You may have already seen the image of "Another Curious Tea Party" by Kate Bergin (above) floating around Social Media or in newspapers promoting the NGV "Best of the Best 2016" exhibition, which runs from 11-13th May. The National Gallery of Victoria Women's Association have put together an exhibition and major fundraising event in conjunction with top designers in a variety of fields to raise funds for scholarships for leading art school graduates and curators and also to contribute to the acquisition of works for the Gallery. This is to be done every three years, and is not to be missed!
 inspiring Table design by Danielle D Rollins at the New York City Orchid Dinner with Chinoiserie theme

It showcases table art or table scenes conceived by artists, decorators, galleries, designers, stylists, couturiers and florists which promises to be a creatively inspiring event. Some of my favourite Melbourne designers and suppliers are involved, such as Flowers Vasette (my favourite Melbourne Florist), Hill of Content (bookshop), Turner and Lane (fab homewares store), Mud Australia (beautiful pottery based tableware) along with many other top designers like Diane Bergeron, Brownlow Interior Design... and it promises to be varied, inspiring and fabulously creative.
Botanical Gardens table designed by Danielle D Rollins at the New York City Orchid Dinner 

As any long term blog readers will know I do love a bit of table setting action, and with a Kate Bergin image to promote the event, well I was easily hooked in when the NGV approached me, offering four tickets valued at $25 each to give away to my blog readers. These will be split into two sets of two, with one set available here on the blog, and the other on Instagram. To enter, please use the rafflecopter entry form below, the draw closes on Wednesday 27th April 2016 at midnight and winners will be sent the tickets directly by the NGV.

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them" 

Joseph Brodsky

colour coordinated books by the metre 

I was contemplating this quote today in the context of the prevalence of the artfully styled interior. It was on a chalkboard outside Matilda's Bookshop in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills. It's very common to see Designers incorporating walls of bookshelves in their schemes for clients - bookshelves which they then buy books by the metre to fill up, as their clients don't actually have any books to put in them. And undoubtably they create atmosphere and ambience and the feeling of cosiness and a full life. But a wall of books brand new and completely unread by the owner does depress me somewhat. Perhaps this is because some of what I learnt studying Architecture at Uni sunk in, and that is Truth in Design. If you don't read, and you buy books by the metre as a decorative device, you are not being truthful in the design. And perhaps this is the fundamental difference between Styling an interior versus Designing one. 

Alternatively you can buy multiples of things and fill the shelves up like your own personal homewares store

I think we can all blame print media, television fast renovation shows, the Internet and our general love of a pretty picture for the emphasis on decorating and styling a house. I don't go shopping a lot, but when I do and I venture into one of those homemaker type big box stores I usually leave feeling almost ill over the sheer volume of decorative stuff that is being sold to people, quite obviously on a seasonal basis.

via @sophiepatersoninteriors instagram account

Don't even get me started on television shows like "The Block" that promote fast turnaround, unrealistic budgets, little thought to design and interiors slanted to the demands of the real estate market rather than real living.

 the perfectly colour coordinated Celine bag casually left on the floor via @sophiepatersoninteriors instagram

 Good design is available at any price point if you search it out. But when you're frittering away $20, $50, $100 or so on some cheap cushions and a couple of brass knick knacks, it doesn't seem like a big deal, and maybe you'll end up with a pretty vignette to put on Instagram. 

a piece of good design- a seating niche via

Design is not decoration (decoration is the surface stuff). It's about getting the fundamentals right. I become very frustrated that often decorative schemes are lauded in many of the lower end home decoration magazines on the basis of how they look in the often very manipulated picture, and they may have fundamentally some very poor design underlying it all. At the heart of the way our very visual society values things we have a tendency to laud the designers and decorators and stylists that give a pretty picture. But a year after the pictures are published in a magazine the fabric that was chosen that is supposed to be for light duty domestic use and that has been placed in a heavy duty commercial environment has fallen apart and needs to be replaced… or the paint is peeling off the spray painted plastic animal collection quirkily placed on a bookshelf… or the books on the bookshelf used purely as decor where all the spines are turned to the back of the shelf so all you see are pages… these things all look great in a photographic image, but in reality frustrate and irritate.

the sofa too close to the bed, the stool too close to the sofa, the stool with the large vase of flowers you'd knock over… via

backward books via

It's long been a fascination of mine to analyse an interiors image to see what is likely always there and what has been created for the photo shoot. Some of those clues are contained in the text - pieces of furniture/ accessories/ art that are credited in a magazine are often borrowed for the shoot. Often these items are sourced from the big advertisers in the magazine, but certainly a lot of styling has gone on that bears no correlation between every day life and the perfect picture. Other things require a little more observation - chairs that block doors/stairs/ halls, or things obviously moved into position for a photo that would never be there otherwise - like the fully upholstered cross bench stool with attractive vignette styling including an oil painting in a shower alcove as pictured below.

via @ivyandpiperhome instagram

I have always viewed interiors photos with a healthy dose of scepticism, much as you do a catalogue photo for a fashion label - the model is probably not having such a good time when she's laughing beachside in the middle of winter in a sundress. But it's become obvious to me that a lot of people are perhaps more susceptible to this sort of suggestive imagery as portraying and projecting their future perfect real life.

 The cover of Home Beautiful magazine with photoshopped changes to a pool cabana - furniture, light fitting, window, flooring, hanging chair

The original image they based it on in a house featured some months before in the magazine, designed by Melinda Hartwright Interiors

I once had a client for a project I worked on in Melbourne wanting to cancel the sofas we'd already ordered based on a photograph from an advertisement of a leather sofa she'd spied in a magazine. It was a close up photo of a young woman snuggled up on a leather sofa with a little girl next to her, both wrapped in a cashmere blanket and smiling blissfully and tenderly at one another. You could see a corner of the back seat cushion and a corner of the arm of the sofa and that was all. So I called the company (Natuzzi) to ask what the sofa was and to get a full image of it so that we could see what it actually looked like. It was ugly. I sent her an email with the image of the actual sofa, and she was horrified and said it was nothing like she expected it to be. She was happy to go ahead with the original sofas that were already half manufactured.

So what she'd actually been sold on was the image of the smiling mother and child on the sofa, and she was projecting that she'd like to live moments like that in her future. Essentially design and decoration is loaded with all the expectations of special moments we'd like to create, of the way we'd like to live our lives. Big warm family gatherings where everyone is happy and convivial (when in reality you don't get along with your family and Uncle Billy always is drunk), snuggling with the golden child on the sofa, cooking delicious meals from scratch in your enormous and very clean kitchen (when you more often buy takeaway). All these things are loaded into our psyche when viewing images of houses and inserting ourselves into fantasy pictures that many then try to create in their own homes. I've always said that the best thing you can do when starting the design process for anything is to be realistic and honest about how you live - if you don't cook, you're unlikely to start just because you have 2 wide ovens, an inbuilt deep fryer and steam oven.

carefully curated shelf styling via

Real design is about making your life easier - it's not about chairs that block doorways, spray painting something gold from Target for a decor accent or any of the other things that might end up looking good in a photo and being pinned 10,000 on Pinterest. Unfortunately the business of design and decoration and the relatively recent culture of shopping for home items on a seasonal basis has masked the underlying truth - that good design will make your life better, and that it doesn't matter how many throw rugs, coffee table books, turkish towels, diptyque candles and cushions you buy - if you don't fix the underlying problem you'll just be buying more and wondering why it doesn't work. The best house is the one that reflects its owner - not someone else's idea of what is good taste, current fashion or supposed personal interests and hobbies that they don't actually have. And perhaps this is why the images of perfection in magazines are a little like a souffle in reality - pretty but can fall flat in the end.
via Pinterest

I was thinking about this topic after my three children had, over the course of 5 days which included Easter, scuffed walls, chipped off a large chunk of plaster off the column in the hall, felled the standard lamp in the living area breaking the socket in the process, peeled off wallpaper in the laundry, and tipped over a small mirrored table in Mr AV's study smashing the top. It wasn't a particularly good run, and we were very frustrated at the damage. Mr AV commented - "this is a very robust house, imagine the damage they would do if it wasn't?" and then started reminiscing about the damage he and his 4 brothers and sisters did to their parents house.

via Pinterest

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that you could have an 'adult' house as long as you design around the demands and practicalities of children. This means that you are not yelling at them all day long to stay away from things or berating them for ruining the house, and in turn you can enjoy your house without the worry of it looking like a child/ teen friendly space permanently. Adults and children can cohabit despite their different requirements, and I think it's a total cop out for people to say that they'll wait until their children leave home to buy decent furniture. When designing our house I naturally chose things that would work with our family and thought that it might be useful to list all the things that can be done to make a family friendly house that doesn't compromise on design. Room by room, here are the things that I've found work.

Living areas

If you have a casual living space that will be frequented by children there are several practical things you can do that will make life easier.

 indoor/ outdoor fabric that I used on a sofa for clients last year in a casual living area

Upholstering sofas in one of the new indoor/ outdoor fabrics is a great way to go. Every single fabric range has extensive indoor/outdoor fabrics in them now thanks to the new fabric technologies, and they are completely stain proof, ranging from fairly inexpensive, to top of the range with fabric houses such as Pierre Frey. If you love a light coloured sofa, but have toddlers, then slipcover a sofa in one of the new fabrics (the fabrics feel completely normal and not plasticky) and you can easily throw it in the wash and watch any stain be it vegemite/ chocolate or mud without treatment simply disappear. I've also used indoor/ outdoor fabrics in rooms frequented by grandchildren, where the grandparents didn't want to have to be constantly asking the children to take their shoes off or sit carefully (and instead wanted to be the 'fun' grandparents). This makes the sofa easy to spot clean with a bit of soap and water. Upholstery that is not a solid plain fabric also works better to disguise dirt. I usually select a fabric with a bit of 'movement' in it so that general dinginess will be fairly disguised. Our own sofas are a very, very fine check in tonal greys, and this has disguised dirt very well without going the route of the full washable slipcover.

grandchild friendly surfaces for my client - leather upholstered armchairs, indoor/ outdoor fabric on the sofa.

Paint on walls should always be washable acrylic - this is not a place to use distemper or any of the other more fashionable/ authentic paint finishes, unless you want instant child height patina.


If you eat at a dining table with your children (rather than serving them at the kitchen island) then a dining table that has a robust finish to the top is optimal while children are toddlers. Our dining table is already distressed and made from recycled wood. The children have variously scratched, drawn and gouged it, and you really can't tell as it works in with the surface. Stone is a good surface for this reason too, highly polished/ perfect timber is not. A dining table made with a 2pac factory sprayed painted top is definitely not a good idea. All the edges will chip and you'll have scratches all over it.

My dining table and chairs. The table is a recycled timber, the chairs have covers that can be removed and washed. 

Dining chairs are another concern. I don't recommend tight (fitted) upholstered dining chairs, unless they are leather. Slipcovers are fine obviously, and again the indoor/ outdoor fabrics are perfect for this. Otherwise a hard chair surface that can be wiped down is the best alternative. The worst idea is to buy dining chairs with a cheap fabric on it thinking that if they're ruined in a few years you'll just reupholster when the kids are older. Cheap fabrics don't wear well at all, and they will look absolutely mangey within 6 months. Make sure your chair is robust - children tend to swing on chairs, knock them over and do all sorts of other things, so investing in a decent dining chair that will survive a bit of abuse is important. Another chair option is one of the high chairs that convert to proper chairs, such as the Stokke Tripp Trapp highchair. We have two of them, they are now set at booster seat height as a chair for my 5 and 7 year olds, and they are robust, untippable, and easy to clean.


via Pinterest

I've written before about my thoughts on kitchen surfaces (and incidentally, it's the most popular and most viewed post I've ever written… which surprises me still!). You can read it here


Flooring choices are important with children. If you are putting in wooden floor boards, forget about having a high gloss surface, unless you want to be permanently attached to a mop. A low sheen surface is your friend - you won't see dust, dirty footprints and other defects such as scratches. Dark is obviously better if you want to conceal dirt or just dinginess - I noted that designer Lauren Leiss put in painted white floorboards at her new family home (4 children), and she has said that she cleans them everyday, but for her the payoff is the look. I think she's also said in other places she's chosen more forgiving surfaces as compensation for this. If you're not sure you could keep up with that sort of cleaning regime, then avoid at all costs.

via Lauren Leiss

If you're putting in floorboards, a hardwood is better than a soft wood. Pine in high traffic areas (such as hallways or kitchens) will scratch and degrade over time when compared to a hardwood. In our hall we installed Spotted Gum floorboards over the existing old pine in the hallway, and it has held up well. Timber in general though will show scratches and dents more easily, even from high heeled shoes (not just children scootering inside), so alternatives to consider are tile, linoleum, vinyl, polished concrete, and carpet. Our choice of linoleum is fantastic, and I still am so happy we made the decision to install it. It takes a real knock from the kids, and cleans up brilliantly.

Regarding carpet, I know a lot of people like nylon now, and this is something that seems to me to have come from the project home/ developers market and spread through the carpet suppliers recommending it when retailing it to homeowners. Project home builders like nylon as it will meet their builders warranty and they are pretty much guaranteed that it won't change or stain until their warranty period is up. I never recommend it (unless it's for a commercial property) as it is, in the end, plastic. Wool carpet wears a lot better than nylon over a longer period of time. It feels more luxurious, and is a natural product. Stains will come out fairly easily (unless you want white carpet). For children who often lie on their carpet to play games, I just think it's far nicer that they're on a natural surface.  But this is a personal preference. Obviously dark carpet is good for children for hiding stains and dirt, and that is what I chose for my own house. I knew that the long duration of our renovation and us living in the house for the duration meant that a light coloured carpet would look dreadful otherwise.


my youngest's bedroom - he wanted orange walls, this was our compromise

I think it's important to involve children in the design of their own spaces. To keep this simpler, I recommend asking them for a theme or colour that they like, then picking two things you're also happy to live with and then asking them to choose between those limited choices. Too much choice is overwhelming. I buy my children's bedroom lamps from cheaper places like Target, Bunnings, or Freedom furniture when on sale. Then I don't have to worry too much if one is knocked over.

Playrooms/ teenage retreats 

Playroom via Pinterest

I'm a big advocate of the playroom, if you can fit one in. Kids love to have a space they can take their friends to that is theirs alone. Somewhere they can keep out ongoing games or projects, hang out in and enjoy. When designing or choosing a space for a playroom, close proximity to the kitchen/ main living area is very important if you want them to actually use the space. Connection to the outdoors is also very important, whether that be by doors leading directly to the garden or just very large windows. Natural light is also very important. Otherwise this will become a space to store toys that are then strewn around your house in other areas.

My children's playroom with blackboard wall

If you don't have a playroom (and we didn't in our first house), then a small area that houses some storage with doors on it in your living room will conceal mess. I know that open shelves are very Montessori etc, but unless you have excessively neat children you will be driven crazy looking at the mess of toys on the shelves. Ikea have good storage for children, and I used it in my playroom - blog post here

Ikea storage for toys in my kid's playroom - doors are essential


Avoid natural stone such as marble or limestone. This is because they are porous and will absorb stains and odours. There are good porcelain alternatives these days if you like the look of stone for tiles, and in bench tops the composite stones (such as caesarstone) are better options - even colourless soap will stain marble if left sitting on it for too long.

Tile behind toilets - Little (and many big) boys have bad aim.

via Channel nine's The Block - solid splashback rather than mirrored, but I don't recommend marble

If you hate the look of splash marks on mirrors and won't be cleaning them everyday, then a backsplash on your bathroom vanity is essential, don't run the mirror down to the top of the bench top.

via Pinterest

Successful design is about being realistic in how you live. How much cleaning and what you can live mess wise with are the tightrope combination, and if you get it right you will have a much easier life in all ways. There are compromises in anything in life, and in construction and house design nothing is ever perfect. Fighting against this will just make life miserable for all the inhabitants, big and small. Choosing robust finishes, designing around potential problems and building in lots of storage to conceal 'stuff' will ultimately make for an enjoyable home.
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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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