exterior by Marco Meneguzzi
Rattan itself is a type of climbing vine that grows in rain forests , and produces long, thin branches. The branches are harvested, debarked, sanded down and then woven into the product. It's entirely environmentally friendly - the Rattan plant will regrow and due to its reliance on large rainforest trees to climb up, it's meant that natural rainforest has been left intact in areas that are now suffering from large scale deforestation (such as Indonesia).
The term "wicker" is a general term, used to describe woven product made from anything natural and of plant origin - bamboo, straw, cane and rattan.
Wicker furniture has been around since the Egyptian period, but its popularity really soared during the Victorian era, when conservatories and palm houses became highly fashionable and a process of manufacturing was invented that mimicked rattan, but that made it durable and allowed for a finer weave- Lloyd Loom. Lloyd Loom furniture (this refers to a manufacturing process, rather than a specific brand name) is not made from a plant based material - it's wire with paper twisted and wrapped around it to make a durable, thin and long lasting fibre that is easily woven and shaped. While Lloyd Loom in its original format is still available today, the modern version of this is the plastic wrapped wire - UV stable, able to be left outdoors year round and therefore more suited to modern life without an army of servants to carry the pieces indoors when the weather becomes inclement.
Interior by Marco Meneguzzi
And perhaps that is why wicker furniture has such romanticism attached to it. Images of wicker conjure up languid afternoon teas in the garden. or reclining on sun lounges in palm fringed conservatories, or sitting outside a cafe in France.
Bunny Mellon's back hall via Architectural Digest
However, wicker has not just stayed stuck in the Victorian/ Edwardian era in styling, but undertook a revamp in the 1950's and 1960's when using materials in innovative ways resulted in a period of radical reinvention of furniture design. Many of these styles are still available today.
I've been particularly taken with the wicker designs of Sika furniture (a Danish company), who have produced rattan furniture since the 1940's and who had Arne Jacobsen, Nanna Ditzel and Franco Albini to design pieces for them that are still in production. These particular designs are not suited to outdoor use, but their use in interiors is what has interested me at any rate. Nanna Ditzel invented the original egg chair, which is much copied, but still manufactured by Sika
So, wicker is not all just about French bistro chairs (heavily in fashion in recent years).
But if you don't feel that the furniture has a place in your house or garden, then you can always spring for a wicker bag and carry it around instead.
via Snob Essentials
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.
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
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.
Last week I was fortunate to have a few wins at one of the local Antique estate auction clearance houses. One of the items I was very, very keen to buy was this Georgian style (likely Edwardian) serpentine wing-back armchair. It has solid mahogany legs, original nailhead trim, and the original horsehair loose seat cushion.
Naturally it will be reupholstered, the orange velvet was likely not the first covering it had, but at any rate it's very threadbare and tatty and needs to go (as I vacuumed it more of the pile was sucked out). I'm going to have it in our casual living area, where I think it will contrast nicely with the more modern furniture we have there.
Of course, that lead to what to cover it in. This is clearly a Statement Chair, but how much of a statement to make it? Long time readers will know that my living area is a sea of neutrals… or has been, up until I had a rug made earlier this year with coloured spots in it, and also purchased a Designers Guild throw rug which has some of the same colours in it in varying sized stripes. One thing lead to another and I have finally decided to finish off this space. I've currently got 14 cushions in motion with the workroom in varying colours and sizes which will hopefully arrive soon, and so what to cover the chair in started to become a little confusing.
I could go with a bold colour, picked out from the cushions and rug… but I worried that with the chair already being antique and very different from everything else it would be a little too much of a statement. Then there was texture - I was drawn to velvet, but was concerned it would feel visually 'hot' when Adelaide's peak temperature runs of 40C in Summer started. In the end I've decided that it will be upholstered in a Manuel Canovas chenille (low pile) which won't look 'hot', and in a neutral mole grey/brown colour. But to tie it in with a little addition of the colour elsewhere in the space, I'm planning to use a contrast cord piping in tones of green/plum/reds on the arms. The nailhead will hopefully all be reused - it's a lovely mellow toned brass, and I'd like to keep as much original detailing as possible. The horsehair chair pad will go though - it's flat as a pancake and not comfortable at all… I'm thinking of redoing it with a down cushion pad.
I have a feeling this chair will be the favourite in the room. Men in particular love a wingback armchair due to its generous size, but the children are also drawn to it - perhaps it's the feeling of enclosure it gives at head height? A feeling of security perhaps? After its new upholstery has been completed it will go on one side of the fireplace with a modern table next to it for drinks, and probably a library lamp like this in bronze.
I'm also planning to complete the seating in general at long last in this space. The two sofas are fine, but I'd always planned to have a pair of armchairs on the other open side to offer different seating options (a variety of different seating options in a conversational seating space is always a good idea - there is no single chair/ sofa that suits all people for all social circumstances). This is one shape I've been thinking would work - a good combination of modern with traditional proportions, and a reasonably elegant design.
I can't remember if I've updated the blog with the lamps in this area too - I know I put them on Instagram, but a pair of these bronze sculptural table lamps are on either end of the sofa now, so I'm finally getting close to sorting this area out. The last room in the house in fact (odd given its our main living area).
The other item I purchased at the Auction house was a gilt mirror. The frame is very old, ornate and weighs a tonne. I think it probably had a painting in it once upon a time, although the mirror now there seems quite old. At any rate it's going to hang above the handbasin in the guest powder room.
Insert mirror here
A room that has been mirror less since the renovation. I've been waiting to find something the right size (everything was always either too big or just tiny or horrendously expensive), and the right style of course.
The gilt has a lovely age to it, and I think it will look fantastic in here. I'm getting my picture hanging woman in to hang it, as I'm concerned that due to the weight if I have a go at it we might hear an almighty crash one day...
I'm so pleased with the fountain - it looks like it's always been there, and the base is a very realistic cast iron looking fibreglass, so I'm happy with the quality of it all. The fountain itself (bronze) is starting to age with the green patination it will have.
We love the overall design, and have had a very positive reception from friends and family on it too (although that may be because they were looking at the dead grass for 10 weeks prior). The planting has gone into the gravel as well - the idea is to soften the margins between gravel and plants. Eventually the plants will all spill out over the gravel from the beds. Can't wait.
In the back garden my roses that weren't decimated by parrots eating the buds have put out a few sun bleached blooms
David Austin's Golden Celebration
And everything is growing like mad. I love this corner of the back garden - the textural and colour contrast is beautiful. The tree at the front is the Forest Pansy with its leaves that change to dark green in another month or so, then bright golden yellow in Autumn.
There are a few patches that need to be filled in - I have some seeds coming that I'll propagate to add into the patches - some salvia ground covers with interesting flat leaves.
So, I think that catches things up somewhat - not long until I can say the house itself is 'finished'… well, sort of. I think things always evolve, so maybe not that finished after all!
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