Officially it's Autumn (although we are having the usual very hot March). Shop windows are full of scarfs and pea coats you don't want to even try on in the air-conditioned shop, the days are noticeably shorter and my sun dress rotation is becoming very boring.

I am preparing in my own way for the upcoming cooler months though by feathering the nest. Finally I have had the armchair I purchased at auction last year reupholstered. I ended up choosing a plum coloured Pierre Frey relatively large weave fabric to replace the original orange velvet.

The armchair before suffering from saggy seat

The upholsterer did a great job - he replaced the pancake like horsehair cushion with a down and feather one, redid the broken webbing in the seat, and redid all the antique brass nailhead just like the original. It's the favourite chair in the casual living area now, and we're all very happy with it. To show how the colour ties in with the others in the room you can see the plum colour is in the spots on the rug, and also similar in colour to the colours in some of the scatter cushions on the sofa.

Next up is a club fender for the fireplace. These are very common in the UK, not so common here in Australia. I'm trying to introduce additional seats into this area, and they tend to be a popular place to perch on where it's warm with a class of wine in hand when there's a crowd. I'm getting it done in the UK (no local manufacturers), and it will have an upholstered seat top in a light grey herringbone linen that matches in nicely with the sofas. The base will be a brushed stainless steel, so will work in with the speakers on either side of the fireplace and give a good blend of new and old. It will also mean there is a little bit of distance between people and the fire, which has always concerned me somewhat as the current set up doesn't seem so safe (we don't have the fire on when children are around as a result).

Another project that's just starting to gain momentum is the new garage. We had hoped to get moving on it last year, however the difficulties involved in the design meant it's taken until the past month for final development approval to come through from our local council. We have a tricky time with Heritage requirements for our street (our house itself is not Heritage listed, rather the overall street is protected), and this means absolutely everything is sent to the Heritage advisors for comment and recommendation (such as when we did a pool in our back garden that can't be seen from the street… it still went through Heritage).

The slow progress on this approval was due to the fact that we are incorporating a second level for accommodation over the car spaces. This will be for out of town guests, but will also do double duty as a studio for me to work out of. I've incorporated most of this space into the roof line so that it doesn't appear visually bulky from the street, and it has direct access to the street via a door and staircase. It will finally be a place for me to store the samples that are currently overtaking our Library/ meet up with trade reps and clients and get a little better separation of work/ home life which is all rather blurred at the moment. There'll be a kitchenette, a full bathroom and a murphy bed (concealed Queen sized bed that folds down from the wall). I'll post more as we get to the point of starting construction (currently the engineering is being finished off, then we need the building permit approved), but it will be an interesting project to follow for some readers as I'm trying to maximise the outcome for minimal expenditure - it's always interesting to me to see which are my most popular design posts, and they tend to be the ones about doing things cheaply. The ones on spending money…. not so much.  But in the meantime I thought I'd share a few of my design inspiration photos of garage/ coach house/ loft style conversions all from the Garages page on my pinterest.

Aside from that life has been busy. They call it Mad March in Adelaide as we have all the Festivals at once - Adelaide Festival of Arts, the Fringe, Womadelaide (world music festival), Writers Week and then the Clipsal 5000 (car race - I avoid this one). Coupled with just getting over the whole back to school information nights/ drinks/ getting children settled into school etc just prior and it's been busy.

Two weeks ago I went to see the James Trilogy plays (James 1, James II, James III), which was 11 hours in total (7.5 hours of theatre, the rest being intermission and breaks between the plays for afternoon tea and dinner). It was performed by the National Theatre of Scotland and the National Theatre of Great Britain, and was the headline act for the Festival of the Arts. Each play could stand on its own merits if you didn't think you could sit through them all, but seeing them consecutively was fantastic.  It was all very Game of Thrones- like with the political intrigue/ clan fighting during the 15thC and was obviously written just before the referendum on Scottish independence last year - the final monologue in the James III play was spoken to the audience about Scottish identity/ independence from England and it was a sort of hybrid between the 15thC in costumes and the modern era with language. It was absolutely brilliant.

Of course, sitting down for 11 hours throws up a quandary of what to wear. There were a few men in kilts in the audience, but having no Scottish blood myself, I opted for comfort by wearing my favourite Joseph stretch gaberdine leggings. I know, I know - leggings are not pants, but honestly, these are a thick (elasticated) fabric and really do look like pants. I've forced some of my friends to buy them too and they are similarly thrilled with the miracle nature of these pants - comfortable, you can wash them in the machine, yet good enough to wear to the theatre or dinner out. Mine were bought a year ago in the David Jone's sales at 50% off plus another 30% on top of that but I will be buying them full price when these wear out (I think matches and netaporter carry them).  I wore them with the silk shirt/ jacket/ Goossens necklace I blogged about a few posts back. Jacket necessary because even if its a warm day for some reason they like to make the theatre absolutely frigidly cold. I suppose it did give a very Scottish feel by default...

Continuing with the never ending summer, a few months ago I was telling my sister about the bargain Salvatore Ferragamo sunglasses I'd bought at Costco. I have an unfortunate habit of throwing my sunglasses in my bag at some point (after being very careful to store them in their case most of the time) where they inevitably scratch. I was particularly annoyed as I'd done this to a reasonably newish pair of Chanel sunglasses, and wasn't prepared to fork out for another pair. But my sister was unimpressed with my cheap designer sunglasses and told me that you can buy replacement lenses. Not only that but you can get them polaroid -something the designer sunglasses never seem to come in. In fact the saleswoman in Chanel went to great pains to let me know that my sunglasses were not legal to wear driving in Europe. I was able to reassure her that wouldn't be a problem for me… Anyway, back to the replacement lenses. They make the lenses for pretty much all designer sunglasses, mail them out to you and you just pop out the old ones and put in the new. If they don't carry your brand in stock, you can mail your sunglasses to them and they make a pair to suit and mail them back. Cost is around $60 for polaroid and less for the non. Can't recommend it more highly. The company is called Sunglasses fix. I've now replaced two of my old sunglasses lens and have three sunglasses on rotation.

Anyway, I'm off to do a bit of free magazine reading on my ipad before preparing lunch for the family. It's a long weekend here, and we've had a very lazy one after the past few busy weeks. I've finally managed to get stuck into the garden to do the weeding and pruning and having been too busy to download my usual rotation of about 20 design and fashion magazines from the local library I have a lot of catching up to do. Hope you had a good weekend.

view of the side garden

hem of my Mother's Thai silk wedding dress

I've long held an interest in Thai silk, and this probably stems from my Mother's own love affair with it. Back in the 1960's when my Mum was at University, she befriended a Thai student. The lasting legacy from that friendship was that my mother was married in 1967 in a Thai silk wedding gown made of silk sent back from Thailand by her friend C. The other legacy was that my older sister, born some years later, was given C's unusual Thai name which apparently means "character". If you have met my sister, then you will definitely think she lives up to her name quite nicely….

The gown in all its 1967 glory

But back to the silk. Thai silk was all the rage in the 1950's and 1960's, a traditional handicraft that had been transformed into a very large industry post WW2. By the 1960's there were probably a hundred different Thai silk manufacturers, of varying quality. My mother's wedding silk was fairly typical of the more elaborate weaving and embroidery methods that were by then being utilised, and the edge of the long straight train and hem of the dress were woven with silver thread, with small silver embroidered medallions scattered through the body of the fabric. It was a fairly typical style of 60's wedding gown for its day, and after the wedding Mum had the train shortened, the sleeves taken off and neckline lowered to turn it into a ball gown to get more use out of it. Sadly this meant that by the time I came to be married I couldn't use it myself as it was by then rather the worse for wear from too much partying.

The Drawing room with doors opening to a terrace via The House on the Klong

While many people think that Thai silk, now synonymous with the country, was always there, it was in fact an industry almost wholly created by an American Architect and ex CIA agent named James (Jim) Thompson. He spent some time in Bangkok after the Japanese surrender at the end of WW2 with the US Army, and fell in love with the exotic culture. His return to the US was a short lived one; he discovered his wife had had an affair with his best friend, a blow that left him a confirmed bachelor, and he decided to sever ties with the US and move permanently to Bangkok. As an aesthete he immersed himself in traditional culture, something that was not fashionable at the time in Asia where they were aping the West and rushing to catch up on development. He amassed a huge collection of traditional antiques, art, fabrics and porcelain travelling all over the country in search of items to complete his collection. Simultaneously, he was developing the Thai silk industry. When Thompson arrived in Bangkok, silk weaving was a traditional handicraft practiced by a very, very small number of people and was truly on its way to dying out. It was largely undertaken by a small ethnic minority group of Muslim families who lived beside a Klong (Klongs are Canals, and Bangkok was called the Venice of the East due to the network of Klongs that used to run through the city, many of which are now gone and replaced by large multi lane roads instead); their relative isolation from the rest of the Thai society meant that it had not died out completely.

The other view of the Drawing Room via The House on the Klong

It was neither prestigious, nor given much interest by anyone, but Thompson became fascinated with the silk and the traditional methods of weaving. With his artistic background and practical sensibilities (such as introducing synthetic dyes which were more vibrant, colour fast and uniform in end result) he began to have the silk woven in colours and patterns never before seen, and with his excellent contacts in the US he began to establish a market that soon clamoured for the vibrantly hued, shimmering silks he produced. Mass expansion resulted and the industry grew, with other manufacturers riding the coat tails to success. Interestingly Thompson himself did not become a millionaire from this - he had some fairly enlightened attitudes and had made weavers shareholders in the business. In fact he was largely disinterested in the money aspect, and far more interested in producing beautiful product, a freedom probably afforded by the fact that he was independently wealthy via family inheritance.

The dining room via The House on the Klong

When he decided to build a house for himself, he again went against the grain of what was at that time the fashionable thing to do - build a modern, Western style air conditioned house in Bangkok. Instead, he purchased from a variety of sources traditionally built Thai wooden houses, early portable homes if you like, as they were designed to be disassembled and stacked on a barge to be floated down a Klong to a new location if so desired. He purchased houses with patina and character at a time when people were essentially throwing out the old houses in favour of the new. Piecing several houses together to form his new house beside a Klong that overlooked his silk weaving district, he filled it with his collection of traditional Art, furniture, sculpture and porcelain, using the house and its overall style as a showcase for it - a sort of living museum. The house was completely different to anything else in Bangkok, and as a result became something of a tourist attraction (along with his shop, which was the first stop for tourists arriving in Bangkok at the time). People would turn up to the shop with letters of introduction from friends of friends of friends, and Thompson, a very social man, would invite them for dinner, no matter how tenuous the connection offered by the letter, where they would dine in splendid style amid flickering candlelight, and surrounded by ancient treasures by the inky black waters of the Klong.

Jim Thompson's house, now a museum

Then, in 1967, Thompson took a short Easter weekend holiday to the Cameron highlands in Malaysia with friends to stay in a villa. This area is mountainous and was originally developed as an English Hill Station town (a place for the colonials to move to during the hottest months down on the plain). It was surrounded by dense jungle criss crossed with narrow and fairly rudimentary hiking trails, and at the time still had local Indigenous tribes living deep in the jungle. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, the entire household decided to have a nap. It appears that Thompson wasn't feeling so tired, and so went for a stroll, leaving his cigarettes and jacket on a chair on the verandah indicating he wasn't planning to be gone long (he was a heavy smoker). No one saw the direction he went in, and he never returned. He simply disappeared.

Entry Foyer of the Jim Thompson house

An enormous search and world wide media attention ensued, and wild conspiracy theories began to fly about in the absence of any trace of him, due largely to his connection to the CIA over 20 years before. He had received extensive training in jungle survival during his time there, which gave rise to kidnapping theories, and slightly implausible thoughts of involvement from Vietnam and China as a potential "Quiet American" (as the Vietnam war was raging), and that he may well have been a covert spy (despite the fact that he worked incessantly in his silk business day and night) as it was difficult for people to believe that he could simply vanish without trace as he did. Two more plausible scenarios are that he became injured/ suddenly ill in the dense jungle, died and was never found (he was 62 at the time of his disappearance and known to enjoy going off track in jungles), or fell into a hunting hole dug by one of the indigenous tribes and when they discovered they'd accidentally killed a white man they covered it up so as not to incur the wrath of the authorities.

My own bit of Jim Thompson fabric in my Sitting room

At any rate, while the mystery will likely never be solved, it is his lasting and enduring legacies of the creation of an industry that became a backbone of the Thai economy, of the world famous fabric company that bears his name, and of his great architectural legacy- his house and collection on the Klong that remain.

Porcelain collection, screen and traditionally decorated chest of drawers via The House on the Klong

If you are in Bangkok the house is open for viewing, now owned and managed by a Foundation set up by his family after his disappearance. His collection of traditional Thai and Cambodian pieces contained within is fabulous, and it's a window into another era before Bangkok transformed into the densely populated, Western style city it is today.

If you are interested in learning more, two books I've read on the subject recently are "Jim Thompson the unsolved mystery" which is an extensive biography and discussion on his disappearance from someone who knew him in Bangkok, and "The house on the Klong" which is more a coffee table book and deals exclusively with his collections and the house itself, and surely used as inspiration by designers such as Anouska Hempel, who references the screens and moody lighting devices in her schemes. I can highly recommend both books.

My last post in this Design and Crime series will be on the novel "Rebecca", the author Daphne du Maurier, and the house that inspired the book.

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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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