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

This is going to be a bit of a random post about all sorts of random things from the past few weeks. I'll start with the pool/ garden progress. Finally the stone coping (pool edging) arrived on its very slow boat, and in a display of breathtaking activity (snort), it was laid over the course of a week. In actual time it took a day, but it seems that if you can spread something out for far longer than necessary, it will be done. The phallic looking spouts were put on the back wall, and I'm pretty happy with them, as they don't look quite so phallic once up - even Mr AV has agreed on that point. I'm hopeful we can put that whole discussion behind us now….

 okay, so maybe they do look a little bad from this angle…

This week my landscaper arrived to do the rest of the pool tile surround (why don't pool companies offer a one off service covering fencing/ landscaping etc?), and hopefully put up the glass pool fence. At the moment it's rather dangerous as they took the temporary fence away and there's a nice drop into concrete about 2m below the pool edge. 

back garden after top dressing

the patchy Meadow

I haven't really been allowing the children to play in the back garden anyway - the day before Faux Fuchsia, Romy and Pamela arrived to visit my house for the first time the Landscaper came and top dressed the lawn. I had thought that meant a few patches of dirt here and there to even out some of the bumpy spots. But no, I came home to find that he'd covered the entire lawn in a thick reddish- brown layer of dirt. We were back to a desert. Fast forward three weeks and we have a patchy meadow type effect. The dirt has been tracked into the house by the children for the past few weeks. It's all been a bit frustrating.


So I channelled my frustration into clipping my topiary which was all looking quite fluffy, and by liquid fertilising the entire garden. I use Powerfeed on all the hedging, as recommended by my friends K & C who have grown probably one of the best Viburnum hedges in town. Their liberal application of Powerfeed every month plus precise tip pruning has produced a very tall, lush, thick hedge. Hopefully those miniature Japanese box hedges of mine in the side garden will do the same.

satisfyingly clipped

Faux Fuschia has been requesting the Chicken Mango salad recipe that I made for lunch on our Adelaide Tour weekend. So here it is for you all to make - it's very easy and a good one to make in advance or if it's a hot day as you don't cook the chicken in the oven, but rather on the stovetop.

Chicken with Crunchy Asian Slaw
5 garlic cloves
3cm piece of ginger, sliced plus 1/3 cup fincely chopped ginger
3 coriander roots, chopped, plus coriander leaves to serve
1/4 Cup Chinese rice wine
5 Spring onions, thinly sliced
1.8kg whole chicken
juice of 3 limes
2tbs Caster Sugar

Crunchy Asian Slaw
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup grated palm or brown sugar
1 tbs fish sauce
1/2 Savoy Cabbage finely shredded
1/2 bunch chives finely chopped
1 small red chilli deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbs finely shredded ginger
1 large mango, choppped
1-2 tbs finely chopped coriander leaves

Fill a large pan or stockpot with 3L of cold water. Chop 1 garlic clove, then add to the pan with sliced ginger, coriander roots, rice wine, half the spring onion and 1 tsp sea salt. Bring to the boil over  medium high heat, then add the chicken to the pan, adding more water if needed to cover the chicken. Sit a heatproof plate on top of the chicken to keep it submerged. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, cover with a lid, then stand for 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove chicken from the pan reserving the stock, then plunge into a bowl of iced water. Stand for 1 hour to cool completely.
Meanwhile, strain stock and reserve 1 cup. Crush remaining 4 garlic cloves, then combine with stock, lime juice, chopped ginger, sugar, remaining spring onion and 2 tsp salt. Set dressing aside.
For the slaw, whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, sugar and fish sauce, then gently toss with remaining slaw ingredients.
Remove Chicken from the ice bath and slice. Divide slaw amongst plates, top with chicken and drizzle with dressing.

On Saturday night I went to a ball for the Captain Courageous Foundation. I've written about the Foundation before - it was started by a friend of ours who has a very sick little boy. She is such an inspiration, not only dealing with the ongoing medical treatments he has (a full blood transfusion every month since birth along with a myriad of other things), but raising her other two children and creating and running the Foundation which funds a research team based in Adelaide (where a lot of Medical Research is done) searching for a cure. Saturday night raised close to $500,000, which for an Adelaide charity ball is just incredible. As usual I didn't take many photos - too busy talking! But here are a couple I put on Instagram of the blurry outfit shots. As I've mentioned before Mr AV is a reluctant photographer, and usually chooses a moment to snap me while I have a broom in my hand and a grumpy expression, and certainly not when I'm glammed up in a ball gown.

I wore the blue and white Collette Dinnigan dress I purchased late last year and blogged about here, blue patent strappy Jimmy Choo heels and matching clutch. I was also wearing my late Mum's sapphire and diamond earrings, which I last wore on my wedding day 14 years ago as my something borrowed. It was such a fun night, people were really dressed up so the people watching was 10/10 but the main aim in terms of the fundraising was amazing and the night was an enormous success.

This week I've been up a ladder painting the bookcases in the Library. I nearly had a heart attack this morning when I climbed 2/3rds of the way up the ladder to do the final coat of paint to find this hanging down from a rung.

A Redback Spider. Redback spiders are the 5th most poisonous spider in the world. They like to lurk in  cracks and concealed areas, and as the ladder has hollow rungs on the underside that is most likely where the spider was living. Well, half a can of flyspray later and I'd killed any possible living thing in the Library including the Redback, but it took a lot for me to get back up the ladder to paint. The thought of the fact that I've been hanging off the ladder (essentially wrapped around it at various points trying to reach the shelves properly) when doing the previous two coats and that it could easily have bitten my hand if I'd put it in the wrong spot… not to mention that if I'd actually seen it I most likely would have fallen off the ladder in fright trying to get away from the damn thing has plagued me ever since. Painting was slow as I kept checking that there was nothing else crawling out from the ladder. Anyway… to finish this long dramatic story I have finished the painting today! Hooray!

Next is to drag all the boxes of books out of the shed and rehome them. This is something I'm not feeling so excited about, as I'm now thinking about possible spiders in the boxes….

But last week I did have a win - having said that the ugly brass light fixture in the Library would be replaced in the very distant future once I'd found an appropriate Chandelier, I happened to wander into Town and Country Antiques on Magill Road and found one! It's Napoleon 3rd (circa 1860), French, and I think will suit perfectly. It was also about half the price of similar ones I'd seen in Melbourne and Sydney. There are many benefits to living in Adelaide,  and Antique buying is one of them… if you're a local and interested in Antiques, he does have a good selection of quality French antiques in his showroom including a large selection of mirrors, and some lovely commodes and tables too. So the Chandelier arrives tomorrow, and is being installed next Monday. Things are finally happening in that room.

So that wraps up my random post!

Bay window with morning shadows

I've been meaning to post about our family holiday to the Flinders Ranges for a while. During the September/ October school holidays we drove 5 hours from Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges with another family to camp at Wilpena.

The Flinders Ranges are one of Australia's Natural wonders. It's a very ancient land, an area rich in fossils from the Ediacaran period, the very earliest signs of life from around 635 million years ago. The landscape is rugged, and is very much the fabled Outback. September is the ideal time to go as there is still water around, so billabongs abound, the gorges have water and the natural life comes with them- frogs, dragonflies, an enormous range of birdlife, emus and kangaroos with their babies, goannas and all the beautiful wildflowers. The days are mild (around 20-28C) and nights cool/ cold and it is ideal walking weather.

by a Billabong...

Now I know what long term readers are thinking… Heidi Camping? My thoughts on camping are fairly unchanged - I have lived in unrenovated houses for literally years at a time, and if I am going to go on a holiday, I prefer for it to be at least as comfortable as it is at home, and preferably better. That cuts out camping. But it also means that it cuts out a lot of our truly spectacular natural wonders as well. Add to that that our children have been desperate for us to go on a camping holiday, and I started to cast around for some options. Something that wouldn't see us investing thousands of dollars in camping equipment that would then be stored in a dirty corner of a shed never to be seen again.

Enter Ikara Safari Camp. It's almost brand new - large, permanent tents located in Wilpena with small decks out the front with views over Wilpena Pound, and equipped with an ensuite with shower, loo and handbasin just off the bedroom inside (with a bed that Mr AV declared the best that he's slept in - and he travels an awful lot for work and stays in generally top hotels, so this is high praise). Each tent is a reasonable distance from the next, and the two family tents are located up one end of the campsite away from the couples tents. The family tents each have a small annex that contains two sets of bunk beds… so these tents will sleep a family of 6 in comfort. They are also equipped with a bar fridge, tea and coffee making and reverse cycle air conditioning/ heating, and are serviced each day.

Our friends had muttered that this seemed like a camping cop-out, however they changed their mind almost immediately upon arriving when after the 5 hour drive from Adelaide and with overexcited children going a little crazy we just unpacked the cars and opened a bottle of wine. No fighting and struggling over putting up the tent… and for the children it was exactly camping as they thought it would be as each tent has a campfire pit adjacent to it, so we still did a campfire (bar the one day there was a total fire ban due to heat) and roasted marshmallows.

Dining tent via 

Breakfast was included and is served in the "Dining tent", which is an enormously large tent located in the centre of the Safari Camp. It was a very civilised way to start the day as there was a large buffet cold breakfast and a cooked BBQ breakfast done to order.

my 4 year old on a big walk

And as for what we did, well, we did a few big walks (the two oldest boys were keen to do some Geocaching with their Dads, which saw them walk up an incredibly high hill nearby in search of the geocache, something neither would have done otherwise as it took 3 hours). We walked into Wilpena Pound (even our 4 year old did it - a total trouper as it is around 1.5 hours round trip. We spent a day in Blinman (a former Copper mining town) and did a tour of the old mine, which (thanks to Minecraft) the boys were completely fascinated by with the description of the harsh life the Cornish miners had in the 1880's (temperatures of 50C in Summer, a maternal death rate of 70%, water only for face washing and drinking so infant mortality rates were similarly high).

the old Blinman Post Office

The Flinders ranges has one of the great walks of Australia starting (or finishing) in it - The Heysen Trail. It runs for 1200 Kilometers and we saw many of the trail walkers with their enormous packs walking along the path near our tents.

We spent 4 nights there, which was about perfect, so much so that we've already booked in again for next year at around the same time. The children rode their bikes around the campsite without danger of cars knocking them over, the girls played games with little houses constructed out of bark and rocks for their Silvanian Families characters, we read, and chatted and each morning were visited by Kangaroos that would hop right up to the deck to graze. Emus are everywhere, and at one point a father Emu went past with his 9 baby emu chicks. Being up close with nature was a privilege indeed.


one of the nearby Gorges where we had a picnic lunch

So, I can thoroughly recommend Camping in the Flinders Ranges - the Safari Camp was not nearly as expensive as a hotel,  yet just as comfortable. It's also perfect for those visiting South Australia as a tourist - you can just roll up with no preparation after hiring a car at the airport and have the benefit of seeing a truly spectacular part of the world.

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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
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