Friday, December 23, 2011

How to create a green home

Going green

What is a passive or energy-efficient design and how can we renovate our homes to achieve these outcomes? Here, we explore some of the passive and energy-efficient design aspects to create a ‘green’ home

BY: Sustainability consultant and designer, Ian Cleland

Environmentally sustainable (ESD) design is the philosophy of designing products, the built environment, systems and services to fulfil the economic, environmental and social mores.
Designing environmentally sustainable buildings requires the elimination of non-renewable resources in the materials specified along with sensitive, skilful design. The aim is to minimise the building’s impact on, and relate humans to, the natural environment.
Since the energy crisis of the 1970s we have learned much about ESD, although it seems not enough to make this a mainstream view.
The reasons for renovating a home are many and varied but one is to create spaces that are thermally comfortable for both summer and winter.
The majority of Australian homes have never been very accommodating to the foibles of the varying Australian climate. More often than not it is inappropriate or poor building design that creates the problems. Passive or energy-efficient design aspects are the exception rather than the rule in either new or renovated buildings.
So how do you create an environmentally sustainable or, more appropriately, passive solar and energy-efficient home?
When renovating your home you may be constrained by the existing floorplan, site orientation, the landscape of the existing building site and the surrounding urban landscape in your suburb. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a site with excellent solar access, it can be a challenge to create a design to suit both the floorplan and budget.
The key elements in your design are to take advantage of the local climate, window placement and size, type of glazing, thermal mass, insulation, shading and ventilation. Passive solar design techniques can be applied most easily to new buildings, but existing buildings can also be adapted or retrofitted.
In passive solar buildings, the walls, floors and windows are designed to collect, store and distribute solar energy in the form of stored heat in winter and the exclusion of heat in summer. This is called “passive” solar design, as there are no mechanical or electrical devices used to heat and cool the building.
We have known for thousands of years the path of the sun is from east to west but have you noticed that the height of the sun varies from the northern horizon in winter and summer? In winter the sun is lower in the sky than in summer and, in fact, if you head further north the sun may penetrate the southern side of your home during the summer months. So why is it that we continue to design and build homes in Australia totally disregarding this fact?
By using the path of the sun and by passively controlling its impact we can exploit its warmth when required and reject it when it’s not. How? Consider this: you wake up in the morning and the sun is in the east; your rooms take advantage of this beautiful morning light and, if required, warmth. During the day the sun’s path moves across the sky from east to west. In summer the sun is high in the sky, so if we don’t want the heat we shade the building and glazing from the heat of the sun with eaves, shutters, landscaping or other shading devices.
How do you store heat or cool your home? Simple. With the right combination of insulation, thermal mass and control of air filtration you can control the temperature inside your home passively. Given that we are talking about a renovation that includes the existing building and was constructed in the last decade to 50-plus years ago, your approach will be determined by all the components mentioned above and would require design input for each situation. So, as a general rule in a renovation, it is about maximising the control over what nature presents to you in both summer and winter.

Choosing insulationInsulation products come in two main categories: bulk and reflective. These are sometimes combined to make a composite material. There are many different products available. To compare the insulating ability of the products available, look at their R-value. R-value is the measurement of resistance to heat flow, so the higher the R-value the higher the level of insulation. Products with the same R-value will provide the same insulating performance if installed as specified.
Two issues you have to be mindful of when insulating a home are controlling unwanted drafts and moisture. The insulation system used should be designed to stop water condensation in the wall, which can cause damage to building frames due to fungus attacks in the case of timber and rusting with steel frames. Also, rising damp can be an issue with excessive moisture in the wall cavity.

Types of glazingNot all glazing is all the same and its use can make a big difference to the energy performance of your renovation; it is not just for capturing a view or allowing light into an otherwise dark room.
Apart from construction materials and window or door framing, the choice of glazing is probably the next most critical factor in the energy efficiency of a building. In most existing homes, windows are the areas where there is maximum heat loss because glass is a poor insulator.

Annealed or float glassAnnealed glass is the basic flat glass product that is the first result of the float process. It is the common glass that tends to break into large, jagged shards. It is used in some end products — often in double-glazed windows, for example. It is also the starting material that is turned into more advanced products through further processing such as laminating, toughening and coating.

Toughened glassToughened glass is treated to be far more resistant to breakage than simple annealed glass and when it does break it does so more predictably, thus providing a major safety advantage in almost all of its applications.
The float glass process is renowned for flatness and optical clarity. It is available in clear, toned, high-performance toned, ultra-clear low-iron glass and low-e pyrolytic coated.
The types of glazing designed for insulating windows are gas filled, insulated (double-glazed, triple-glazed), low-emissivity (low-e) coatings and reflective coatings.

Gas filledTo improve the thermal performance of windows with insulated glazing, some manufacturers fill the space between the glass panes with gas.
For these gas fills, window manufacturers use inert gases — ones that do not react readily with other substances. Because these gases have a higher resistance to heat flow than air, they (rather than air) are sealed between the window panes to decrease a window’s U-factor.
The most common types of gas used by window manufacturers include argon and krypton. Argon is inexpensive, non-toxic, non-reactive, clear and odourless. Krypton is more expensive but has a better thermal performance.

Insulated window glazing or glass
Insulated window glazing refers to windows with two or more panes of glass. They are also called double-glazed or triple-glazed.
To insulate the window, the glass panes are spaced apart and hermetically sealed to form a single-glazed unit with an air space between each pane of glass. The glass layers and the air spaces resist heat flow. As a result, insulated window glazing primarily lowers the U-factor, but it also lowers the solar heat gain coefficient.

Low-emissivity (low-e) coatingsLow-emissivity (low-e) coatings on glazing or glass control heat transfer through windows with insulated glazing. Windows manufactured with low-e coatings typically cost about 10–15 per cent more than regular windows but they reduce energy loss by as much as 30–50 per cent.
Reflective window glazing or glass
Reflective coatings on window glazing or glass reduce the transmission of solar radiation, blocking more light than heat. Therefore, they greatly reduce a window’s visible transmittance (VT) and glare, but they also reduce a window’s solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC).
A good reference for further information about the glazing you should use is the Australian Glass & Glazing Association:

Shading How often have you been in somebody’s home and found it either too cold or too hot because there is not enough or too much sun entering the living space? As part of passive solar design it is important to locate windows and then control the access of the sun to maintain levels of comfort inside your home. If you have windows with a view that allow excessive amounts of heat into the room, you can use an external awning.
To keep heat in, use internal coverings on windows; to keep heat out, use external shading devices. During the summer, even with the appropriate glazing, it is best to shade to reduce heat conducting through the glass. During your renovation, it’s good design practice to allow for appropriate shading so it is included in the construction of your project. If you are not sure what most suits the situation, obtain the appropriate technical advice from a professional.

VentilationAnother part of passive design is the controlling the movement of air through your home. This way you can maintain comfort by utilising the prevailing seasonal winds in summer and winter, day and night. Design spaces to allow for good cross-ventilation. The use of chimney effects allows hot air to rise, creating positive ventilation. The addition of thermal mass in conjunction with ventilation can provide both heating and cooling.
Another aspect of ventilation is controlling those unwanted drafts entering your living spaces through all the cracks around windows, doors, fireplaces and walls. Finding and sealing these can make a big difference to overall comfort.
In summary, what has been included in this article is just an overview of some of the components that create an excellent passive and energy-efficient home. This does not include the use of active or mechanical systems. If you are able to design and build your renovation with mainly passive systems this will be the most cost-effective design possible. But like all renovations there will be compromises that will affect the workability of the home as a passive and energy-efficient building.

Residence, Eastwood, NSW.
Architect: Caroline Pidcock.
The new addition to the rear of the house connects with the garden space. The roof was shaped to capture the sun over the roof of the front part of the house, while expanding with a pergola and struts to provide a definite entry and shade to the west. Photography by Dean Wilmot.

High level windows let hot air escape in summer. Window/door openings are protected to keep summer sun out while allowing winter sun in. A ceiling fan is used to help with ventilation in summer. Photography by Tim Wheeler.

An operable roof assists with appropriate solar access throughout the changing seasons. Photography by Tim Wheeler.

Suburban home, Elanora Heights, NSW.
This home has undergone reorientation for complete passive solar implementation with stack ventilation chimney/atrium/stairwell, reverse brick veneer in living areas, energy- and water-efficiency upgrade including BMS and pool, PV system and full rainwater harvesting.

Beach cottage, Avalon, NSW.
This cottage’s renovation included an additional living area and main bedroom suite in a separate pavilion as well as improved passive solar yet lightweight (slip zone) double glazing/shading. Indoor-outdoor water use is sustainable and is all solar powered.

Waterfront fishing shack, Koolewong, NSW.
This property has had an extra bedroom pavilion added and the main cottage was opened to become a big living area. Shading, glazing, insulation, solar HSW, site response and extra safeguards against actual sea-level rise were undertaken during the renovation.

Design Session with Kate St James

Designing for the Australian Home
Are you embarking on a new build, renovation or interior project and would like to discover the newest trends and directions in home design in Australia? Kate St James will take you on a journey of discovery through the eyes of an interior designer and home design magazines editor.
Participants will look at living and dining rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, outdoor living, space planning and furniture layout. Discussing the ways in which colour impacts your home's design both inside and out and Kate will show you examples of a variety of homes designed by some of Australia's leading architects and designers.
Kate St James is the managing editor of Grand Designs Australia, Luxury Home Design, Design & Decoration and Renovate magazines. Kate is also an interior designer with more than 25 years experience in the residential market. Kate looks forward to sharing her knowledge and ideas with you!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Freedom Kitchens Shares its Top Tips for Creating a Smart Kitchen in 2012

Sydney, 12 December 2011 --- Kitchens are the epicentre of our homes and as such continually evolve to meet our modern way of living. In 2012, the focus is on striking the balance between clever design, quality and simplicity. Susan Hasler of Freedom Kitchens shares her top five trends for creating a practical, on-trend kitchen.

  1. Living Smart:
  2. Convenience-meets-multifunctionality is a key trend for today’s modern kitchen. “Easy to maintain work areas featuring solid surface benchtops and smooth cabinet doors that require a simple wipe down are the prevalent choices for stress free living whilst clever storage solutions such as large drawers and multi-purpose island benches make organisation a breeze,” says Susan.

    Integrated drink fridges and coffee machines are becoming convenient features of the larger entertainers kitchen.

  3. Looking Good:
    Creating a unique identity is important, and this is being seen with the introdution of timber veneer cabinetry mixed with gloss finishes. “Basics of white, charcoal and timber will dominate the kitchen space whilst bold bursts of bright marigold yellow and grass green are on trend for livening up a kitchen space,” says Susan. Bringing furniture pieces and artwork into the kitchen are great ways to add individuality and can be changed easily over time.

    Susan says that other on-trend inclusions for creating a statement kitchen are square or cube shaped sinks, integrated appliances, designer rangehoods and ambient lighting - either as underbench LED strips or oversized hanging pendants.

  4. Striking the Balance:
  5. The demand for work life balance has had a profound effect on kitchen design – more people working from home means more connectivity throughout the home as well as benchspace dedicated as work space.

    Susan says that workstations hidden behind kitchen cabinet doors, or those which are an extension of the kitchen cabinetry, are a common feature over a dedicated study. “This allows the kitchen to truly operate as the epicentre of the home; a fluid family space that accommodates work, entertaining, study and dining.”

  6. Planet Conscious:
  7. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a key consideration in the kitchen design process. From choosing energy efficient appliances and lighting, to taps with good water ratings and clever waste systems for recycling, a eco-conscious kitchen is cuts down on resources, saving you money in the long run.

    A great tip from Susan is to install a window in your kitchen that can be opened. “This is a simple energy saving alternative to using the rangehood.”

  8. The Great Outdoors:
  9. Kitchens that open on to outdoor decking and patios for easy, year round entertaining are a fast becoming a priority in Australian homes. Adding bi-fold windows from the kitchen to an outdoor bar act as a convenient servery and bring the outdoors in. “Cooking is a social activity and proximity to kitchen and guests is solved with these indoor/outdoor design solutions,” says Susan.

    Freedom Kitchens is renowned for delivering stunning designs with superb functionality. To view the very latest in Freedom Kitchen designs - from contemporary to traditional and classic, go to or visit a Freedom Kitchens showroom today. To book an obligation free design consultation, phone 1300 885 435.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The secret to 'sweet' Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas are the sweetheart of the garden. Their delicate fragrance and soft appealing nature takes many gardeners back to the sunny backyards of their childhood.

With such delicate tissue-paper blooms Sweet Peas are a beautiful way to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Sweet Peas are surprisingly simple. Flowering in the late winter months their ability to be ‘cut and come again’ lets them keep flowering again and again right up till the heat waves start.

Sadly these days many people don’t have the space available for growing the climbing varieties. But with a little innovation anyone can have a these beautiful flowers to brighten your day!

Mini Sweet Peas have just come into market! So now anyone with a small courtyard or city balcony can enjoy the sweet aroma of Sweet Peas.

How to Start
Start by picking a spot that gets sun for most of the day. If you’re not using the dwarf variety, support is important. If you don’t have a fence for the plants to cling to you’ll need to construct a small trellis. A simple was to do this is to tie three tomato stakes into a tepee and surround with netting.

Water the garden bed well the day before planting. If you’re planting from seeds don’t water the bed again until they have sprouted and cover them well with soil as they will only germinate in the dark.

Sweet peas like enriched soil with a little lime added if necessary. A pH of between 7 and 8 is perfect for them. Good drainage is important for Sweet Peas to prevent any rot or disease. They benefit greatly from mulch, to keep their roots cool.

When they flower, keep picking flowers often to encourage more bloom. Don’t let children near the seed pods, they may look nice but they are poisonous. During dry spells you should water your Sweet Peas to prevent them dying from dehydration.

Dwarf Sweet Peas are particularly wonderful to grow in pots. There should be few drainage problems and they can be put anywhere you like!

Sweet Peas glorious colour spans the vast spectrum of the rainbow, from white, blue, purples, pinks and through to red. The normal variety will grow to nearly 2m tall.

Mice are the greatest danger to the seed during the period of germination. Later on, watch out for birds, slugs and snails.

Disease - Aphids transmit the mosaic virus. Plants start to grow poorly and have speckled leaves and flowers. Pull out infected plants to prevent the disease from spreading.

Bud drop – every Sweet Pea grower experiences this at some point in his or her growing career! In periods of cold weather the developing flowerbuds may turn yellow and fall off. Some varieties are more prone to this than others.

Leaf Scorch – leaves lose colour from the bottom upwards and dry off or 'scorch' but the plant continues to flower until the top leaves are affected.

Pollen beetles – Vast numbers of these small black insects can accumulate in the blooms, particularly on lighter coloured varieties. There is no chemical control available so the best advice is to place vases of affected flowers in a dark room with a light source at one end. The beetles will be attracted to the light and should abandon the flowers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reach your target market with magazines (and radio!)

If you’re a user based in Brisbane you’ve probably heard our promotions on 4BH and 4BC this month. Our affiliated publications Build Home, Kitchens & Bathrooms Quarterly, Poolside, Luxury Home Design and Outdoor Design & Living all have massive retail displays - so check them out and grab a copy or two for home renovation ideas

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Managing Editor, Kate St James is prepping with Emine Mehmet, interior designer for their first appearance at GrandDesigns Live at Darling Harbour. Here is a sneak peak of their discussion on Sustainable Design: Health, wealth and conscience:

How do you define sustainability and what is sustainable design?

How can you save money on heating and cooling your home?

What is passive solar design and why should every building use these principles?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) and Particulates;
What are they?
How do they affect your health?
Ways to minimise their impact.

What is BASIX? (Building Sustainability Index)

Product Life Cycle
What is it and how is it important to sustainability?

Check out the #GrandDesigns :Live website for more info on the exhibition;

It’s going to be huge!!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The easy secrets to growing orchids

It's a common myth that growing orchids is difficult. It's a myth that they need lots of attention so that they bloom just right. It's all myth. The fact is that growing orchids that are more than just beautiful is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Really!

So what is the secret to amazing orchids? Getting the right balance of water, light and temperature.

Orchids are one of the most gratifying plants to care for. They can reward you with beautiful, exotic and fragrant flowers that are absolutely breathtaking. Growing orchids in either your house or the garden let's your enjoy some of the most stunning flowers on the planet.

Orchids are warm plants, having come from the more tropical regions. As long as we remember to get the balance right they will manage to live almost forever.

Most orchids are air plants, so this means you will see their roots. It's crucial you don't over water your growing orchids. Their root systems and the pseudbulbs are very resourceful in storing water. So letting the soil dry out before watering is a good thing.

Growing orchids should be watered only when the potting material is dry, making sure that the water drains out easily.

In general, growing orchids should be watered twice a week. During the spring flowering season however, lessen their water intake to once a week or once every two weeks. It is important in helping them bloom continuously.

If you feel the need to take special care of your growing orchids, knowing how the different species like to be watered would be useful. For example:

Dendrobium, Cattleya and Oncidium orchids like to dry out completely before watering. An easy way to water the plant is to place it in the kitchen sink and let the water flow through for about 20 seconds. Let the water drain from the growing orchids before putting them back.

Phalaenopsis orchids like to be close to dry. A simple way to determine if these growing orchids need watering is to place your finger in the mix by a few centimetres. It should be spongy and moist.

Growing orchids like Paphiopedilum and Epidendrum should be watered roughly twice a week so that the soil is always slightly moist.

It's important not to put your growing orchids in direct sunlight. They have sensitive skin and will definitely burn. Placing them by a well lit window area that receives a few hours of sun or bright light a day is the perfect spot for your growing orchids.

A window also provides ventilation. Growing orchids like to be fully ventilated. When they receive a continuous stream of gentle air movement, your orchid will bloom more often.

All orchids adore light. They would never survive in a poorly lit environment. But to ensure that they don't suffer from over-exposure to direct sunlight. Drape a sheer curtain over the window to help avoid this.

A growing orchid's leaves will tell you everything you need to know. Extremely green and vigorous leaves mean the plant isn't getting enough light. If you notice this, slowly introduce the plant to more and more sunlight over time. A healthy and ready to flower orchid has leaves lighter in colour with a slight yellow tinge.

Keeping the temperature and humidity right is a central part of life for growing orchids. Most growing orchids do extremely well at room temperature.

Humidity is a key factor in keeping growing orchids healthy. Growing orchids love high humidity. The best way to provide them with a humid environment is to place them in a clay pot on a humidity tray. Just a flat tray filled with pebbles and 1/2 water is perfect for keeping them warm and happy. Be sure not to let the roots sit in the water because they will rot.

It's a good idea to keep a small hand mister close by. Spraying their leaves every now and then in summer will keep the cool.

The less you re-pot growing orchids the better. It may be necessary every so often, so try to re-pot them after their resting period and they've started growing again.

When removing them from a pot (which can be difficult, you may even have to break the pot to get it free) take a knife or other such tool and lever it between the bulbs, separating them into at least two sections. You should remove most of the dead and leafless bulbs, but leave a few next to the new shoots.

Check the roots for damaged, rotten or tangled sections and remove these.

Good drainage is important for growing orchids, so make sure the new pot has plenty of drainage holes. If the growing orchids roots are healthy and firm, place it in a pot just one size larger.

Add some potting mix to the base, you can get special orchid potting mix which is specifically designed to make them comfortable. Sit the orchid in the pot so it's roughly the same depth as it was in the previous pot - the new shoots should be level with the pot rim - and fill in with more mix.

If the growing orchids are not secure, the new roots won't grow properly.

Don't fret if your orchids won't flower for a year or two after dividing them, they're just getting re-settled.

Growing orchids in your home is one of the most beautiful and interesting ways to add colour and charm to your home. Their astounding colours and shapes are sure to brighten up your home and garden and add a wonderful tropical feel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lawn fertiliser for dummies

Big or small, every lawn needs a certain degree of care. Turning it from a dried out mess into a lush children's play area or the envy of all your neighbours can be easy with the introduction of a little lawn fertiliser. It might not be a top priority need, but it can be the difference between a wasteland and a healthy lawn.

Due to water restrictions, our lawns have been left to 'rough-it' alone. By revamping your garden and choosing a drought-hardy variety, you can still have an area of turf you can be proud of.

Feeding your lawn in the spring is the best way to get it ready for summer. By applying lawn fertiliser then, it won't just look greener, it will be more resistant to diseases and it helps prevent those pesky patches of dirt that just seem to appear!

Grass needs its own special type of fertiliser. Lawn fertiliser specifically.

The What's What of lawn fertilisers
There are many different types of lawn fertilisers out there, and it can be confusing to know which one is right for you. This list should help you out:

- Slow release lawn fertilisers are designed to release nutrients slowly. This means less feeding, and although you might have to wait longer for results, they will be strong and constant.

- Organic lawn fertilisers (such as blood and bone) are natural products based on manure, minerals, and seaweed. These are specifically designed to nourish your lawn over several months.

- Synthetics are chemical lawn fertilisers which are made up of a mix of trace and major elements. They're designed for quick release to make your turf go green fast!

- Combination lawn fertilisers combine both organic and synthetic fertilisers in one.

- Liquid hose on fertilisers are fast acting. Due to this they don't provide a long term solution but they're wonderful to spray around a few days before a party!

Whichever lawn fertiliser solution you choose it's important to understand the Nitrogen/Phosphorous/Potassium ratio. The N:P:K ratio is usually located on the back of the pack you purchase.

By selecting a balanced fertiliser (N11:P4:K8), you will encourage growth in all the right areas. So when you mow the lawn next all the nutrients won't be taken off the top! It will be slow and steady, but it will definitely win you the race.

To get the best from lawn fertilisers you should prepare the lawn before immediate application.

Compacted soil should be aerated with a large garden fork. This is good for both fertiliser and water penetration.

Remove large leafed weeds before summer because they will make a permanent home in your lawn. You definitely don't need them taking away nutrients from your grass. Wondering what to do with bare patches of earth? Just sprinkle some sand over the top.

Lawn fertiliser is often looked over when trying to spruce up a lawn. Instead of thinking about ripping up everything, try some and see the difference for yourself.

Your guide to popular interior design

Stylish and popular interior design doesn't have to be something created by a top notch firm. You can furnish to your own home to suite your tastes whether it's cottage, retro or even Mediterranean, without the pain of handing over all that money to someone else.

You can take comfort in the fact that Complete Home is here to lay out all the rules and reveal all the tips to help!

Popular interior design has evolved over time. Some elements, pieces and styles are timeless, while others are made to suit certain tastes and particular personalities. Due to all this we have an endless list of popular interior design styles to sift through.

So whether you like clean, simplistic lines or that feeling of a country home, there is a popular interior design style for everyone.

Breaking it down to basics we have uncovered seven main design styles.

The main colour palate in Chic interior design is surrounded by light, gentle shades. Typically associated with washed out colour and white, it is not uncommon to see bright yellow or a whole range of Marie Antoinette blues among the design.

It becomes part of the popular interior design package through its use of both modern and vintage items. By pairing modern furniture with vintage pieces, you can create a look that is elegant and subtly stunning.

Another popular interior design is contemporary style. This gives a clean, sleek look to a room. Much like chic, contemporary uses soft colours, but this can make the design look cold and unwelcoming. We can counteract this by incorporating brighter colours and curvaceous pieces to add that element of comfort. Art pieces are also a major focal point when discovering contemporary design.

If your tastes lean toward something with a bit more flair and flavour, you might want to give your home that continental edge. Asian and Mediterranean styles are both extremely popular interior designs.

Asian style design achieves a look of tranquility through use of simple, clean lines. It's an extremely versatile art ranging from minimalist - from simple wooden chests, tatami mats and screens - through to the bold and bright - with strong Chinese reds and golds.

When you think of the Mediterranean you envision Spanish mosaics, the terracotta, and the large tables everyone will fit around. Just put those thoughts into your design and you're done! Using cornflower blue, yellow, reds and a beautifully soft purple can bring the warm feel of the Mediterranean to any room you choose. Pine furniture will set the room ablaze with life.

More often referred to as 'shabby chic', the cottage style of design is an eclectic, 'lived-in' look that is always comfortable and welcoming. You can achieve this popular interior design look easily with recycled furniture, floral prints, linen fabrics and pale colours. Either tiled or wooden floors make an excellent addition to the room. Bring everything together with hand-painted pieces, a signature motif of the style design.

French has to be the most well known popular interior design style. It's mainly characterised by the rustic, old-world charm that meshes both formal and informal elements seamlessly. Incorporate the French style by using natural materials such as aged timber. To decorate, think rough-stained, painted plaster walls with blue and white china and crystal pieces throughout.

There is plenty you can do to achieve the next style with it's use of natural materials and clean, often unusual lines, known as Retro. The 'cool' hipster style of the beginning of the century has an emphasis on fun, and often portrays this through contrasting pieces. Bright colours with dark fabrics, solid clocks of colour and even incorporating smooth plastic and crushed velvet have made retro famous.

Traditional interior design focuses more on timelessness than anything else. It shows its beauty through natural tones and textures, often using silks, brocades and leather to achieve this. Patterns can be mismatched for an endearing look. This popular interior design tends to be more formal, and uses pieces from different time periods to give the home a comfortable environment.

Whatever you choose, any style of popular interior design is sure to uplift your home and give it that new life you've been looking for.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kitchen windows: Natural inspiration.

Installing new, bright kitchen windows is becoming an increasingly popular trend for those currently undergoing the renovating process.

Kitchen windows not only bring more enjoyment out of your kitchen but have transformed over the years to become main focal points of the home and part of the family living area.

By rethinking kitchen windows in your home you can create a marvelous open space, giving the illusion of more room and open air. You've designed your own luxurious escape by adding the beauty of nature to your kitchen.

Kitchen windows in modern architecture are used to compliment the interior and connect it with the beauty of outdoors. By using modern lines and classic overtones, kitchen windows add a whole new dimension to the room.

You can make the most of your view with the installation of new kitchen windows, no matter how small. Instantly, a spacious and light filled room is created, and you can really feel the difference.

The installation of kitchen windows creates a stylish new space. It transforms a stuffy room into a gorgeously airy, family focused living area.

Adding feature kitchen windows is increasingly popular. Their understated beauty lets in much more natural light and brings the simplistic beauty of the outside, in. Kitchen windows enable you to save electricity with the addition of light playing a key role.

If you have a colourful kitchen, kitchen windows can greatly improve your space. The added natural light highlights, the colours of your kitchen and accentuates various features, allowing you to better appreciate your surroundings.

If the view from your kitchen windows consists of the curious neighbours, there are several things you can do to still maximise both light and space. Planting tall shrubs both improves your view and will also add a more natural element and feel to your home.

If statement kitchen windows are more to your tastes, hooded windows should be considered. They're similar to bay windows with a glass roof. Not only are do they create an impact and make a statement, but they can double act as storage!

Renovating can be hard, having to contact the council anytime something needs to be done. So before installing glorious kitchen windows you should check with them first. Changing windows that still fit in the existing space should be alright, and it also eliminates most of the structural cost that come with a large feature window wall.

As time goes by, we have seen a number of innovative windows and concepts. The development of double and triple pane glass has been a wonderful addition to the window world. They eliminate most noise and protect you from fierce storms.

Kitchen windows have the additional benefit of not only softening the harsh lines of pantries and cupboards but add a certain depth to the room. Kitchen windows that open and close can help enormously when trying to control temperature, create ventilation or retain heat.

Kitchen windows are a great and innovative way to completely transform your living area. They provide a beautiful spectacle of both light and colour and will be there to dazzle you all day and night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Outdoor blinds around the home

Outdoor blinds make the perfect addition to any outside area. Whether it's simply to entertain or even just have an extra screen, outdoor bistro blinds are a great way to protect against the elements.

Outdoor blinds are available in a number of colours and sizes. Whether clear or tinted, there is always going to be outdoor blinds to suit your tastes. They let you have a clear view of your stunning backyard, while keeping out flies and insects. Furthermore, they can protect your family from the harsh sun, all the while not taking away from the aesthetics of your home.

Outdoor blinds can be easily sourced and are an affordable and easy way to add life to your outdoor area. Just think - you don't have to take the party inside next time it rains. With simple outdoor blinds you can entertain all year round - rain, hail, or shine!

In your home, outdoor blinds are simple and easy to use. The whole family can operate them without much fuss.

There are several components to focus on when installing your outdoor blinds. However it requires the assembly of a few simple parts.

Clamping - to hold your outdoor blinds in place during installation. Find a solid structure such as a cross beam or brickwork. This is essential to fix the blinds to as you don't want them to move. Clamp the blind into the position you think fits best and is ready for drilling.

Screws - after the initial drilling, the screws need to be drilled into place to hold the outdoor blinds up and out of trouble. If drilling into masonry, the appropriate plugs must be used instead.

For a cross beam, drill 30mm deep holes with an 8mm twist bit. Tighten the 10mm coach screws with a shifting spanner.

Aligning/Joiners - when thinking of joining two or more blinds together, you need to purchase an outdoor blind zip joiner separately. Position the next set of blinds so that they align and zip them together. Give it some tension as to create a smoother look. Clamp the next head rail and attach as before.

Weather sealing - protecting your family against the elements is always important. Also sold separately are outdoor blind wall anchors. These can create a strong weather seal and protect against the wind and rain. Insert the edge of the blind into the anchor channel and slide it to the end. Drilling 4 equally spaced holes through the anchor to attatch it to the wall is good.

Anchor plates - these are used to help hold the blinds steady when faced with light wind and slight movement. Fix the anchor plates in position at base of the structre with the screws provided. Then all you need to do is adjust the anchor strap.

Chord cleat - this helps the outdoor blinds move up and down. The excess cord when the blind is rolled up should be tied off, to prevent the blinds falling. Fix a cord cleat to a post or wall at an easily accessible level and weave around to tie off!

I'm sure it seems like work now but once it's done, your outdoor blinds will be the envy of all your friends.

Now you have a gorgeous entertainment area you can use non stop. Enjoy!

Growing Australian native trees

There is nothing more iconic than a soaring Australian Gum tree, or the fluffy, bright yellow of the Wattle. Australian native trees are what make this country so beautifully unique and special.

Sitting out near the bush on a lazy, sunny afternoon is a truly Australian experience money can't buy.

Bringing this feeling and atmosphere to your backyard can be one of the most rewarding things you've ever done. Here's how you can introduce the smaller Australian native trees and plants to your garden.

By sourcing smaller Australian native trees such as the Banksia and small Eucalyptus like the rose mallee, the Queensland Box Brush and even the Wattle, you can have your very own slice of bush land heaven.

The Banksia has always been a well known Australian classic. It is extremely striking and is even more so in winter when it blooms. Reaching heights of up to 7 metres, the native animals love them. They are able to be easily pruned to make an excellent garden screen.

Most small eucalyptus fall under the sub-category mallee. The rose mallee is known for its grey foliage and its large pink-red flowers. 'Little Gumball' or Angophora costata, is a hybrid gum. This plant grows up to 5 metres high with distinctive red leaves and unique rust coloured bark.

Australian native trees such as the Queensland Box Brush are slow-growing and mature into a rather medium sized tree. As unique as Australia itself, they have variegated leaves, and therefore they take longer to produce their own food.

Another classic to add to our list of Australian native trees is the Weeping myall Wattle. An elegant tree with sophisticated and charming grey leaves that fall to the ground. It's a hardy plant which is able to withstand the harsh conditions and dry spells we often face.

Australian native trees are part of a huge industry. A large range of small growing native trees are sure to be available in your local nursery, or could be found growing naturally in your local area. After careful selection it is relatively easy and pain free to grow at least one type of the many Australian native trees there are on offer.

If you want to add a professional touch to your garden some landscaper designers specialise in using Australian native plants. They will be able to help you make the most of your typical Australian backyard. With their expertise you can give your garden some excitement and an indigenous flair with the addition of a few simple Australian native trees.

Landscaping with Australian native trees is becoming increasingly popular. Many people now want to bring a taste of the bush into the backyard and Australia native trees are an ideal way to do this. Visit your local nursery today to find out more about Australian native tree.

Companion planting in your home

Companion planting is generally viewed as the practice of pairing various plants together, in hopes that they will assist each other in any number of ways. Companion planting has often been misunderstood as a "cure all" solution for your plants and without proper guidance it can fail to achieve the desired outcome. But don't worry, we're here to help you make the most of companion planting by dispelling myth from fact and creating a guide for perfect plant companions!

Companion planting has a number of known benefits, some of which are said to include; deterring pests, improving growth, attracting beneficial insects and predators, and fixing nitrogen.

The way you plant your companion crops can help dispel unwanted insects or attract a multitude of helpful creatures.

Planting companions with tubular flowers such as 'Turk's cap' or 'Cape Honeysuckle' will attract predators such as birds and dragonflies, which will help keep the population of unwanted pests at bay. On another note, they add a surprising flurry of colour and activity to your garden.

By choosing the right companion plants, you can let your garden do most of the work for you!

For example, companion planting beans against corn or sunflowers is a great way to get the best out of both. The beans fix nitrogen for the sunflowers. On the other hand, the long stalks of the sunflower provide support for the beans and also providing nutrients. In this case, companion planting will see your sunflowers do noticeably better and your beans will likely produce earlier.

Onions and pansies: An unusual combination, but these guys are truly great friends. The pansies spread out and suppress any weeds trying to grow. Their roots keep the soil insulated. For much less work you can reap the benefits of bigger, healthier onions than you'd expect - plus pansies are always beautiful!

Companion planting is a great way to suppress unwanted weeds and insulate soil for other plants who like a warmer environment.

Using companion planting to act as a suppressant is a perfect way to make the most out of the concept. It's tried and tested and usually always works. Weeds are held at bay and even the insects have less room to move. This manages to centralise their activity, protecting your plants from serious harm.

Companion planting is a natural way to encourage bio-diversity. By including a multitude of plants it helps develop a wide range of plant and animal species and provides the good insects with a range of choice to thrive in a well established garden.

Flowers, herbs and vegetables can all be interchanged and paired with others for companion planting at its finest. Google a companion chart for the best ideas. According to the ABC, in Sydney's Botanical Gardens, companion planting is used to mask the sent of roses from aphids.

Not only does companion planting diversify your garden design, but it also adds an attractive, exciting and aromatic element to your overall garden .

We're still unsure as to whether companion planting to improve crop is myth or fact, but don't be afraid to give this a go, you may be pleasantly surprised.

If nothing else, you'll have a more diverse design to appreciate and something is always going on in your garden!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The cost of unrivalled luxury

By Lauren Knight

This week we were alerted to a £1million crystal bath purchase, made by Tamara Ecclestone; daughter of billionaire Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. It took months for the crystal to be sourced from the Amazon, but Tamara insists it was “worth it.”

It got us thinking, what other expensive bathroom purchases have people made? One definitely worthy of note is a solid gold bathroom from Hong Kong, worth HK $80 million! It weighs 350kg of pure gold, and includes 6,200 encrusted gemstones in the bathroom features.

Image from the Whats the latest website

Another bathroom that caught our attention is from Frankfurt, Germany. The trendy public bathroom worth €900, 000, is complete with a reception desk and complementary wash cloths.

Image from the land lopers website

Doing the research: how the internet can make you a savvier shopper

By Lauren Knight

Statistics show Australian electronics customers are becoming smarter shoppers, with 79% doing their research online before walking into a store, and 71% haggling to get the best deal possible on products they wish to purchase.

A report from Canstar Blue showed Generation X to be the most likely group to haggle (76%), followed by the baby boomers (75%) and lastly Generation Y (58%). However, when it comes to researching online, the opposite is true. Generation Y came out on top at 86%, closely followed by Generation X shoppers (84%) and finally the Baby Boomers at 73%. The report also found men to be more likely than women to haggle for electronic goods at 71% and 68% respectively.

Despite being more informed when it comes to buying electronics, we still impulse buy, with 3 of 10 customers over committing once in the store.

Here are some tips on smarter ways to buy electronics:

1. Check the product warranty: Product warranties can vary between brands. A good product warranty is an attractive feature, giving you peace of mind that you won’t burn your money if the product develops a systems failure.

2. Energy Star rating: Appliances carrying the energy star logo will use 20-30% less energy than products without, meaning its better for the environment and for your wallet!

3. Features and Functionality: Unless you’re an electronics product guru, it can be difficult to distinguish the differences between models/brands of products. Reading online reviews or magazines can be helpful to decide which one will best suit your lifestyle or needs.

4. Ease of Use: Make sure you read up on the instruction manual and make sure to ask the sales staff lots of questions. You want to be getting the most out of your new product!

Escaping the daily grind: how to make the perfect cafe-style coffee from home

By Ashleigh Lonsdale

We all feel the pressures of the “daily grind”; after all, there are never enough hours in the day for the amount of work we need to get through. Despite our constant struggle with juggling work, life and play as well as the ever-present economic pressures, Australians are spending more time indulging in their love of coffee than ever before. In fact, the average Australian drinks on average more than seven sups of coffee a week, many taking time out of their busy schedules to visit a café for their daily dose of caffeine.
Catering to this increasing desire for café-style coffee, it’s estimated that three in ten households now have coffee machine at home. Intertwining cafe luxury and a “time-is-money” lifestyle, the at-home cafe experience is on the rise, with many of leading appliance companies offering innovative machines, making it simpler than ever to replace instant coffee with silky-smooth cafe lattes.
Being your own in-house barista can be a tricky task. From sourcing the best beans, achieving the right milk temperature and correct consistency, the checklist for the perfect coffee seems endless. UK-based World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies is in Australia to participate in the Fine Food Festival in Sydney and Melbourne and lends us a few minutes of his time to shed light on the skills you need to create a top-notch cup at home.

What are the most important tools to create a café-style coffee at home?
A coffee grinder is as important, if not more important, than the machine. Coffee needs to be ground just before use. [And] fresh roasted coffee beans – naturally – and a quality machine.
How do we know what coffee beans are best and tastiest to use?
The most important factor when choosing coffee beans is that they are freshly roasted and traceable. Personal taste is individual, so what's best and tastiest will be determined by your own taste.

What’s the best way to store coffee beans to maintain quality?
Treat coffee like fresh produce; buy and use very quickly. An airtight container in a cool, dark place is best. Coffee is an agricultural product and needs to be treated as such.
What’s your advice on how to achieve silky steamed milk, and what happens if it’s overheated?
If milk is too hot, you will lose sweetness and the foam won’t be stable, so it will break down quicker. When you are steaming, you put the air in with the steam wand at the start, when it reaches body temperature just spin the milk in the jug. When [the jug] is too hot to hold it is too hot to put in your mouth.

Does the type of water we use affect the coffee’s quality?
Absolutely, we should be using filtered water at all times. If you use bottled water, be careful not to get one that is too high in minerals because it affects the fine PH balance and can be disastrous to the taste.

What are the most common mistakes that untrained baristas tend to make?
They don't clean their machines. You cannot make good coffee with a dirty machine. Always clean your machine every time you use it.
They don't taste the coffee. A chef tastes his food; baristas need to do the same so they can determine if the coffee is over/under extracted. It is very difficult to visually determine this with coffee, so tasting is integral to serving good coffee.

What are the consequences of over/under extracting coffee?
Under extracted is sour and over extracted is bitter. They taste almost identical to some people, so it is very difficult. [The extraction process should take] somewhere between 22 and 30 seconds but this completely depends on taste.

How do we correctly pack the coffee to ensure perfect extraction?
Simply put, as long as the grind falls evenly into the basket and it is tamped level and flat, then that's all that is needed. Don't over think it.

Finally, what do you love about coffee and what makes it such a life-long passion for you?
Making delicious coffee is a very new idea. We don't know that much yet and there is a lot to discover. It is the excitement of that journey and that all the time we are getting better at producing nice coffee. There are so many new tastes and flavours as we discover different varieties and improved processing methods.

Whether you consider yourself an amateur barista or need a little more assistance, there is a range of coffee machines on the market to suit your needs. From coffee machines that do the hard work for you to ones that give you a lot more control, whatever your skill level, there is a product out there to help you get the perfect caffeine hit from home.

Bodum Grinder from Matchbox, for more
Information visit:

Nespresso Lattissima+ coffee machine, for more
information visit:

Vacuvin coffee saver, available from:

Smeg fully automatic coffee machine, for more
information visit:

Vibiemme Domobar Junior coffee machine, available from:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creating a worm farm in your garden

Owning a worm farm is one of the most unique and interesting ways to do your part for the environment.

From breaking down your table scraps and saving you waste, to fertilising your garden, a worm farm is economically and environmentally friendly.

A worm farm is easy to maintain and gives you a myriad of benefits! Setting one up isn't too hard either.

Choose your type of worm farm.
The most common type of worms for worm farms are Red Wriggler and Tiger worms. Both can be sourced from a hardware store or your local nursery. They come in bags of 500 to 1000, and they will multiply over time. It's best not to purchase more than 2000, depending on the size of your worm farm.

Worms love a good worm bed. Worm farm bedding is usually made up of a nice soil, leaves and some shredded paper, and is generally 15 centimetres deep.

Simply spray some water over this mix, just so that it becomes moist, but not wet.

You can purchase ready made worm farms - or it's easy to make your own out of an old styrofoam fruit box. Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom though, for the liquid fertiliser they will produce.

Gently spread out the worms for your new worm farm all over the bedding material and watch them settle into their new home.

Your worms may be a little uncomfortable after their journey to their new home, so give them a day or two to settle in and explore before you feed them.

A worm farm are best kept in the shade. It doesn't matter if it's inside or out, as long as they're not exposed to too much heat or sunlight. Under the house or in the garage is the perfect place to keep your worms happy.

Try not to feed them too much during the first week or so as they are still getting settled into the worm farm. Lettuce and small bits of mushy fruit such as banana is a good start. Throw some damp hessian or newspaper over the top to keep them moist, and keep this constant. After two weeks or so add a new layer on top. It's now time to start feeding them all organic waste.

Golden Rule: Don't Overfeed!
If the rate your feeding the worm farm is faster than they can eat, it can create an acidic environment and they will suffer. If you notice the food is being eaten slowly, stop feeding them and wait till they finish.

Your worm farm will eat its weight in food. So 1kg of worms will typically eat 1kg of food per day. But don't force them, they'll go at their own pace.

Worms are simple folk, vegetable and fruit peelings are ideal for their diet, along with tea and coffee grindings, egg shells, and small amounts of cardboard. Avoid feeding them dairy and meat, along with citrus, onion and garlic. These are quite acidic and will not do your worm farm any good.

Food disappears quickly in a worm farm if its size is reduced. Chop, mulch or grate their food first and they wolf it down quicker.

Give them food regularly in small amounts and cover this with a light dusting of soil or their bedding material. Feed them again only if they're close to finishing their last meal, or it could start to rot.

General Maintenance
Remember the worm farm needs to be kept moist. Some foods like fruit contain a lot of moisture, so keep that in mind when checking the soil.

Aerating the bedding won't do any harm. In fact if promotes a healthy worm farm population. Once a week or so, wait till the surface food is gone, and using a hand trowel lift the bedding gently.

Harvest for your garden!
If yours is the type of farm to capture liquid, empty this regularly. Its an amazing liquid fertiliser which should be diluted at least 10:1.

Worm farm castings, or vermicast, is pretty powerful too. There are several ways to harvest this. Move the old to one side and add new bedding. This will allow the worms to mostly migrate to the new bedding leaving you to take out the old and sprinkle it all over your garden. It doesn't matter if some worms get taken out as well. They'll just help improve your existing soil.

Another method is exposing them to light. The worms will tunnel to the bottom, allowing you to scrape off the top and surround your pot plants with healthy worm farm fertiliser.

So, now you're on your way to a happy and healthy worm farm and a fantastic garden - saving you waste and worry!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Howard Backen: Architect

World renowned for his rustic looking yet luxurious designs, Howard Backen is one of the most sought after architects in America.

Called upon to undertake projects for many high profile, and highly demanding clients, Howard can only be called a genuine Southern Gentleman, having never taken on the 'great architect' persona.

Howard's career has spanned generations. He has worked for such names as Steve Jobs, film director, Nancy Meyers, and the Harlan Winery Estate. Having started out in 1967 in San Francisco, and moving to Napa Valley in 1966, Howard Backen's career has been highly successful and incredibly exciting. He's designed restaurants, resorts and wineries. Although it's not so much the extravagance of his work, but rather the elegant simplicity and rural designs that make him so astonishing.

Backen launched 'Backen Arrigoni Ross' (BAR) in San Francisco. He was part of the highly successful firm for 35 years, which grew to more than 100 staff. BAR has overseen the design and building of vast projects like the Robert Redford Sundance Institute and the Disney Sound Studios and the new Restoration Hardware stores.

During his work at BAR, Mr. Backen had the opportunity to design the main office for the Delancey Street Foundation, a successful rehabilitation centre. Most of Howard's work on the project was pro bono, undertaken as a genuine service to his community.

Not only did the project win several awards for humanitarian service, but it has also been recognised for the unique design and beauty it contributes to San Francisco city.

It was in 1996 when Backen took his career in a new direction and headed to a new firm in Napa Valley. The Head-office in St. Helena and his new, self-designed home not far away in Oakville. Such a decision continues to be one of the most exciting and advantageous of his life.

At 75, Backen starts his day wandering through the morning chill over a series of fieldstone paths, to reach an open-roofed outdoor shower. It's his favourite morning ritual which he finds sublimely invigorating.

Sketching and drawing seems to come so easily to Backen who keeps a sketch-pad and pencil by his bedside, ready for anything his inspiration might come up with.

One of his treasured sketch spots on his five-acre plot is a lengthy zinc table in his open plan pool house. Sketching only on paper and leaving the computer work to others adds to the farmlike, natural focused designs he is famous for. Backen often leaves whole walls open to the elements, almost like a picture frame, to enhance the natural beauty of the surrounding country.

In 2010, Howard Backen was named in the top 100 architects by Architectural Digest.

Howard Backen works 24/7. A few days a week he visits current construction sites, enabling him to talk directly with the workers and leaving him time at home to work without interruptions.

Currently, Mr. Backen is designing a company, off-site dining location for Apple employees, in association with Steve Jobs. Whatever Mr. Backen decides to do nexr, you can be sure it's going to have the same breathtaking natural, rural beauty he is celebrated for.

Electrolux – Plastic? Not so fantastic.


As Australians, we are pretty lucky with our land, our forests, and our oceans. Many of us do all we can to preserve these treasures with efforts such as Clean Up Australia Day, which help Aussies recognise the effect our careless lifestyles can have on our environment. Yet, with all the energy we put into recycling and disposing of waste, we are still not making a significant dent in the problem. What we are constantly reminded of is that we are running out of time.
According to a 2011 Electrolux Plastics Pollution Report, up to 72% of Australians do not understand what constitutes recyclable plastic. We all know that plastic bags are not recyclable, yet we still dispose of them thoughtlessly. When unusable plastic is disposed of incorrectly, we risk contaminating potentially re-usable materials. With nearly 88% of us confused about which plastics to recycle, is it any wonder that there is a blimp in our recycling programmes?
Champion Surfer and lover of the ocean, Layne Beachley has teamed up with Electrolux to introduce the global Vac from the Sea initiative. The collection of funky vacuums not only makes the humdrum task of cleaning your house more exciting, it is also made of 55% recycled plastics, from marine plastic debris.
“As a surfer I regularly experience first-hand the vast amount of rubbish that ends up polluting our oceans,” Layne explains. “The Vac from the Sea initiative brings attention to the issue of plastic pollution, while at the same time addressing the lack of recycled plastics needed for creating sustainable products for future generations.”
The scheme, initiated by Electrolux, aims to direct attention to the amount of plastic entering our water systems. “The Pacific Ocean is polluted with the largest floating garbage islands in the world,” says Julian Huitfeldt, Electrolux Product Marketing Manager, Floor Care and Small Appliances. “Yet, on land we struggle to get hold of enough recycled plastics to meet the demand for sustainable vacuum cleaners.”

It is important that we sustain a recycle programmes in our households and familiarise ourselves on plastics that can be recycled, and those that cannot. Daily waste such as plastic bottles, bags, containers and lids can easily be discarded or used as landfill if they are not put into the correct disposal bins. More often than not, these unrecyclable items end up in the ocean, causing potential harm to many of our protected species such as sea lions, whales, dolphins and penguins.
DIY jobs and renovations are also a huge source of waste and considerable effort must be taken to ensure that we dispose of our plastics smartly. Exercising wise choices can mean a sustainable environment for all our beautiful Australian marine life.

The colourful Electrolux Vac from the Sea range includes a model manufactured from waste found in Australian beaches and the coastline.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Growing tomatoes in your garden

The fresh taste of a tomato is one easily recognised in your Grandmothers' pasta sauce or in a light, summer salad that everyone enjoys.

Growing tomatoes doesn't have to be hard and the reward of home-grown, succulent tomatoes is reason enough to give it a go!

Whether growing tomatoes in a pot or in a garden bed, all types love similar conditions. As a spring/summer plant they adore warmth and sunlight, so keep that in mind when thinking of growing your own.

Before planting either the seed or a seedling, make sure their future home has fresh soil (to prevent disease and to ensure a nutrient rich food base). Preparing the soil a few days in advance is ideal by digging in compost or manure, and adding a little potash and some lime per square metre. This gives growing tomatoes plenty of calcium.

A raised planting bed in an area that gets at least five hours of sunlight is the most ideal location to plant your tomatoes, to prevent water-logging and to keep the soil warm. Be sure to give your seeds plenty of space and avoid overcrowding.

Growing tomatoes is easy. Don't be afraid to bury them deep and remember - warmth and sunlight is key!

It's advised to set stakes in to provide support for the growing tomatoes now, to prevent disruption to the roots later in the growing process. Keep plant ties handy, as the tomatoes start growing they'll need the extra support. You can use almost anything as a stake; wooden poles, chicken wire, even the back of chairs - but be careful when considering metal objects, as they can heat up and burn your plant.

When it comes to growing tomatoes, remember the plants will need lots of nutrients, so mulching every so often is required. The afternoon is a good time to mulch as the soil is warm. Try to find a brand of mulch that breaks down quickly, like straw, which also adds to the soils valuable organic content, or slivered plastic, which is useful in retaining soil moisture and reflects sunlight back onto the tomatoes.

Watering goes hand-in-hand with mulching. It is a very important step when focusing on growing tomatoes. Keep it regular, giving them constant moisture, but avoid over watering and watch for signs of water-logged soil.

As your tomatoes grow higher and higher, give them some extra TLC by pruning. You don't have to prune if you don't want to, but it can lead to a better crop with bigger, fuller, and more flavoursome tomatoes.

Pruning should be directed to the lower leaves. When these start to become yellow it's best to get rid of them to prevent disease affecting your beautiful growing tomatoes.

Side-shoots are a growth of new leaf between the shade leaf and the main stalk, in what's known as the "crotch." If these are only a few centimetres long, pinch them away gently with your fingers. Side-shoots only take energy away from your growing tomatoes.

Go easy on pruning! Due to Australia's hot climate and sunny disposition, pruning an excessive amount could lead to the scalding of your tomatoes.

From here on out it's only a short wait till your delicious tomatoes will be ripe and fresh, becoming a juicy addition to the delights of summer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

By: Johanna Grahn

Planning for the world’s most important upcoming architectural event, the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale is in process. The latest news is that the creative directors who will be designing the Australian Pavilion for the event have been announced, namely Anthony Burke and Gerard Reinmuth.

The two creative directors were chosen for their deep knowledge about the field, and the expertise they will provide to the Australian contribution at the event.

Anthony Burke specialises in contemporary design and theory in relation to technology and its implications for architecture in the built environment. He works as associate professor and Head of the School of Architecture at UTS, he is an international curator, writer, and architectural designer, and a director of the architectural practice Offshore Studio. Anthony also has a prestigious academic background, with a Bachelor of Architecture from UNSW and a first class honours in 1996, and he is a graduate of the MS AAD from Columbia University from 2000.

Gerard Reinmuth founded Terrior in 1999 together with Richard Blythe and Scott Balmforth, and is today one of the directors for the practice. The idea was born from conversations between the directors around the potential for architecture to open up questions of cultural consequence. His research and practice on these questions led to his appointment as visiting professor at the Aarhus School of Architecture in 2010 and Professor in Practice at UTS in Sydney in 2011.

The Australian Pavilion will be designed as a “soft landscape of connections and possibilities”, and display the exhibition ‘Formations: New Practices in Australian Architecture’, which will “challenge traditionally held beliefs about what architecture can be, and celebrate new opportunities for architects working in non-traditional ways”. ‘Formations’ will highlight “the unconventional and world-leading innovative range of architectural
practice types being developed across Australia”.

The Australian pavilion will be a “space of engagement” in which viewers can interact and “participate in architectural conversation at close quarters”, as it will focus on actual projects and their impact. There will also be a series of what they call ‘flash formations’, which are free informal and intimate public events around Venice that will “allow viewers to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most innovative architectural practices and commentators and their work”. The creative minds of the Australian team will be bringing their skills and expertise to areas as diverse as robotic fabrication, government policy, and indigenous housing.

To find out more about the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale visit The Australian Institute of Architects at:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Easy azalea care tips

Azaleas are known for their ability to grow beautifully with little attention. However, if you want the best looking flowers around, then these tips for azalea care will help you get on track!

Azaleas come in all sorts of colours including vivid pinks, violet, orange and golden yellow. Azaleas also respond well to pruning and make excellent hedges or feature bushes. However, to ensure you get the most from your plants, proper azalea care is needed.

These vibrant flowers thrive in the afternoon shade, though now more species of hybrids are available that are able to adapt well to survive in any garden. They prefer to be situated in the mild and humid regions, making them perfect for the backyards of low coastal Australia.

Azalea care doesn’t have to be a complicated matter. Following these few steps for azalea care will get your flowers in full bloom in no time.

Azalea care 101
Azaleas need soil that has good drainage, but still slightly damp. They prefer cool, slightly acidic soil that doesn't become too dry. When the heat sets in, try to water your azaleas once a week or so. However, remember not to over water.

When it comes to azalea care, be aware of their root systems. Roots that have wrapped themselves around the root ball can strangle the plant when it grows.

If this occurs, use an old knife and cut the matted roots away. Make sure to leave most of the roots intact, but spread out, to keep growing.

Make a raised mound for planting when you're ready. This provides the best drainage possible. Dig out the middle, adding some peat moss and a sprinkle of fertiliser. Place your azalea in the middle, fill in the surrounding hole, and mulch.

The best mulch for azalea care is pine needles or pine bark. Apply twice a year to get the best from your plant. A peat moss fertiliser is best applied at the same time as mulching. It's okay to use plenty of compost. It acts as a sponge around the roots, keeping them moist but not too wet.

Pruning and fertilising is best done shortly after their main flowering period from July through to October - although there are some varieties that will flower earlier or later. Pruning gives your azaleas a full growing season to fill out and time to mature before the colder months hit.

Azaleas aren't known to have too many problems with pests or disease. The most common problems are red spider mites and lace bugs (both of which can be controlled easily and do not affect the plant much).

During the wetter months you may discover that some of the azalea flowers have become mushy and brown. This is a process known as petal blight, a fungal disease. Although, it's easiest to pick them off and throw them away, spraying with a fungicide and/or Bordeaux mixture for best azalea care.

Azalea care isn't hard and it's a hugely rewarding process that will allow you to reap the final product of beautiful blooms and vibrant colour in your garden for a long time to come.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sweet sensation

Kathryn Sutton, owner of Sydney’s suave Sparkle Cupcakery talks to us about a world-wide love affair with cupcakes

What sparked your love for baking?
My passion has always been food, either eating or making! Straight out of school, I studied Hospitality Management and after years in the world of hotels, returned to my original passion.

What’s the one item in your kitchen that you can’t live without and why?

A great oven. Love thy oven and get it know it well!

What’s your most interesting food experience?

I love to travel and love to cook. Combining the two is pure bliss. I had the luxury of spending a week in a small school, in a tiny town in southern India. Students had the choice of fabulous studies such as yoga, languages, art or cooking. Of course, I ended up in the kitchen with an amazing teacher who's philosophy was ‘you must enjoy the chop’, meaning enjoy the entire cooking process...not a bad philosophy for life. Indian sweets are such a sugar hit. Our Pistachio & Cardamom cupcake is inspired by my travels in India - aromatic and sweet!

How do you think Australia’s love affair with cupcakes began, and where do you see it heading?
It's not just Australia, but the world, that has fallen in love with the cupcake. I think it came from a strong trend back to the simple things in life. A cupcake is a little sugar bliss bomb that is suited to any of life's celebrations.

What surprisingly delicious flavour combinations have you created?
So many! Oriental flower, lychee and rose is a fabulous flavour sensation. I also love the simplicity of Pure Sparkle, our signature cupcake, made with fabulous vanilla bean paste.

What’s the best accompaniment to a cupcake and why?
Sparkle is all about combining a cupcake with a glass of bubbles (which is lemonade is you are under 18 and French is you are over!). Nothing quite says 'celebration' like this combination!

Sparkle Cupcakery, 132 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, (02)93610690,

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bathroom ideas and inspiration

The bathroom is one of the most popular spaces to renovate in the home. There are plenty of options to consider in that bathroom whether you are going for a full scale renovation or just want to make a few small changes.

Create a sanctuary 
We are working longer hours, getting burnt out and stressed. For many of us, there’s no better way to relax than to soak in a bubble bath after a hard day's work. There are so many ways you can turn your bathroom into a private retreat. Be creative. You could opt for some simple additions such as scented candles and soft Egyptian cotton towel. If you wanted something a bit more luxurious think of adding some bathroom furniture such as an ultra modern or even upholstered chair (for when you want to sit back and paint your nails!) or a mounted TV or sound system to help you unwind.

Bathrooms do not have to be completely white and neutral. Be bold and add a dash of colour. A black and white colour schemes create an interesting contrast, but don’t be afraid to go brighter and bolder. This doesn’t mean an entirely hot pink bathroom, but using splashes of colour to create a different mood and feeling in the space.

Go large
This will of course depend on your budget, but it is common to hear of designers knocking down walls to increase space of the bathroom. If this isn’t an option for you, there are many clever ways to properly utilise and maximise what space you have. There are countless options when it comes to cabinets, fixtures and storage options to efficiently organise your bathroom

Lighting can be an effective and economical way to change the mood and feel of a space. For instance, ensure you select and light the key features or objects in the bathroom such as bath or feature wall. When it comes to mirrors, the light source should be at face height and provides both reflected and directed light to the face. For atmosphere consider both switch and dimmer lights. This is ideal for when enjoying a relaxing bath. Create the mood by switching off the down lights and dimming the mirror lights for a soft glow.

Complete Home also has plenty of bathroom ideas and inspiration. Check out some beautiful bathrooms here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Recycled Interior Design

Many homes and businesses are choosing to use recycled materials for interior design. It's no longer just a piece of furniture or flooring. It's now a piece of history . It's a part of a story that's going into your architecture.

Recycled Timber
This trend began in the 1980s. Timber is now being restructured and re-appreciated in many different ways. It's only old growth timbers that display unique qualities that are sought after by many interior designers.

Being mainly used for structural purposes, the beauty and individual effects of timber has often been overlooked. Now we observe the varying colours and grains and so they become recycled interior design or dress timber.

There are two main types of recycled timber, salvaged and re-milled.

Salvaged comes from old buildings that have been torn down or are falling apart. It can be quite strenuous and time consuming to lay as flooring. There can be gaps or noticeable grooves. But many prefer this 'earthy' style. It's seen as warm and comforting. This type of recycled interior design really shows it's history.

Try to contact your supplier and make sure it has been inspected. If not, it may have grooves close to cracking, some areas may be sanded too thin or it may even have nails still sticking out of it.

Using re-milled timber for recycled interior design is the more 'dressed out' option. It is sourced from second hand materials. Once found, it is sanded, polished, and re-milled to look brand new. Re-milled timber will fit neatly together as flooring, and will display its colour and grain as a feature.

When considering recycled interior design in any manner, it's important to make enquiries as to how the materials were stored - for instance perhaps if it was stored undercover or if it was rained on during demolition.

Salvaged wood can be given to you dirty. It can be extremely hard to lay if this is the case. If you're sourcing salvaged wood for recycled interior design, enquire as to if it has been cleaned or not.

Recycled interior design is doing wonders for the environment. Being eco-friendly and a beautiful addition to any room, recycled interior design provides a myriad of benefits.

However, because of the long process requires to attain recycled timber, it is more expensive. Your supplier needs to have it removed from the building, milled, cleaned and made into new flooring. It's a costly process, but recycled interior design is a beautiful and unique way to add history to your home.

Recycled timber is structurally sounder, even though it is more expensive. The timber has already had time to acclimatise, there is less movement in the wood and the moisture content would have dropped significantly. All this makes it perfect for creating furniture or recycled interior design.

But its not just timber making its way into the heart of recycled interior design, there are many examples of people using wine bottles as pots for plants, and old binders as a headboard.

Many artists are now turning to the trash heaps to find their next treasure. Recycled interior design is a growing trend all over the world and many architects are trying to find ways to recycle whole buildings.

From shipping containers to old bicycle wheels, anything can be used to create new and inventive pieces to use in recycled interior design. You're not only doing your bit for the environment but you get a charming piece of art or history to transform any living space!

D.I.Y Garden lighting

From just another garden, into a night-time wonderland of light and colour - garden lights can transform your landscape design in the blink of an eye. With post-lights, underwater and solar lighting options, there are garden lights to suit everyone's tastes.

Garden lights offer a brilliant way to highlight your favourite plants or the unique features of your garden and are an easy way to impress your friends.

There are two main uses for garden lights, functional and aesthetic. You should ask yourself what you're trying to achieve in your garden before deciding on what lights to put where and how many you're going to need. If you're trying to highlight and showcase your garden, opt for a more flamboyant spray of garden lights.

Functional garden lights are used to help you navigate your garden at night. They accent specific areas of your garden for repeated use. This can include barbeques, paths, stairs, seating areas, etc. In-ground lights or the most common post-lights are the favourites for functional use.

Aesthetic garden lighting draws attention to the key features of your garden. In an attractive and appealing way you can highlight in general a gentle lighting effect across your night-time escape.

Take note of seasonal aspects when deciding on garden lights. For example, accenting the pool in summer or creating an interesting focal point such as around deciduous tress in the garden during winter. Having the switches leading back to a panel in the house can let you play around with the lights and lets you decide what you want to become all that more stunning at night.

There are many varying types of garden lights available for purchase. The range is growing everyday. LED, Solar, and 12 volt, can go in-ground, underwater, be used as post-lights...the list goes on.

In-ground garden lights are an amazing way to accent a carefully sculpted garden path, or highlight the walk to your door. They're also really useful when trying to navigate and trying to avoid not to fall over in the dark!

Underwater garden lights are a unique and inventive way to draw attention to your water feature. They add and create that beautiful reflective water patters and display that across your garden.

Post garden lights are the most common way to accentuate and pinpoint the main features of your garden. Place them around paths or against hedges to add that slight decorative ornamental touch.

You can choose which of LED, solar or 12 volt you would prefer. But as a general fact, solar lights tend to wear out pretty quickly and get bogged out by light rainfall.

When considering installment of your garden lights there are only a few things to remember:

Purchasing garden lights in a kit will make it easier for installation. Most 12V kits include lights, cables and a transformer, which are simple enough to put together. If you can screw the garden lights into place it means extra security! Your garden lights could be pulled out, pushed over or stolen with little resistance if not.

If you want to go all out, purchasing garden lights with motion sensor technology is extremely useful in lighting up an area more significantly when someone passes by. Definitely a good choice if you're sick of getting stubbed toes from bumping into garden pots in the dark!

If you're going for a certain effect, using garden lights with a lower brightness, but more fittings are a possible way to create that dreamland feeling. It reduces the number of dark spots around your landscape, enhancing your gardens natural beauty.

Garden lights are themselves, a striking design element. In addition they are generally low maintenance, eliminating overall hassle and creating a lasting effect.

Garden lights are a beautiful and timeless way to add that final touch to your garden. They can create harmony between indoors and outdoors and will never fail to impress even you.