Well, this past week it was my birthday  - my 40th, which I have to say started to loom a little like how I viewed the Millennium. A bit of an anticlimax. Busy as I was with the final end of year chaos with three different school sections (Preschool/ Junior Primary/ Upper Primary) each with their own Carols/ Picnics/ Speech nights etc to attend my birthday falling in the middle of it was a little bit of an irritation.

I had tried to organise a little party, however disorganisation meant that trying to do that around 6 weeks before the event when it falls so close to Christmas is never going to work - caterers are booked, friends are busy or already away. So in the end I decided to do a small lunch with a few close friends at Jolleys Boathouse on the River Torrens last Friday. I wore my pink floral silk skirt, with a white peplum top. We stuffed ourselves on a three course lunch and Ruinart champagne before all returning to our children and the inevitable round of dinners/ bath/ bed chaos.

enormous mango pavlova for my pudding. I couldn't finish it.

My actual birthday was on Tuesday, and was not particularly exciting. Mr AV has been in Sydney non stop the past few weeks for work, but fortunately managed a dash home that evening to take me out to dinner before flying out again the next day. He had primed up the children in his absence that morning to present me with my present. This was after he had told me about the purchasing experience and had me worrying ever since.

The story went something like this - In consultation we had decided a new watch would be a good idea (my current watch is 22 years old and is definitely looking a little worn). I'd selected a couple of models to look at, and located them in Watches of Switzerland - so he could go and pick one out. Mr AV apparently went to Watches of Switzerland in Sydney last Friday. I have to say that currently Mr AV is in a fairly bad mood - the work he is doing at the moment is not much fun and quite stressful. So he turned up to Watches of Switzerland in between meetings and rang on the doorbell. Inside were two members of staff talking to one another. One of them approached the door and said through the glass "I'm sorry, we don't open until 10am". According to Mr AV it was 9.57am. Mr AV said "But it's almost 10", to which the guy replied "I'm sorry, you'll have to wait". So at that point Mr AV turned on his heel and stomped off down the street where he bought me something else.... Something purchased in anger and without any forethought. He then said he wasn't sure if I would like it. So aside from the fact that Australian businesses need to realise that they lose sales to the Internet because of their lacklustre concept of service, I was slightly worried about what I was going to be presented with.

I need not have worried as Mr AV bought me a beautiful bracelet. So all is good, although if anyone from Watches of Switzerland is reading this, you really need to retrain your sales staff. Someone standing in a suit outside your door ringing the doorbell 3 weeks before Christmas and 3 minutes before you officially open for the day should probably be viewed as a sale and let in.

So enough about my birthday! Aside from that I had hoped to share with your photos of our completed pool and the children splashing around and enjoying it in their school holidays. No such luck. It's still not finished. Never in my wildest dreams when I first started this whole thing in MAY did I think it would be Christmas week and it still wouldn't be finished.

Painful is an understatement. It is slowly filling with water today, and I'm told that tomorrow the filtration system will be turned on...Maybe next week I will be able to show photos of it completed and with water in it. Who knows…

But one thing that has gone smoothly with the pool is the lighting. I know I bang on a lot about the importance of lighting on this blog… but you can see why with the night lighting around the pool and the outdoor entertaining area, it's really very nicely atmospheric. These are the 5 up lighters in the pool area that wash the back wall and a spot on each of the little Ginko trees in the pool enclosure. The pool itself will have 3 lights in it (still to be installed) so will also provide some ambient light, and I'm planning to uplight the enormous tree behind the pool as well. It's a fine line between lighting your home up like it's Christmas 365 days of the year and creating ambience and interest, so I'll wait a bit and decide on the other lighting in the garden after we've had a chance to use it a bit.

To get the feeling of Christmas Holidays underway I took the children into the city last week to have a ride on this carousel that has popped up in Gawler Place. I was a little concerned two weeks ago when I saw a food truck with milk crate style seating outside it in this very location.. which when you looked a little closer was in fact a McDonalds in disguise. They're trying to cash in on the whole hipster food truck thing! But fortunately the McDonalds hipster food truck is gone, and there's now a vintage style carousel, with lions, seahorses, swans, giraffes and horses on it. The kids loved it - that's my 9 year old on the Lion. He was refusing to get on it (as he's now cool you see…), but after I forced him to he couldn't keep his grumpy look for more than one spin around, and was waving at me with a big grin by the second.

I haven't had a chance to get into my garden this past week, but the second flush on Lady of Shallott in my front garden combined with the inky Black Knight salvias is a lovely combination. I have a lot of weeding to do this week. Amazing how it gets away from you so easily...

Along with Gardening, I'm also planning a lot of baking this week. I've already got a copy of this book for myself (Biscuiteers are a UK company I've used in the past to send iced biscuit boxes to friends and family in the UK- the recipe book and guides to making biscuits at home are fabulous), and I have been using it to make a Gingerbread house today with the children. An alert to Adelaide readers, it's on the Dillon's bookstore bargain table at the moment for $9.95 if you're interested. I've already picked up a copy for my sister for Christmas (don't worry, I have got her a few other things too, so I'm not totally stingy).

gratuitous shot of my new iPhone cover - Scalamandre Zebra wallpaper.

This week we have movies, gardening and plays with friends planned. I've spent the past few days in a mad post school rush of Dentist/ Haircuts/ errands, so hopefully this week will be a little more relaxed, and I'll finally get my Christmas cards written and addressed and the thank you cards I've been lax on writing too. Hopefully there'll also be swims in the new pool, although I can't say I'm holding my breath on that one. 

Hope your pre Christmas rush is going well too.
I feel that Christmas has crept up on me this year. Next week my children are finishing School for the long Summer holidays, and I am not ready! So I have spent this week in a mad scramble trying to get Christmassy at home, while also running around to various school break ups, music concerts and Carol evenings.

The red wreath is up on the front door (cricket bat left out as mark of respect for Phil Hughes)

I've purchased a few more Christmas decorations for the dining table - the oversized mercury glass baubles are from One Rundle Trading and the ribbed ones from David Jones.

Christmas baking has commenced with these delicious white choc chip and cranberry biscuits. Here's the recipe if you're interested in making them, they're not overly sweet due to the tartness of the Cranberries, and the Brandy gives them a very Christmassy flavour.

Christmas Biscuits
125 gm butter
1/3 Cup soft brown sugar
1/2 Cup caster sugar
1 Tbsp Brandy
1 egg
1 1/2 Cup Self Raising flour
1 Cup white chocolate chips
1 Cup dried cranberries (Craisins)

Beat sugar and butter together until combined. Add remaining ingredients except for the choc chips and cranberries and mix together until well combined. Mix chocolate chips and Cranberries into the biscuit mixture and spoon single tablespoon full onto a baking sheet making sure you spread them well apart (they spread!). Bake in a preheated 160C/ 320F oven for 10-15 minutes.

I've started wrapping the presents that I have bought - I'm using brown Kraft paper and leftover offcuts of the Cole and Sons "Woods and Pears" wallpaper that was put up in the Children's playroom. Recycling at its finest.

The Christmas tree will be purchased this Saturday - we had a fleeting visit to Melbourne (17 hours) to attend a Dinner last Saturday night so the past weekend was written off for the fresh tree purchasing and decorating.

I broke out my party shoes for the occasion

You know those embarrassing moments as a female where you turn up to a party to find that you're dressed the same as another guest?

Mr AV and his boss in matching red pants and pale blue shirt combos.  What are the odds?

Around the house the pool works continue at a snail like pace. I'm hopeful that it will be filled with water next Tuesday signalling the end to the garden works and the farewelling of the landscapers and pool people. More plants were purchased last week for the garden and arrived last Thursday. This meant that I had to plant 86 plants on Friday when it was 34C. In the end we did a family evening planting session for 4 hours, and got them all in. I can't pretend the children were a lot of help. They were enthusiastic, but I had to go back after we'd convinced them to go to bed and replant the ones they'd helped with as they'd buried the plants in the mulch rather than the actual soil. The plants are all the fluffy filler things - the first round of planting were the trees and shrubs which are establishing nicely now.

Plants included white agapanthus, a tree peony, verbenas, salvias, perennial grasses, star jasmine and oregano (as ground covers), Euphorbia, lavender. I'm striking some sedums from my front garden at the moment, and am also trying to grow some Echium from seed (not overly successful - I have one plant). These will also get added into the back garden once they're strong enough. The end effect will be a lush and full with underlying order from the hedging and topiary balls.

Sadly I've found that 3 of my Japanese box hedge plants have inexplicably died this week in the side garden. They were looking really healthy and bushy, and suddenly turned their toes up. I'm now suspicious that a possum is responsible. Their urine has killed plants in my garden before. As these are not in a row, it's all a little random and odd.

sorting books for the new bookshelves

Inside the house I've received my 4 armchairs for the library/ sitting room. Just imagine there's a round coffee table in the middle there…. The room is really coming together now - a long way to go, but I've definitely broken the back of the organising and sorting that I had to do in here. To clear out this room I've sorted through a 2 drawer black hole- like filing cabinet (I contracted a shredding company who delivered a bin that I filled to be taken away for secure document destruction), sold the filing cabinet once empty, sold the children's train table, sold an armchair, sorted through cases of books, sorted through my work catalogues and samples and rehoused them in the lower cabinets of the new bookcases, painted the bookcases, shelved the books and had a new light fitting hung. It has literally taken me hours and hours. So many random things had found places in here, and there've been a lot of trips to the Charity shop with the car boot full of things, as well as trips out to the bins in the back garden.

I think this is going to become my favourite room in the house. I've ordered two new lamps for the room, and the picture lights that will go in the centre top of each bookshelf, and still have to sort out some cushions. There are more arm chairs needed for the room perimeter, but it's looking pretty good now, so I will likely turn my attention to other parts of the house that need a decorating blitz for the time being (like our main living room, which is half completed).

This year I'm hopeful that the lead up to Christmas will be relatively relaxed. The past 5 years of Christmases have been fairly fraught and busy, and I'm hopeful that I will get to enjoy it this year - and that I might do a bit of Christmas Baking with the children and enjoy spending time with family and friends who are to return home to Adelaide from far flung locations.

Hope your Christmas preparations are in order!
All over Adelaide, parents are in uproar over the David Jones Magic Cave. The Magic Cave exists only in Adelaide, and is a childhood Christmas tradition stretching back generations to the Depression era. This year, David Jones has put on the Magic Cave as usual, but decided to drop the Magic. Don't worry though, they certainly decided to keep the Cave part.

elves hard at work in the former Magic Cave

Rather than the tacky icicle filled glittery grotto with funfair mirrors, the talking tree and mechanical elves making gifts behind glass windows, they given us all a black room with  few strung up fairy lights (the cave has also been moved to a "more convenient location" as David Jones has stated - the toy department). Nipper and Nimble the giant rocking horses are still there (surely there would have been riots in the street if they'd been removed), and the old carousel as well, but it has been shoved into a corner. It's just not the same. There's no special experience in going there for children, and certainly nothing to keep them occupied while they wait their turn for the extortionate visit to Father Christmas (as he is known in Adelaide), where basic photos set you back $40.

this years Magic Cave - I snapped this today when doing reconnaissance to see if it was truly as bad as everyone said. It is.

David Jone's Christmas Windows in Sydney Via Glamourdrops blog

And really, this is just symptomatic of all that is wrong with David Jones and where they have gone wrong over the past 15 years. A strategy of centralising operations into Sydney means that buyers and management do not have a feel for what the local stores in other capital cities around Australia want (and we all know that there exist enormous regional differences in local culture caused by weather/ lifestyle/ general wealth etc) and they give us all watered down versions of what they think works in Sydney, and what they think they can get away with elsewhere.

Cost cutting and this centralised vision means that Adelaide's flagship store has suffered - the beautiful Modernist 50's department store in all its marble clad glory was sold off at the end of the 90's and the new store reopened behind a small shopping centre that fronts the Mall in the centre of the city perhaps 1/3rd of the size of the original. This means that David Jones in Adelaide does not have any windows - so no window displays. You pass a "Body Shop" branch and some cheap chain store shoe stores to reach the underwhelming entrance. The soaring ceiling heights of the original store are gone, as are the women employed specifically to operate the lifts and call out the departments on each floor. Gone too is Mossman, who used to sit in a suit on a podium at a Grand piano and play music for the lunchtime shoppers. Every October would herald the special Spring floral festival that would draw people in to admire and gasp at the stunning floral creations. Twice yearly they would hold fashion parades that were glamorous events attended by the cities social set and that would set the forecast for the season ahead in an internet-less world (these things all still occur in the Sydney store). I used to sing Carols in David Jones every Christmas for the two weeks leading up to the big day with the Australian Girl's Choir (which I was a member of in the pre-Qantas advertisement days... unfortunately) - the Christmas buzz was something that the store worked hard to achieve. It was a special experience to go shopping in David Jones.

In an era where overseas department stores like Selfridges, Harrods, Bergdorfs and Barneys are falling over themselves to give customers an "experience" to draw them in and to compete with the myriad options available on the Internet, it seems odd that our Australian department stores still persist in driving things downwards. A focus solely on fashion (leading to fashion wars between Myer and David Jones who have been busy poaching each others "exclusive" designer label deals for the past 10 years) has seen them ignore other departments, like furniture (who goes to David Jones to buy furniture now?) and toys. Other departments have gone forever (the David Jone's food hall in Adelaide has recently closed), and things like cafes, restaurants and beauticians have also been removed. The stock in many of the departments is identical to any other big store - department or downmarket department (Kmart, Target, Big W) store. Rather than searching the world for special items, they're just bringing in more of the same of what we can already get.

If you've ever stood at a counter of a major department store searching in vain for someone to serve you, it's clear that the message of why people shop on the internet has not reached Management. It's ironic that Natalie Massenet (founder of Netaporter) commented that when setting up her Internet business she believed that in order to compete with the bricks and mortar department stores, she had to offer better service than they. She had all her designer clothes cosseted in tissue paper and put into special boxes tied with grosgrain ribbon. If you're in London or New York your purchase is delivered that day. She built her business on the belief that the service and shopping experience Department stores offered wasn't able to be replicated by an Internet site and she therefore had to work harder to offer a special experience for an Internet shopper. Well, she was wrong on that front in Australia, and there are some compelling statistics that show that almost every overseas Internet retailer (from J Crew to Matches to Netaporter) have Australia as their second or third biggest market… and we're a country where the population is only 23 Million.

With the change in ownership of the store this year, a mini renovation of the Adelaide store, and the expansion of the shoe department and bag selection, I'd hoped that perhaps they had got the message about creating a shopping experience once more, rather than somewhere to go under duress to buy an essential. But perhaps not…. while Sydney still has their Christmas Windows (see Virginia's photos of last year's windows, scattered throughout this post), and Melbourne has Myer's Windows - both traditional to those cities, it seems that once again, the smaller cities of Australia are given the shunt.

While the commercialisation of Christmas means that much of the Christmas sentiment is lost in the frenzy of buying, it seems that the opposite is also true - that by giving a lacklustre Christmas experience to children in a Department store the generosity of the Christmas Spirit is also lost. And Bah Humbug, it's certainly lacking in David Jones.

I decided I should write a post about the pros and cons of Steel Windows, as I receive so many emails with questions about them. While they have been around for over one hundred years now (first used in an industrial context, then in Architecture from the post WW1 era onwards and associated heavily with Art Deco Architecture), they fell out of favour once aluminium windows were developed in the 60s/70's and have only really seen a big resurgence in their use in the past 10 years in Architectural design. I had never used them in a project before, so they were new to me and obviously I've learn a lot about them in the process of specifying and then living with them.

Steel windows do not look anything like aluminium windows for a few reason. Firstly, they give a much thinner frame profile - aluminium sections are extruded, meaning they are hollow in the centre, and this in turn means that they have a minimum thickness. You can now get sections that are fairly thin, but they still are not as thin as steel window sections.

Secondly, steel does not give as "perfect" a form as aluminium does. There are slight wobbles, slight imperfections that are inherent in the characteristic of the material. This means they complement old houses well as they have an inbuilt patina, while still looking modern and clean lined. While you can finish aluminium windows with a relatively matte finished powder coat, they are completely smooth and perfect, and the eye does pick up these subtle differences. Steel in effect has a more handmade aesthetic.

In terms of installing them, they are installed in pretty much the same manner as aluminium windows. They have a "tab" fixed to the side of the window frame that is screwed into the building frame or brickwork, and which is then covered over by plaster. This is no different to a normal window install, and any builder would be able to do this (so the builder should not load their rate for a "difficult" install). If you have a long section of windows, you'll need steel support uprights to fix sections to. While steel is strong, they do not self support, so runs over approximately 2 metres in length will need steel uprights to fix frame sections to.

Regarding thermal efficiency, they are suitable for anywhere in Australia, barring places with temps that dip into minus degrees consistently overnight or that have snow. So in Canberra, and some country areas it's not advisable to install them. The frames do heat up or feel cold transferring exactly the outside temperature to the inside of the house, and are probably the poorest performer in frame types for thermal resistance (although they are rated as medium, they are lower than aluminium or timber). The other factor to consider is that you do not get perfect seals on the door and window openings. As the frames are not perfectly straight, they don't give a perfect seal. We've overcome this to some extent with a lot of foam seals on all the openings, but if you're looking for true high energy efficiency, then they fail in that regard. We have double glazed glass panes, which has helped with thermal transference, but there's only so much it can do given the nature of the frame.

Flyscreens are the other factor to consider. In some parts of Australia this is not a big deal at all, but in rural areas this is definitely something to think about. The steel sections are extremely thin and flat, meaning they don't give any thickness in the frame to attach a flyscreen to. The window locks protrude from the window frames (as shown above), which means that you can't fix a flyscreen over the top of the frame. We looked into using some sort of removable magnetic flyscreen, but in the end decided it was too hard, as we'd need somewhere to store them when they weren't in use - to fix them permanently they'd be incredibly boxy to accommodate a window lock. French doors also have the same problem of not having anything to fix a flyscreen to on the frame. We looked into the invisible flyscreens (which retract into walls), however they were going to have to be enormous, and I was told it would be over $8000 per flyscreen. Coupled with the fact that if one of our children ran through it and damaged it it would require complete replacement, we decided to forgo flyscreens completely.

The upsides of the windows are the aesthetics. They have become popular for a few reasons, one being that the frames essentially "disappear" when you look at the windows as your eye is taken through to the view beyond. This increases the feeling of light and space in a room. The frame style, being essentially hand made also gives a pleasing subtlety of patina, which works well with an old house, as well as with modern architecture (as the windows can be much larger than traditional timber frames). Aluminium sections just don't look anything like steel - the "perfectness" is the defining difference. The frames also should last you 100 years, as they do not rot and degrade over time (providing basic maintenance by painting them is kept up), and they're incredibly strong.

As for supply in Adelaide, which is probably the question I'm most asked - there are no suppliers locally. All the manufacturers are based in Sydney and Melbourne. I used Melbourne suppliers - we used two. The first manufacturer supplied the majority of the windows in the extension and is the subject of (still ongoing) litigation, so I am still not able to go into it in detail. Yes, the legal wheels move slowly. We elected to go with a manufacturer that offered a complete supply/install package, feeling that it would be better to have one company responsible for the entire process as neither my builder nor I had ever used them in prior projects. The second steel window manufacturer that we used for the steel windows around the stair well going down to the cellar was a manufacture only situation - my builder installed them, and organised the painting and glazing of the windows. I also prefer the frame detail on the second set - they have a neat cross over banding detail on the frames, which looks nicely finished (seen in the photo below).

Our second set of windows were manufactured by Skyrange in Melbourne, and I have no hesitation in recommending them if you're interested in obtaining a quote for your own project. They have been in business for a long time, were straightforward to deal with, and supplied a good quality product in their specified time frame. Beware of any business offering a full install and claiming it's all highly specialised. It's not.

I think that sums it up and hopefully this is helpful to those looking at steel windows for their own project, however if there's anything you'd specifically like to know, please leave a comment and I'll try to answer.

All images are of the steel windows in our extension
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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 anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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