Today we are visiting the home of Fiona. After leaving the interior design world over four years ago, Fiona is now a mother to two beautiful children and the textile-loving entrepreneur behind Fede, a shop filled with handmade toys for children. Her home is absolutely beautiful, and is sure to make any mid century lover’s heart melt. Hope you enjoy the tour…1. You live in Australia. In what kind of home do you live and with whom?
Our home is a split level, flat roofed 1957 built 3 bedroom house. It was originally a farm house but was bought by a developer about 7 years ago and the land was subdivided. We purchased the house in September 2008 in its original condition - it was love at first sight - our diamond in the rough. We sit high on a hill and have the coast to look at from the front and the hills to the back.
I live with my husband Dean and our two children, Ruby (almost 4) and Sachin (2). Then there's our four legged tribe, Benet & Rogan, our 6 year old Whippets, and Libere (AKA Little Bear), our slinky black cat.
2. What is your favorite thing to create for Fede?
It's hard to pinpoint one thing as its always evolving. My series of "first tool" baby rattles is currently the creation of choice. Each toy is made unique with different colour combinations, which enables me to "play" with my fabric collection on a regular basis. More often than not I go into the sewing room with an idea in mind and come out (hours later) with a group of completely different specimens.
3. How has being a stay at home mom influenced or guided you as a small business owner and maker?
Completely. Good and bad really. While still working as an Interior Designer before becoming a Mum, I began making custom design cushions for clients and exhibitions. Once motherhood arrived my focus changed and it was no longer about clients but about little people. I wanted to use my fabrics to create a more sophisticated range of children’s soft toys - in contrast to the typical primary coloured products on the shelves in the toy store. I made the first hammer rattle for my son Sachin after his plastic hammer broke.
I have always hoped that I could be in a position to stay at home with our kids at least until they started school, so returning to my Interior Design career was not an option as it took me away from them. The desire to find something that would keep me at home, keep me creative and fit around my family life led me to my business. After 2 years at home I needed to stimulate the designer in me and find something to fill a void. The sewing machine called and a wonderful night time relationship grew.
On the down side this led to a struggle with the balance between business and family. Definitely one of the most difficult time management tasks I have been challenged with. I found myself happily working late at night into the early hours of the morning to meet deadlines and correspond with customers in the Northern hemisphere on the opposite clock. With young children I was then up again at the light of day, addicted to coffee to get through the day. And did I mention grumpy! So much so that by the end of 2008 I needed to walk away and close up shop for 6 months. Time to reassess my priorities and give the children the focus they deserve. I can now say that this was a wise decision as I've returned to my business more invigorated and determined to be disciplined with my time.
4. Your previous experience as an interior designer shines through in your home. It seems that you are inspired by mid-century design. How would you describe your design style?
It has taken me many years to find my own style. As an Interior Designer I am accustomed to working to other people’s requirements and not favoring any particular style. As a result I find my taste to be eclectic and in some cases quite extreme. Also I tend to be more conservative with myself for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s my money and not the clients (bummer) and secondly I hate to be pigeon holed into a look that can’t be restyled.
Mid-century modern design is a look that appeals to me (hence the architectural style of our house) with clean lines and elegant simplicity. My idea of a family home is a place that feels lived in and comfortable. I think it should tell a story of the lives who occupy it – with collections of furniture, objects and memories that evolve over time. Sometimes my heart falls for a piece but my practical mother brain says no way – it must be easy to clean and hard wearing to survive in this house. I love the thrill of thrifting and giving new life to something that comes with a bit of history. The imperfections make it real & beautiful.
5. You recently renovated your 1950s home. What changes or additions have you made to the house so far? What parts have you decided to keep as original?
Structurally not a lot of changes other than re-roofing (it was asbestos). As we have a flat roof and no ceiling cavity we were forced to re-wire the house while the roof was off. We also removed the load bearing kitchen/dining dividing wall to create an open plan space.
Internally we laid floating American Oak timber floorboards (over concrete) and lay new wool carpet to the bedrooms. The original house had only wall lighting so we installed new ceiling lights throughout. The original kitchen was removed and replaced with an open plan design. We replaced the heavy velvet drapes throughout with contemporary style blinds and painted all the walls and ceilings.
The original building is beautifully crafted and deserved a sympathetic renovation. We have tried to maintain as much of the character as possible and bring out the unique features rather than over design. Some of my favorite bits that we have kept include the marble fireplace and built-ins in the lounge, the timber wall paneling, timber screening and stairs in the lobby, the crazy slate floor in the lobby, the diner in the kitchen (we re-clad it to match our new kitchen), the laundry chute from our kitchen to the laundry below (we designed it to fit into our new kitchen), and the mosaic floor tiles in our bathroom & toilet (which I hope to keep when we give those rooms a face lift down the track).
6. Has remodeling been difficult with having two small children and managing your business? What advice do you have for others that are considering re-modeling?
Don’t go into a project thinking it will be all smooth sailing. There is inevitably always some sort of hiccup along the way (if not many) so stay calm and keep your objectives clear. Research, research, research. You only have one chance to get it right so spend the time to work through the design. The internet is such a useful tool to check out new products & innovations, and see other completed projects that may be similar to yours.
Having renovated previously I have learnt not to live at the property during the project. This is not always practical but it makes for a less stressful experience (particularly if you have children).
I guess I found our project exciting and exhausting at the same time. I tried to be onsite (we were living in a rental) as often as possible to keep an eye on the individual trades and pick up any errors promptly. The designing and managing of the project was not so stressful for me (thanks to my design background) as the managing of the children on the building site. My fede business was unproductive over the 3 months that we were driving the project and then I decided to take the next 6 months off. As a result of biting off more than I could chew my business took a back seat.
7. Your kitchen is stunning. Most people would consider the kitchen the heart of the home. Does your family spend a lot of time in this room? And is that a chalkboard cabinet I see? Where did you come up with such a wonderful idea?
Thank you. We love it! Our kitchen is where we start and where we end the day. We are all big breakfast eaters so the first thing we do in the morning is head for the pantry and take our positions. With an open plan living area we find we spend a lot of time together even when we are doing our own things.
I always think it’s funny that we have such a comfortable sofa in the lounge and yet whenever we have visitors we all stand in the kitchen. So yes, it’s definitely the hub of our house.
The chalkboard idea started in our last home. We had a chalkboard wall in the living room which was meant for the kids to draw on. In reality we used it for reminder notes and messages to each other. We use the chalkboard on the kitchen door to jot down things that we need from the supermarket. It works a treat!8. This Kriesler Stereophonic is a beautiful piece in your home. What is the back story?
It belonged to my Nana and Pa. My Nana gave it to me a couple of years ago while downsizing her home. We were living in another city at the time so she kept it for me until we moved into this house.I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a child and they were instrumental in encouraging me into music from an early age. I would ride my bike to their house before school in the mornings to practice on their piano. My Pa loved to play his records and later as I improved he’d often have a sing-along with me playing the piano. I continued with the piano right through school and later became a teacher myself and sang vocals in cover bands in my twenties. I have my Nana & Pa to thank for my start to music, so the stereophonic has a lot of fond memories and meaning to me.
9. You have quite a textile collection. When did you start collecting these vibrant fabrics and what initially drew you to textiles?
My name is Fiona and I’m a fabric junkie. Can I say that?
It started in 1995 when Dean and I traveled for a year and stopped in London for 6 months to work and save money. I landed a job in the Furnishing Fabrics department at Harrods and whoa…. I had never seen anything like it! I was introduced to Designers Guild, Liberty and Osborne & Little and I was hooked. I’d ordered so many cuttings for myself that I took a box of these amazing little fabric pieces back to Australia with me (and I still have many of them today).
The collecting of vintage fabrics started later when I met a lady at the Camberwell Markets in Melbourne. Week after week she came with the most amazing collection of bits and bobs that she sourced from estate sales. I became her biggest fan for a while until she disappeared and then I never saw her again. However she introduced me to a new world of textiles. This led to thrifting and now I bring home all sorts of things to re-purpose, tea towels, table cloths, aprons etc.
10. Most of the walls in your home are white, and you have used furniture and artwork to create bold pops of color. This is especially evident in your kid's playroom. Is this intentional? Have your children helped in making any decisions for their rooms?
Actually the reason the house was painted all white was to create a blank canvas that we could develop over time. When we first bought the house the walls were all sorts of disjointed colour and we needed to get some unity throughout – something that wouldn’t fight with all of the timber. The white was an easy choice. Now that we have moved in and introduced the furniture I don’t feel that it needs much colour. I do have plans to add some wallpaper to our bedroom in a black & white graphic design.
With the kids rooms I feel that their toys create the colour. The big decision that was made by our children was to share a bedroom. This has challenged me to move away from the typical boy/girl styles and design a space that is appropriate for both a girl and a boy. It is still a room in the making.
11. Everything looks so well put together and thoughtful. What is your favorite room of the house and why?
I have to say two.
The first is the entry lobby as this is the first space I walked into when I fell in love with the house. It brought back memories of the Brady Bunch. The slate floor, high raked ceiling, timber paneling and amount of light just won me over. It’s also a transition space between our upstairs living areas and the mid-level bedrooms so we walk through it many times a day.
Secondly is the lounge room in Winter. It’s flooded with warm sunlight in the afternoon. A favorite place to sit is in the saucer chair in the window reading a book or just daydreaming and looking at the coastline out the window.