As many long term readers know, I have a fondness for the old and the antique. I quite like a bit of patina here and there, as I feel it gives gravitas to a decorative scheme and stops it from looking like a shiny new show home that no one lives in.

As a child I used to spend countless hours trailing my Mother and Grandmother and Aunts around Antique fairs, Antique stores, Church Fetes, Bric a Brac shops and, of course, Op Shops (Thrift Stores for overseas readers). Buying a bargain is an inherited family condition I'm afraid (one of my Aunt's ran an Antique store on Unley Road for a few years, and another Aunt and Uncle managed to supply most of the family with furniture when they moved to Adelaide from Glasgow, Scotland in the 80's after they had acquired a sizeable amount of furniture/ china and sundry items from the local Car boot sales and Auction houses). As an adult I have found myself gravitating to exactly the same sources for my own furniture choices, mixed in with a little bit of modern furniture bought new that is suited to family life.

As I've written previously, we lived in a very small Cottage in Melbourne for 10 years. This meant that when we moved back to Adelaide (and into a large family sized home) that we had larger spaces and we required more furniture. This was not a bad thing - accommodating a family of 5 on one 3 seater sofa doesn't work particularly well frankly. But it has meant that I've had quite a bit of furniture to buy, and that I still have to buy, and I'm taking my time in doing so. I want to ensure that the pieces I put in our home are there for the long term.

Buying secondhand is the best way to stretch your budget, and frankly, the best way to find interesting pieces for your home. Some items are not so easily able to be bought secondhand - the coffee table that we recently took delivery of (above) was a custom made piece, as I needed something that was 1.4 x 1.4 m, and most shops had far smaller tables available (and this is naturally not something that you can buy at the local Auction rooms as historically coffee tables did not exist - they are a recent invention, and certainly not made in the sizes that they are today). We've been really pleased with it - it looks perfect in the space and has filled in the void that was existing visually, as well as of course providing a practical place to put a glass of wine or platter of nibbles.

But a primary source of furniture have been the local estate Auction houses. This requires some dedication to looking at the listings every week, but you can find some absolute gems. This is a little Regency era (1811- 1820) card table (above) I bought last Monday night, and it complements a large watercolour painting also bought at a local auction house a few months ago. Neither piece were expensive - certainly to buy a new, designer piece of furniture made to the equivalent standard of finish as the table would cost at least 3x's as much as buying an antique. As for the painting, the cost of the frame with its linen mount would be almost as much as I paid for the whole thing, and given the artist had a gallery in Woollarah, Sydney, it was a fraction of the price it would have cost new (plus we really love it). These items are going into the new Library (now that we are not using it as our everyday living space).

 But you do need to be dedicated - I can go months not seeing anything of interest, and then find 3 things in a week…and you have to be prepared to lose some items - there are many more pieces that I've lost out on by being outbid by $10 at the last minute (I usually leave an absentee bid as I can't attend an auction with children). Or there's the situation that occurred on the weekend, when I completely forgot to bid on some chairs I was very keen to buy. Of course they sold for a low amount, and I am SO unhappy with myself. I'll probably now see them in a local antique store for three times the price. Sob!

But I was flicking through a few design magazines on the weekend, and came across a couple of things that I found interesting - one was this Branford dresser from Pottery Barn. It costs $1,849.00 and is in an antique style. I just can't understand why you'd want to buy this when you can pick up an antique chest of drawers for around $800 in the Auction rooms (and sometimes less). The antique will be over 100 years old, solid timber, beautifully made and have a real patina to it (rather than the Pottery Barn faux created patina).

I saw that Domayne furniture are doing a range of Mid Century modern inspired pieces, such as the item below - a Metro Buffet for $1,849 - again, you can buy the real deal at the local auction houses for a fraction of the retail on a new piece, and the old pieces are generally better made. I've used these two items as examples as auction room are full of these things - they're staples.

But for other items I've found Ebay or Gumtree are also good sources - one of my earliest posts on the blog was on blue and white china, and my love of Isis Ceramics. Two of my Isis items were absolute Ebay bargains. This lamp base below was $20, and the flower brick (at the top of this post) was $5. The retail on the flower bricks are $250, the lamp a lot more.

I bought this bookcase below quite cheaply for my daughter's room a few years ago from a local seller on Ebay and repainted it. It looks appropriate for the decorative style of her room, and is the perfect sized bookcase for her.

Gumtree is also good source of modern sofas and modern dining settings in particular, things that wouldn't go to an auction house as they're worth more than they'd get there, but for whatever reason someone has to sell the item - they might have sold their house and the furniture is too large for instance. The photos I've included below are from my friend's Gumtree listing, she is selling her beautiful 10 seater solid oak Jardan dining table. If anyone in Adelaide is interested her listing is here - but this illustrates that you can find anything from the Designer to the Junky.

This post is getting long on examples - I could keep going and show you my Waterford Crystal glasses that were $25 each instead of $210, or the genuine old wicker laundry basket (instead of a newer faux wicker one) that was $10, but I think I've illustrated my point sufficiently! I'd just suggest that the first step when decorating should not necessarily be a big box furniture store. Even when an item is on sale you can often find similar items cheaper elsewhere. Certainly if the aesthetic you're going for is more traditional, then buying the real deal via an antique is far better on your wallet, and will add a lot more to an interior than one full of faux antiques. As you can see, I have a wide mix of the new, the very old, fine antiques, second hand and everything in between. I also have some items from big box stores like Pottery Barn or Ikea - but I think it's the mix that is important in giving a character filled home.

Any other avid Auction room attendees or Gumtree/ eBay success stories out there? I know I can't be the only one with a good bargain story to tell!
Dior Couture with Lesage Embroidery

Since beginning this blog, I have intended to write a post about embroidery. It's a particular interest of mine, as my sisters and I spent much of our childhood attending embroidery classes at The Embroider's Guild. Once a fortnight we would spend two hours on a Saturday afternoon being instructed (along with other girls aged between 7 and 14), in various embroidery stitches, working our way through the set projects until we graduated. It is only as a Mother myself that I can now appreciate exactly why my Mother thought this was so important. Firstly she managed to get all three of us out of the house for a few hours on rainy or very hot weekends, plus we were learning a life skill. Win/win.

Lacroix jacket with Lesage embroidery

The embellishment of clothes and household linens has been around for centuries. Long gone though, are the days when to while away the hours Ladies would spend hours embroidering and embellishing their homes and wardrobes, or would prepare for marriage by embroidering a trousseau of household linens and clothing for their new home. Embroidery is a dying art, and has not experienced the same resurgence in recent years as knitting and patchwork have. This is perhaps because it requires more skill. Embroidery is something that takes years to learn and improve on, and it also requires excellent fine motor skills… Knitting and patchwork equally require skill (and can get quite complicated), but a basic scarf or square block quilt can be knocked out by a relative novice by comparison.

 Christian Lacroix with Lesage embroidery

 detail on a Balenciaga dress

from a recent collection, Oscar de la Renta dress with machine embroidery

In this age of mass consumption, the enduring trend in Interiors and Fashion relate to the handmade, the detail that is difficult to replicate by a factory and to sell down market to the chain stores. An example of this is the hand made wallpapers by companies like de Gournay and Gracie - no mass company has been able to replicate a hand painted Chinoiserie pattern successfully to date, and so these wallpapers still have the allure of the special and the unattainable (unless you have plenty of money, in which case they are perfectly attainable). With embroidery, certainly you can buy machine embroidered passementerie tapes to edge curtains with, but the truly luxurious use of embroidery is in the curtain that has the embroidery sewn into the design, rather than applied retrospectively. Similarly there is a vast difference in appearance between an embroidered Monogram on bed linen made by, say, Leontine linens, and one made by a mass market company such as Pottery Barn.

hand embroidered monogram 

Lesage embroidery on Porthault linens for Aristotle Onassis's yacht

Fashion and Interiors go hand in hand, and there have been several specialist embroidery companies through the ages that supplied the detailing to Couture dresses and to Interior Designers. Some embroidery is still entirely hand made at the couture end of the spectrum, but much is now machine made for the Pret a Porter ranges. There is still skill in understanding how the various stitches will appear and respond, so there is still artistry involved, and the machines are so specialised that they cannot produce en masse.

Lesage hand embroidery

Lesage in Paris has supplied couturiers throughout the 20th Century with their embroidery needs. The business was recently sold to Chanel (as part of their purchase of the Petites Mains), in order to safeguard the future of the Embroidery house - many of the other specialised embroidery houses disappeared over the past 50 years as demand dried up for their skills and machinery was instead used. Lesage combine work in their Paris atelier with hand work done by embroiderers at their studio in India. They also opened up a school of Embroidery that services both interested home embroiderers as well as professionals. It's run out of their Atelier in Paris. 

Chanel dress embroidered by Lesage 1996, one of the most expensive pieces ever made by Chanel

In Interiors, there are some embroidery houses still embroidering to order the edges of sofas or curtains or bed hangings. When I was working in London we used a single woman who did the most exquisite appliqué detail for the leading edge of curtains and their pelmets. Her contact details were jealously guarded so that other Designers would not be able to copy the look.

Villa Savoia embroidery

The current issue of Architectural digest has an article on an American Embroidery house called Villa Savoia (one of the few items of interest in this month's otherwise horrible issue). The designs shown in the article are contemporary in nature, and show embroidery versatility - it's not all flowers and frills.

If you're feeling inspired, and don't have the funds to commission either couture from the French fashion houses, or expensive linens from Porthault or Leontine, then perhaps consider taking classes from the Embroider's Guild (there are branches in each State), or if you're lucky enough to have the time and ability to spend some time in Paris, from Maison Lesage. Certainly the richness and tactile nature of embroidery can add so much to a contemporary or traditional setting, it's all in how you use the details.

All images via my Pinterest Embroidery board
It's been a busy few weeks. I'm not sure why life can be relatively quiet most of the time, then we manage to pack in a bunch of trips away and social things all in the same month.

A few weekends ago, we had eight friends to dinner. This was our first 'big' Dinner Party in the house, and I certainly felt a little out of practice having had a 3 year hiatus between big Dinners.

I set the table using our Silver, and our usual Villeroy and Boch china. To dress it up a little I used our blue water glasses (also a wedding gift), and then we had to do the usual and run out to buy new wine glasses… the smash rate is rather high in our house and we could no longer accommodate more than 5 drinkers at any one time.

I used my white linen table cloth and napkins and decorated the table with lichen covered branches that I collected with the children during the week from my Dad's garden in Stirling. I borrowed the snow ball votives from my Mother in Law, as I thought they'd work well with the wintery theme. I love a lot of candles around when having people to dinner - it adds so much atmosphere, as well as hiding a multitude of sins decor wise (don't fret GSL - the lights were all suitably dimmed when the guests arrived!).

Dinner itself was mostly cooked (again) out of Ottolenhi's "Jerusalem" and "Ottolenghi" cookbooks. No entree (lots of different nibbles instead), and then I did three sides and two mains and set them out buffet style on our sideboard. The mains were the Saffron Honey Chicken with Hazelnuts and a slow roasted shoulder of lamb with Moroccan spices that I got the recipe from when attending an Outdoors on Parade cooking class last year. I have to say, I'm always amazed at how much people eat when they are faced with a buffet! There was pretty much nothing left over at the end of the night, the males all went back for seconds and piled their plates high. If I'd been plating up meals myself I'd have put half as much on there.

Chocolate tart was for dessert. I always do a mix of cooking and cheating when I entertain - who wants to make it too much work (although I do love to cook)? The tart was very easy -I bought the chocolate shortcrust pastry (Careme brand, which is a small South Australian pastry company that produces excellent pastry), made the filling from a Jamie Oliver recipe and decorated it with the sugared violets, white chocolate balls and chocolate straws all from Bottega Rotolo (local gourmet deli).

I find the Ottolenghi recipes work well as they can mostly be prepared in advance and then just combined at the last minute. It means that I don't end up spending much time in the kitchen, and do a lot more mingling with guests instead. It was a really fun night, and as we farewelled our guests at 1.30am and the Recycling bin clinked rather a lot when I dragged it out later in the week for the Rubbish truck, so I think you could say that a good time was had by all.

We were in Melbourne a couple of weekends ago and saw the Italian Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado exhibition at the NGV. There are five roomfuls of works by Titan, Correggio, Raphael, Tiepolo et al… as I don't get to travel to Europe much (at all, sadly) this is the next best thing. I also find the big museums overseas can be slightly overwhelming after a few hours- so many masterpieces that you start to get fatigue and not take it in. This was a large, but manageable exhibition.  So many wonderful paintings - I was particularly drawn to the latter period ones that were Grand Tour themed (a long running interest of mine). Definitely go to see it if you're able to.

Last weekend I went to a High Tea with some friends. I wore this black and white wool dress, which looks a bit Chanel like with the belt I matched with it (the belt is a very old Country Road one and has a camellia on it). The dress is from Oscar de la Renta, and was a recent purchase (second hand via Ebay) and an absolute bargain. A lot of people don't seem to wear their clothes much, particularly in the US it seems to me, and this dress is a good example of that. It looks immaculate, but was probably 1/10th of the original retail price by virtue of being worn maybe a handful of times. As it's a classic shape I can't imagine it going out of fashion too badly in the near future.

The guest speaker at the Tea party was Monique Bowley, who is a Blue Ribbon prize winning Baker at the Royal Adelaide Show, a former contestant on "The Great Australian Bake Off", President of the Adelaide Metropolitan CWA (Country Women's Association) branch (the largest branch in South Australia by virtue of it meeting at night so that women who work can join), a former Australian Basketballer, tireless Charity worker, and award winning Radio Producer. Oh, and she's 32. So aside from feeling inadequate at what she's managed to pack into her life, her talk was so engaging and interesting essentially about the power of saying "yes" rather than "no" as we women are all being told to do. She says that pretty much her entire life has evolved from the opportunities that arose from saying Yes to things, and the positivity that that word brings into her life.

Anzac Biscuits

Monique also shared with us her prize winning Anzac Biscuit recipe. For overseas readers, Anzac Biscuits were sent to troops in WW1, as they keep well (as they had to survive a 2 or 3 month transit to the front line in Europe). I made a batch yesterday, and they are delicious.

In line with the Anzac theme, I watched the ABC series that started on Sunday night "Anzac Girls" about the nurses that went to the front lines in WW1. While the series is excellent (fictionalised, but based on the letters and real life stories of 6 of the nurses from that war), I had difficulty suspending belief, as the entire thing was shot in Adelaide and surrounds… so a building that is supposed to be in Cairo was entirely recognisable to me as the historic house Carclew, and when they were up on the balcony supposedly admiring the view of Cairo, I was instead just mentally seeing the view of the Adelaide Oval and city. Much of the tea house and garden scenes are shot in the Botanic Gardens, with the beautiful Victorian Palm House serving as the tea house. Mr AV then asked me if the Botanic Gardens usually do afternoon tea there, as it looked so pleasant (sadly, no it doesn't… it's usually just a palm house).

The Palm House in the Botanic Gardens, doubles as a tea room

In between travel, dinners and teas, we've had several bouts of the Plague descend on the house. I have spent a lot of time at home as a consequence, which is not entirely a bad thing. In between nursing duties for my sick brood, I've been making progress on the Library bookcase design and drafting, and filling in some of the other blanks in the house and garden.

Finally, the swimming pool has been approved by the local Council. This has taken more than twice as long as the entire extension took to approve. I'm not sure entirely why - one part was going through the Heritage department I gather, which seems overkill given that the pool is in the back garden and not visible from the street. With approval finally arriving, it's been full steam ahead this week, with the approval granted on Monday, and the digger rolling in on Wednesday. We now have a large hole in the back garden. The concreting will be done at the end of next week.

We were in Sydney a few weeks ago, and I took the opportunity to do a speedy 5 minute shopping detour into Parterre in Woollarah, where I bought these spouts for the pool (I had already sussed it out on the net at home). They're going on a wall at the back of the pool spouting water into the pool and are made of aged bronze. I rather like them as they go with the new/old mix I've tried to achieve with the back of the house. When I hauled them back to our apartment (they are extremely heavy) and unwrapped one excitedly to show Mr AV he commented that it looked a bit like a "big droopy d***" (less polite term for looking a little phallic). The 8 year old was in the room when this judgement was passed, and of course he fell about laughing hysterically… so I suspect now that my beautiful bronze spouts will forever be thought of as being something else by the males of the house. So sad…!

Ours is the largest...

Not a lot of other progress on the garden front - the side garden was planted out and I've heavily pleached the trees. In the back garden the lawn has taken root, but we have been waiting for the pool to start before more work is done. A few plants were put in, but there's a lot to still go.

MyPlant Torture bible

So exciting times with the pool finally underway. We've been intending to put one in since we first moved in 3 years ago, however we kept pushing it back due to costs on the renovation of the house and wall. So finally having work start on it seems quite miraculous. Of course with this starting my mind already turns to the next project to tackle… the ugly shed that is standing out like a sore thumb. But that will take another year or so before I start the lengthy Council approval process on that.

Hope you have a good weekend
I was vaguely thinking that I was due to update my wardrobe with a new handbag. I haven't bought a new bag in probably 4 years (evening clutch bags excepted). This is for a few reasons. One is that, as I've previously explained, I'm not really a bag person (more a shoe person), and the other reason is that none of the bag offerings of recent years has really prompted me out of my ambivalence toward buying a new bag.

So in my tentative web explorations of the latest designer handbag offerings I found the following:

Firstly, that there aren't any bags that really knock me out. Secondly, that a lot of bags are being inspired by somewhat interesting consumer products this season.

Take, for example, this Alexander Wang bag.

via Alexander Wang

I'm not hugely fond of those "get the look for less"  columns in magazines and blogs, but frankly, if you'd like to get the look for less, try going to the supermarket for this one. You will be able to buy a pack of 10 of them for around $5. True, they'll not be made out of supple black leather (rather stretchy plastic), but you'll save yourself thousands!

Then I noticed this charming The Row bag.

via MatchesFashion

Mothers the world over will be looking at anyone carrying this and thinking the other woman's got a baby stashed in there, rather than her wallet and keys. I lugged (they were heavy) two of my babies around in something to this and frankly am happy (due to back issues) that I'll never have to use something like this again. Weirdly, in the style notes they say that it was inspired by a baby papoose (are Mary-Kate or Ashley pining for a baby?). So in my "look for less" series you can buy a baby sling for just under $100, and save yourself $2,900 on the cost of this bag.

Free the baby!!

Moschino have a whole range of "Sponge Bob Square Pants" bags out this season.

via MatchesFashion

Words fail me. What adult wants to carry this around? I'm pretty sure you could pick up something similar in PVC for around $500 less too.

Anya Hindmarch has just released her new Autumn/ Winter 14 range. She was inspired by common household products this Season, such as boxes of Coco Pops that have been turned into a clutch.

via Anya Hindmarch 

And Frosty Fruits logos on the side of her otherwise classic bags

So in a get the look for less, buy one of those mini boxes of Coco Pops, eat the contents (or bin them, even better) and then turn it into a clutch for your next night out. I promise you'll turn heads.

So I'm left feeling a little uninspired by the current new season offerings. Have any readers found any new bags that are tasteful, and don't appear to be a designer having some sort of in-joke at the expense of their customers? I'm thinking I may just hold off on any new bag purchases for another season at this rate...
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Architect, Interior Designer, Mother of three, Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on
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