I think the most hackneyed and bandied about word in Interiors, Fashion, and lifestyle in general is Luxury.

Everyone, it seems, wants a luxury bespoke life, however there are very few in the world that can actually have one in the true sense of the word - that would be reserved for Oligarchs and Billionaires who can live at a level you occasionally glimpse in things like glossy coffee table books.

Luxury is often used to imply scarcity - people will say the ultimate luxury is time. However Luxury as a term has been hijacked by marketers and big international conglomerates to conjure illusions of material wealth. Queuing up outside a "luxury" good store to buy something expensive and supposedly rare, as seen above, is not exactly a luxury experience in my book.

Luxury isn't just about the price tag associated with something and the ability to purchase that item. For many people it comes with a log of baggage around the experience of purchasing the item. A book I have mentioned before on the blog "I Sold Andy Warhol (too soon)" contained an anecdote, written in a rather bitter manner, about how after the author had sold his Andy Warhol painting, his (now ex )wife bought a Chanel suit. He accompanied her to the boutique and as he was waiting he chatted to the sales assistant helping his wife and told her he'd just sold the painting so was stumping up for his wife's "dream" suit. He later found out from his wife that apparently this ruined the entire experience for her. Part of her dream wasn't just in buying the suit, it was wrapped up with the entire experience of pretending she could buy it easily, and having the sales women fuss around her.... the luxury was the fantasy feeling she was getting from the experience as a whole, not just in the actual garment.

I've danced around the topic of Luxury on this blog for many years, be that what it means in fashion or in life in general... but I was recently reflecting on it again because I was asked to articulate what Luxury at home meant to me.

Certainly some of the push back I've had on the blog in the past has been the umbrage that some have felt at my suggestion that people should question spending large amounts of money on heavily logo'd luxury goods with dubious design merits in their house. Luxury has been democratised, and it really has very little to do with whether you can personally afford something (hello credit!) and there seems to be almost a sense of entitlement to items branded as luxury goods being available to all. So what exactly is it that makes them luxurious if everyone can buy them, and you have to queue up in order to do so, like some sort of Communist bread line?

via John Jacob Interiors

I have decided, after a lot of deliberation, that Luxury is a feeling that is somewhat fleeting (it can wear off), and comes down to three things: Ease, Comfort and Appearance, in that order, and really has very little association with the money aspect.

via Veranda

Ease of living feels luxurious. This can mean a lot of different things, but I think for most people (who do not have staff) this boils down to a house works for you, not you for the house. An example of this is that in recent years a lot of people have added bathrooms to their dream outer suburban homes at alarming rates. It's not unusual for a suburban McMansion to have 5 bathrooms, one for each bedroom, plus an extra WC or powderoom, whereas a house in the same location with people with the same earning ability would have had only one bathroom not that long ago. Luxury in this instance has been interpreted in having large amounts of personal space. The major problem with this is that unless you have staff, then you have 5 bathrooms to clean every week. The house is not working for you, you are working for your house, and this doesn't feel luxurious if you're the one scrubbing the bathrooms of your children.

Excerpt above from Imogen Taylor's "On the Fringe" about her time at Sybil Colefax and John Fowler.  I found it a very interesting observation that people with a lot of money didn't actually know how to live well... and that their Interior Designers were teaching them.  It plays into the idea that luxury living isn't about the cost of something, although a lot of people assume that it is. 

Back on track, comfort, the next key component of luxury comes from the extra thought you might put into a house that makes it tailored to how you live in it. It's about having a table for your drink next to the comfortable chair you like to sit in. It's the kitchen that is easy to cook in because everything is where you need it, and it doesn't require traipsing up and down to fetch things, or hauling things out of cupboards constantly to get things out from the back that you need. It's a restful night's sleep because you have blackout blinds, or a house that is warm in Winter and Cool in Summer. Feeling supremely comfortable is a luxurious sensation - anyone that enjoys the feeling of sliding into fresh sheets on a bed and the luxuriously expansive feeling that can bring will know what I am getting at.

via John Jacob Interiors

Then you get to appearance, which is the part that many people jump to initially. Some things look luxurious, perhaps because they require commitment, in a surface sense, to keep their appearance looking that way (shiny surfaces are often associated by people as being "luxurious", however they all require a lot of maintenance to keep them that way, perhaps why they are associated with luxury as they imply staff that keep everything looking immaculate). Appearance can also mean an attention to detail that is beyond the norm to make it feel luxurious.

So where does this lead us? The most famous Modernist Architecture quote is "form ever follows function' (Louis Sullivan), and the modernist movement lead to the stripping out of fluff and extraneous detail down to the machinations of living, ironically often leading to fairly uncomfortable interiors and houses. I am (obviously) not a minimalist in this sense, and love detail, ornamentation and the softening and comfort that it brings, but I think this still gets to what is what is true attainable luxury.

If your house works well, then that is what luxury is about - ease and comfort. If it looks good to you, then that is also what it is about - attractiveness. It's not about what you experience on holiday in a 5 star hotel, or what another might think is luxury. It's about an Interior that provides a haven to you from the world, that works for your life, that gives you that feeling of satisfaction, pause and expansiveness that is a luxurious sensation in itself.

That, to me, is luxury that is achievable, and the rest is just marketing hype and noise.

So over to you reader, I'm curious to hear what makes you feel luxurious in your home.

If you ever want to cause a little social anxiety amongst your friends, I've found a great way to do it is to put up an Instagram post of a table setting, with little other detail on it. The text messages and comments will then roll in enquiring exactly who is coming to dinner, and why aren't they?

This table setting above was for a photo shoot at my house, there'll be more on that some other time, but by the time the text messages were coming in that evening, I was packing away the silver and place cards, and instead making Spaghetti Bolognase for the family after a rather long day of trying to make my house Photo perfect.

Plates from Mottahedeh, linen scalloped placemats and napkins from Birdie Fortescue, coloured candles from my friend Kal in random glass candlesticks, watering can place card holders from Ballard Designs, antique Kings pattern silver, and green water glasses from Villeroy and Boch

While I do enjoy entertaining friends and family with a lovely table setting and a more interesting menu than Spag Bol, I was really wanting to discuss table setting in general, because Social Media has divided into two. There are either elaborately set out tables that are often for a fake "entertaining" set up, or they are a dispiriting "keeping it real" post of utensil free tables or kitchen islands with kids eating meals they probably shouldn't with their hands, no placemats or napkins in sight. The middle ground of a standard dinner setting seems to be lacking.

On the face of it, I have no problem with actual stylists setting a table attractively and letting everyone know it's a photo shoot. I have more of a problem with people, civilians if you like, trying to do the same, except pretending it's real life, or a "professional" of some kind pretending it's everyday for them. This leads into the whole problem with social media and the Insta-fake lives that so many lead, whether that be posting a photo of a Paul Bangay designed garden in Sydney Harbour and saying you took the photo when on a holiday in the South of France at a villa you rent each Summer (yes, a New York based designer really did that), or posting the same stack of ironed napkins and gifted plates on your outdoor table claiming breakfast was being served, on a day when the temperature where you were was about 9C (did everyone wear puffas?)

Breakfast is served - eating outside when it's 9C, plus a chicken, at Melissa Penfold's house at Bowral via Instagram

But back to table settings.... I was recently entertained by a post from Sophie Paterson Interiors on Instagram. Sophie is a well known Surrey (England) based decorator with an enormous social media following on Instagram. She was hosting 10 other designers over for a networking dinner at her house, for which she had styled her house immaculately and brought in a chef to cater. Her dinner placements were elaborately laid out with multiple glasses, sets of cutlery, placemats, chargers and napkins fluffed out in rings. There was just one problem: her knife blades were all pointing the wrong way. Cue the reasonably blunt first comment on the Instagram post that the knife blades were pointing the wrong way. Cue Sophie responding in a huffy lengthy paragraph that she was a busy working mother with better things to do than think about knife blades and it was all done in a rush and .......

the offending knife blades via Sophie Paterson Interiors Instagram account 

Putting aside how to respond to comments that you consider rude on social media, (a simple, "thanks, hadn't noticed it" would have saved face and shut down the back and forth of the pile on that then happened, with people hotly debating whether it was of any importance which way the knife blades faced, or if it was irrelevant because it looked pretty anyway), an Australian designer then commented that they'd done a photo shoot for their upcoming "styling your house" series, for which people pay money to take an E -course, and that they'd realised after the shoot that every single table setting they'd photographed they'd put the knife blades pointing the wrong way. They were now feeling a little anxious about the potential backlash.

Attractive table setting, not theirs

As well they should - if you're purporting to be a style expert and people are paying money to learn from you, you really need to ensure that you get the basic details right. Style over substance is the key point here - a simple check on google if you're unsure of your table setting placement would have shown the knife blades were pointing in the wrong way. One thing I have noticed on Social Media is that obviously as you are talking to a global audience, what is the "right" way to do something in one part of the world, is not necessarily the "right" way to do it on the other: there are cultural norms to setting a table, or even in naming something (Serviette vs Napkin etc). Announce something is wrong at your peril...

Via Tory Burch's Instagram account - white cabbageware and Iksel wallpaper

But really,  this all highlights a few things to me. My personal bugbear is that so few sit at a dinner table to eat anymore. I know from my client work that a lot of people want a kitchen Island bench to accommodate their entire family sitting down to eat a meal, however usually there is a dining table immediately adjacent to the island. When you sit at an island you line up on one side, which is not sociable, facing the mess in the kitchen. Eating casually like this (or off your lap in front of a tv) means many people don't actually set a place. You grab cutlery and sit down.... which means that if you've done this all your life, as an adult you may not actually know how to do a basic table setting (just a single knife and fork, a napkin and glass) unless you've worked in hospitality.

The two designers who have made the basic knife blade error are from a generation that likely grew up not being forced to set a table for dinner every night, a generation that on the whole as adults feels more comfortable eating out at a food truck that sells gourmet food at exorbitant prices, rather than sitting in a restaurant that charges the same, but puts a tablecloth on the table (so formal!).

Via Tory Burch's Instagram account

In the end, does knife blade placement really matter? Not really I suppose. It's just a detail... but it's symptomatic of a wider problem - the demise of the importance placed on eating communally, of setting a table every day to enjoy a meal with others, of talking and taking time out from other distractions be that work, or just the world at large with everything we do being plugged into it. Eating dinner with others, and placing an emphasis on visual enjoyment as well as a culinary one is one of those simple things that give dignity to ordinary everyday life, and that place emphasis on enjoying time with others. This is something anyone, from any walk of life can do within their means. It's just sadly symptomatic of society in general that emphasis is placed on doing it only for a special occasion or a photo shoot, not for everyday - it's about Style over Substance.

But then, I guess, that's Social Media in general....

Edit: I'm so sorry but I'm turning off anonymous comments for a while as the blog is being inundated with Spam, and it's becoming very tedious wading through it to find the genuine comments. 

Porte-Cochere entry from the street, with mature trees and marble and stone inlaid path and entry

I've been cleaning up my studio, and flicking through my old files of tear sheets, most from the 90's and early 2000's - long before digital magazines, websites and Pinterest took over. It's been interesting to see firstly what I was interested enough in to tear out back then, but also what has stood the test of time. 

Villa Beckwith

One that had interested me enormously at the time (90's, Belle Magazine) was an Italianate villa on the Swan River in Perth, Western Australia. It was built by Peter and Valerie Beckwith, who were inspired by the villas along Lake Como in Italy. They named it "Villa Beckwith" and it cost a reputed $18 Million to build, with the blocks of land they purchased (three separate houses were purchased and demolished) running down to the Swan River from Jutland Parade, Dalkeith - true Millionaire's Row in Perth.

side garden with antique French statue

Peter Beckwith was a Managing Director at Bondcorp, one of Australia's biggest companies in the 80's, that collapsed spectacularly leaving shareholders with nothing, and that resulted in most of the directors facing court over allegations of fraud, and the founder, Alan Bond eventually (after many attempts at evasion with a conveniently failing memory...) doing jail time. 

entry hall with inlaid marble floors

Peter Beckwith died of a brain tumour before he was hauled up before the courts, and his widow put the house on the market. It's a rather sad story in many ways, but it exemplifies the excesses of the 80's and was done to such a high standard, that I thought it was an interesting project to feature.  

Stair foyer with the chandelier from an Irish Castle

The house was designed by the renowned late Sydney based Architect Espie Dods, who specialised somewhat in a classical aesthetic and a high net worth client base. Interiors were designed by the late Lady Victoria Waymouth, who flew out from London and oversaw every detail for the 4 years that it took to build and decorate.  The house was completed in 1990, just a few months before Peter Beckwith died, and was finally sold in 1996 for $8.5 Million, a record in Perth at the time, but far below its original build cost. 

casual living and kitchen area

a glimpse of the kitchen, built in Germany

Every detail was considered in this house, which was to be the family's long term residence. Antique street lights from Chile on council land led to the front gates and the stone and marble forecourt and porte-cochere. The entry features a chandelier reputedly from an Irish Castle and that cost £35,000 at the time, specialist paint finishes contractors were flown out to lavish attention on the tiniest detail - rooms were stencilled by men who had previously worked on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. Cornices were wrapped around into closets and all soft furnishings were trimmed with passementerie and made in England. The kitchen was designed and built in Germany before being shipped over for installation. The gardens featured Antique marble statues imported from France, and mature trees that were craned in to give an established feel. 

Formal Living room with beautifully made curtains and stencilled borders on the walls in soft ochre, green and red

Here you can see the wall stencilling and trim detail

These images always looked a little empty to me - I'm not sure that the family was inhabiting the house at the time of its sale. Perhaps a reader in Perth might know? There are none of the bits and pieces of family life around - photos in frames, artwork of substance... bedside tables are empty of all but lamps. 

Valerie Beckwith's bedroom with cream lace curtains to filter the Perth sun, and a cream and soft blue/ red scheme

some of the detail from the curtains - cream fan edge fringe, and the lining in the sprigged fabric, a tieback in cream and blue

The daughter's bedroom in pink and green

The daughter's bedroom with stencilled wall and a ragged paint finish

The matching ensuite bathroom

Another view of the rather exuberant tile scheme for the ensuite

The son's ensuite bathroom, with another interesting tile choice. I remember this being all the rage in the 90's

Pool area

The house has gone on to be sold several times since then, with the last listing in 2011. Sadly from the photos it looks like it was given a big dose of white paint, and the beautifully made curtains are gone - shiny purple ones in the casual living room were certainly not original. Valerie Beckwith's green and cream and blue sprigged curtains in her bedroom are replaced with gilded valances, her daughter's bedroom with its green and pink stencilled walls is now a shade called bland. Certainly while some aspects of the original schemes are very dated now, remembering that this house was decorated nearly 30 years ago gives some perspective on the fact that the quality in this makes the interiors stand up to the test of time. 

The casual living room now with purple curtains

The formal living - gone are the green curtains and hand stencilled walls

Valerie Beckwith's bedroom today - the valances on the windows were kept and gilded

The daughter's bedroom today with green walls gone and rather dispiriting curtains

The property was subdivided in 2005 and side blocks including the croquet lawn were sold off for development

The new kitchen as of the 2011 real estate listing

Floor plan from 2011 listing

Overall what I liked about this house and the reason why I kept these tear sheets for so long was the very, very high standard everything was done to - the bones are fantastic and of the highest quality, with world class designers involved. The other thing was that the Tuscan and Provencal style, which became so highly fashionable in the 90's and which has now fallen out of favour, was so well suited to our climate here in Australia. This house looks quite place appropriate with its shutters and Mediterranean date palms in the front garden, far more so than the Georgian style which replaced it in the 2000's. Everything revolves in design though, and it will be interesting to see when this style makes a comeback.

Hope you enjoyed this trip back in time.

Photographs: Robert Frith, Belle Magazine, early 90's with accompanying article written by Anne-Louise Willoughby.

2011 real estate photos were via realestate.com.au

David Hicks, English designer of note, has had an enduring influence on modern design, up there with Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler of Colefax and Fowler in popularising a style that has continued on for decades, even if completely opposite directions with their aesthetics. Recently I've been reading his old design books, which are as fresh as if they were written today. His major period of influence was from the mid 1950's through to the late 80's (he died in 1998), and his strong geometric fabric and carpet designs, precise architectural placement of furniture, and the tablescapes he created (he coined the term) are still much aped, copied and adopted.

A black and white photo from "Living with Design", the layers of detail with geometric carpeting, layers of trim on the curtains, and the 3d fretwork wallpaper build texture and contrast.

A "Vibrating" colour palette of pink and red, and strong geometrics counterbalanced with white or solid colour are his signature

I hadn't really thought about where the look that I consider quintessentially American came from - the use of bold colour, clashing colour (or 'vibrating' as he termed it) palettes (red/orange/pink or green/blue/ acqua for instance), upholstered furniture such as the much copied x-bench or grasscloth covered side tables, or fully upholstered arms on armchairs, and the geometric pattern on pattern that he designed and produced for fabrics, wallpapers, sheets, carpets and rugs.

The current popularity of the bar table with mass arranged bottles of tonic etc started here via 

strong geometric carpet designed by Hicks via

He loved using lacquered walls for his schemes, and spent a great deal of time over lighting schemes with lamp placement, up and down lights and picture lights all being employed to light an interior with atmosphere. Lighting is absolutely the most important single element in a room, and his books are very inspiring in showing how he did it (before LED lights, and the tiny, strip LED or spots that we can now use).

Four of his books that I have

He was incredibly popular in the US, and travelled there often lecturing and on tours with some of the manufacturers that he licensed product to, and it was only when reading his old design books, which I have recently purchased out of print copies of (he wrote nine), that it struck me how fresh many of his designs still look, and how much he has influenced many of the big name interior designers that are practicing today in the US (as well as around the world).

Carpet at the Adelaide Festival Theatre - the books were overscaled for photo opportunities at Matilda, so you can see this carpet is quite bold.

Here in Adelaide, a trip to see the musical Matilda with my children at Adelaide's Festival Theatre last year made me look with fresh eyes at the Festival Theatre carpet (pictured above). It's Adelaide's premiere concert/ opera house in the city built in the 70's, and demonstrates that the original carpet design was certainly influenced by him (he was quite influential in Australia as well, with clients here that he would visit).

Tory Burch, the American fashion designer, has clearly been influenced by Hick's design ethos - she credits his style for her branding, and as the inspiration behind her first shop (as per an instagram post, above - her signature colour is orange, and her use of geometric pattern is very Hicks).

India Hick's "Legacy Letter" necklaces - based on David Hick's geometric alphabet designs via

Tory Burch's logo is also very Hicks in style - he created an entire geometric alphabet, which his daughter, India Hicks, has recreated as necklaces, and also in her own branding of her lifestyle company.

Much of Tory Burch's new Spring/ Summer '18 collection has been influenced by strong geometric and saturated colour palettes, which she credited as being inspired by Hicks, after his most recent book was released - Scrapbooks, edited by his son Ashley Hicks.

My favourite of his books is his later "Living with Design". As a primer on Interiors it's excellent, and much of it is still relevant and fresh today. Explaining lighting, placement of objets as tablescapes on coffee or side tables, furniture placement and room arrangements, It's up there with the Terance Conran series on design books... much of which is now regurgitated in other Designer's books.... but there's no replacing the originals.

via Quadrille , a Hick's style geometric wallpaper wrapped up onto the ceiling, and Roman blinds with a border tape by Ashley Whittaker in House Beautiful March 2018

It's rare to find true creatives in this world - and while his self publicity can be slightly grating at times (there are many, many references to the family connection to the British Royal family by both David Hicks and his daughter India in their self publicity to sell themselves to the American market presumably) he was a true original in his design style. His colour choices, fabric designs and carpet designs can be still found at Stark carpets in the US, and also in fabric collections by companies such as Quadrille/ China Seas, also in the US.

The one thing that I reflected on after reading all the books, and recognising the style that Hick's developed as quite "American" in my thinking, was that it was quite an irony that what we think of as a quintessential English Country house style of decorating (worn patina, mismatched fabrics, slipcovers, antiques) was developed by an American (Nancy Lancaster, the driving force behind the English firm Colefax and Fowler), and yet conversely the style that I think is quintessentially American (saturated colour, strict furniture geometry, the importance placed on lighting and lamps, geometric fabrics and trim such as greek key) was in fact introduced by an Englishman. Both styles have endured, and both have become a signature for the countries in which they became popular. The Hicks legacy has endured through his son Ashley Hicks, a talented designer in his own right (Sculpture, Interiors and editor of books on his father), and through his daughter India Hicks, a former model for Ralph Lauren, prolific with coffee books revolving around her house in Harbor Island, a range of soaps and perfumes at Crabtree and Evelyn, and most recently, a new lifestyle brand that has launched in the US selling bags, skincare, jewellery and scarfs.

If you haven't come across the books before then I recommend them to you highly - well worth hunting down. It's fascinating to think that a look now developed 60 years ago can still look so current today.
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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 anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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