entry via "Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm"
For those uninitiated, Stuart Rattle was a highly regarded Australian Interior Decorator in his 50s, murdered by his long-term life and business partner Michael O'Neill two years ago. O'Neill plead guilty to the murder, thus sparing a long, drawn out trial that would no doubt have been filled with salacious detail as their lives were picked apart. He has never divulged exactly what it was that lead to the murder on that night (it appears unplanned), preferring to 'protect' Stuart's legacy. Suffice to say that he is extremely remorseful, is a broken man, and it seems to have been an out of character crime.
The author of this book (who only writes in the True Crime genre) wrote about Rattle and O'Neill's life in a biography of sorts, with the detail provided through interviews with the families, their friends, colleagues and former clients, adding in her own slightly sneering asides (she has no understanding of design/ why people would hire a designer/ how wealthy people live) and distracting personal stories. There is clear sympathy toward the murderer, and she portrays Rattle (whom she had never met in person) in a very unflattering light as a driven, exacting perfectionist and thoroughly nasty person. He seemed to be widely loved by suppliers, clients and his many friends and was charismatic and personable. After reading it all, I felt like having a bath in disinfectant.
Corner of the Library
At first it was essentially an account of a wholesale makeover of a life - from their respective starts in country Australian towns in the 1960s with working class families, the bullying they each endured due to their sexuality (O'Neill quite severely), their respective wholesale makeovers in Melbourne into urbane upper class men about town, and then it gradually evolved into a tale of when business goes bad. Despite being at the top of the tree in the Australian design world, and despite decorating houses for people worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars (and more), Rattle's design business was imploding due to complete and utter mismanagement. When Rattle died, there were 56 jobs on the books - all run by just O'Neill, who acted as his assistant. This is an extraordinary number of jobs to have on the go in an office being project managed by just one person.
The kitchen at Musk Farm
Design itself is a fraction of the overall job as a Designer. Successful execution involves meticulous planning/ checking/ double checking and an awful lot of paperwork and project management. From what was written in the book, it would seem this was not being done well, and things were falling apart at the seams as a result - clients were angry their projects were taking so long or that things were turning up incorrectly made, suppliers were not being paid, clients were not being billed and everyone was confused as to where things were at with budgets. Additionally they were not making a lot of money considering their client base (taking home approximately $300,000/ annum between the two of them, but spending $700,000 on living expenses).
As part of the so called "A Gay" scene in Melbourne they were certainly looking the part, mostly due to borrowing money from the business accounts, and utilising the business overdraft facility for their own personal expenses. At the time of the murder they were propping up the bank accounts by syphoning off money from their Superannuation (pension) fund (illegally), had a $130,000 overdraft with the bank and $90,000 on credit cards. The money had gone toward living at a level of perfectionism and luxury in their homes and lifestyles similar to the life their clients lead, the difference being their clients had incomes with many more zeroes on the end. The Melbourne Antique dealer Graham Geddes had some interesting observations to make on the business aspects of working in that world and commented specifically on that point.
Formal Sitting room via "Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm"
As I have recently read a few books along the theme of Design and Crime recently, I will follow up this post at a later stage with another - next will be the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson, and his celebrated house on a Klong in Bangkok, both books of which I enjoyed and perhaps have less of a mixed reaction to than the subject of this blog post.
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