There was quite a fuss in the comments of my recent blog post on the subject that I will now refer to as The Blanket I Dare Not Speak The Name Of, as a couple of anonymous commenters misinterpreted the post and thought I was saying you couldn't mix high and low priced items in Interior Design/ Decoration. Especially given that they strongly felt you were able to do so in Fashion. Now, I thought my blog title summed things up quite nicely, but to reiterate - if you rely on a single, expensive item with dubious design merit to give all the impact/ quality in your interior, and skimp on all else in a room, then that one item is not able to magically transform the room into a picture fit for a magazine cover. The same holds true in fashion. One bag does not an outfit make. It's all about the mix. Failure to mix it successfully in fashion will instead have most people assuming the expensive bag is a fake due to the combined effect of the entire outfit. So, I thought I would do a post on how I mix high and low priced items in Interior Decoration, something I have referenced numerous times in other blog posts but that has never had a stand alone post of its own.

JK Place Hotel, Capri

Seating - I've written a previous post soley on Sofas, and my advice remains the same. It is worth investing money into something you use everyday, that you require high levels of comfort and functionality from, and that makes up a major part of the interior decoration in your living area. A cheaply made sofa is a waste of money. The blog post I wrote about it linked above also talks about how to buy a quality sofa for reasonable prices if you cannot afford to go out and buy a custom one, or one from a good retailer off the shelf. A good sofa does not end up on the footpath for the council Hard Rubbish collection day after 5 years. It should last you more like 20 plus. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money, as I detailed in that post, but it should be viewed as a true investment. The same holds true for Dining chairs, armchairs and any other form of seating. Comfort is key, and quality is evident in these large items in a room.


large baluster lamps via

Lamps - I prioritise money for lighting, and have probable written too many blog posts on this topic already. It has, I believe, one of the biggest impacts of any single decorative item. But I have purchased both inexpensive and expensive lamps in my time. The cheap ones can be fine stylistically, but you can't expect them to work after 3 years, they'll just self destruct. However, if you want to mix high and low with lamps, look for large sized bases in Bunnings/ Beacon Lighting/ Freedom etc and get a custom lamp shade made, or buy one in the appropriate size from a higher quality store. The lamp shade will make the difference in the appearance of quality -the cheap chain store lamps always have awful shades to go with them. For some reason too, we tend to have undersized lamps in Australia in mainstream retailers. Large lamps on side tables in a sofa area will give a lot of impact (around 70-80cm high). At first your eye might read them as too big, as you're used to the visual size of a small lamp, but if you want a "Designed" look without employing an actual designer, then this trick will add a bit of oomph to your scheme - Scale up.  Scale up in size for anything - pendants, lamps etc… But if you can stretch to a decent amount for your lamps it's completely worth it. You'll get something that looks unique but has a functional component to it as well. I put a lot of work into lighting schemes, and feel this is what sets a room apart from another when looking to generic vs designed interiors. Pools of light are always a better way to light a room, and one common mistake I see is where rooms are solely lit by overhead lighting. Lamps, lamps and more lamps. They just pull a room together.

Large area rug with seating on top via

Rugs - I think rugs also make a huge different to a space, but this doesn't have to be expensive. I will usually do a custom design if possible to ensure that the colours, pattern and size all work in harmony in a space -it can be hard to find something perfect in all three areas off the shelf. But if your budget doesn't extend to a large size wool/ silk rug, then go simple. Sisal is perfect. It's casual, but works with traditional or modern interiors. If you have smaller good quality rugs already you can layer them on top of the sisal… but the trick is again to go big with the base rug size. Your rug should ideally run at least under the legs of your seating areas to unify and delineate the space, and go bigger than that if you can so that the furniture is all sitting on top of the rug with no legs off it. It gives a sense of luxury to have a very large area run in a sitting area, or under a dining table. The one thing not to do with rugs is to buy cheap synthetic patterned rugs, or rugs that have been poorly knotted. They will detract from your interior. If you can't afford good quality, then don't try to buy a cheap imitation - you'll always hate it. Instead use sisal, go big, and save money that way.

large Sisal area rugs via

Occasional furniture - Side tables and coffee tables. This is one area I fairly consistently go cheap on. All the mass market retailers have good offerings, and as this is furniture that is not moved around/ sat on etc it doesn't much matter if it's so sturdy as other things in the long term. I've found tables I like at Pottery Barn and West Elm and have examples from both in my house - they're surprisingly good quality. Coffee tables can be a problem if you need a large sized one for a large seating area (as I have in my casual living area) as they aren't stocked commonly in large retailers. I ended up buying a custom sized one from a good Australian furniture designer, however alternatives are to have a group of coffee tables of varying heights/ sizes (but the same style) and they can fill the space in well if you need something big.

The much instagrammed Halcyon House interiors by Anna Spiro

Cushions - these are the accessory that make your interior scheme really come to life, and I can't emphasise that enough. First thing in the quality stakes is the filling in the cushion - banish the poly fill as they always look like pancakes after a year or two. I always have feather or feather/ down filling in mine (the trick if you are buying the inserts yourself is to size up from the cushion size so that it is plump and full always), the visual fullness speaks luxury, not to mention they're more comfortable than poly fill when you actually sit on them. As for the cushions themselves, I prefer custom cushions rather than the off the shelf ones from mass market stores which are often pretty cheap looking up close and made of inferior fabrics. If you don't think you have the budget for custom cushions, look to etsy.com for pre made cushions in fabrics from the good fabric houses. Some of my favourite sellers are Aurelia , Arianna Bell  and Elegant Touch. Alternatively you can buy designer fabrics as remnants from eBay - curtain makers in the UK will often sell off 2 or 3 metres of leftover fabric, or pre made up cushions minus the filling. If you search by the designer brand name (Colefax and Fowler, or Designers Guild etc) you'll find plenty on offer in short lengths perfect for cushions to sew up yourself, or to have someone run up for you. But do allocate a decent amount for the cushions. When I'm doing a sofa or armchairs for a client I'll price up the cushions as well… the cushions are often quite scary looking in the quote, but they really make the whole thing come to life and are definitely worth the investment.



Art - I love the quote above, which sums up my thoughts exactly. If you have white walls (which applies to pretty much every Australian open plan living areas now) then you need a lot of Art to visually fill in the space. This is one reason why the gallery wall has become so popular. The individual pieces are not particularly special or expensive, it's the sum of the whole that has an impact. My personal approach to art is just to buy something I love. I don't worry a lot about resale on a piece of art- it's only relevant if you go to sell. Only the very clever insiders in Art can reliably make money off it, so I know my limitations and just get what I love. Art doesn't mean just the painted version however - I've done framed Intaglios in my bedroom, there are prints (Artist's limited edition works on paper are particularly affordable), I buy things through local estate auctions, you can buy a vintage poster, frame a scarf - there are a myriad of ways to fill in the visual blank of walls.

via Pentreath-Hall.com

The key is in hanging it - if you have individual small pieces, group them together on the wall. Anchor small pieces of art with furniture (just above a side or console table, a buffet etc) and in general the biggest error I see is hanging art too high up the wall. The bottom third to half of the artwork should be at eye height for an average adult (about 1.7m off the ground). If you are hanging art in a dining area then hang it lower again, as you'll be viewing it sitting down at the table.

 Framed Vintage Bathing suits via

 anchoring a group of art above a chest via

Decor items - go cheap. Shells, stacks of books, wood objects… search the local estate auctions/ flea markets and you'll find all sorts of interesting bits and pieces. If you want to make it work in harmony then using trays on coffee tables to group objects together works well, or blocking items by colour on a table (stack of books in a particular shade, which matches something else like a piece of china), or by grouping by material type (items in stone or wood). Add in flowers or greenery with impact - scale up.

Interior by John Coote at Bellamont Forest in Ireland

I will sometimes prune branches of trees in the garden and I'll bring the cuttings inside to fill a vase. I will go against the fashion for fresh though as I don't mind using faux as well. Adelaide can be very hot in mid Summer, and buying or cutting flowers from your garden is a waste - they are dead in 3 days. The modern silk flowers and greenery can look really convincing, so I don't mind using them when necessary. Particularly the faux orchids as the real have a death wish in my house.

Same view as above, minus the branches used for the English House & Garden shoot

And of course the main thing with interior decoration is to just do soothing you love. Pull out your good things, don't worry too much about what is in "good taste". The major problem with Interiors at the moment is that everyone is so busy depersonalising it that it's becoming bland and soulless and the same, and that was my main problem with The Miracle Blanket. Tick -a- box supposed good taste is just dull - don't rely on one slightly in- your -face branded item to make your interior stand out. Unless you are selling your house, don't make it look like that's what you're trying to do by appealing to everyone. Someone will always hate the way you decorate, so accept it and move on. The rooms that don't offend are also the most boring and don't excite. It's your house, so do what you love and others will enjoy it to. They might not want to live in your interior, but that's fine! It's not their house. People enjoy spaces that have a bit of personality to them, so get out your China if you like to see it, paint a room in a colour you love - don't play it safe.

Lee Radziwill's Paris apartment - hot pink sofas, striped chairs and framed Botanical prints

Previous blog posts on mixing high/ low in architectural design Where to Save and Where to Spend in the renovation of your house can be found by clicking the link. A post on Architectural tricks to improve the box like extension of the typical Australian home can be found by clicking that link.





25 comments:

  1. Excellent post Heidi - there is something for everyone here. I go for quality, rather than quantity and am prepared to wait if I can't find the exact thing I am looking for. Knowing where to spend and where to save are good ground rules. My son is safely settled in his graduate job, so I feel a load has been taken off. Only five more sleeps to Hong Kong - its been a long year!! Jo xx

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    1. I think we have similar philosophies Jo - the interior decoration of this house has certainly been a slow process! But I really hate throwing things away or having to sell them off, so I like to wait and find the perfect thing.
      So glad to hear things are going well with your Son, and that your trip is so soon. Have a wonderful time! xx

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  2. Great post. I spend out when the piece needs to be functional. A cheap sofa is a misery. I spend on art and objets as well as I love them and they bring a space to life.

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    1. Sometimes money spent on the boring stuff is the best place to spend it. I've seen many friends in their 20's and early 30s change sofas every few years, replacing cheap with another cheap. All look good initially, but are so uncomfortable and they start falling apart soon after.

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  3. Thank you for this post. I struggle with grouping art because I hyper focus on each piece and lose the ability to see them together. A typical SAJ problem in all arenas.
    I think the people who left those comments had a trigger reaction and didn't even read the post. If anything, you were looking to counteract the snobbery of the blanket! Not outsnob it :) I don't think one could have really read that post and gotten the impression you condemn mixing high and low.

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    1. I only realised when I was looking through my Pinterest boards for images that a lot that I've pinned under my "Things for the Walls" board are actually just groups of things, but grouped well.
      Agree with you about the comments - I think it brought up a lot of side issues in peoples minds, things I didn't actually articulate or go into in the post (although some were touched on in comments in reply to others). But I do think that some of the defenders of The Miracle Blanket just seemed affronted that I wasn't so enamoured with something that has been widely declared as in The Best Taste by so many media outlets etc. But like a lot of things these days it's an easy band aid solution perhaps to mask a bunch of other things. The vast majority of people out there prefer to think that all their ills (or their house's) are solved with a simple and expensive fix and that you can buy your way out of a problem.

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  4. The Voldemort blanket post was sooo interesting in post and comments! I think it needs a part two.

    Love this post but would love a follow up because I feel like you're just getting going. It's a huge topic. The art one alone... I hVe several posts on that but makes my head hurt BC it's so vast to conquer. But lately I'm all about little tables for my tea another for my iPad etc so those nesting tables are a thing I'm thinking of getting nice ones of. But I'm also a fan of sisal too. One thing I think Americans do so well are lamps. They use them the best way somehow and I love your lamps and the sculptural quality of them. But my house is still a mess wah X

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    1. I think part 2 on The Miracle Blanket would be a wider discussion about luxury goods and how they have infiltrated the mass market (and whether they are in fact therefore luxury).
      Yes, this is a huge topic in this post, and really I think you could write a book on it (which I'm not going to do!). I've got an Art post in my drafts folder, and I think I started it 2 years ago, but have never completed it as it gets soooooo long. I really just scratched the surface. But I could easily do a "how to hang it" post, a "art alternatives" post, and then a couple of others. So it's never seen the light of day!
      Agree with you about the Americans and lamps - I just left a comment on Blue's latest post saying exactly that. They do have greater choice than we have here in Oz - I have a constant battle trying to find reasonable quality lamps. And a lot of people have been conditioned to think a lamp should be $150 or something, so when you start talking about $800 (retail price for a decent quality (not best) large sized lamp) a lot of people are very resistant to that sort of cost. But a good lamp really makes a huge difference, and you have them for years and years and years if you choose well. I'm sure your house is a lot better than you let on!! xxx ps like the sound of your nest of tables. I find the Pottery Barn iron ones I bought for the living area so handy for that reason.

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    2. The concept of luxury and what it means now is always so interesting to me. There was a blog that I don't think I'm allowed to even mention by name or I'll get a cease and desist that I loved. She would touch on this often. The comments were so interesting. It's all been erased from the internet which is quite sad. I bought a new car because of one of her posts! I think that luxury is now much more elusive and is more about your comfort in a world of someone always having/being/looking more. I don't mean comfort like sweatpants. I mean being able to say "I don't care what you think" and really meaning it. I think with social media there are no more chances to be big fish in small ponds because the general public is exposed to so much more money and material. And even those with tremendous wealth often crave "social" approval more than anything else because it appeals to that sense of fame that money can't buy. Does this make any sense? Hopefully it does.

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    3. I can't think of that blog - but it sounds so interesting. I've referenced the book/ tv series Status Anxiety quite a few times in this blog, because I found it so fascinatingly spot on. Even being aware of it, it's still hard to resist the siren call of designer 'luxury' goods… and the fact that everyone around you are sporting it. I remember a conversation with my English friend soon after they moved here. She was of the impression that everyone at our kids school were incredibly wealthy, due to the cars that were being driven by the parents. I laughed and told her they'd all be leased (this is an Australian tax effective thing that people that have their own businesses can do) and they didn't own the cars (or even have a loan to pay off and then own it). Not one of those people would have dropped $150k on their cars. And this is the main reason why luxury cars don't impress me - the vast majority here don't actually own the car. So luxury starts to mean different things when everyone has access to it, or can borrow money to acquire it.
      I also agree with you about social media and the whole showcasing of all the stuff you can have/ the wanting to have it and then ability to acquire it thanks to the Internet. And yes, all you wrote made perfect sense. Maybe I should write a post, although I fear it's a bit of a Pandoras box - and really that was the raw nerve I touched on for a few people with the post on the Miracle Blanket.

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  5. Excellent post. My pet hates are
    1. getting the scale wrong (mostly having things like lamps and art which is much too small, cute, teeny etc) and
    2. over accessorising with store bought 'designer' items (aka junk).
    Less junk! More quality.

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    1. Too small art floating in the middle of a wall looks awful. Agree with you about scale being so important. Also agree with you about junk. If you have a couple of decent things then giving them space to breath by not cluttering them up with other things is so much better.

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  6. Love this post Heidi! I've been doing some decorating so it is very timely too. Funny I just arranged some stacks of books on a large square table in my son's room according to colour, it looks quite good. He'll likely not disturb them when he's home as he has his nose in a physics textbook 24/7. I've converted my husband's study to a study/dressing room and the result is fantastic, but I've had to find new places for the books and as they are such decorative objects I am using them this way (rather than buying another bookcase). I found an iron rack for clothes for my hubs' suits and tweed jackets, shirts etc and they are practically decorative objects as well, I think you'd like the room it is personal and interesting.
    I agree with all of your points and that post on the blanket was really incredible for the comments, I mean it makes one fear for humanity some of the stupid things people will post in a comment... your design advice is so appreciated, it is sound and creative. XOX

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    1. That sounds fantastic Dani - I hope you do a post on it? Love the way you've been quietly working away at your house since the renovation. I think you've already created such a lovely, layered feel to your interiors. I think this is the major problem with a lot of interiors featured in magazines these days - they are so impersonal. No framed family photos, no bits and pieces inherited, or purchased on travels, or with any sort of story/ significance attached other than they match the colour scheme.
      re comments - thank you for your support Dani, I really appreciate it xxx

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  7. Heidi, missed the comments on your blanket post so will have to go back and have a look! Your ideas of mixing it all up are particularly resonant with me…last week I ordered a v large Artemide lamp and am about to press click on an order for those bamboo side tables you suggested at Pottery Barn…..not to mention that one of my favourite ways to spend time is at galleries around town looking at new work or hassling to find out what's coming up or might be new in the stockroom! Now there just needs to be a way to drug husbands to make them believe cushion expenditure is a worthwhile investment! Imagine! Rx

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    1. Well now, you are one of the Art Insiders I was referring to! Love the sound of the lamp, and those tables are fab and I know will be perfect for the room - you do a good mix Romy! As for husbands and cushion expenditure - they just don't get it, and I have sheltered mine from the cost of our cushions, although it makes me cringe when they are then thrown on the floor, or I find one balancing a cup of tea on top. I find when I do my client quotes that breaking it down into feather insert cost, cost of make up and fabric quantity required and the cost/ m helps as they can see where the expense is. Just doing it as a single lump sum item and they do look a little ridiculously expensive. But they really are the finishing touch, and a little like tying on a beautiful silk scarf with a plain black dress vs nothing or cheap polyester scarf instead. xx

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  8. Another excellent post Heidi, thank you. So, when are you writing your book? You've provided your readers with sound advice and food for thought.

    Putting money behind seating that is used daily is essential, for as you say, you don't want it to end up on the rubbish tip in five years. Yes, I've been there (once) and never again.

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    1. I think there are probably enough bloggers-with-books out there that I don't need to join those ranks!
      A smart person has that sort of uncomfortable experience once, then learns the lesson. Unfortunately with the turnover I've seen with a few people I know it seems that perhaps they're viewed as an expendable item by some?

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  9. We have a mix of cheap and expensive stuff. I spose the art (which I have never shown on the blog and never will and of which we have tonnes and tonnes- much more than furniture) is expenny as are the rugs and antiques. I have some cheap and cheerful décor mixed with expenny French antique bronzes. The cushions are generally expenny- I started out cheap and then over the years bought good fabric on sale and got them made. Decent inserts are key.

    I used to buy cheap lamps but now we have fancy ones. I blame Mr FF- his love of high end luxury and auctions knows no bounds, whereas I am a bit of a frugal girl who is not afraid of the salvos, 2nd hand shops, hand me downs etc. Some of my favourite things are my Grandma's. They aren't flash but to me they are perfect.

    I 100% love to mix high end clothes with cheap stuff or wear a fancy bag with a cheap dress and I think it can all work out well with a bit of planning.

    I wear a lot of stuff from asos that looks better than it costs because I have fancier accessories.

    I think a lot of it is confidence. At my age I love the high end low end mix but it's taken a while, if that makes sense.

    I like it when people's homes look like them- my house it the dead spitting image of me - high, low, cheap, expenny, old, modern and that's what makes it cosy I think.

    I still want a blanky and I spose one day I might have one. Ha! x







    Stephen A if you are reading this, we get our art professionally hung and a man guides us about placement. Make sit easier.

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    1. But even if you wear a cheap dress FF, it's your watch, jewellery, shoes, scarf and bag that lift it all. Not just a single bag plus cheap everything else. Plus good grooming! Doing your hair and makeup and nails also makes a difference as its about the whole package. The equivalent of the bad outfit combo in a home sense is the cheap furniture, miracle blanket and dust. It just won't disguise it all. I can't wait to visit your home in person - it looks so beautiful in all the photos I've seen. Don't blame you about not showing off the art though. xx

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  10. I love the way you've broken this post into heading. You always are very generous sharing your design knowledge. We don't have the budget to invest in high end and like a lot of others have updated and changed over the years. We started out modern (in the 70's) going through all sorts of trends and I've never been afraid of taking it to the Salvo's. Now ( maybe it's got something to do with age and hindsight ) I think I've just found my own style and of course a lot of gathered things that I don't want to get rid off. I rotate things change the odd cushion I'm even supremely happy with the colour on the walls.
    My husband is a craftsman and can virtually make anything from the candelabra over the dining table to the bathroom vanity just give him a picture and he'll make it.
    I've probably said it before. The last 2 years my husband was very sick and one of the things that helped with the stress was reading about design it took my mind off of the reality.
    I use all my things life's to short not too and I know no one else will love them like I do.

    The majority of my friends couldn't care less about interior design and think I'm bonkers. I still love visiting them and they me.

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    1. I don't think it's uncommon that your personal style comes with age. I think also, as you get older you are less prone to trends and to what all your friends like/ want to do, so won't be so easily led into a style that is not really 'you'.
      You're so lucky to have a handy husband!! I'd love to just order things up like that! I can well understand too that reading about design/ thinking about it was a good relief. Having gone through very stressful periods in life like that too I think that in hindsight I can definitely pinpoint things that were a mental break for me - the blog being one initially xx

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  11. As always a fascinating post - and the comments too! Love Naomi's comment about the Voldemort blanky.

    Am also a great believer in mixing high and low. People compliment me on clothes I've bought at Op Shops - saying they look as though they've come from an expensive boutique - but I'm always happy to tell them they're from Anglicare or Lifeline. House is pretty much the same - a few quite expensive items like Persian carpets, Murano glass and small odds and end of china, like Herend. But mostly there are pieces I've picked up cheaply at brocantes when travelling or at antique stores or fetes. My favourite lamp is a large simple Italian ceramic base bought for less than $20 at our church fete. I had it re-wired and bought a large simple shade from a lighting shop. Not cheap but definitely not expensive. On our next trip to Italy I bought lengths of good passmenterie (there are brilliant passmenterie boutiques in Florence and Venice) braid to fix to the base and top of the shade, in colours that worked well with the ceramic base. It looks as though it came from an expensive boutique but cost v little. Some of our cushions are from tapestry canvases of flowers I've picked up in Op shops - and then just stitched in coloured wools already in the work basket - they cost almost nothing. But they don't have the chic or dramatic impact of the ones in your pictures - or FF's. Sadly some have poly fill. Ouch! It's true.
    Probably my biggest mistake was buying one of those sofas you've mentioned - it wasn't really cheap and is still in excellent condition but as I get older I find it very uncomfortable and have come to hate it. G thinks we should just stick with it as we don't use it much - he has a conniption at the thought of replacing it with something more to my taste nowadays and kinder to my back (though I hardly ever sit in it) - as what I'd prefer would be really quite expensive. He points out that at this time in life our priority is travel rather than furniture - and I have to agree. Though unfairly would like to have my cake and eat it too.
    Love Lee Radziwill's Paris apartment with the fabulous pink sofa and the striped chairs and those wonderful botanical pictures. Read somewhere that she's taken them around with her to almost every apartment she's had.

    We've never cared about cars. As long as the car is reliable, safe and comfortable, that's all that's important to us. Have never had a thing for luxury cars. For those who buy rather than lease, prestige cars are just a waste of money. Even leasing isn't all that cheap. They also used to have some kind of rule where you had to drive the car for thousands of kilometres every year to get the tax breaks on it. Fine if you have to do that anyway. But we used to know people who kept complaining about having to drive to Melbourne or wherever every few weekends just to get their mileage up. Also they depreciate so quickly. G's guru is Warren Buffett - he'd far rather invest in the stock market where if you're good at it you can get fairly good returns, eg Blackmore's shares have gone through the roof. We cracked a bottle of champagne when they hit $100 but then they went to $200 before dropping back to around $175. Definitely G's preference over a fancy car.
    So curious about Stephen Andrew's mystery blog. Pammie xxx

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  12. PS Sorry R about my diatribe about cars. Have been brainwashed by G. I do kind of think that way now - but can understand people who fall in love with a particular kind of special car. The way I can fall in love with a designer handbag - or bubblegum pearls. In my case though it's mostly just admiring from afar! Sadly so in the case of those long lost pearls. Pammie xxx

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    1. I understand you about the sofa situation - I actually find this is one thing partners tend to argue about the most … what is comfortable for you is not necessarily comfortable for the other (and this is a problem with my own sofas - Mr AV chose them with extra depth, which doesn't work for shorty me). Also know what you mean about having your cake! I think we all have to make choices… mine definitely isn't travel at the moment! Hopefully that will change in the future.
      I agree with you about the car thing - I was brainwashed by my Dad (despite his love of cars, sports cars in particular, and BMWs specifically) he spent a lot of time telling me they were a waste of money, only buy second hand etc etc. Mr AV was similarly brainwashed by his parents so between the two of us we are very reluctant to over invest in them! xx

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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