Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Dilemma of a Coffee Table Nature

Major disclaimer:  Solving this dilemma will not solve any of the real dilemmas facing Australia today like homelessness, our failure to encourage renewable energy investment, the division between rich and poor or our obsession with footballers and swimmers.   

But to me, it is still a dilemma.

Everyone has something they will never have in their home.  Mostly, that thing will be in the nature of finishes: marble is a common dislike, as are certain kinds of tiles or other flooring like cork or parquetry.  Or maybe mahogany furniture is not permitted to cross the threshold. 

For me, it is coffee tables.  Or should I say, for my husband it is coffee tables.  He loathes them.  He won't have any in the house.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.     He says that they are Always Ugly.    in fact, there is no coffee table I can show him which he will like.  

This is kind of an issue for me.  I would really like a coffee table in one of our sitting rooms.   After all, they really draw a space together.  On the other hand, they have lethal corners just ready to cut a little running and falling head.

In building my case for a coffee table I collected images of ones I like, and I find that they (and in fact the rooms they are in) all have similarities:

They are either glassy and wrought iron:

Or acrylic or lucite:

Or a low interesting wood texture: 

More lucite:

More gold'n'glass:  

More lucite:

And look at this divine oval thingy:

So, this is my idea.

Who amongst us hasn't said, in response to a question from spouse\partner\accomplice 'Is that new?' about a [insert new item of absurdly unnecessary clothing]:  "What?  This old thing?  I have had it for years.'

What about a coffee table which is barely noticeable?  Something see through.  If I secrete it away, by the time it is noticed I will be able to honestly say I have had it forever and it will be too late to trash.

I am sure that lucite is as yesterday as Tuesday, but I still rather like them.  

So, my question is - is this a good plan or a bad one?  Do I live with the no coffee table ban for ever?  Or find a dasterdly way to get around it? 

(Images: (1) Gunkelman Flesher (2) (10) Angie Hranowsky (3) Nina Vintage Files @ wordpress (4) Decorpad (5) (6) (7) DecorPad (8) Elle Decor (9) Apartment Therapy  (11) Vogue Living Australia)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Winter in Melbourne - Tomatoes and Mushrooms for Comfort

Winter is the time for newspapers and magazines to wheel out articles about comfort food.   What is the local celebrity chef's favourite 'comfort food'?    It's probably noodles, soup, a stew or braise or some other heavy carbohydratey, meaty concoction 

This is not comfort food to me.  

To me,  comfort food is a simple feast which evokes memories of childhood or a happy time.    That is what brings succour to the soul and explains why we cook these dishes again and again, and in the depths of winter when our thoughts can turn to the past.  

This is Wootton Manor, the 17th century listed house in Sussex in which Elizabeth David, cookery writer, grew up.   A number of extensions were added by family friend, the architect Detmar Blow, (Isabella Blow married his namesake and grandson) including a staircase hall, library, ballroom and nurseries, resulting in an interesting yet harmonious Arts and Crafts - Jacobean house.  

Is it any wonder Elizabeth David became such a sparkling writer?  She may not have had a completely idyllic childhood, but she was surrounded by wit and stimulating intellects:  Walter De La Mare and Rudyard Kipling were local and frequent visitors.  

Here is Elizabeth David (second from right) in 1923 with her father and mother Stella and Rupert Gwynne) and her sisters Felicite, Priscilla and Diana.

Like all children of that class and era, she was largely raised by her nanny, in her case, one Nanny Cheshire, who used to cook the girls little treats on the open fire in the nursery.  These were oases in a desert of junket, tapioca, boiled turnip tops and spinach, mutton and dry rice pudding.   Until they turned eleven, the girls were only permitted to dine with their parents once a week, at Sunday lunch.  

The dish which sticks in my memory, and of which Elizabeth David wrote so evocatively, was that of mushrooms in cream.

The girls would venture out in the early morning to pick the tiny button mushrooms which grew in the field beyond the bluebell wood.   They then brought the mushrooms back to Nanny, who would briefly saute the mushrooms and pour cream over them.    Once the cream has bubbled and reduced a bit, they would be ready to eat.  

This is a wonderful dish which I cook frequently finished with freshly ground pepper and chopped parsley. 

My comfort food is equally simple.   Cold tomato on hot toast.  My mother used to make this for me when I was little.    It is a little funny how something so mundane can be so good. But that is the way of life sometimes. 

Like all things so simple, there are a number of requirements which must always be met:

The toast must be proper thick sourdough.   It must be spread with butter.  Tomatoes must be sliced thinly and then drizzled with olive oil and Maldon salt.    The tomatoes have to come from the fridge, even though I don't usually keep them there.   

The contrast between the hot toast and coldish tomato is taste heaven.  Truly.   

And now I force my children to eat it too and they love it!  So the cycle continues.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

All Pared Down

Winter is a great time to pare down.  Forget spring cleaning, who wants to be sorting through old jumpers when the sun is shining?

Winter for me is the time to:

  • clean out my wardrobe and donate all old clothes to the Salvos.  I cannot make myself sell my old clothes.   When there are people queuing for stuff at the place I go to in St Kilda, it just seems wrong. 
  • throw out old kitchen bits of plastic which the children have grown out of.
  • sort though endless bits of paper.
  • most importantly, remove bits of furniture which just aren't working.  

I think when you spend time reading magazines and blogs, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the way things look, and to be drawn into a vortex of thinking that you need more Stuff.  More cushions.  More side tables.  More bibs and bobs.  More.  More. More.   Of course that can't be right.   I am certain that most of us need less than we have.  

It is a big trap which I am increasingly wary of.   

As it happens, I feel at my best in rooms like this.  It creates an almost emotional response.   It makes me feel calm.   Not just because of the clean lines but because of the absence of stuff. 

Whereas this room concerns me a lot.    Extreme example I know but there are a lot of overfilled rooms out there.   

This room again, with just a couple of special pieces, has the patina of age and modernity all in one.     

Same story here.  

But this room?  I do realise that Miles Redd is a great designer and all that but really, does any one person actually need five lamps in their bedroom?   There is just so much Stuff in here it makes me feel seriously anxious.  

My daughter and Miles Redd would get on like a house on fire.   She won't throw anything out and hoards and hoards and hoards.   She also loves to cover surfaces with Things.  And she is a lover of Piles of Books too.    All of her stuff was audited and listed by me here.   So it seems we have a little corner of Architectural Digest in our house.  It's called Imogen's bedroom:

(carefully cropped and edited section of bedroom. The whole room is like this but if I showed you any more it would be quite alarming) 

So in honour of paring down, I removed all the bits and pieces from the mantelpiece in the front room, as part of ongoing project to de-clutter it, and came up with this:

(ridiculously small mirror to remind me to save up for ridiculously large mirror to go over mantelpiece)

This is my inside winterscape for the next month - willow and magnolias.   

So this weekend, I will be doing some more packing, storage, culling, cleaning, and folding, just in time for spring, if it ever comes.  

ps thanks for all the lovely comments this week, and also to new readers and visitors. xoxo

(Images (1)(3) Remodelista (2) (4) Architectural Digest (5) Miles Redd) 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Winter in Melbourne - Art for the Hanging

If you spend a lot of time inside during winter staring at walls, not only do you go stir crazy, but eventually it comes to you that you should buy some art to hang.

And in winter, that means to me, landscapes.

I love the look of a landscape hanging in a pristine room, like this. In fact I just love everything about this room, but mostly its tranquillity and the fact that the painting is allowed to speak, without needing to shout. 

(via Remodelista)

This is Vincent D'Onofrio's 5 storey townhouse, decorated by Jan Eleni.  If you can't have a gilded mirror above your fireplace, I think a moody landscape does just as well, if not better. 

And these are some of my current favourite (living) landscape painters.  This is by Darren Gannon, represented by Libby Edwards.   The thing about landscape painting is that you cannot skate by on poor technique or low quality materials.  It really shows up your skills.  

Early Start  -  2010  (oil on canvas)

This is by Geoff Dyer, a very well regarded Tasmanian painter.    Aim high, and you too can have a Dyer.   He is not a cheap artist.   But look at the depth, and indeed, emotion of that stormy sea. 

Climate 1 (2009)

These little ones (not a triptych, maybe a nono-tych) are by Jennifer Shears and you can find them here on Etsy.   Aren't they exquisite?   All the different cloud moods are represented.  

This is by Alexander Mackenzie, an Australian artist about whom I have previously written.  

The Third Island (2009) 0il on linen

Here is another Jennifer Shears.

And these are by Swedish artist Peter Freis. I am indebted to Monika at Splendid Willow for alerting me to this wonderful artist. Born in 1947 (just like Geoff Dyer), he is represented by this gallery in Stockholm.   

I hope you all have a serene Tuesday.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What's Your Style in One Picture?

I interrupt the Winter Series to bring important news.

Divine Ally, of From the Right Bank, is again running her What's Your Style in One Room challenge.

Very simple.  Post a picture of a room which sums up your style.

Being a lawyer I can't help but overanalyse this.  What is 'my' style? Is it the style of my current abode?   My fantasy style?  My money is no object style?  My child free style?

In the end I went with the kind of room I would happily be locked in for a while.  

Why?  It has lots of natural light, something new, something old, some flowery patterns, an amazing rug and a sense of drama.  I love the contrast between the flowers and the black.  And it looks like you could live in it.  I had many other favourites but I decided they were not really me.  Too styled and too colour matched. 

No room is perfect though is it?  This one needs ( and could indeed have), a wall of bookshelves to the left.  And a fireplace.  And some more art.  And then it would be heaven. 

Go visit Ally and check out all the other amazing picks. 

(Image from Living Etc) 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Winter in Melbourne - Books for the Fireside

For all the obvious reasons I tend to read more in winter.     I am inside more, and spend more time lolling around on the couch.  Similarly the children watch more DVDs (I know I know) and there is only so much Buzz Lightyear I can watch, so I sit with them and read.   You need escapism more than ever in winter, something to draw you in and warm you up. 

I was concerned I was becoming addicted to my Kindle so it has been quietly removed from my bedside table and replaced with real paper books.

This is what is absorbing me at the moment.  Firstly, Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain:

Ah Tony.   You, along with Antony Beevor and Ian McEwan, can come over to my place for dinner any time.  I will serve eye fillet with Bearnaise sauce, crushed potatoes in goose fat, rosemary and garlic and a perfect green salad and you will enjoy it.  We would probably have to drink quite a lot, so I would also serve some of our best Australian shiraz in proper Reidel glasses.   We will finish with some Delice de Bourgogne and some local quince paste and King Island cheddar.   You could sign your new book, to make a matching partner to Kitchen Confidential, which you signed for me when you were in Melbourne 8 years ago. 

We could all chew the fat about Berlin and Stalingrad, the challenges and difficulties of writing history, climate change sceptics, 'third book syndrome',  the politics of selling out, London house prices, whether the film 'Atonement' was any good,  the Cipriani business model for restaurants and how to talk your daughter out of wanting to eat McDonalds.  It will be really fun.  My husband will be there too, but that's okay isn't it?  You can bring Ottavia if you want. 

This is the 'sequel' to Kitchen Confidential, which changed this restaurateur, chef and former heroin addict's life in all ways possible.   He is still mighty angry, and some people question why. But having money and a comfortable life doesn't require bland acceptance of all around you, does it?

The cover describes the book as a 'Bloody Valentine' to the world of food and and those who cook.   Perhaps it is better described as a slightly rambling and very unstructured look at Tony's life post best seller where he basically writes about what he feels like writing about (a bit like this blog really).  

It opens with a cracking story about a secret dinner of chefs in New York eating a forbidden food but then doesn't really get going until about page 84.     I think he is at his best when writing about some of the amazing meals he has consumed globally over the last decade in places ranging from Hanoi to Tribeca, or pointing out some of the obvious flaws in the organic and locavarian food movement (the book contains an entertaining but slightly unfair evisceration of Alice Waters of Chez Panisse - I would not want to be on Tony Bourdain's bad side). 

He is at his worst and bordering on self indulgent when talking about the effect fame has had on him. It is also a pity that he makes so many assumptions about the level of knowledge his audience has about the US food scene. Yes I know who Mario Batali is. But Wylie Dufresne, one of your heroes, I have never heard of. And other than emphasising that he does what he wants in his resturant, you don't explain who he is.

For something completely different I am also reading this, about my favourite decade:

The author achieves her objective largely by peppering her story with lots and lots of little examples and anecdotes about the daily lives of those who lived in that decade, from poor housewife all the way to the King.  This does give the book a real intimacy which many such expansive histories do not achieve.  Running to more than 570 pages, it does sometimes feel a bit like reading a very well written PhD thesis.  It opens with the tragic stampede in the Glen cinema in Paisley, Scotland in 1929 (71 children died) and takes us all the way up to the eve of the war.  

There is happiness in between but it is heavy going.  Perfect for reading in an over furnished English country style living room.  

So, as a remedy to all the sensible shoes, workers' strikes, flowery dresses and fascism, I am also reading this book by the sparkling Lucy Moore:

I cannot believe that there were autographed copies of this in Hartchers when I was last in London which I passed up because of concern about my luggage weight.  I now have to content myself with the paperback.   How can you not love this era? This book largely focuses on the 1920's in the US, and has been criticised for its lack of primary sources.  However it is still absorbing and transporting.   Perfect for sitting in a white room (which I have just noticed seems to have two fireplaces!).

And last but not least, a book I can't read now because it won't be published until September, but I am dying to get my hands on this.  What a fantastic title: A perfectly kept house is the sign of a misspent life. 

This book by Mary Randolph Carter is described as being for all those who live imperfectly with the messy things they love. It shows you how to do so happily, creatively and with style.   The book looks at how 'real life tastemakers 'integrate their lives to live well with their passions, histories, conveniences and inconveniences'.   Doesn't it sound just perfect? 

Such a book should clearly be read in these kinds of surrounds with 'special to you' treasures making a happy eclectic space:

But wait, I need more.  Any tips for a good front of the fire book?

(Images (1)(5)(7)(9) Airspaces)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Winter in Melbourne - Bedrooms for Hibernation

This morning I got up at 5.30 am to do some running skipping jumping boxing and lunging in Fawkner Park.

It was 6 degrees and pitch black.   It takes a reasonable amount of willpower to drag one's body from a toasty warm bed in those circumstances, but I thought, as I usually do,  about early death, my obligation to live a long healthy life for my family, the need for toned thighs, better and clear skin, and how good I feel afterwards and I got through it.

For winter, I think a cave like bedroom is in order.    

Black used to be forbidden in the bedroom but no more.  In fact one could almost be forgiven for thinking that black bedrooms have taken over the world.  It is a pity black requires such a commitment, otherwise I could paint my bedroom black for winter, then white for summer.  

Black can be girly and feminine: 

Or masculine, simple and inexpensive.  These kinds of rooms bring back memories of degenerate university boyfriends.  Didn't they always have black bedrooms?

This is in a Parisian apartment:

In this London house by Neu Architects: 

I love this mid century style bedroom (this is for you Brismod):

And in Jules's home  - how amazing is this bedroom?

It could have gone so horribly wrong but instead it is superb.  Can I spend the winter here?  (Check out her blog by the way, I love it).

Here is another bedroom with pattern on the bed:

This is Jenna Lyons' bedroom featured in Domino and then on blogs globally, which has dark walls and floorboards: 

and here is another which is head to toe black:

Whilst this one uses parquetry to lighten the vampire lair feel.

And this one, a mirror:

Have you noticed that most of these rooms have lots of white highlights - in the linen, or side tables, or windows?    That is because too much black and we would indeed be chanelling Twilight.

Another common feature is to just paint one wall black.  Am not a fan of feature walls but I think it works in a bedroom in the area behind the bed. 

Or this approach in a Swedish hotel, which uses slatted boards on one wall:

And this one, just a circular panel:

But beware: go too far and you may turn into a character from Scarface and end up with a bedroom like this.  If you get to this point, you have taken the look way too seriously.   Or you are a gangster.  If the latter, sorry I offended you. 

(By the way I have had to introduce comment moderation as I was getting so much spam mainly from Taiwan.... How does spam get around the word id thing? I don't get it.)

(1) via Urbanstylevibes (2) Little Woodstock on Flickr  (3) Elizabeth 85 on Flickr (4) Domino (5) Apartment Therapy (6) Luis Mechiche via Remodelista (7) Living Etc (8) Flickr (9) The Diversion Project (10)(14) Lonny (11) Domino (12) Candian House and Home (13) Apartment Therapy  (14) Luis Alberquerque (15) Design Sponge (16) via Remodelista  (17) Ilse Crawford (18) modresdes 
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