Category Archives: Design

Camellias and Chanel

I have been picking camellias from my garden and naturally, loving fashion remembered that the Camellia is a wonderful link to one of my favourite designers, Coco Chanel who was born on this day, 19 August in 1883. When you look at the pink blossom, you can see why she was attracted to the symmetry and elegant shape of the camellia which became one of her signature symbols. Weaving together seduction, glamour, beauty, and a touch of the exotic.

CamelliaMy garden is in a constant of flux as I debate over how much space can be devoted to flowering plants versus fruit trees and vegetables. I savour every mouthful of home grown lettuce, rocket, tomatoes, oranges and herbs. Yet I also adore being able to place a bunch of home grown flowers in a bowl on the table.Web_white-camelliaIn one perfect corner of my garden this month I have been indulging in a sumptuous display of pink and white camellias. These flowers aren’t easy to display because they have short stems that makes them difficult to stand in vases which if shallow are often too delicate and insubstantial to hold the weight of the flower. I have found the perfect bowl for displaying them: my shallow yellow bowl with the silver rim. It is just the right depth and lets the full blooms lie showing their gorgeous faces to the world.

My three camellia bushes are tucked into a hidden aspect of my garden that gets protection from our harsh strong summer heat and thrive despite the neglect that I am sure they suffer from. Even nicer, I see them through my bedroom window and watch the Minah birds feed on the insects in the flowers each morning from my bathroom windows.Web_Great-Eastern-pink-camellia
The white bush has somehow survived in a small narrow space and is covered in large frilly multi-petalled flowers. Just when I think it has run out of buds more appear to nudge the tired flowers from their stems. In the afternoons when I rummage through the bush collecting the limp, browned flowers to throw on the compost heap I can smell the lightest of perfumes. It is also attracting bees to the garden. 

A while after the white bush starts run out of buds, the neighbouring camellia with exquisite symmetrical flowers comes into its own with petals a deep glorious Schiaparelli pink. It is such an intense colour I am wondering whether I could use them as a natural plant dye. This could be my next project. ‘Not another project,’ my husband groans, sensing mess and chaos in the kitchen. But the petals seem too pretty to just throw away. Does anyone know if you can use these petals and if so, what colour comes from them?

How wonderful to be reminded every day by flowers, of two of my favourite designers, Schiaparelli and Chanel.  I cannot resist, I am now going through garden catalogues looking for another white to complement the two pink bushes I already have.





Tutus and the little girl in all of us

'Tutu Reimagined' has inspired me to add pink and a box pleat skirt to my wardrobe.

‘Tutu Reimagined’ has inspired me to add pink and a box pleat skirt to my wardrobe.

Yesterday I saw a lovely exhibition ‘Tutu Reimagined’ at the QUT Art Museum. The Australian Ballet’s 2003 project invited selected designers and architects to create their vision of a tutu. Feathers, beading, resin beads, and ballet slippers were incorporated into gorgeous designs. I am so pleased I saw it with another girlfriend.

As a little girl I never took ballet lessons which is probably a good thing as I quickly grew into a long-legged gangly girl far too tall for any male dancer. I would have looked like a tarantula on steroids. However I envied the small girls who flounced around in their pink leotards and frilly tutus. My sports attire of shorts, t-shirt and life jacket wasn’t nearly so glamorous.

What is it about a full skirt which brings out the little girl in grown women?We flirt and twirl, and laugh when the wind flicks it up allowing a glimpse of long gorgeous legs. It complements the waistline and for those lucky enough to have a curvy bosom it is a reflection of the female shape. Sometimes I worry that with my boyish figure I look like a stick insect in a skirt but I don’t care. I know I become more coquettish when wearing a full skirt.  However, sadly there quickly arrives an age when other than on stage a girl should not wear a short fluffy skirt. But fashion hasn’t neglected my girlish ego. The elegant box pleated skirt is back in vogue and I am already practising my pirouette.

For a lady who generally wears black, navy and cream I might even introduce a little pink to the wardrobe but I am not sure about the petticoat or crinoline. Check out the scene “La Crinoline’ on the porcelain de Choisy le Roi plate at Maddie and Marie.

Toilets as works of art


I banned ‘toilet talk’ at the dinner table when my children were young but this was different. I had just suggested to the grandchildren they do a pit stop before going to the park and undertaking a 2-hour drive home. These children looked at me as if I was quite mad but having lived or stayed in many unfamiliar towns over the past couple of years, I was used to taking advantage of knowing where a toilet was before venturing out for the day. Los Angeles and London were fantastic, particularly their department stores. This made me think of tourists to Brisbane and my daughter who commutes between many cities and locations queried how would a tourist manage if they needed a toilet in Brisbane.

I could answer that easily as when I was potty training that daughter I think we visited every public toilet facility in Brisbane.  However, 30 years ago there weren’t many so I became cunning and learnt a few tricks such as going into the lobbies of the Sheraton and Hilton Hotels or the David Jones and Myer department stores. The other good option was the art gallery and museum on the other side of the river (if she could wait that long).  I certainly couldn’t rely on public facilities to assist. I remember the staff of the local library telling me that the toilet was for staff use only and that I would have to take my little girl elsewhere. Anyone who has had children will know that isn’t often an option so we charged outside to the nearest tree in the park adjacent to the library and I hoped the librarian was watching from her window.

Shopping with small children was always a fraught situation and expensive, as there is nothing subtle about three toddlers in a shop all needing to use the toilet. I have bought a lot of orange juices in my time. My grandmother used the term ‘Spend a Penny’ which I didn’t understand until I began travelling around Europe where it is common practice to pay to use a toilet facility although I think it is unfair that we women support the men who don’t have to pay to use the facility. Talk about gender inequality.

Loo doors. Highway 'Services' en route Ribeauville to NormandyWe have had some funny and peculiar toilet experiences in our travels.

I have been to beautifully appointed loos such as the Savoy in London but the prettiest were the doors of toilets at a service station on the A5 in France. The pictures of birch forests in the men’s and foxglove flowers (also called ladies’ gloves) in the girls’ were spectacular.Loo doors. Highway 'Services' en route Ribeauville to Normandy                                I was intrigued with the rotating toilet seat, which came out with a new disposable plastic cover. It was tempting to press the button just to watch its action as the seat disappeared into the wall and reappeared fully dressed.

My daughter and I also found ourselves standing in front of a rather confusing toilet which looked like a space capsule in a car park in Toulouse. Neither of us could work out how to get into the capsule until a homeless fellow sitting nearby took pity on these two pathetic women and showed us how to do it. Inside, it really did feel like a space ship as it was totally hands-free; the door locked itself, self-flushed, motion sensor water and soap control, and only after that did the door unlock. You had to be quick as after an allocated time the door opened automatically. After each person, the entire system was sprayed and sanitised, thus the name Sanisette.  That homeless person earned his tip from us that day.

The most surprising toilet was at Malpensa airport outside Milan. I am not sure whether it is a requirement of EU regulations but we discovered that the ladies’ toilets still has a squat toilet. This was a challenge particularly as we were wearing long high heeled boots and stove pipe jeans. I am not sure who laughed more, my daughter or me but my New Year Resolution is to improve the muscle strength in my quads by doing more squats.

I read recently an entry on aixcentric complaining about the lack of public toilets in Aix-en-Provence. My advice is to encourage the local council to begin a ‘Toilet map’ such as the one in Australia set up by the Department of Health and Ageing as part of the National Continence Program. So no, it wasn’t initially set up to assist tourists or parents of small children but who cares it is still a very useful map of where the 16,000 public and private toilets are located.  I think it is a brilliant idea.

Craft versus Art – How to have a spirited dinner party conversation

Politics, religion and art are topics of conversation guaranteed to produce strong opinions around our dinner table with more dissension than agreement. Last night was no different as we struggled to define what is Art and what is Craft or perhaps Fine Craft with the subjects of the debate being the exhibits in the current Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT7) here in Brisbane. A friend who is quite a good artist had also visited the exhibition and was happy to throw in his contribution to the conversation.  I always look forward to his Christmas Cards as they are often chosen from one of the many sketches he makes when traveling.

He felt that some of the exhibited works were more craft than art but wasn’t able to explain what prompted this concept. We couldn’t come to a conclusion because they have so many common characteristics such as imagination, creativity, skill, and of course how the piece relates to the viewer and what it’s meaning is. Using the expression of Craft would not demean the work but it does define the different disciplines required to produce each piece. One thought we had was that if the work has a connection to a utilitarian origin then even though there may have been great skill in creating that piece with an imaginative application and use of materials it might be categorised as craft.

Lou looking at Dilly Bags

Lou looking at Dilly Bags

My favourite exhibit was the enormous bags created by Lorraine Connelly-Northey from pieces of recycled iron including rolls of discarded fencing wire and the rusted inner springs of a mattress. They all were wonderful and different and I wished that I had a wall big enough to exhibit one of them. Both my sister and I thought that these were fantastic; clever, imaginative and creative based on the utilitarian ‘dilly bag’. As a woman I carry a bag everyday of my life filled with all manner of goodies. When I was on crutches a couple of years ago, negotiating stairs, the ‘dilly bag’ was essential as once I had got up the stairs I wasn’t going down them again until I had to. Everything I thought I would need for the day was thrown into the bag and slung over my shoulder.

These bags were only one of the many fabulous pieces being exhibited.Dilly bags- APT Brisbane Dec 2012Go and have a look at these and the other exhibits. They challenge your conceptions. Some are beautiful, some ugly, but all make you rethink the object’s frame of reference. It is a huge exhibition and almost impossible to view one visit. It is free so don’t rush it, go back again and again and you’ll see something different each time.

Design Siren

I am having such a wonderful consumer experience flipping through my slowly reducing pile of House and Garden magazines prior to tossing them into the bin. Immersed in the evocative imagery on the page, I forget that I am living in Brisbane and am transported off to the avenues of beautiful shop fronts in Paris, London and New York. The pages with their entrancing pictures morph into creative window displays enticing me into the salons and ateliers displaying create and desirable objects. Resistance is impossible, their lure stronger than the sirens were to Odysseus. I am not sure this form of window shopping is any cheaper as I am finding lots of beautifully crafted pieces that I can now explore and purchase from their websites. Online purchasing is just too easy. Have magazine and credit card; will post.

It comes as no surprise that the best designs endure and are valued as much today as they were when they were created and sometimes we are lucky enough to share vicariously in that envelope of design. I loved every moment I sat in the comfortable Eames chairs in my London home and they were a silent spectator to some pretty momentous times, including when my son and I toasted his impending fatherhood and my grand-motherhood.

I envy my daughter who visited the British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition at the V & A in London. She emailed me saying it was like being transported back to her childhood, as she was familiar with so many of the pieces. It is difficult to pin down exactly why some designs endure, capturing our imagination. The beauty of practicality and purpose is just as absorbing as beauty of shape and form.  The attributes go beyond what is just funky, quirky or of the moment to become almost visceral.

I found one such delight while reading an Elle Decoration magazine from January this year. British designer Neil Conley’s snow domes are beautiful,imaginative and clever with a wicked message. Each snow dome contains a hand carved pelican, turtle or dolphin in bronze, sitting atop a man-made stone. When shaken, black ‘oily’ snow settles over the threatened wildlife species in a reminder of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Although the price tag of £2,000 is way beyond my pocket, I can still enjoy looking at them on his website at I am pleased I haven’t won Lotto as I would be sorely tempted to purchase one for my desk to replace their image.