Vertically challenged.

Vertical garden

Gorgeous but tricky?
Source:  Architectural Digest.

I’m not the worst gardener in the world, but I reckon some of those beautiful vertical gardens wooing me on television screens and magazine pages, could be money down the drain.  Some are gorgeous works of art when they are first installed, but I wonder how they look one year later.

Our House By The Water has a few spots that will need the green treatment.  My main focus for now is the view from the scullery:

Scullery view

Creamy coloured old brick wall.

Side alley.

Site for future vertical garden.

Dining view

The dining room shares a partial view of the same brick wall. I’m not sure how the neighbours intend to replace the fence they took down, but at least, the existing section needs beautifying.

Here’s the situation:

  • The width between the house and the brick fence is 1.6 metres at the narrowest point.
  • Shared utility space for garage access, washing line and bin storage.
  • Strong chance of being a wind tunnel.
  • Exposure to sun: only a few hours per day.

Tough conditions.  Forgetting the plant selection for a moment, here are my options:

  1. Plant climbers into the ground.  Help them with some simple wires.
  2. Espalier trees.  Reticulate.

    Photo sources: 1. Flickr.  2. Lucy Williams Interior Design.  3.  Herbidacious.

  3. Pot plants and use shelves or some kind of structure to layer them up the wall.

    Photo sources:  1. Revista Natureza.  2.  One Kings Lane.  3.  Flickr.  4. Wanilla Rose (unverified).

  4. Use a simple pocket system for vertical gardens, with or without an irrigation kit.

    Photo sources:  1.  Wemmy.  2.  HGTV.  3.  Plants On Walls via Buzzfeed.

  5. Use a complex vertical garden structure with built in watering system including a pump.

    Photo sources:  1.  Better Homes and Gardens.  2. Garden design.  3.  Watergarden Warehouse.


I’m going to save options one and two for the front yard, to hide the rear walls of the neighbours’ garages.  The front yard faces North and there will be room to condition the soil, so espaliered fruit and climbing plants should do well there.

Options four and five scare me.  In our challenging conditions, I’m worried we’d end up with an expensive, dead mess.

For my scullery view, I’m favouring the plants in pots option.  We’ll render and paint the brick fence almost black.  We’ll add some structure to give the plants height so we can see them.  I’ll recruit a large, hardy pot of rosemary or something equally tough to act as a wind break, or if necessary construct a screen.  Worst case scenario, move struggling plants to a happier location.

Pots on shelves.

Yep, I could gaze at this while I scrub some dishes. Source: Revisita Natureza via Blog da Ayda.

Could you pull off a vertical garden?  Do you have some suggestions for covering a shady wall?  Have you seen any great green walls that stood the test of time?  (Ivy doesn’t count!)

For more vertical garden ideas of all descriptions, take a look in my Pinterest file.

Out of the office. Researching beach shacks.

If the matter is urgent, you can find me here:

It’s Carnaval in Brazil and local productivity levels are at an all time low.  Feeling a little sorry for my Aussie, U.S., Canadian, South African, English… OK, all of you who are not currently on holidays…I am preparing this post in advance.  I am packing Havianas, bikinis, hats and sun shirts.  The laptop is staying behind.

New readers, Brazil is where I’m passing time while our house is being built.  It may sound like a dream gig to you, but it isn’t always.  This week will be one of the good weeks.

For me, there are three main sources of home design and decoration inspiration in Brazil.  There is a unique kind of minimalist house, architect-designed, modern, large and square.  Lots of concrete, usually some wood.   This kind of Brazilian house is best only imitated if you have full-time cleaning staff.  Warmth and homeliness are often missing, but there are interesting shapes, colours and often, a beautiful garden.

Tempo House

I love this outdoor area. Softened by the use of wood and garden shadows. Source: Afflante.

The house connected to this amazing outdoor area is a bit like a gigantic concrete bunker.  There's something clever and intriguing about this combination of wood, water, plants and cobblestones over multiple levels.  Source:  Arquitetura e Construção.

The house connected to this amazing outdoor area is a bit like a gigantic concrete bunker. There’s something clever and intriguing about this combination of wood, water, plants and cobblestones over multiple levels. Source: Arquitetura e Construção.

Secondly, there are 18th century colonial houses of Portuguese style.  True aged beauty that is hard to replicate.  Some of these houses have been tastefully modernised inside and many more have been renovated in the spirit of their original style.

Finally, there are beach shacks.  These are constructed simply, usually from locally found materials.  Hammocks are essential and may be the only form of bed.  Creature comforts are sometimes minimal, but so are the cares of the inhabitants.  This week we’re holidaying in a Brazilian beach shack.

My husband wants an ugly coffee roaster.

I heart the Nice Wolf.  Really.  Picture source:  No Camels.

I heart the Nice Wolf. Really. Picture source: No Camels.

Dedicated to my Valentine.

I don’t like coffee.  Put half a teaspoon of it in a chocolate cake, and I won’t eat it.  And don’t even think about kissing me if you’ve had a Cafe Latte in the last 60 minutes.  Espresso?  You’ll have to brush your teeth first.

Here is the entirely functional, exceptionally ugly, coffee roaster in question:

Coffee roaster

Hottop Coffee Roaster. Source: Hottop.

Let me start by sorting out the serious coffee drinkers from the “I’d rather have a pretty kitchen” crowd.  Could you, would you?  

My husband singled out this roaster after scouring through forums dedicated entirely to coffee and related paraphernalia.

The retail price for this supreme coffee roaster is (AUD)$1599.  I don’t begrudge the cost.  It’s roughly the equivalent of purchasing a daily Starbucks coffee for one year.  My husband loves his coffee and has made his own ever since I’ve known him.  We’ve had the same trusty coffee machine for 15 years – a great wedding gift from the groom’s best men.   I know the industrial look is on trend, but in a chunky, raw materials, manually-operated kind of way.  Not in a looks-like-it-belongs-in-a-disease-testing-lab kind of way.

Of course I’ve been trawling the web in search of a good-looking alternative.  I’ve found some lovely old-looking machines, the size of  sofas and the price of  cars.  There are very few choices for home roasters.  So I sent The Nice Wolf back to the drawing board and this is what he came up with:

Yup.  A popcorn machine.  Apparently they can roast coffee too.  I wouldn’t say that any of these are worthy of residing on my kitchen bench, but they are light and small and can easily live out of sight.  Possibly roasting coffee beans in them will wear them out, but for as little as $30, I don’t think we’d be too upset.

So that leaves some spare change for stylish new coffee machine.  And it just so happens that I’ve found a couple that fit the bill.

L to R:

  1. The Anza.  Shown here in Corian and teak!  Also available in concrete.
  2. Lavazza in concrete.  Source:  Bit Rebels.
  3. Classic style by Breville.   Various prices.
  4. Ascaso shown in Deep Blue, Polished Aluminium and Deep black.  Retro style from Spain in a choice of 15 colours!  $900.

So coffee lovers, have you got a coffee machine that not only makes coffee just the way you like it but looks fabulous too?  Do tell…   The Nice Wolf is an engineer, and a chemical one at that, so he likes to play with temperatures and air flows and other stuff.  One of those one-touch machines ain’t going to cut it.

And, serious coffee aficionados, (do any of those read my blog?) have you ever roasted your own coffee beans?  How did you do it?  I recently roasted my own cocoa beans in a purpose-made clay pot over a gas flame.  I wish I’d thought to enquire about purchasing a pot.

Suspended slab

The latest milestone in the construction of our House By The Water is the suspended slab.  Before you get excited, there is nothing fancy about a “suspended slab” – it just means it is not on the ground,  it spans the space between the walls.   But if you would like to get excited or astounded by the amount of steel reinforcements and electrical conduits that go into a slab, go right ahead.  I am rather amazed myself.

This network of electrical conduits and steel is now hidden in our concrete slab.

This network of electrical conduits and steel is now hidden in our concrete slab.

The heat in Western Australia last week was rather extreme.  Our slab pour was postponed a couple of days in an attempt to pour the concrete in lower temperatures.

Suspended slab

The suspended slab looking a bit spotty from some rain.

Thanks to our Site Supervisor from Webb and Brown-Neaves for the photos.

A guided tour for my Mum:Slab with floor plan.

Because we like pretty things on House By The Water, and maybe, like me, you don’t think our new concrete is quite in the “pretty” category, let me show you some good-looking concrete.

concrete floor

Beautiful concrete. Happy Laugh’s vision for her farmhouse. Source: Norm Architecture.

One of my favourite home-building bloggers, Happy Laughs, has finally arrived at the fun part of home building.  Happy Laughs and her family live on a farm in Texas and have become “owner-builders” late in the process of their build.  They are fully in charge of the finishings for their huge barn.  It’s tricky to describe the style of their house.  They’ve used gigantic reclaimed wood beams and have an unstained concrete floor but to call it rustic would not do it justice.  Happy Laughs likes country style but with some Scandanavian, industrial and modern influences.  How about that for a combination?  Check out her amazing chandelier, incredible fire place and gorgeous ceilings for yourself on Happy Laugh’s blog:

Farm house

Happy Laugh’s farm house is nearing the end of construction.

If you are on Instagram you can see Happy Laugh’s new house and her little cowboys and cowgirls enjoying the farm at:

And, if you haven’t found me on Instagram yet, I’m here:

Australian made.

Photo source:  Mark Tuckey.

Photo source: Mark Tuckey.

I’m patriotic all year round, but in honour of Australia Day, it’s time to dedicate a post to the talented artisans of Australia and some companies that proudly produce beautiful things in Australia.  There are plenty of reasons to chose Australian made products for my home but the clinchers that actually make me buy local are:

  • Australian style.
  • Made to last, quality.
  • Reduced environmental impact related to shipping.

It’s becoming harder to find Australian made products, particularly as companies like Freedom and King Furniture move their manufacturing overseas, but collaborating on this topic is only going to make it easier.  If I’ve missed your favourite Aussie-made goods for stylish homes, please add them in the comments.  I love recommendations.


Mark Tuckey:

Mark Tuckey showroom.

Sofas, beds, chairs, tables, drawers, mirrors, etc.

OK, I could actually move right into a Mark Tuckey show room.  I love everything they make.  They make chunky furniture from “recycled timber and sustainably managed forestry sources”.  Like many companies on my list, don’t expect Ikea prices, but don’t expect your purchases to end up as landfill either.


Domayne furniture.

Sofas, beds, desks, dining sets, entertainment units, etc.

Domayne has a good range of Australian made furniture.  I’m eyeing off a king size bed from there.  For some fun, check out their new app which allows you to visualise how a particular item of furniture will look in your space.


Jardan furniture.

Sofas, beds, rugs, lighting. Source: Jardan.

Jardan make sofas to die for and prices to match.  Their furniture, designed and made in Melbourne, is classy.  Combine wood and linen and I go weak at the knees.  (No longer stocked in W.A. I believe, but available online.)


Bay Furniture  – West Australian custom made furniture including sofas, chairs and tables, using local wood.

Oz design – Some, but not all, furniture made in Australia.

Arthur G – Having recently oohed and aahed over my friend’s new Belair sofa in a gorgeous fabric she selected herself, I can vouch for its comfort and style.  Available in Perth.

Nomi – Scandanavian in style, but designed and made in Australia.  Tables, benches and chairs.  You can mix and match their parts to semi-customise your furniture.


Moochie Lou:

"Wattle" fabric by Moochie Lou.

“Wattle” fabric by Moochie Lou.

The design, fabric printing and production of Moochie Lou‘s bedding, cushions and tableware all happens in Australia.  My favourite print is the “wattle” but you might prefer W.A. inspired “Hamlin” or “Flow”.

Old Grey House:

Old grey house linen.

Tea towels, table linen, cushion covers.  Source:  Old Grey House.

I “helped” the 3 Little Pigs buy me some Old Grey House tea towels and a cushion cover for Christmas.  I love the gumnut inspired prints made in Western Australia.  A limited selection is available online, but I look forward to visiting local markets and stores for a greater range.

Ink and Spindle:

"Silver Gum" bedding by Ink and Spindle.

“Silver Gum” bedding by Ink and Spindle.

Completely gorgeous!  You can choose your own colourway, but I like this one best.  Ink and Spindle sell fabric and ready made items such as cushions, ottomans and bean bags.


Bonnie and Neil – Bold and beautiful cushions, tableware, decorative wooden tiles and small furnishings.  A bit on the pricey side.  Great splashes of colour, if you are that way inclined.

Cloth Fabric – Fabrics, lamp shades, cushions and ready-made curtains.


Eucalypt home:

Ceramic loveliness by Eucalpyt Homewares.

Ceramic loveliness by Eucalpyt Homewares.

Floral or Eucalypt?  It’s hard to choose, but you know it’s gotta be blue.  You can buy Eucalypt Homewares in shops around Australia or at West Australian markets.


Samantha Robinson – Handmade porcelain vases, jugs, plates, bowls and teapots.



Mr Cooper pendant by Cocoflip.

Mr Cooper pendant by Cocoflip.

I’d better not put yet another picture of my favourite pendant on the blog.  So here is Coco’s brother, Mr Cooper.  Cocoflip design furniture and lighting.  They have a limited selection but the quality is superb.

Who did that:

Pod Lux pendant by Who did that.

Pod Lux pendant by Who did that.

Tasmanian made flat-pack timber chandeliers (yes!) or leather pendants.  “Who did that” create lights that make a statement.

Inkster Maken:

Limestone pendant by Inkster Maken.

Limestone pendant by Inkster Maken.

Inkster Maken has a small range of lights made from South Australian limestone and hardwood.  Concrete looking at its best!


Barnlight Australia – Include a range of Australian made lights of industrial and country style.


Bauwerk Colour:

South Fremantle house painted in Bauwerk Basalt and Bauwerk Slate.

South Fremantle house painted in Bauwerk Basalt and Bauwerk Slate.

The paint choices from Bauwerk Colour make me want to get out a brush.  You can order colour cards and paint online or visit their Fremantle warehouse.

Pop by my “Australian made” Pinterest folder for more Aussie goodness.

Little discoveries from my W.A. visit.

Cocoflip replica

Replicas galore.

1.  I’m so glad I checked out the “Cocoflip” pendant replicas. At $300 (versus $1500 for the real thing) – I had to consider them.  They looked great from 2 metres away, but then as I got close I noticed that there was no join between the “ash” top and the “aluminium” bottom.  So I reached out to see how it was done and realised that the whole thing was painted tin.  If I’d been fooled online and had the replicas delivered I would have been so disappointed.

2.  A sad moment at Myaree Ceramics…. the oil-blue tiles that I had coveted to replace our discontinued splash back tile, have also been discontinued.  No time for crying.  There were a number of good options that were close to my original grey subway tile selection.

How about that white “painted brick” tile (bottom right)?  Very clever.  Possibly not in keeping with House By The Water’s style.  Here’s my selection:

Splash back tile.

Masia gris claro tile. $96/m2

I’m going to have it laid vertically for a modern touch.

Next, I needed to reselect floor tiles for the laundry and powder room.  The laundry was easy.  I’m keeping it simple.  A matt grey tile.  The powder room, however, is a little room where it may not cost much to experiment with something a bit “out there”.

Powder room mood board.

This floor tile is a bit unusual so I made a mood board to help the Nice Wolf visualise how it might look.

Here the Caesarstone bench top in clamshell and the floor tile seem to clash but in reality they looked good together.  The tiles actually come in 4 different prints (of which we’d use 3) so the tiler will have to puzzle it together.  Hmmmm?  That could be unpopular.  I’m waiting for the costs of laying this tile to be confirmed before I commit.

3.  Next stop, a meeting with the owner of “Well Built Landscape Construction” (WBLC) to discuss our front yard plans.  I give Nick 10 out of 10 for keeping his overheads low, with our meeting taking place in McDonalds!  WBLC gave me the best quote for a cobblestone driveway and have produced some stylish home landscaping.  We discussed the driveway and our front fence and gate.  I begged him to help me decide whether to go with vertical wood or steel infills and render for the front fence.  He would have humoured me with either option, but my sensibilities and his have pushed me towards steel infills.   WBLC will provide a quote to kick-start our front yard, leaving the garden preparation for us to do at our leisure.

4.    At Nick’s suggestion, I went to Water Garden Warehouse to study steel infills for our front fence.  They supply my favourite steel infill pattern – the “wattle”.

Available from Water Garden Warehouse.

Available from Water Garden Warehouse.

I photographed steel art featuring this pattern a year ago at Home Base because I loved it.  It’s still my favourite.

We need to choose a finish.  Powder coated is smart (no rust stains dripping down the rendered wall), but the rusty steel and Corten options have a more organic look.

Work in progress - but you get the idea.

Front yard mood board.  Work in progress – but you get the idea.

5.  And just because it’s right next door to Water Garden Warehouse, I had a browse in Eco Outdoor.  Our cobblestones will come from here and I always love their outdoor furniture, though it’s usually over-priced.  Currently they have a sale on so their outdoor sofas are closer to the realms of possibility.  It’s a good place for alfresco inspiration.  They have some tempting heavy linens for making cushions and a great vertical garden.

Vertical garden

The wooden frame hides typically ugly vertical garden infrastructure.

6.  I popped into to say hi to my “Construction Liaison” at Webb and Brown-Neaves’ office.  It’s always nice to put a face to a name.  Emma took the time to explain to me a proposed change to the width of our “gutter fascia” that despite my best attempts to understand, by studying the drawings, I still could not fathom.  I have been assured that the change is purely cosmetic.

So that’s it.  All else for the remainder of our house construction must be done remotely.  The next time I visit Western Australia will be for the “practical completion inspection”.  But you know, I’ll be hovering around in the mean time, one way or another!


Construction site visit

I’d mentally prepared myself to expect some disappointment.  Maybe the house would seem small.  Maybe the retaining wall – house relationship was not right.  Perhaps I’d added a big window where there was nothing to see but brick wall, or the building neighbours might have blocked out all the morning sun.

But my first (and probably only) visit to our house whilst under construction revealed nothing but excitement.  Naturally I took a zillion photos, but I’ve narrowed it down to just 10 for you.

1.  The first floor brick work is complete.  The scaffolding and planks are installed in preparation for pouring the second floor slab at the end of this month.

House front

Bottom half of front facade. L to R: garage, entrance, bedroom.

2.  Our fireplace in the living room.  The First Little Pig was a bit worried that Santa won’t fit down the chimney.


Living room fire place.

3.  From the canal side, looking through the dining room to the kitchen (marked by pipes for the sink).  The three openings at the back of the kitchen are for the hallway, cellar and scullery (L to R).  I was relieved to feel that the ceiling not too close.  The dining room is 31 courses high.

Dining room.

Dining room through to kitchen.

4.  View from the future couch location.  Looking from the living room, through the alfresco area to the canals.  Both traditional paddlers and stand-up paddlers passed by while I was there.

Couch view.

Testing out the couch view.

5.  Stairwell.  And a bit of blatant evidence that I missed an opportunity in the planning stage to incorporate access to the under stairs space.  Never mind, my lovely old Tasmanian buffet table is going to look perfect right there.


Pre stairs.

6.  The alfresco area seemed huge.  Probably large enough for sofa and dining set.


The alfresco area as seen from the canal front.

7.  Checking out the deck width from the dining room to the planter boxes.  Could be a bit squeezy for outdoor dining. (2.2 metres across.)


Measuring up the deck.

8.  Kitchen sink view test.

Kitchen sink view test passes.


9.  The First Little Pig made a movie starring brick walls, scaffolding and herself.

First little pig.

Tools of the visit: camera, measuring tape, chalk.  Looking through the living room to the hallway.

10.  This week’s work.  Steel reinforcements for the second floor slab.  I had no idea so much steel would be involved.  I find it very reassuring.  I met the fellow who is singlehandedly going to lay the steel this week.  He said he’d been doing this job for 25 years.  He looked tough!


Steel reinforcements for second floor slab.

I met our site supervisor from Webb and Brown-Neaves, really just to be acquainted.  We discussed a few minor details and he explained the process for the next few weeks.

There wasn’t a lot of time for soaking up the atmosphere but I had my fix of all-things-house for a while and now have a better picture in my head of the scale of things.

Next week I’ll post about my other activities and discoveries during my visit to Mandurah and Perth.