I think the one thing that I really love about design is the problem solving aspect. Whether it be large or small, there is nothing more satisfying them finding a solution to a problem that is both logical and inexpensive.

After: The rejuvenated kitchen

On numerous occasions, part of my design work has been to look at an existing house, and find the best and most cost effective solution for my client to live in it more efficiently, and in a more modern way. Here in Australia we now prefer to live with a casual, open plan living area to the rear of a house. Usually this opens out to a back garden, courtyard or pool area. It's light and bright and suits an informal style of entertaining. Older houses, built prior to the mid 1970's, tend to have their best rooms at the front of the house, with the back of the house being served by small, boxy rooms and utility areas like a separate kitchen and laundry.

The temptation can be that you add on more space at the back to create the living environment that you want. But this can be not only expensive (as every square metre you add on obviously costs), but it can leave you with rooms at the front of your house that don't have a specific purpose anymore, and that become disused spaces. Formal rooms that are used once a year are not a good use of your space or your money.

A project I worked on in Sydney late last year is a great example of doing a few internal tweaks that suit modern living a little better. The house had sat on the market in a very good area of Sydney for a long time. Anyone that knows the market in Sydney will know that this was fairly unusual as property tends to move quite fast, but part of the reason for this was that the house had an unmodernised layout (it was a 1920's tudor style two storey house built on a sloping site). The kitchen was reasonably large, but did not face out over the back garden, and it was in a separate room. Overall the interior features of the whole house were a little dated and conservative with fairly lacklustre light fittings and muted paint colours more suited to an older buyer. In short, it put off the family market who would normally snap up such a property. It was "too good" to consider it a knock down/ full renovation/ bargain as things had been done well, but not wow enough to draw in the buyers that a property in this area would command. Additionally it had a few strange features that I think probably caused buyers to scratch their heads, but which were easy to change.

My clients have a very young family, and a small collection of good quality modern furniture and Art, they were upsizing from a previous cottage in Melbourne. I was charged with finding some simple make over solutions so that they could feel happy and comfortable for approximately 5 years before they embarked on some larger changes that would more substantially alter the layout of the house and a few of its glaring faults, and to also select and purchase furniture to fill their new larger spaces. They like things a little glam, and used the terms 'luxurious' a lot, but also 'budget' a lot too!

Before: the original kitchen - tiled floors, granite benchtops and timber cupboards

First thing was the kitchen. The existing kitchen was timber with granite benchtops, stainless steel appliances and tiled floors. As I mentioned, it was in a wholly separate room, however with a toddler at home, this didn't work well for my clients. The first step was to open up the wall between the kitchen and the adjacent formal dining room to give a larger casual living area. This was one of the more expensive changes in the overall makeover, as it required a steel beam to support the load from the second floor to join these two rooms up.

portion of the floor plan showing the separate kitchen and the adjacent formal dining

The floorboards throughout the house were a very thin width pine subfloor, which had been polished up and were a little yellowy and knotty. Floorboards were not always meant to be seen in old houses, and these were a good example of that. The 1920's saw the rise of the fitted carpet, and anyone with any means would have fitted carpet throughout their house. For this reason the subfloor was the cheapest structural timber that could be fitted, so polishing it up is a modern treatment to these types of floors. It's sort of the equivalent of polishing up modern particleboard sheets which is used now for our unseen subfloors.

Before: The formal dining room, which became informal living once knocked through to the kitchen

Additionally, it was running the wrong way - across ways in the hall. Usually you run floorboards down the longest axis, so front to back in a hall. So, with these two things in mind, and in an effort to quickly unify the kitchen and rest of the house with the tile and timber having a junction that was exposed by knocking through the wall, we laid a floating floor across the whole thing using a wide board oak in a neutral and natural light timber finish. The benefits of using a floor like this was that the whole thing was installed throughout the ground floor in a matter of a few days requiring no polishing etc, but the transformation was dramatic to the overall feel of the house. Suddenly the flooring lifted it into a modern and light feeling house.

During: Floorboards being installed in the sunroom that became the dining room

Back in the kitchen, the next biggest transformation was paint. The actual kitchen units themselves were very good quality, but the timber look was dated, and so we painted the cupboards in a semi gloss enamel in white, with a black for the island bench. New benchtops were added, as my clients absolutely loathed the existing granite, and a white Caesarstone was chosen. This was not the most cost effective option - I'd suggested using a laminate benchtop initially, as they are far, far cheaper, but in the end my client decided to stump up the extra for the caesarstone as the builder talked them out of the laminate. All the other items in the kitchen were kept the same - same appliances, handles, taps, sinks etc.

During: Opening up the wall between the kitchen and old dining room and beginning the painting

After: The finished kitchen open to the old dining room which is now a casual sitting area, apologies for the artificial light which is casting a very yellow glow

The other major area of improvement in the house was the lighting. Every fitting was changed, and they ranged in price from fairly inexpensive fabric drum pendants in bedrooms and halls, to a couple of showstoppers in the formal living and dining rooms. These pendants can be reused if and when my clients renovate, so spending money on some fittings now was a good expenditure to give a little bit of wow.

Before: The original Sunroom, which became the dining room

After: Sunroom with a new light fitting, new floorboards and paint, and the existing dining furniture my client's already had. No, there is no lean in the floor! Just a bad camera angle. You can just see the wall of the dark formal sitting room, so the light fitting and chairs links the spaces

Rejigging the floorplan on the ground floor meant that we pushed the dining room into the former Sunroom just off the formal living room. This is not very close to the kitchen, which made me a little reluctant to do this, however my clients said that they were more likely to sit at the island bench in the kitchen to eat meals during the week, and that the dining room would be more likely to be used for weekend lunches and dinners with friends and family. At any rate, the one room that was left slightly purposeless, and possibly a pass through was the formal living room. It had some lovely features with the original fireplace and little stained glass in the windows, but it was a traffic thoroughfare to the sunroom and the outside garden access, and was fairly gloomy being a reasonably internally focussed room with small windows.

Before: The Formal Sitting Room

It might seem counterintuitive to therefore paint this room near black, and it took a little convincing of my clients, but they bravely decided to go for it, and now say it's their favourite room in the house. Funnily enough, the painter had queried the colour when he opened the tin and had added to their doubt, but after it was done, everyone loved it so much that the painter was considering doing a black room at his house as well!

In progress: New seating, coffee table, light fitting and the artwork in place. Still to come additional tables, new large rug and lamps and the cushions

Dark colours really set off modern artwork well, and this has been a great base for this room. We used a light fitting that was 1920's inspired with foxed mirrored glass to give a little glamour to the room, and which you can partially see in the fairly poor photograph above. The new sofa and armchairs are upholstered in white child proof indoor/ outdoor fabric, and we've done a mix of furniture with some existing Hay denmark side tray tables that they had, a West Elm coffee table, and since this photo was taken, a Ligne Roset side table between the two armchairs. Some lamps and cushions have also arrived, and hopefully I'll get over to Sydney soon to see how it's all progressing and to photograph it - the next major purchase is a rug.

Unfortunately I haven't photographed more rooms. While the majority of the furniture and cosmetic changes were finished for Christmas last year, this year we have slowly added in other finishing items as budget allows, and it's almost at a point where I can get in to photograph it properly.

All up, this was a satisfying project due to the quick turnaround and the dramatic transformation. My clients are thrilled with the changes, which essentially amounted to new flooring throughout (new carpet upstairs, floorboards downstairs), the kitchen benchtops, lighting and a very, very big painting job. The yellowed oak-coloured timber trim throughout the house was painted out. I realise a lot of people are against painting over wood at any cost, but it looked pretty shabby and worn, and again, my client hated how dated it made everything look. Painting woodwork does lighten up spaces, so the changes to the stairs and upstairs hall were dramatic where there were areas of panelling.

I hope you enjoyed this very brief before and after, and I apologise for the poor quality unprofessional iphone photos! I've sat on this for almost the entire year thinking I'd get over there and photograph things properly, but this year has sped by, and I thought it better to show a little glimpse of this interesting project, poor quality photos and all.
I'm feeling a little nostalgic as my youngest, the subject of this blog post that I'm reposting below, finishes his first year of school. He is now 6, but his teddy bear has still not been relegated to the cupboard just yet. I will be sad when he does, as my littlest is growing up so fast - the children all are. For those who have read this before, I apologise. I have a half written blog post that is design- centric that I will hopefully have written and posted later this week, but in the meantime, here is one of my favourite blog posts of old.


Meet Didi (Dee-Dee). He's the constant companion and best friend of my 2 year old, S. He is a flatout bear, made of sheepskin and super cuddly, and as you can see, very well loved. Since S was 4 months old he has slept every night with his little friend. He named him Didi because he couldn't say "Stinky", which was our name for his bear.

fur missing, eye missing, and a horrible odour

Now, we have a little secret in our house. This Didi pictured is actually Didi number 2. The first Didi had an unfortunate situation with his leg. S liked to chew on his leg, until it came to the point where he had essentially eaten it when he was 1. When I did the switch of the first Didi, I explained that I had cleaned him and sewn his leg back on. My oldest child, then 6 years old said "Wow Mum, you did a great job!".... whereas my then 3 year old daughter eyed the new Didi suspiciously and said "but Mummy, how did you sew on his leg when S had eaten it?". A quick change of subject and it was forgotten about, but I knew that the next time we had to switch a bear it was going to be tricky..... for one, S. was older and could well reject a replacement bear. Secondly, his older brother and sister also had to be convinced that it was the same bear for a switch to work.

hole in the back

In preparation of the switch, I told S that Didi was going to the Teddy Bear Hospital, where they would sew his fur back on, fix the missing eye, and make him all clean and fluffy. S was very enthusiastic about this. Finally, a nearby shop had a bear in the right colour in stock, and I picked it up and started the preparations.

For 3 hours this morning, I managed to separate S from his constant companion, telling him that Didi would be in hospital, and would be coming home in time for S's nap after lunch. To convince the older two that it was in fact the same bear, a hospital record was produced, and the new and revitalised Didi was put on S's bed, with the ratty coloured ribbons (to help us find Didi when he is lost in the garden somewhere as he is the same colour as dirt) threaded through the label as always. 

My other two have also had a special friend for bed. My oldest, H has "Dear" (his word for bear), and has Dear 1 and Dear 2.... he had a replacement as well, and after finding the original in our cupboard 6 months ago, now sleeps with both of them. My daughter E has "Bubba" (her baby word for bear) and is also on her second. I'd just say that a white bear is not ideal. All three of them have taken their bears everywhere with them until they are around 3... which means that Didi's days should be numbered, but S shows no signs of leaving him on his bed for the day just yet. And who can blame him? Didi is a very soft and cuddly bear.

Dear 1 and Dear 2

I had a bear as a child, one of those Koala's that are sold in tourist shops, made out of kangaroo fur, imaginatively called "kwalie". I used to chew his paws, so they were all bald from the fur being sucked off. Sadly, I left him on a train in Scotland when I was 4. He was never found in lost property, and the bear I was given as a replacement was just not the same. He hadn't had the vigorous love of a 2 year old to soften the edges - there was no history.


So, how did the swap go? Well, S walked in, spied rejuvenated Didi on his bed and squealed with excitement. He had an absolutely beaming smile on his face and shouted "Didi - you're all clean and fluffy, and you smell good!". Total acceptance. Tonight he is tucked up with Didi in his bed, clean and fluffy and very happy to be reunited with his special friend.

Pyjama'd up and ready for bed

So tell me.... what did you have as a child? Blanket, Bear or thumb?  
I thought, that as I have scant chance of writing blog posts of any merit over the next few weeks, that I'd instead repost a couple of my favourite blog posts from many years past. Long term blog readers, please excuse my laziness in reposting some of them, but I hope that newer readers might enjoy them instead. I will try to write a couple of other blogs before Christmas, but in the meantime, here is one of my favourite posts.


If you've visited the British Museum you may well have seen Mary Delany's stunning paper collages. Begun when she was a 72 year old widow in the 18th Century in England, she is the inventor of paper collage, and her botanically accurate depictions of some 1000 different specimens are true works of art as well as science. Each of her collages is made up of individually hand-cut coloured paper which has been glued to black backing paper. She finally put down her scissors aged 82 due to her failing eye sight, after an industrious and unconventional life marked by her sophistication, intelligence, friendships (with many luminaries such as the composer Handel, writer Jonathon Swift and Sir Joseph Banks the botanist), and her talent in Art and Music. As I mentioned recently in a blog post, I read a fascinating book about her life, Mary Delany, her Life and Her Flowers. I love books about social history and women's lives over the ages, and Mary Delany lived quite an extraordinary life.

Born Mary Granville into a family of lower ranked nobility, she had association with the English Court through her widowed Aunt and was educated in French, English, History, Needlework, Dancing and Music in London for the life at Court it was assumed she would have. A change in the Monarchy with the death of Queen Anne led to Mary's family fortunes turning. Their reduced circumstances lead to her being pressured into a marriage, aged 17, with a 60 year old man of means. She was desperately unhappy, but he eventually died, leaving her widowed aged 23. Unfortunately he had not altered his will, and his estate passed to his niece, leaving her with a very small widow's stipend.

Mary was determined not to remarry (widows were able to move much more freely in society), and she remained single until she was in her early 40's (and was known as a Bluestocking through her friendship with that group). During this time she was active at Court and in Society, much sought after for her wit, humour and intelligence. She was also known for setting fashions, albeit in a more 'stylish' manner than being a pure trendsetter. Much of what she wore she designed herself, and also embroidered quite exquisitely. She made a court dress of black silk, which was embroidered all over with silk flowers, each different and unique (a precursor to her paper collages), and which has been passed down in her family.

embroidered panels from her court dress

Eventually she remarried, this time for love, to Irishman Dr Patrick Delany (against her family's wishes). She then entered a very settled and industrious period spending each day in paper cutting silhouettes, as an avid gardener (many of her letters reference with interest the work that Capability Brown was doing landscaping friend's and family member's estates in the revolutionary manner that became known as the Landscape Style), in shellwork (she created a shell grotto at a friend's house, as well as covering furniture, mirrors and ceilings in shells), embroidery (designing and embroidering curtains and chair covers for her home as well as her clothes), reading, playing music and doing all of these things in the company of her friends, of whom she had many. 

After the death of her husband, when she was 72, she moved back to England, living with the Dowager Duchess of Portland, a close friend. Both had an interest in Botany, which lead them to friendships with botanic luminaries such as Sir Joseph Banks. Her paper collages were the culmination of her scientific knowledge of plants, her artistic skill with colour and texture, and her extraordinarily high skill level in cutting fine and tiny pieces of paper to create silhouettes. These caught the eye of Queen Charlotte, wife of King George 3rd, who became good friends with Mrs Delany (as did the King himself), and encouraged her in her pursuit.

Mrs Delany's flowers have inspired many artists and designers. Of course, collage is now considered quite mainstream, but she was the trailblazer. Carolina Herrera sent out a catwalk collection for Spring 2011that featured botanic specimens on black that were definite homages to Mrs Delany's work.

I found her life so interesting on so many levels - she was a clearly intelligent woman, who was trapped by the circumstances of her sex, and the era that she was born into, to live a life that was not of her choosing. But after being given her freedom by the death of her first husband, her path was not conventional in the least. She waited to marry again for love, rather than social position or financial security (she apparently had many offers of marriage that she turned down). Her artistic skill, creativity and industriousness are completely inspiring, as was the fact that she was quite old when she began her real life's work of her one thousand botanical collages - there is hope for us all! 

There are several books written about her life. The one I read Mary Delany, Her Life and Her Flowers, was written by a descendant of her sister, but there is another more recent release titled The Paper Garden written by Molly Peacock and which is a slightly more dramatised version of Mrs Delany's life. Mary Delany lived a fascinating, industrious and creative life, a life that was inspiring on many levels.

all images via Pinterest
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Search This Blog

About Me

My photo
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 anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
Powered by Blogger.

Follow this blog with bloglovin

Follow on Bloglovin

Things to read....