Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Designer Wheels

Following in the mantra of Donna Hay, entertaining should not just be stylish, but also simple. What’s the point of owning a glamourous chair if it’s uncomfortable to sit in? With this in mind, I introduce to you my favourite piece of furniture at the moment, the very functional family of trolleys. While shopping trolleys are great for the supermarket, I would like to steer you in the direction of cheese trolleys, drinks trolleys and mobile kitchen islands which make entertaining indoors and outdoors, so much easier to manage.

A very elaborate example of the modern trolley is the beautiful custom designed cheese trolley at Restaurant Arras. Adam Humphrey (restaurant owner) personally designed the trolley which currently has a reputation surpassing the cheese and even the restaurant.  Humphrey’s cheese trolley costs over $8,000 and took 9 months to create; it features a hidden ice tray for temperature control, a cheese knife drawer (resplendent with a $1,000 bronze handle), a pull out serving board and a tall, Perspex cloche. Adam Humphrey’s believes:

“I’ve always to create a cheese trolley that was as beautiful and dramatic as the cheeses we serve, so I decided that the best way to do that was to design one myself from scratch”.

Drink trolleys are another fantastically practical item of furniture. There are many sleek, bright modern designs which are perfect for outdoor use and beg to hold a carafe of summer punch or martini glasses. They are particularly useful for outdoor entertaining, where you can just wheel them between your outdoor area and your kitchen for restocking to save carrying awkward loads and making multiple trips.
Mobile kitchen islands with wooden benches are fantastic for preparing food in an organised and contained way, and giving a smaller kitchen an extra bench to use. They are also brilliant for serving food; they make a great board for cheese, antipasto or snacks and once again also assist transporting food, drinks and tableware from living areas to the kitchen. Here's a few I found particularly inspiring:

For more outdoor entertaining options, check out our Outdoor Furniture section at Complete Home, or even the Designs section for some stylish inspiration.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Travel Tales

It’s often said that travel broadens the mind and after a month in England and Europe, I can certainly say that it is definitely a source of inspiration. I grew up in England and so the annual or bi-annual pilgrimage back to see family and friends is more or less mandatory. I always combine my overseas trips with design shows and events and this trip was no exception. So I thought this issue, I’d share some of my travel insights with you.

Day one found me at the BIBA Exhibition at the Brighton Museum. When I was a teenager, BIBA in Kensington was an almost weekly destination for my best friend and I; we would spend hours trying on the latest fashion offerings from this iconic and popular fashion store. Founder Barbara Hulanicki went on to become an interior designer whose work can be seen around the world and whose wallpapers are now available through Habitat and Graham and Brown.

Day two I visited Decorex, in Chelsea, London’s luxury interior design show for professionals. On show were the crème de la crème of the UK design houses as well as some of Europe’s big names, including Vivian Westwood, Fortuny, Andrew Martin (whose stand was reminiscent of a Star Trek TV show set), Christopher Guy, Fromental and many more. Offerings included classic as well as contemporary designs and while it was difficult to identify any particular trends, the mood was upbeat and colour, texture and pattern were in abundance.

Christopher Guy Stand
Corita Rose stand

Vivian Westwood wallpaper

Day three saw me at The Curzon cinema in Curzon Street to see the fabulous Diana Vreeland (the empress of fashion) film, The Eye has to Travel. As the former editor of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, Vreeland was a larger-than-life figure on the fashion scene for many years. The film’s story weaves its way through the Belle Époque period in Paris, New York’s Roaring ‘20s and London’s Swinging ‘60s — intermingled with insights and stories from colleagues and friends such as Andy Warhol, Diane Sawyer, Manolo Blahnik and Veruschka. It traces events in the history of fashion while touching on themes such as the evolution of women into roles of power and prominence. Famous for her quote “style is everything ... style is a way of life ... without it you’re nothing”, Vreeland ruled the world of couture for more than five decades.

Over the following weeks I visited many quaint and historical villages, the remains of Roman castles, wonderfully preserved pubs, design showrooms and shopping destinations, all the while making note of the great diversity in style for both fashion and home.

My last week was spent on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean. The lovely village of Cala Major, just outside the capital Palma and where my friend has a holiday apartment overlooking the ocean, was perfectly placed to enjoy the sun, sea and shopping. While the rest of Spain struggles economically, Mallorca still seems to attract lots of visitors, as could be witnessed by the continuous stream of aircraft that were visible (thankfully not audible) from the apartment. The architecture, art and scenery of this beautiful island are no doubt the reason why so many famous people have lived or live there, including Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Sir Richard Branson. Cala Major is a largely tourist-free destination with a generous, well-maintained sandy surf beach, elegant hotels and restaurants, along with simple cafes and restaurants patronised by tourists and locals. It is also where the Spanish royal family has its summer residence. For art lovers, it is where artist Joan Miro, who arrived in the 1950s, set up his house and studio that is now managed by the Fundacio Pilar I Joan Miro, which houses 2500 of his artworks along with 1000 paintings by Pablo Picasso.

Cala Major, Mallorca
Back in England, my final two days were spent in the pretty town of Lewes in Sussex, where the remains of the Norman, Lewes Castle still dominate and afford stunning views of the town. Finally, not far from Lewes in Firle, is Charleston House, former home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and academics who become known as the Bloomsbury Set, which included Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Established in 1916 by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who moved to Sussex with their unconventional household, Charleston became a meeting place for many artists and intellectuals. The artists decorated the interiors and furnishings of the house with paintings and murals inspired by the Post Impressionists. The pretty walled garden was given a southern European accent and included mosaics, box hedges, gravel pathways and ponds — with a touch of Bloomsbury humour in the placing of the statuary.

Lewes Castle, Lewes Sussex
Burnham on Crouch

The White Hart, Burnham on Crouch

The house is now maintained by the Charleston Trust and is open to the public at certain times of the year. On show are murals, painted furniture, ceramics, paintings and textiles, along with objects from the Omega Workshops, a design enterprise founded by members of the Bloomsbury group to express their ethos. The collection includes work by Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert, Tomlin and Eugène Delacroix.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Creating the perfect bedroom

Bedrooms can be tricky beasts when it comes to interior design and decoration, especially when there's more than one person inhabiting the room. A couple with very different tastes, and lacking the right direction, can end up with a room that neither of them enjoy.

The first thing that ought to be considered when renovating or decorating a bedroom is the way you want it to work with your home as a whole. It's very important to carry a theme across your entire home, whether it be an era, style, colour, texture, or something a little unusual (such as having a particular artist's work throughout your home). I remember reading something the other day about making your home a large tapestry of different but connected spaces, rather than a cluster of rooms. I think this is fantastic advice, also because you don't want the house to feel too matchy-matchy. It's all about balancing those elements.

Deciding on a theme for your bedroom itself should not rely on the latest trends either; your bedroom will be dated in several months time. And unless you are ultra-wealthy, you probably can't afford to renovate your bedroom every couple of months (though with my constantly changing sense of style, I wish this was possible for me!). Pick out elements of trends that you like or suit you, but do not rely on the one trend to set the theme for your entire bedroom. Unless it's truly your heart's desire.

Taking your time and planning your design never hurts either - this will give time to budget and then save for more expensive, longer-lasting pieces. Throwing the bedroom together at a weeks' notice probably isn't the best idea.

A lot of people traditionally choose the colour of the bedroom first before picking what bedspread or quilt-cover they'll dress the bed with. This can lead to problems later when you go to pick your quilt cover; finding  something you absolutely love which matches your colour scheme perfectly is nearly impossible (when you do find this, it's in the wrong bed size!). Going into a manchester store with a predetermined idea of what you want is a recipe for disappointment.

Begin your project with an open mind, and use the internet to your advantage - look up all of your favourite manchester companies and see what their latest collection includes, and get a feeling for what trends are big this season (and therefore what to expect). Research can only help!

When it comes to online shopping versus physical shopping, I cannot recommend the physical shopping enough. When looking for manchester, the physical product needs to be seen and felt before purchase. Some quilt covers are made from very cheap poly-cotton mixes or with very low thread counts, and these will feel (and look) like cardboard. So while the internet is a fantastic resource and research tool, if you're buying anything for your bed, you need to see it and feel it beforehand.

Before you go traipsing around the homemaker centres though, do a spot of research on the terms used in this field. Having an understanding of thread-counts and the different types of fabric and cotton on offer (and example of the uses of this knowledge is that Supima Cotton is actually a far higher quality over the more famous Egyptian Cotton) means that you'll understand what the shop assistants are talking about. Feel free to ask as many questions as possible, and most stores will open up the quilt covers so you can see and feel them (just remember to be gracious about this, and don't open every packet in the store). Often manchester companies, such as Kas or Linenhouse, will have an entire collection, not just the quilt cover, so always ask if there's more matching items (this might make your life much easier!).

A note on bedspreads: The manchester industry has headed strongly towards quilt-covers in the past decade, and as a result of this, the bedspread population has decreased significantly. Only few companies produce them anymore, and the range is very small.
Similarly, the most popular size in quilt covers is a queen, and this is a the guaranteed size you'll find most quilt covers in - most quilt covers made in a double are for kids, low quality, or are designed as "spare room" covers. Kings are a little more popular, but you'll find them more often in very high quality, more costly brands.

So once you've found the quilt cover of your dreams, along with the perfect bed and furniture, it's time to decide on your walls. With paint there's a lot of options out there; you can keep it classic by picking a light matching colour (I have a real soft spot for steel blues), mix it up with differing textures like a suede, or go for something a little more unusual. Friends with an artist or handy with a paintbrush yourself? A mural can be stunning in the right setting, and can strongly set a flavour or tone for how you'd like your room to appear.

Paint isn't your only option however - wallpaper might have been daggy once, but it's coming back, and in a big way. Check out these wallpapers by Funky Wombat Textiles;
I've never considered myself a wallpaper girl but I'm now enamored by these, especially the Bo Peep design.  There's some pretty cool independent design companies out there at the moment, making original wallpaper, wall-art, furniture and homewares, so keep an eye out for these innovative and cool items. Wallpapers or some unusual art will add that extra level of your own personality into your bedroom.

With decorator items I find people often make the mistake of buying them all from the same store. While the Visual Merchandisers make some beautiful displays in stores, they're not instantly transferable into the home. Having every item on your dresser from the same brand can appear a little hokey or soulless - the art is throwing in something with a bit of history, whether a vintage or antique, or a family heirloom.

I've also heard that every room needs one tacky trashy item to give the design some tension. So while a leopard print ottoman may not be for you, a spot of glitter or plastic can add to the general design.

I find also people fall down a slippery slope with candles - you start with one then before you know it your bedroom has 24 different candles, all from Dusk and all with conflicting scents. Candles are lovely and add that extra dimension to the room, but be aware of over-doing it (or looking like a candle shop!).

Building up the decorator items in your room should be always a work-in-progress - you never know what you'll find at the local markets, what grandma will unearth from her wardrobe, what you'll find while travelling or something special a partner gives you. So always keep your mind (and eyes) open to new ideas and new pieces in your room. Your personality and style are constantly changing, and so should your bedroom with them.

P.S. For more home decoration options, head over to our bedroom furniture section, or take a peek at our other interior design sections.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Green Walls - taking gardens in a new direction

One of the growing trends in the landscape industry is the installation of vertical gardens, also known as green walls. It’s nice to report that many businesses, especially in the hospitality industry are embracing vertical gardens as a highly practical and environmentally friendly way to make an outdoor space stunning and people friendly. Why not steal this concept for your own garden? Make your backyard or balcony the ideal place to spend the weekend amongst the mimosas, sipping a mimosa. 

Besides turning a drab blank wall into a divine vertical meadow, green walls are insulating and refreshing, they reduce noise pollution, purify the air and water and promote a general sense of well being.  Who can argue with that? They are also a highly practical concept for the space challenged, which is great news for all the avid gardeners trapped in the confines of apartment balconies. Green walls are the answer.

So how can you apply this to your own outdoor space? Green walls utilise a metal framework that support panel type planting units that holds a lightweight soil. These generally need to be purchased from a specialised supplier, if you do a search online you should uncover a few local companies which manufacture green wall modules, and will ship it to you at a good price. However, for smaller walls and budgets, it’s also possible to just ignore the panels and clad your walls with climbers like jasmine, sweet pea, passionfruit and ivy.

Essentially, any plant can grow in a green wall but I strongly advise opting for low-maintenance plants and keep in mind how much sun the different levels are receiving. The most popular plant choices are practical plants like ferns and grasses that create a calming, tranquil rainforest effect. Herbs are another ideal choice as they are dense, grow in a variety of stunning foliage, and taste and smell delicious. If you try to choose plants with similar light and moisture requirements, your green wall maintenance will be much simplified.

For inspiration, check out some of the many green walls sprouting up around Sydney bars and restaurants, such as The Gazebo Wine Garden, The Winery, The Garden Brasserie, Manly Wine Bar and The London Hotel. Green walls promote ecological sustainability and create such a bright, refreshing and enriching social environment, it’s no wonder this trend is on the way up.

For more ideas on green walls and your garden, check out the Complete Home garden section and the landscape section. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An exciting new furniture opportunity next week in Sydney!

BoConcept Furniture Exciting new premiere store sydney

I am really excited for the Grand Opening of this new furniture store, BoConcept in Sydney next week. These are the creators of the brand, Urban Danish Design, which recently celebrated its 60th Anniversary. This company's furniture and ideas are quite funky and unique.

One of my favourites from their new collection is this couch here:
I love the unusual petrol-meets-peacock colour they've used in this couch and the detail of the tailoring. The fabric itself looks so comfortable.

Their functional pieces in tables are particularly clever. Take a squiz at this coffee table;
I can just imagine my coffee table being covered in the usual debris (dvd covers, bottles of nail polish, placemats, books, scrap-book materials...) with 5 minutes until guests arrive - and being able to sweep it all inside the table (and hopefully deal with the clutter later). It would be a life-saver. Plus you could keep your swank design, fashion, art and other "coffee-table books" inside of the table, out of the way of food and beverages, but ready to be enjoyed.

BoConcept's new store will open next week on the 23rd of October. The new store will be located at:
575-597 Pacific Highway
Crows Nest, NSW 2065

And after you've spent the afternoon at this gorgeous store, start your night at Italian resturant Bravo Trattoria. I went there only two weeks ago and not only is the food delightful and fresh, but the service is great and the atmosphere is lovely. Be sure to ask for your gelato in a bowl - you wont be disappointed.

P.S. Ensure you keep up to date with BoConcept's latest designs on Complete Home here

Monday, October 15, 2012

Are you barbecurious? The heated debate between gas vs. charcoal

Barbecuing is an ancient sport in which women have traditionally been excluded. However, I encourage women everywhere to reclaim your tongs and educate yourself on the tips and tricks of this fun and delicious summer activity.

The only thing you really need to host a barbecue - is a barbecue; and while they all come in a range of styles, colours and designs - they all cook meat. The most important question to consider when buying your barbecue is the old age question of gas vs. charcoal and I’m going to help you decide which team you should join.

If convenience, functionality and safety are your priorities, I recommend a gas barbecue. Forget the fiddling with kindling, all you need is a match, some gas, and you’re cooking with gas. Within minutes you’ve got yourself a sizzling hot grill. The evenly distributed heat means you can cook a number of steaks (or tofu) with predictably excellent results - as long as you don’t get too carried away pouring drinks or entertaining your guests. Another real advantage is the ability to adjust the heat to ensure that your fussier guests can have their steak cooked right through without it burning. Gas barbecues are also pretty easy to clean, it’s really just a matter of scouring your hotplates and grill plates with a wire-brush, no need to take everything apart and empty it (as one would a charcoal barbecue). Whether you have a party of people or a family weeknight dinner, cooking with gas is an excellent option.

So after all that gushing about gas, what could a charcoal barbecue possibly offer? Yes, a charcoal barbecue is a lot more work. Every time you need to stock it with coal, wood, fire lighters or weird artificial heating beads. Yes, you need a huge amount of patience and perseverance to turn that flicker into a flame. Yes, you need to give it all your attention and time, and you are at the mercy of unpredictable wild flames. But, with the right amount of TLC you will have some of the most succulent and deliciously smoky meat of your life plus the pride and satisfaction of conquering the elements in a one on one battle.

If convenience was the only factor at play, we probably wouldn’t be hosting a barbecue in the first place; we would throw our steaks in the microwave, eat them, then continue on with a very depressing and mundane day. Flavour, fun and impressing our friends and family are the reasons we attempt macarons and Thai curries instead of packet mixes. While the first few times, negotiating a charcoal barbecue can result in some seriously crispy black fish, with a little bit of time and practice it becomes much easier to master the art.

The real draw card in charcoal barbecues is that unmistakable smokiness. Whether you want that smoky wood smell to waft in the air and cause your guests to salivate and your neighbours to weep with envy, or whether you love that taste that attaches itself to everything, be it sirloin, sausage or cob of corn, everything gets kissed with that sweet lick of the flame. For the real master barbecuer there is also a range of flavoured wood chips available, such as hickory, maple or oak to give your ribeye a richer, stronger flavour. The unpredictability of the charcoal barbecue gives the event a real sense of the theatrical; it provides entertainment and activity as well as all the right smells and sizzles. From here, there are many exciting places to go; the sky’s the limit with cage-roasted Portuguese chicken, pig on a spit, Turkish shish kebabs and Brazilian churrasco.

There’s a reason why gas and charcoal barbecue models are equally popular, and you will encounter some serious devotees of both. Once you’ve decided whether you want to invest in a gas or charcoal barbecue, then comes the really hard part, deciding what you’re going to put on it.

For more information on barbecue models for your backyard, check out our BBQ section on Complete Home. And to go with it, make sure you design your backyard for entertaining with our outdoor living design section. For any of you who are scared of barbecues, maybe check our appliance section for some tamer products.