Modern Eclectic; A family home is decked out with fabulous online finds to stylish effect

Furnishing and Decorating a Home

FORGET THE DIAMONDS, eBay is a girl’s best friend – well, certainly Louise Bell’s. Her home is full of beautiful, elegant and unique pieces that give it a distinct air of luxury, but were bought online for a fraction of their original price. When furnishing and decorating a home, who can afford to splurge on every single piece? Louise asks. “Being clever with decor on a budget is not that hard to do. Even as a high-school student, I wallpapered my walls floor to ceiling with photos, and handpainted my stereo. These days, eBay is my best friend.”

be clever when furnishing and decorating your house
be clever when furnishing and decorating your house

Buying Furnitures

The “dozens” of eBay purchases in the home include occasional tables, deer antlers, leather recliners, bone china collectables, cowhide rugs and coral. These are artfully combined with hand-me-downs, Vinnies buys and antique-shop finds, as well as furniture Louise bought with her husband Graeme when they first married, and pieces – such as a Moroccan wedding blanket and pouffes, a Cameroon “Juju” hat (shown right) and ikat cushions – from her online store, Table Tonic.

Recliner, chair and table: Furniture
Recliner, chair and table: Furniture

“Nothing is precious, shiny and new or matchy-matchy,” Louise says of her collection. “But together it all seems to work. Right now, I’m busting to add some brass collectables to the mix, as well as a few chunky quartz or amethyst-crystal clusters.” No doubt, Louise will soon be spending a few more hours online!

The couple found the Federation home on Sydney’s Lower North Shore six years ago, close to Christmas. Louise was having “one last look” at properties for sale on the internet before the holiday period. “I stumbled upon our place, and – despite thinking it was out of our price range – we inspected it the following morning, put in our very best offer the following week, and a few days later, it was ours.” They moved in just before their older child Jasper’s first birthday.

The house was “liveable with potential”, Louise recalls. “It was nicely presented, neat, clean and with margarine-yellow walls.” The young family simply had the floorboards stained with Feast Watson Black Japan before they settled in, then waited four years before beginning renovations – when Louise was pregnant with daughter Anoushka.

“We gutted the back half of the house, knocking out a couple of walls, which opened it right up,” Louise says. Bifold doors were installed between the living area and back garden, and internal French bifold doors between the front of the house – which features three bedrooms, a dining room and a bathroom – and the back. “With young kids they prove handy in keeping noise away from the bedrooms,” Louise explains. At the rear of the property is the kitchen, living area, main bathroom, an external laundry and a paved outdoor area and garden, with a cubbyhouse. Upstairs is an attic-style fourth bedroom, with two huge swivelling skylight windows. “A good spot to watch city fireworks from, as it turns out,” Louise says.

 

Room design with furniture
Room design with furniture

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The Cutting Edge

Cutting edge design
Cutting edge design

Wood Engravings

When Randy Miller encountered a series of wood engravings in an out-of-print history text nearly 30 years ago, he was immediately intrigued. “The illustrations were so very appealing,” he says, recalling the handsome, incised designs. “It then occurred to me, who did them? How were they done? And more, importantly, why aren’t they being done anymore?”

Miller headed for the Boston Public library to research the subject. There he discovered the work of Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), a noted English engraver credited with resurrecting the centuries-old art of wood illustration. A metal engraver by profession, Bewick experimented with new methods of incising, producing detailed blocks that captured the subtleties of light and shadow. The art advanced, and for much of the 19th century wood engravings were a common means of illustrating books and periodicals. “Bewick invented the art,” avows Miller. “He loved working in wood.”

Wood engraving flourished until the late 1800s and early 1900s when commercial photography became popular. “Photography was the death knell for wood engravers, especially those employed by newspapers or magazines like Harper’s,” Miller explains. “They were thought of as strictly production people, and were no longer needed. It wasn’t until the 1920s that wood engraving came back as a medium for artistic expression,” he adds.

Simple Landscapes

When a sculptor offered him a gift of a dozen engraving tools, Miller gratefully accepted and tried his hand at reproducing the simple landscapes that first caught his eye. In 1972, the fledgling craftsman abandoned Boston for Alstead, New Hampshire, a quiet village situated in the western hill country. Soon after, a local writer inquired if he would be interested in engraving the illustrations for a short essay collection. Miller obliged, and shortly afterward was commissioned to engrave a series of illustrations for My Village, Sturbridge, a children’s picture book. In 1977, the book was named one of the Ten Best-Illustrated Children’s Books by The New York Times Book Review.

simple landscape
simple landscape

Like most engravers, Miller first sketches the design on paper, then transfers the design onto end-grain blocks of maple, using carbon paper. Although early engravers preferred to work with boxwood. Miller uses maple, a hard, dense wood that is readily available and able to withstand the pressure of the printing process. While good usable boxwood is impossible to come by today, Miller has stockpiled a number of previously carved blocks, hoping to engrave new images on the blank side.

He uses burins, gravers and liners – thin blades of tempered steel of varying thicknesses and beveled edges – to create the block designs. “Only the wood that hasn’t been touched by the tools makes contact with the paper,” he says.

In the past 25 years, he has produced just over 200 engravings, including commissions for the New Hampshire Historical Society and Boston’s Fanueil Hall. limited-edition prints, which depict favorite New England landscapes, historic buildings, and Shaker subjects, are displayed in the studio of his 1815 home. Miller also works as a research editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. To mark its 208th anniversary and celebrate its passage into the 21st century, The Almanac commissioned Miller to redesign its frontispiece.

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