Every act of rebellion
expresses a nostalgia for innocence
and an appeal to the essence of being.
(Albert Camus 1913 – 1960)
There is a school of thought which suggests that where we live and how we adorn the place we call home can be directly related to where we come from and what we have lived through. It can be an express reflection of the things we have endured in childhood as we create a safe haven in adulthood that represents a coming of age; which captures a time of past innocence and simplicity which may not have been our own. A home can thus represent the attainment of such things at a different time in our lives. Such is certainly the case of Melissa’s gorgeous country cottage in the NSW highlands which is as colourful and cosy as it is welcoming and secure … a safe place that is as ever changing and captivating as their vast cache of collectable treasures which are ever expanding and moved around to create the most intriguing vignettes within an overall interior space that continually enchants all who cross the threshold.
As Melissa explains “the home is a direct reflection of the happy times remembered of past days. It is a very personal place that feels ever safe and echoes a combination of distant memories, as well as embodying a range of fantasies, mysteries and dreams which we hold dear at heart. It mirrors a place of childhood in the here and now and, as such, is a very unique and wonderful dwelling in which to live from day to day.”
The principal way in which such ends have been achieved is through the collection and artful arrangement of a vast array of ‘elements of childhood’ – that is, significant collectable pieces of juvenalia which have been cleverly grouped and arranged against a backdrop of vivid colour play. And the perfect foil for it all is the architectural integrity of the couple’s home itself which, as they tell, started out life as a railway overseer’s cottage built in the late 1800s.
“I believe that the original part of the house consisted of four rooms – with internal kitchen complete with open fire – which would have accommodated the first family who lived here” Melissa states. Over the years the house has been modified and extended, with the addition of a lounge and dining room, plus bathroom and separate laundry towards the rear of the property. What was possibly a rear verandah or sundeck – leading off the kitchen and wedged in between the dining room addition and the original part of the cottage – was, some time ago, closed in to create a third bedroom-cum-office space and studio. The most recent alteration has been the inclusion of an exterior deck which is the perfect place for entertaining and relaxing throughout the warmer months, not to mention being the ideal aspect from which to survey gardens to which the owners have devoted a great deal of love and attention since purchasing the property.
As Melissa states, the process of reclaiming the gardens has been a true labour of love. “I’ve removed insidious privet which threatened to take over the place and stripped back trailing wisteria. I’ve cut back and regenerated many of the good species that we found here and added a host of new plantings, such that today the garden has really come back to life. In the area immediately surrounding the house, standard and climbing roses, cherry blossoms and a robust crab apple tree, Golden Robina and lush underplantings of agapanthus, lavender bushes in abundance, and a whole array of vintage plants too numerous of identity all combine to create a traditional rambling cottage garden that makes a direct link back to the style and heritage of country gardens of old.” Crushed rock pathways meander amongst it all, wandering past ponds and sculptural elements to create delightful ‘scenarios’ that reflect the clever decorating skill and passion of the owners … attributes which are certainly to be discovered indoors.
The exterior of the home is a combination of a pale terracotta on the timber panelling, with gunmetal grey trim on the front decking and original wrought iron balustrading. When first purchased, the owners set about re-roofing the house with a heritage-inspired Indian Red Colorbond and reclad both sides of the house, as well as installing an Indian Red powder-coated fence across the front of the property to enclose the garden and create a secure compound for their trio of ‘home protecting’ canines. As Melissa tells, once they started the process of restoration and repair, it seemed to go on endlessly … something that is so typical of old homes. “Once I started on the venture of giving back the home its architectural integrity, one part of the process seemed to continually reveal the need for something else that needed to be done. The whole roof had to be repatched, gaping holes in interior walls and floors had to be filled and there were so many other unexpected and messy jobs that needed to be done, resulting in what can certainly be said to be a host of unexpected costs! It’s like painting the harbour bridge … once you get to the end it will be time to start over again. There will always be lots to do but the effort is well worth it” she adds.
The front verandah of the home faces south, making it the ideal place for summer relaxing as it is always cool and shady in the afternoons. Wind breaks either side of the verandah feature vintage dimpled glass panels, the space being furnished with a collection of quirky elements including vintage-style cane chairs, potted ficus plants, cherry wood easel and mirror, leather saddle on an old carpenter’s saw horse, lovely old child’s rocking horse and a late 1930s child’s wheelchair. The combination of the elements here certainly work to betray the collectable curiosities to be found just inside the adjoining front door.
Original to the home – installed in the 1890s – the stained glass fanlight above the front door matches the panel work in the door itself. Although some of the coloured glass panels have been repaired and replaced over time, many of the jewel-coloured glass pieces are original to the door and create an enchanting entrée to what is a magical, not to mention colourful, interior. Indeed the colour play starts right at the entrance hall and extends into each and every other room of the house, the entry being painted a combination of deep plum ‘Enchantress’ which has been used on the door frame and neighbouring door surrounds, combined with gloss white (used to give the strong plum colour crisp definition) and a striking ‘Orange Crush’ by Taubmans on the pine lining-board walls. The ceiling has been painted white and the wide beam pine floorboards have been polished to bring up their natural colour and patina.
Quirky elements here which further add to the theatre of the space include a trio of wise monkeys (from America’s Katherine’s Collection) which hang above a solid handmade red gum burl bench which matches the kitchen table in the adjoining cookroom. On the wall, an outstanding framed pen and ink artwork by Melissa tells of her time spent on an Indian reservation in New Mexico back in the early 1980s – part of a four-month expedition she took which birthed within her a love of early Native American culture. The artwork is just one of a range of pen and ink originals Melissa has done throughout the house and betrays her earlier background as an animator and children’s book illustrator. As she tells, in recent times her art has become more of a recreational passion and she still keeps her ‘hand in’ by taking part in a range of annual regional exhibitions.
To one side of the entrance hall is a spacious guest bedroom which probably was the original single bedroom of the early four room cottage. It’s a showcase of creativity, with a range of airbrushed and acrylic-on-canvas artworks exhibited here. As in all other parts of the house, the colour play is strong and vibrant, with pale pink on the walls, complemented by a deeper blush of the same colour above the picture rail and deep sage green trim on all other architectural elements within the space. A vintage brass bedstead crowns a copious waterbed which is dressed with a deep grey embroidered doona cover and collection of satin and polished cotton scatter cushions. From the ceiling above hangs a striking pastel organza canopy with deep purple voile curtains at the windows. An array of hats, scarves on a ladder and pyramid-shaped chest of drawers add further interesting touches to the space.
On the opposite side of the entrance hall is the master bedroom which was probably the original parlour and only central living space of the early four-room 1890s cottage. The key feature of the space is an enormous king-sized sleigh bed which is dressed with a panelled Morgan and Finch ‘Indochine’ quilt cover inspired by the Orient, and matching velvet-trimmed shams. The walls of the room continue the interior colour treatment, combining a pale violet with deeper tone above the picture rail. Vibrant pink and purple mosquito nets hang from the ceiling above and further add to the colour vibrancy within the room.
The master bedroom is also the venue for the display of an ever-growing collection of stuffed animals, Melissa telling that her collecting passion for such pieces of juvenalia stems from her childhood. “My father was a cinema photographer and consequently travelled the world with his profession. And so, as I grew up, I was given a number of interesting and unique toys which came from many exotic and diverse places, including antique stores in far-off reaches. I think my passion for them today comes from those days of childhood and connect me to the love and interest my father birthed in me years ago” Melissa explains. Today, Melissa’s collection encompasses a range of unique and highly-collectable pieces, including famous Steiff bears, Deans, Charlie Bears and French-crafted Deglingos soft toys.
The entrance hallway leads into the ‘heart of the home’ as it is eternally known … the kitchen. The cookroom is – as would be expected – a colourful and welcoming space, made all the more so by the vast array of collected treasures Melissa has amassed here, combined with the subtle warmth of timber cabinetry and rich handmade burl table. The walls are a wheat colour which is the perfect background for the display of a huge array of eclectic framed artworks (including several tributes to the vivid paintings of 20th century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and shadow box creations made by Melissa), plus a wide variety of other quirky collectables, including vintage canisters, a timber bookcase filled with vintage children’s books, a vast array of old toys and a wonderful selection of kitchenalia from eras past.
Outstanding curiosities within the kitchen also include a pair of handpainted old mannequins (one of Melissa’s particular passions is old shop fittings and display pieces) which are dressed in vintage costumes and accessories (including 1960s sunglasses and dulcimer stringed musical instrument which came from North Hampton USA); and two significant Katherine’s Collection characters – a whimsical Christmas turkey complete with feathers, and ‘Gloria’ who wears a bright sun frock and sits on a chair to one corner of the room. When special guests come to dine, Melissa uses what was once her late grandmother’s pride and joy – a vintage mix-and-match harlequin set of HLC fiestaware from the USA.
The main relaxation centre of the home is the warm and cosy lounge room. The atmosphere is made all the more restful and enveloping by way of rich green walls – ‘Foliage 3’ by Nippon Paint – and hardwood floorboards which have been stained a rich deep tone. Melissa’s father handcrafted a robust Oregon coffee table for the space, other key furnishings including a marvellous 1950s buffet cabinet which houses compact discs, books and pieces of Americana; a vintage mirror which the owners decorated with buttons; and a vintage timber chair on which sits another Katherine’s Collection character ‘Queen For A Day’. In front of the window – which looks out across the back deck to nearly an acre of olive and fruit trees which the owners dutifully tend and cultivate – an antique washstand provides a pedestal for an enchanting one-off Australian-made artisan doll which the owners have named ‘Mother’. Also displayed here is a large carved mushroom and, underneath, an 1800s leather-bound Bible.
The deep purple trim in the lounge room – on the door and window frames – is carried forward from the adjoining dining room. Here it has been used on the walls, the striking ‘Jewel’ by Dulux having given the homeowner the courage to use a palette of rich colours for the rest of the interior as the decorating progressed.
Within the dining room a mahogany table – with colourful corduroy-upholstered chairs – is surrounded by more equally colourful and certainly ‘eccentric’ collectables. These include life-size Dexter the pig (complete with saddle), pair of Bonds baby shop display dummies from the 1950s, mermaid ‘Miranda’ and the crowning glory … Katherine’s Collection character ‘May’ who sits in a vintage wheelchair (which Melissa rescued from a roadside Council clean-up). On the wall of the room hangs a Mexican hand-beaded cross and, above, a painting of Australian jacarandas which was done by Melissa’s grandfather (it’s just one of several artworks of this talented relation displayed throughout the house).
As would be expected, even the laundry, office and lovely vintage-style bathroom are venues for the owners’ passion for collectable displays. In the laundry an array of photographer’s paraphernalia – including a German Leica camera and vintage box brownie – betray interests in all things to do with photography. The studio – which doubles as an ancillary guest room – showcases yet more of Melissa’s juvenalia collection (including highly-coveted automated ‘Healthy Harold’ giraffe which was once used to promote healthy eating in schools across the country, Mrs Beasley doll which was made famous in the 1960’s television series ‘Family Affair’, Dr Doolittle doll from the renowned Hugh Lofting series of children’s books from the 1920s, and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men characters). Here is also to be found a marvellous pair of perfect-condition 1950’s shop mannequins – two wonderful ski kids – which were purchased through a local antique store.
The colour, the caricatures, the wonderful collectables and the unique way in which each piece has been artfully and thoughtfully displayed within the home all combine to create what can only be described as a magical world within the country home of these two talented and passionate owners. Indeed if it is true that the place in which one lives can serve to reflect where one has come from … and to be a healing and cathartic place, then the home is, beyond doubt, a place where dreams truly do come true as past innocence and simplicity is embodied in the here and now! And if this means, as French philosopher Albert Camus has suggested, that it means a rebellion against the ordinary and everyday … then, as Melissa agrees, let the rebellion begin!