontliners website) the best thing about her job is discovering such different and in-tune ‘personalities’.

‘Because of the magazine I work on, I tend to see certain types of homes. They are generally ones that have been created with thought, care and love. They are not all about spending a bucket-load of money on high-end furniture. They tend to be more about expressing personality and being resourceful.’

For Natalie, a person’s home is the best place to learn about them. ‘Homes tell stories. You get a glimpse into someone’s personality, their likes and dislikes, their passions and interests. There’s perhaps no other place that does that. It’s a real insight into people and society in general. They are incredibly personal spaces and I love seeing how people chose to live.’

As a little girl Natalie would rearrange her room and ask to paint her walls certain colours. ‘With a little hindsight I can see that the world of interiors has always been a part of my life... But my family was sensible and so I never thought I could turn this interest into a career. Instead I focussed on my love of words and studied an English literature degree then completed a Masters in Journalism. Meanwhile, I worked as a finance reporter on a news wire service and later on a medical newspaper. While I enjoyed interviewing people and writing news stories and features, I wasn’t passionate about the subject matter.’

It took the opportunity to join Real Living magazine to remind her of this childhood interest. ‘I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back. I love the craft of creating a magazine, and more recently have taken the plunge to style interiors. I’m still learning, still writing, and choosing paint colours – so I guess you could say while a lot has changed in my life, much hasn’t too.’

Has working for an interiors magazine changed the way Natalie thinks about her own home? ‘In some ways I’ve learnt so much about design, scale, form, function and all the other principles of interior design, yet my home is inherently the same. I still love pre-loved items with character. I still cherish trinkets and treasures bought on my travels. And my home is still basically a repository for my books!’

‘When I first started working for Real Living I used to think it was boring when people (usually artists/stylists/designers) would say that they loved all-white homes because it cleansed their mind after being surrounded by colour all day. Now that I’ve started styling too, I can completely understand this. I seek calming interiors more than I ever have. Where I once embraced bolder colours, I now crave the serenity of chalky whites and warm greys.’

Recently, Natalie has taken the idea of home and family to another level, launching the website ‘Frontliners’ with photographer Kata Varga. This site, ‘showing a variety of families, how they live their lives and exploring how the parents find the balance to pursue what their passionate about’ began while Natalie was writing a book about motherhood.

‘I interviewed Kata Varga for Real Living when we featured her apartment in the magazine. She lives close to my home and we have sons that are similar ages, and so we quickly became friends. We got talking about working on a project together. I love collaborating with people, and learning from them.’

‘I was working on a book about motherhood and thought that it would be interesting to bring some of the ideas behind that to life in a more visual way. I feel strongly about the reality of being a mother versus the way it is represented in the media, as well as the way people discuss it in general. It’s a huge life-changing event. And it’s not all kisses and cuddles, or post-natal depression either. It’s a contradictory, intense and yet an amazing experience. At the same time, since becoming a mother, I’m often blown away when I meet women who I admire and learn that they have children. The journalist as well as the mother in me wants to know how they deal with the pull of opposing forces that can be motherhood and creativity/passion.’

How has this process been different to working on a magazine? ‘It’s a lot of fun on the shoot day and rewarding to create something that’s purely our vision. Shooting for the web means that we don’t have some of the most basic editorial constraints that I usually deal with. We don’t have to shoot in a portrait format for a start. We don’t have to illustrate how the rooms connect or shoot every single space. And we can indulge ourselves with details just because they’re beautiful.’

But overall what Natalie and Kata have enjoyed most is meeting their subjects. ‘We’ve been blown away by how generous people have been not only with opening the doors to their homes, but also discussing some of the ideas behind the project.’

Aside from working some very late nights – ‘everything we do we do is in our “spare” time as we both have young sons, and families, and work full-time.’ – perhaps for Natalie the only other downside to being surrounded by so many different homes is trying to keep up with an ever-evolving dream house fantasy.

‘I often have between five and 10 dream homes. They include a loft in NYC, a farm in Italy where my son can run barefoot, a beach cottage on Sydney’s Pittwater, a large apartment or house in Bondi, a fisherman’s shack on the Hawkesbury, a hideaway in Bellingen or Byron Bay, a converted warehouse in Surry Hills and/or Melbourne’s Fitzroy... And that’s just what I’m thinking about today.’

Typewriter & desk photo by Kata Varga
Close-up photo of bookshelves by Natalie Walton
All other photos originally appeared in Real Living magazine. Photography: Amanda Prior Styling: Megan Morton

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When Home is... the weekly shopping list

How do you write your shopping lists? On the back of an envelope, just a few key words to remind you of the most necessary ingredients; or on a sheet of paper with products listed in order of the aisles?

I have always enjoyed people-watching at the supermarket. Every Friday morning I see an elderly man at Coles, his walking stick in the trolley, always wearing a shirt and tie. He attaches a little wooden clipboard to the trolley handles. On it is a sheet of paper with a list typed out on a typewriter: red ink for the quantity and black ink for the product. Once he has collected his 2 X cartons of milk, he crosses it off his list with a biro. So precise. I doubt he ever forgets a key ingredient, such as the rice when you are making a curry... like I may have done last week.

And I have to admit to observing what other people put in their trolleys. You can make up a life story straight away based on brand choices alone. This game probably started during my teenage years working at the checkouts at Woolies but it’s still one way of making the boring weekly shop less monotonous. How can I not make up some romantic story when an attractive young man in a well-cut suit is buying olives, French cheese and stuffed peppers at the Deli counter while I wait for my sandwich ham to be sliced? Oh look, in his basket are strawberries, cream, fresh basil and tomatoes; is it a first date? Or maybe he is planning to propose? I wonder if he has the ring picked out...

So, I was pleased to bump into a passage about ‘trolley reading’ in a book by English chick-lit author Adele Parks a while ago. Turns out I’m not the only one; there are fictitious people who do it too!

In her book The Other Woman’s Shoes, two adult sisters do their grocery shop together. One sister, Eliza, is a free spirit living with her musician boyfriend while Martha has the perfect home, perfect marriage, perfect children... I’m sure you can see where all this is going to lead:

‘Eliza turned her attention to trolley-reading. That woman was bulimic: two apples, one carrot and a box of Milk Tray. This one was cooking dinner for a lover: salmon, a selection of florets on a microwave tray that cost an entire trust fund per pound, tubs of Häagen-Dazs. That couple was happy: mozzarella, tomatoes, avocados, fresh pasta and pesto sauce. That couple was waiting for payday: baked beans, sliced loaf, tinned fruit.’

‘... There were a number of low-fat, low-taste products for Martha. Eliza looked at Martha’s groceries and began to doubt her ability to read trolleys like books. Because Martha’s trolley said she was repressed and that she undervalued herself, which simply wasn’t true. Eliza knew Martha was a happily married woman with a fulfilled life. Martha was always saying as much.’

What’s on your list this week?!

Monday, September 20, 2010

When Home is... creating a world for your family

Magazine editor, writer and cookbook author Jenny Rosenstrach’s definition of home hasn’t changed since she was a child: ‘It's the place you go "where they have to take you in." And I realize I'm butchering Robert Frost there, but it's the place I can be my worst self, my best self (hopefully more of the latter) and I'll still be loved unconditionally.’

Jenny had been editing food and features on magazines Real Simple and Cookie until last year when she co-authored the upcoming cookbook Time For Dinner and began the website Dinner A Love Story. Working full-time with two young children led to Jenny making a deal with herself: ‘I would only continue to work full time if I was able to put a meal on the table for my family more often than not.’

And she did, splitting the dinner duties ‘down the middle’ with her husband Andy. How she and her husband continue to do this for their family is chronicled on the website.

So, why did the evening meal become the most important time of the day for this family? ‘The short answer: It's the only time ALL day when I actually sit down and look into my children's faces. And I think it's probably the only time all day long when THEY sit down and look at my face. We're focusing on each other. That's the biggest thing.’

‘Other nice dividends: they are willing to trying different foods because they are so used to us introducing new things, they share stories about their day they wouldn't otherwise, it's something so naturally part of the day that to not do it at this point would be weird. That's ultimately what I want it to be. So when they're teenagers their bodies will just be programmed to return to the dinner table at 6:30pm no matter how annoyed at me they are.’

The kitchen is very much the centre of the family’s lives. When Jenny thinks of ‘home’ it’s the ‘four square feet in the kitchen where all five of us (including our Boston Terrier) seem to be standing on top of each other. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother having other rooms in this house? Wait...I just answered my own question. For when they're teenagers.’

While working on lifestyle magazines didn’t change Jenny’s basic definition of ‘home’, it did change the aesthetic of it; ‘I feel certain I would be $2000 richer and not have marble countertops if I hadn't edited 8 trillion stories showing family kitchens with marble countertops at Cookie!’

Having children has probably contributed the most to decorating and home organisation decisions. A mantra Jenny learned at Real Simple is one she still follows today: ‘Control the controllable’. In the kitchen she has a desk and bulletin board, known amongst the family as ‘Command Central’ where all the organising and scheduling gets done.

‘I think this space is important to me because it gives me the illusion of control. I am powerless to control the leak in the ceiling, the dog getting sick, the recess drama – but I can at least make sure the class lists are somewhere I can always find them!’

All parents know that cooking dinner while hungry children wait is one of the hardest times of the day. To avoid more stress, when her children were younger, Jenny used the ‘Babysitter in a Box’: ‘a carefully curated container of kitchen gear and foods (think rice maracas made out of tupperware bowls) that kept them busy making a pretend meal while I made the real meal.’

Today, she has the ‘OK shelf’: ‘an easy-to-access shelf containing a bunch of kitchen-related bowls and pourers that my daughters don’t have to ask me to use. (The answer will always be “OK.”) Every item on the OK shelf is either non-breakable or so cheap (hello Ikea tea set!) that it matters little if they chip it.’

But Jenny’s hidden dollhouse idea is perhaps one of the most fun ways of keeping children entertained in a small space.

‘Last year, I found my six-year-old lying on her stomach in front of a row of my favorite magazines — all opened to stories about decorating. Her paper dolls were hopping from one “room” to the next, lounging on teak patio chairs, cooking on Viking stoves, and cooing with babies sleeping inside Netto cribs. In other words, Abby had constructed her own two-dimensional, temporary, composite dreamhouse.’

‘We set to work tearing out pictures of rooms from Ikea and CB2 catalogs and old issues of magazines. Once she had her favourites, I used blue painters tape to affix each “room” inside an accessible kitchen cabinet door. Then I used the tape to outline each room. Turns out Abby wants nothing to do with me while she gets lost in fantasy land, but I still love that she’s right there underfoot while I’m making dinner.’

And, as most parents would agree, the best thing about this dollhouse is: ‘When she’s done, I close the door. All gone.’

For me though, what really makes Jenny’s home a ‘home’ is her Recipe Cupboard Door.

‘This idea just came to me. Before I renovated my kitchen I used to put recipes on stickies inside the cabinet door because I hated hunching over a cookbook. A recipe door seemed to be just the right height for recipe referencing. When I pitched the idea for Cookie they let me pick an illustrator to execute the vision. I was lucky enough to get Gina Triplett, who is part of the incredible design team Gina and Matt.’

‘The only tricky part was figuring out which recipes were deserving of such an honour. Ultimately, to qualify for “cabinet door” treatment, we decided the recipe needed to be both steeped in family history and, of course, be delicious. The line-up: one recipe from each of our grandmothers; Rosa’s Mud Cake which my best friend’s mum served at every one of my best friend’s birthday parties when I was little; and a recipe made by Aunt Patty the first time I met my husband’s family in 1992.’

‘Now we have a private living memorial to those who have influenced me in the kitchen and my kids will grow up with a certain reverence for these dishes.’

There are some other ways Jenny and Andy keep the family connected. Originally buying a chalkboard for the kitchen wall because it looked pretty, Jenny now realises the family can’t live without it.

‘At first I used it as a way to remind my babysitter of playdates and activities, but now it’s more like my calendar and a reminder for the kids that screams, “Look how much fun you’re going to have this week!!!” When it’s not updated, I hear about it. I’m even expected to write up an itinerary for the weekend and, in the summer, include the weather report.’

Jenny and Andy also like to leave notes for the girls on napkins in their lunchboxes, although she has a warning to parents who have not yet started packing lunches. ‘Do not start with the napkin note – you are only setting yourself up for failure. And setting yourself up for disappointed kids when you can't think of anything cute or creative to say beyond "I have run out of things to say to you." Which I'm always tempted to do, yet somehow don't think they will appreciate the irony.’

Creating a sense of family through their home has evolved naturally for Jenny and Andy and will continue to do so as their daughters grow; ‘We never sat down and decided these things. Like everyone we borrow from people who have done it before us. Our friend Jay took each of his three kids on a one-on-one vacation after each one turned six. I didn't even have kids when I heard about that ritual and I thought that is something we're going to do. I just loved the idea.’

‘But the thing about kids is you don't have to make elaborate rituals for everyone to have fun. They are so naturally joyful about things that we just follow their cues. Once my husband forgot to bring home a present from a business trip for them, but he did have an unopened pack of gum. You would've thought we gave them Malibu Barbie. Now, it's the only thing we ever bring back as a souvenir!’

To visit Dinner A Love Story and for more information about Jenny’s book Time for Dinner, click here.

All photos © Jenny Rosenstrach

Friday, September 17, 2010

When Home is... the Bedroom

How do you feel about your bedroom?

On days like this when I’m tired (two nights out in a row does that to me now...) I definitely feel my bedroom is a ‘refuge within the refuge of the home’ as Winifred Gallagher describes it in her fascinating book House Thinking.

‘Set apart from the “public” home by a flight of stairs or a hallway, the bedroom is much more than just a place to sleep. It’s a snug nest from which we’re meant to emerge restored and ready to face the larger domestic and outside worlds.’

I am looking forward to the end of today, despite the bright Spring sunshine. All of us home for the evening; an early dinner, bath and bed for everyone.

After being away from home for a couple of nights I crave the structure of the weeknight routine which always leads, eventually, to bed. I can already see a novel waiting patiently on the bedside table. How many hours will it be until we meet? Hopefully only a few more.

But what if your bedroom is the opposite of a refuge?

‘As the home’s most private, mysterious space, however, the bedroom is sometimes the darkest. Its door can conceal loneliness and suffering as well as comfort and pleasure.’

Gallagher also writes about how Edith Wharton, the American Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the early 20th century, explored this idea in her short story The Fullness of Life . Here she compares a woman’s nature to a ‘great house full of rooms’:

‘Far beyond its hall and salon lie other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.’

Haunting, isn’t it.

Image from My Sweet Prints via Apartment Therapy

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When Home is... a Handbag

“What do you get when you cross some vintage upholstery fabric, a pre-loved skirt, an unloved shirt and some recycled buttons? The blooming beautiful Betty Bloom of course! She's part vintage chic and part urban street wear - does it get any hipper than that?"

Handbag designer Jennie Smith has always loved objects with a history; they perhaps give her the strongest sense of home. ‘Home is so important to me but my husband and I have moved around a lot. Eventually we realised that we had to create a ‘home’ through the objects we’d collected that are in our house rather than the house itself.’

After six years of working in the corporate world, Jennie became aware she was buying a lot of clothes. ‘If we were going out on a Friday night, I would pop down to a chain store and buy something new. It was so cheap - $20 or $30 for a top – and my clothes started to pile up.’

‘It got me thinking. I recycle everything else but with fashion I just consumed so much.’

So began a new chapter of shopping at Vinnies and other charity stores, where Jennie would buy outfits and alter them. For the alternations that didn’t ‘quite work out the way I imagined while standing in the shop’, she would use the fabric to make handbags.

‘The business evolved naturally. I started getting compliments on the handbags and friends began asking me to make ones for them. Then I started selling them.’

From there Jennie got her business Rejenerate online, set up an etsy shop and before she knew it, had a couple of wholesalers. It is unsurprising that her creations found new homes so quickly; her bags all have their own unique stories thanks to their very unique histories:

"Cute Clarabelle is the lovely combination of a vintage tablecloth and some salvaged denim. Topped with recycled buttons and lined with a pretty pink vintage print, Clarabelle is ready to leave the kitchen table and see what lies ahead in her new life as a handbag!"

And some have a history that is only just beginning:

"Floral Fifi started life as a piece of chic upholstery fabric in the sixties. She waited patiently to take her place in a posh lounge room, posing at society cocktail parties, but alas it wasn't meant to be. Now it's the 21st century and she still hasn't lived and mortifyingly is suddenly being referred to as 'vintage fabric'! Luckily she has finally been combined with salvaged fabrics and buttons and 'rejenerated' into a handbag...so she's bringing some sixties chic to the noughties!"

For Jennie the stories of the fabrics are perhaps what she loves most about creating her bags; the previous lives these fabrics have seen, the homes they have lived inside.

‘Especially those fabrics that are so obviously from the 50s and 60s,’ says Jennie, ‘I think of those women making their curtains, washing them and taking care of them. How did they look in the room? It’s sad to think that whoever those women were may no longer be around but I like to think they’d be pleased their kitchen curtains have been given a whole new life in another home and loved by someone else.’

While Jennie sources fabrics from op-shops, markets and online, what she loves most is when people give her fabrics (or curtains or clothes). ‘That way all the history is attached and tucked away. You know the stories.’

Favourite stories include a recent find of Italian 1940s and 50s fabrics given to her by a friend whose grandmother was moving into a nursing home. It had sat in her garage all these years after moving to Australia when she was only 20. ‘She pretty much just filled her suitcase with fabrics when she left Italy. I made a clutch bag for my friend and the fabric I chose was actually fabric her grandmother used to make olive sacks when she was a little girl. Now every time she looks at the bag she laughs thinking of her grandmother’s olive sacks.’

Jennie also makes clutch bags for brides and for these occasions loves to use family heirloom materials. Weddings are a particularly emotive time when you think about home; that of your childhood and of your future, where you come from and who has walked these steps before you.

‘I recently made a bag that was entirely made up of a bride’s family. We used parts of her grandmother’s wedding dress and her mother’s for the outside and lined the inside with her grandmother’s going away outfit, a pastel, floral print number.’

Finished off with a brooch from her great-grandmother, it’s hard not to imagine those three older women, two no longer here, walking down that aisle with their daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter.

It hasn’t just been fabrics that brides have used for their bags; ‘One bride had a couple of great-aunts who were crotchet champions. She chose her favourite doilies and table runners and I turned them into bags for her and her mother to carry on her wedding day. They looked very sweet and now everyone in her family wants one!’

Jennie also made a bag for her own wedding, using a vintage damask tablecloth which used to belong to her Swedish grandmother and a brooch from her Australian grandmother.

But it is another tablecloth from her Swedish grandmother that speaks of home most to Jennie; ‘It’s a Christmas tablecloth that my grandmother embroidered bits and pieces on. It’s got little gravy stains and red wine stains and every year when we put it on the table I sit there and could spend hours thinking about all those little stains and the stories that go along with them.’

Whether it be old napkins, hankies, doilies, curtains, buttons, ribbons, brooches, dresses, jackets or jeans, the history of those objects – known or unknown – will always capture Jennie’s imagination. Just like ‘Retro Rhonda’ and ‘Autumn Audrey’ have captured mine:

"Retro Rhonda started life as a super trendy Scandinavian fabric in the sixties. Now that retro is cool again, Rhonda is raring to re-invent herself! Paired with a pair of salvaged curtains and topped with recycled buttons, Rhonda is retro, recycled and ready to roll!"

"Autumn Audrey started life as a stunning kimono but now that she's Down Under, she decided it was time for a change. Combined with some recycled wool and topped with some pre-loved buttons, Audrey has been completely 'rejenerated' into a one-of-a-kind handbag. Audrey's past life as a kimono means that she's used to showing off and being admired so get ready to be the centre of attention when you hit the town with Audrey!"

I wonder how they are enjoying their new homes of today. And just think of the many more stories those bits of fabric will hold in the years to come.

For more information about Rejenerate and Jennie Smith, visit her website or blog

All photos © Jennie Smith

Sunday, September 12, 2010

When Home is... Weekend Breakfasts

My mother and sister came over for breakfast this morning and while I thought about cooking something ‘special’, I couldn’t help but return to a family favourite: bacon. Weekend breakfasts for me have always been about bacon. The smell of it sizzling away takes me straight back to lazy mornings spent in pyjamas cocooned at home. And so it was, bacon sandwiches for our family on this Sunday morning. Only today my children were the only ones in their pyjamas.

It’s not often we ‘breakfast’ with other people, is it? For a start, it’s too early to feel sociable and we have ‘brunch’ for those occasions anyway. And thank you 19th century British students for creating this slang term to describe a combination of breakfast and lunch.

In 1895, Guy Beringer wrote for British magazine Hunter’s Weekly an article titled Brunch: A Plea, ‘Instead of England’s early Sunday dinner, a post-church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies, why not a new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee . . . By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.’

And let’s be honest, even if you’re not a ‘Saturday night carouser’ surely no one really wants to be entertaining at 7am no matter how great the company is.

But people’s breakfast habits and what their food of choice is at this time of day can tell us a lot. When I first moved out of home, I shared a flat with a very close friend. We’d shared all kinds of intimacies and secrets over the years yet on our first morning together when I set the table for us to have tea and toast she looked surprised.

‘Wow,’ she said holding her mug, ‘I usually just eat breakfast standing up. Do you always have it at the table?’

I hadn’t realised there was another way to have breakfast and over our time together she took to enjoying her tea and toast at the table and I took to enjoying eating while leaning against the counter. But rebellions from upbringing aside, I remember us both feeling we had learnt something about the other; something very personal.

Another old friend recently told me as an aside that her family makes pancakes every Sunday morning. I’ve known this friend for nearly 20 years and had no idea she ate pancakes so regularly yet I could tell you all her favourite dinners.

Perhaps because breakfast is usually eaten before people are showered or dressed or even fully awake it takes on such an intimate feel. We stayed with friends interstate a couple of years ago and despite sharing many lunches, dinners and even a couple of weekends away, it wasn’t until we sat down to breakfast in their house, all of us in pyjamas sporting fantastic bed hair, boxes of cereal on the bare tabletop, the smell of toast in the toaster with mugs of tea and coffee, bottles of milk, packets of butter, open jars of jam and vegemite surrounding us that I felt our friendship had reached a much higher level.

All pretence gone, our lives and homes lie completely exposed at such an early hour of the day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Home is... Emily Post

This past week I have come across a couple of references to the early 1900s American author of etiquette, Emily Post, in disparate books: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Marjorie Garber’s Sex and Real Estate. I had never heard of her before and it got me thinking. Who was Emily Post and what was her house like?

Well, thanks to Google, she was a leading authority on socially correct behaviour for decades in America. After her Etiquette—The Blue Book of Social Usage, first published in 1922, became a bestseller, she also became a newspaper columnist (answering etiquette questions that appeared in 150 newspapers) and had her own radio program for eight years. Oh, and her summer house at Martha’s Vineyard looked pretty good too...

So anyway – enough house envy – how did this etiquette book come about? Firstly, Emily was born into a wealthy family, the daughter of an architect, in 1873. She was home-schooled before attending a finishing school in New York. Marrying a banker in 1892, they had two sons before his philandering ended their union 13 years later.

BUT, because she married such a man, Emily found herself a career. To support herself and her sons (her husband lost nearly everything in a stock market crash) Emily began writing short stories and novels, all successfully published. Her publisher then suggested she write a book on etiquette (given her social standing) and this book remains today what she is most famous for.

Emily originally wrote the book for ‘the newly rich who wanted to live, entertain, and speak like the wealthy’, according to the website notablebiographies.com. This website goes on to say that the later editions of the book focussed on ‘the character of "Mrs. Three-In-One," a wonder woman who acted as cook, waitress, and charming hostess at small dinner parties.’

Her book was obviously well-received as it is apparently ‘second only to the Bible as the book most often stolen from libraries’.

Emily spent much of her later life at her summer house in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Here she wrote the book The Personality of a House (1930), supposedly based on her experiences of rebuilding and remodeling it. She was happy here, according to Vogue magazine in 1933 where she described it as ‘the haven of delectable tranquility that all my life I have been searching for.’

She was quirky too, it seems. Living until the age of 86 she would always wake early although never make ‘her first appearance of the day until lunch, which was served promptly at one o'clock.’

She also loved red shoes and liked wallpapering her bedroom walls in ‘dark crimson damask’. Yet, she couldn’t stand seeing a red flower in her garden. 'I am drawn to a window – and there is a red flower standing out like a gash! Then out I go and pull it up', quotes Laura Claridge in her biography Emily Post.

I think it's hard not to like a woman who loved red shoes.

Image of Emily Post taken from notablebiographies.com
Image of Emily Post's garden taken from
Martha's Vineyard Magazine

Monday, September 6, 2010

When Home is... Desire

I was up late last night, reading about a new form of porn: ‘yuppie pornography’. As Harvard English Professor Marjorie Garber writes, in the introduction of her book Sex and Real Estate, ‘What do college students talk about with their roommates? Sex. Twenty years later, what do they talk about with their friends and associates? Real estate. And with the same gleam in their eyes.’

Her book is quite fascinating, exploring cultural roles of the house as lover, mother, body or self, fantasy, trophy, history or escape.

Although, it’s unsettling too. For someone about to embark on a major renovation, I finally decided to put this book down and turn out the light after finishing the following passage...

‘Seen through a haze of plaster dust and plumbing parts, catalogues and swatches, the house of our dreams is never quite possessed, never perfect, never finished. “Keep the romance in your marriage” urges the tabloids, “keep love alive”. And so it is in the relationship between us and our houses, those “other persons” in our lives. This mutual and constant courtship, this ongoing relationship, imperfectly commodified and imperfectly consummated, is what produces both the anxiety and the enjoyment of owning a home. The keynote of much home design today is not character, not values, but desire. And desire, by its very nature, cannot be satisfied. It points always onward, toward the next redecoration, the next renovation, the next house.’

I gingerly picked up the book as I ate my sandwich earlier today unsure of what else I would find. Ahhh, thank goodness for romance. It will trump my unsatisfied desire, I’m sure:

‘The house and all that it symbolises is the repository of histories, memories, fantasies, self-images, aspirations and dreams. That is why our romance with houses is – in every sense – such a consuming passion.’

Sex and Real Estate
By Marjorie Garber, Pantheon
First published, 2000

Friday, September 3, 2010

At Home with… Interior Designer Anita Kaushal

I have very few interior decorating books. I have flipped through many but find they end up being more about styling or architecture rather than stories about making a home. Magazines have long-filled my need for stories. I love looking at pictures of houses but love it more when I can also read about the people who live there.

Recently, thanks to Anita Kaushal, I have changed my mind. With 15 years experience in interiors, Anita has designed products, transformed homes, written for The Observer, The Guardian, Junior, Cookie and London Magazine, and authored and styled books that have been translated into five languages. It is her interiors book Family Lifestyle Home, that has been the first such book to spark my imagination; a book that I keep wanting to return to.

As Anita says in the book’s introduction, ‘There have been countless books on raising children and on decorating, but here I consider both together. It is a kind of manual or recipe book, a collection of ideas based on the heartfelt philosophy that it is possible to create a home that is both beautiful and nurturing.’

So how did she come to write such a book?

‘From as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed playing around with the space I have lived in and take great pride in making it look good for me. As a couple my husband and I moved each time our careers progressed. Then in 1999, I decided to leave a very successful career in sales to start my own mail-order business based around mixing interior finds from the international designer and the local artisan; from products for a couple of pounds next to those for thousands.’

‘At the time it was quite groundbreaking and well received because I then went on-line and opened a flagship store in London’s Westbourne Grove. It was here I began to get interior commissions.’

‘The birth of my second child and more interiors projects changed my focus so I sold off the mail-order business and at the same time decided to write a book on stylish, comfortable family living and design homes with a heartbeat.’

It was after having children that Anita felt her home was ‘more alive because of mixing the children’s style with my own.’ She felt her design choices had widened rather than disappeared. ‘My hand blown lamp next to my daughter’s brightly coloured plastic ponies just worked.’

It was such realisations that led to the idea behind Family Lifestyle Home. ‘In my book I wanted to show that we don’t need to treat the home as them and us, but to enjoy the process of seeing the family as a unified whole. I think as well as the clever design ideas in the book, what makes it different is my true belief that home is not simply about how we decorate but how we choose to live in that space; reading, music, shared meals; a sense of lightness of being.’

Anita has lived in all sorts of homes: large, small, modern, traditional and she says, ‘each has felt a certain way partly because of its innate energy field and partly because of where I have been in my life at the point in time.’

She has also designed and consulted on many more. ‘What unifies them has nothing to do with geography or size and everything to do with the sense of comfort and happiness that comes from the people who share them and how they feel about themselves and their homes.’

Has she a favourite? ‘My flat in Westbourne Grove has been my favorite because although it was a small flat, it was a very happy time in my life – I had my business, my baby, fell pregnant and the area has such a village feel and good vibe – life just felt good.’

‘From an aesthetic prospective, it was great making a smaller space as impactful as a larger one. We then moved to the suburbs into the most stunning Victorian house and whilst it looked perfect, it was always dark and cold.’

‘The home I live in now is right where I want to be and that is partly the energy and light and partly my own understanding of what makes a house a home. It is a beautiful space and one that is all the better for sharing with family.’

Since having a family of her own, Anita still surrounds herself with the beautiful things she did pre-children, the only change being ‘I do have to spend more time tidying up!’

But, she has also happily learnt ‘to live in the house and really enjoy the space regardless of breakages and spills. It’s there to be enjoyed. It’s a home not a museum and it needs to work for you long after the guests have gone – I don’t worry about impressing others – if I like it, I will just do it.’

Most liberating has been getting her children involved with the decorating decisions so the family lives in ‘a home that resonates with our personalities… I don’t suppose it would have occurred to me to have a swing in my kitchen had it not been for the children, but the house is so much better for having it and all the other children’s things.’

It’s no surprise then that Anita’s kitchen is her favourite room in the house, ‘it is where family and friends come together and it is a very happy place which looks out onto the garden. First thing in the morning when everyone is asleep I go down to the kitchen, make a fresh coffee and plan my day. It is heavenly to start the morning without any noise.’

For more information about Anita Kaushal, visit her website here.

All photos © Anita Kaushal

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When Home is... mice, rats or any rodent

Everyone seems to have a strong aversion to at least one uninvited wildlife guest in their homes. For some it’s cockroaches, for others it’s spiders (particularly huntsmen who seem to appear magically on walls after it rains). What’s it for you?

For me it is definitely rodents.

I’m not sure when or why this aversion began but I do remember never wanting a mouse as a pet when I was younger, despite loving the Beatrix Potter tale of tidy Mrs Tittlemouse. And I loved guinea pigs. An animal that looks like an overgrown mouse.

Moving on.

When I was 23 I was offered a job with a major book publishing house in London. With a salary that meant it would be nigh impossible to live in London. At the time I was offered the job I was there on work experience. While in the photocopying room I began talking to an editorial assistant about what it would be really like to live and work in London.

‘Well, you’ll have to get your boyfriend to move over from Australia,’ she began, ‘and then you both may be able to afford a room in a big terrace house.’

Sharing a house with maybe four other couples and one bathroom didn’t quite appeal. Let’s just say I was never a backpacker.

‘Or, you might be really lucky like me.’ She continued, her eyes sparkling. ‘My boyfriend and I have just moved into a basement flat. It’s so cool having our own place.’

This sounds more like it, I thought.

‘Yeah, it’s really great,’ she said as she collected her photocopying from the tray. ‘Although we do have quite bad damp. And rats,’ she added as an afterthought. ‘But we’re so lucky having our own place!’

Back in Sydney my biggest concern was cockroach invasions, which never disgusted me as much as the thought of mice or rats. But, judging from the news recently, mice and rats are becoming more of a problem in the city centre and near the harbour. Interviews with homeless people complaining of rats scuttling over them while they slept at night haunted me.

This conversation recently came up during my daughter’s ballet class. While standing outside waiting for the class to end the three-year-old sister of one of the girls in the class rushed up to my friend and me.

‘We caught a mouse last night in our house!’ she exclaimed. ‘It was living under the fridge and we could hear in making scratching noises all night. It was really cute.’ She looked so excited about this discovery while her father looked less cheerful.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘they’re pretty hard to catch.’

My friend laughed. For one night she had come home late and the rest of the house was sleeping. She opened the kitchen cupboard to put something in the bin and there, sitting on the lid on its hind legs, was a little brown mouse sniffing the air curiously. She shut the cupboard door quietly and went to bed nervously.

The father complained of his veggies growing in the garden being eaten by rats and I commented we had similar problems with our strawberries. Although I assumed it was a possum. He smiled and shook his head. Thankfully the ballet class then finished.

One morning, a few weeks later I was chatting on the phone looking out into the garden. The back paling fence began wobbling and I wondered if a cat had jumped on it. Suddenly, from behind the tree ran a grey animal with a pointy nose and a long tail. It ran across the entire length of the fence.

A rat.

A rat in broad daylight.

Broad daylight!

So much for rodents scuttling under a cloak of darkness...

Photos by Ned Leece


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