Sunday, 22 April 2018

#5 transitions and nooks

This post is part of a series where I'm recording the appreciative thoughts and emotions associated with various spaces in our house. For context, read my post Thinking about houses.

In 2009, one of the first events held at donkey wheel house was an unconference called Trampoline organised and hosted by my mates Pat Allan, Melina Chan and Steve Hopkins. I attended a session by Dan Donahoo with whom I would also become friends. Dan's session was on the curious idea of 'edge theory'. In psychology, edge theory is about anxiety inducing situations, but at Trampoline, Dan talked about transitions.

I started to see 'edges' as points of transition. Where the sea meets the sand on a beach, a transition from one environment to a completely different one. The edge of a cliff, a transition from safety and stability to one of free-fall and either danger or adventure depending on your intentions. And it opened my eyes to the way architects design transitions within buildings or outdoor spaces. Staircases, hallways, entrances etc.

One of the design features I love about our house is the transitions. The use of little corridors, steps and changes of colour are masterful.

Immediately inside the front door, the open space ahead towards the kitchen is the dominating orientation, but to the right a single step up and change in floor colour invite an alternative. The first 'edge' we encounter is the gate at the bottom of the stairs delineating the environment where Winnie has free reign and the space into which she must be invited.

These days most staircases have a bend in them. Ours is a single straight climb to the privacy of the send level. The clean and direct lines feel unapologetic. At the top of the stairs is a little corner with a print and a pot plant. The plant sits on a little stool that we found in a gift store around the corner in Hitchcock Ave. The print is one of three elephant drawings which Rachel bought from a London market. We have two; this one and one that hangs at the bottom of the same stairs, and Rachel has the other. The prints are a subtle reminder of her every time I ascend or descend the stairs. Maria and I are good at some things, but growing indoor plants is not in the set. The single remaining leaf on this plant is a constant declaration of our lack of prowess. 

I'll spare you a picture of the washroom, except for this drawing of Heidi's that sits on the wall. It was a gift when she was in year 5 ... a little window into our family wanderings in a beat up kombi 15 years ago.

The only place in the house that feels a little awkward from a design perspective is this study nook. The proportions feel a bit out, but it ends up being the compromise associated with the long straight staircase. In the end, we don't use this as a study space and it actually works really well as a storage and utility nook for the modem and printer. The cork board has a collection of Maria's photos of Barwon Heads and some hand-drawn postcards from Vasto. (Italy) The wooden stool under the bench is a piano stool that was part of the furniture set my parents bought from a local Devonport manufacturer after they were married nearly 60 years ago. 

Back down the stairs to the front door. The prints on the wall are from a Tasmanian artist who's work we first came across in the emporium upstairs in the Stillwater Restaurant, just near where we lived in Launceston. At the time we were living a peripatetic lifestyle. Her images captured beautifully the themes of transience, relationships and changing environments. We hung them on the walls in Launceston and love their place along the welcoming hallway here in Barwon Heads.

The side table was the first piece of quality furniture we ever purchased. How useful is a small narrow table with a couple of draws as a place to put and keep items we need as we transition from being 'at home' to being 'out'. Even furniture can help us transition well. While a coat and hat stand might belong here as well, I am gald that it doesn't fit and instead sits around the corner in just inside the garage. That way this 'at home' / 'out' transition space remains uncluttered and simple.

There is nothing special about a laundry, but the designers have integrated a few things that make the space work fabulously. A single step down (contrast to the single step up inside the front door). A change in flooring and full length glass in the external door all add a quality to the space.

We don't really have a 'backyard', but the closest we come is this long deck that hosts outdoor shower, clothes line, water tanks and garden shed. Out of sight and out of the sun is Maria's worm farm :-). Doors conveniently lead to the laundry and the garage.

looking from the entrance hall passed Johanna's room, the downstairs bathroom and laundry to the garage.

... and back the other way.

Our town house is sufficiently small that we need to be careful about how much stuff we hold onto. I like that. Although I confess that the garage is filling up with bits and pieces stuffed into nooks and crannies with some creative storing options, overall we are committed to recycling things we are not using. Over the years Maria has taught me lots about simplicity when it comes to decorating; whether it be clothing (decorating our bodies), shelving (ie avoiding it), and certainly ornaments. I have thought a lot about (and occasionally written) about the differences between minimalism and essentialism; the differences between economical and quality consuming; and the sometimes inconsistencies within an anti-materialism ideology. Suffice to say in this context, we want to make wise choices about the things with which we surround ourselves in our home. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

#4 gardening and hanging

This post is part of a series where I'm recording the appreciative thoughts and emotions associated with various spaces in our house. For context, read my post Thinking about houses.

I'm writing this on a beautifully wild autumn day. successive cold fronts batter the weather boards with rain and wind. But only last weekend we felt like we were in an endless summer. When you live in this part of the world, the seasons are overwhelmingly formative in our lifestyles. And for those of us lucky enough to have some outdoors around our homes, our little plots of ground provide a meaningful connection with the changing environment. 

Our little yard is fabulously regenerative. 

The north facing deck invites the sun for most of the day. Afternoon snoozes in the hammock are almost ritual. We bought the hammock from a camping store in Mount Beauty a long time before we moved in. The hammock in the backyard in Brunswick had been an iconic feature for our family and we knew we'd have to find a place for one in our new house, even before we had an idea of where it would go. It was one of those 'meant to be' moments after we moved in and found the hooks already there! The grape vine above it is perfect. Its bare branches in the winter maximise sun. I lay in it back in spring and felt deep happiness at the sight of budding leaves which amazingly quickly transform into a sun protecting canopy over summer. You can tell by the photo that the cycle continues as the leaves brown and wither for autumn.

In the corner of the deck is a bush stool. (splayed legs) Rachel has spent a lot of time at Mittagundi. This stool came back from there after their 2017 festival. It's rugged beauty is in contract to the other outdoor furniture in the yard by S2dio which we found in a local outdoor furniture store. The teak arm chairs offer a robust but comfortable sitting option looking out on the garden. A beverage in the late afternoon sun is sweet as. But the full setting comes into its own on a sunny lunchtime when we are drawn outside to feast on fresh bread, tomatoes and basil from the garden. Sometimes we roast capsicums and mix it with parsley and garlic or if we're lazy we grab a tub or two of dip from the fridge. Whatever, or whenever, I love this spot. 

I love and hate the regular ritual of oiling decks and outdoor furniture. It's not my favourite annual ritual, but I do like the resilience payback. Adjacent to the table is the mandatory bbq. It's kind of primal isn't it, cooking and eating outside? Without that capacity it wouldn't feel like a proper yard! Against the fence are pots of herbs. It is one of our regular joys to be pottering over dinner and saying: 'Hmm, maybe some thyme might be good', and wandering outside to grab some sprigs.

The portable outdoor fire pit was a recent birthday gift. The place we rented around the corner had a great little corner just made for it. Haven't lit it here yet, but its time will come! See the chopping block in front of the woodpile - I've had it for more than 25 years. When we moved into our house in Brunswick I took a trailer out to my friend Doug's place in Ringwood to get a load of firewood. There were a couple of decent size logs I left unsplit and used them as a chopping block over the years. This one is nearly unusable now and I will be sad when it finally succumbs to the pounding of the splitter axe. It has had a very long and useful innings.

The red wheel barrow is from my dad. When he downsized to his unit near where mum is in care, he offloaded most of his stuff. It has the marks of his handyman ways with a piece of ply wood strengthening the base. A wheelbarrow is one of those things that we don't use much, but when you need one its good have it. It reminds me of my dad and it seems to 'belong' leaning against the fence behind the garden. Eventually we'll have fruit trees and other greenery along the fence, but for now its a clear pallet for Maria's gardening imagination.

That this is a regenerative space doesn't mean it's all sitting, eating, and snoozing. The garden beds are life giving. Maria is an active member of the community garden. Apart from the friendships, she loves the therapy of digging around in the dirt and cultivating food. At home here we have some great little plots too. We converted a sandpit and a pebble garden into food producing gardens to add to the two main boxes that stretch across the yard. It feels both right and good to grow at least some of our own food.

There are five raspberry plants along the eastern fence. Zac, Heidi, Rachel, Johanna and planted one each for Maria's 50th birthday. Eating fruit is one of Maria's favourite individual and family things to do, so we anticipate many summers of raspberry picking and consuming in celebration of this wonderful person for whom this little courtyard is a special oasis. For a small space it has qualities that welcome slow living, a place where being is more valued than doing. 

Whether it is a hail ridden winter Saturday or a Friday sunny lunch, it is also the space that connects us with the world outside. It is a buffer to the movement on and across the road in the village park. I often find myself standing at the doors peering out: still but involuntarily reflective.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

antifragility and generativity and why they matter (at least to me)

'Taking a break from the house series to record some current musings. This is pretty dense with cross references which I want to link for future reference.

back at CityPoint ... familiar view

It's mid-April in the city. The warm days keep intruding on Autumn but sitting outdoors at a cafe at 9pm in windless, high 20s, taking in the night rhythms of the west end is good fun ...

The paradox of having multiple projects on is that I read more ... something about needing to feed my brain in order to keep the output energised and fresh.

Anyway, earlier this evening I was grateful to finish reading Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life. I read it knowing I'd find it both good and bad. The good bit is that I enjoy engaging people who operate with unfamiliar mental models.  He is super smart, eccentric even, and I love delving into the minds of radically intelligent thinkers. I do however find myself disagreeing with where he ends up on some topics. But I chose to read him intentionally. I chose to suspend judgement and listen, really listen. Too often we consume intelligence that we already broadly agree with, and so we create in our minds a growing illusion that people who disagree with us must be stupid or wilfully selfish or evil even. So while I disagree with where he ends up sometimes, I certainly do have a greater appreciation for why he and others have such a distain for political correctness. (Jonathon Haidt's work argues compellingly that we must do this more. see his first TED talk here.)

But my main reason for digesting Peterson was because I had set myself to go deeper into the parallel universe that is Nassim Taleb's view of the world. And like Taleb, Peterson is concerned with understanding how to live well in the context of chaos. I knew I'd find more of Taleb that was aligned with what I already believed, so wanted to read Peterson as a counter.

I first heard of Taleb's work via Issue 1 of The Alpine Review. Like a very few other other big ideas I've come across, I sensed there was something in this that would be important for me. As I read the other day, mental models are the new alphabet, so I'm thirsty for new ways to see and therefore make sense of this crazy world. Taleb and Peterson certainly both offer different ways of seeing the world.

Taleb has spent his career trying to understand uncertainty and randomness. Both he and Peterson hold the view that chaos and randomness are not bad per se, and are not to be, indeed cannot be avoided. Further, it turns out that most of the really significants things that happen in our lives can be traced to random events. 

But many of the systems which define modern life are fragile. Random and unpredicted events can cripple whole sets of infrastructure. One apparently isolated occurrence has ripple effects across nations and the world. (Just think about the impact of volcanic ash or the 9/11 terrorist attacks on air travel. Or think about how the apparently untouchable Facebook could be out of business in a relatively short period of time when trust is broken.)

Most people, when asked, say that the opposite of fragile is robust (or similar). But Taleb argues this is not the case. If a package is marked fragile, it means that its contents will break if subjected to trauma. The opposite would be if the items got stronger if/when subjected to trauma. So Taleb is in search of those things that are improved by randomness, uncertainty and even trauma. Things that are antifragile. His argument is that we can glimpse the future by taking notice of those things which have antifragile attributes. Or the corollary; we know that if something is fragile, its time of dominance or prominence at least will be limited. 

I recognised in this reasoning something of what I was grappling for in my manifesto. The idea of generativity comes on the back of this. It's also a bit akin to Peterson's idea behind the 12 Rules for Life - what is the smallest number of essential things a person needs to know in order to live well? My thesis is that three drivers (pleasure, betterness and meaning), on two foundations (home and community) and four disciplines offer a generative life - a life that feeds itself with 'the quality that cannot be named' (from a masterful chapter in Christopher Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building. Alexander goes through multiple alternative (English) words that capture elements of that quality that is recognisable in a room or building but for which we don't have an adequate word. If I was in conversation with him, I'd offer 'generative'.)

I have recently had an email exchange with Paul Hawken, whose Natural Capitalism gave me great hope when I read it more than a decade ago. For many years now people have been lamenting that the term 'sustainability' has lost its meaning as it gets co-opted ubiquitously. But like many others, I have struggled to think of an alternative. Until now. 

Paul's upcoming book will be called Regeneration. It comes from the same thinking as Taleb's antifragile. We can't get to a solution to todays problems by using the same thinking that got us where we are. 'Robust' is about risk mitigation against fragility - but that's not enough. Sustainability is about risk mitigation against depleting natural resources - but that is not enough. We need radical new thinking to change the game.

Taleb says, how do we build systems that actually thrive on uncertainty and randomness? Hawken says it's not about sustainability, it's about creating a society that engages the natural environment in a way that actually regenerates it. I am interested in the ingredients that facilitate better living when we encounter the normal terrain of contemporary society; those disciplines and mental models that provide generativity amidst normal chaos. 

A bit to think about ...

Monday, 2 April 2018

#3 regenerating

This post is part of a series where I'm recording the appreciative thoughts and emotions associated with various spaces in our house. For context, read my post Thinking about houses.

It might sound obvious, but sleep experts say that a bedroom should be set up exclusively for sleeping. The simplicity of a room that has a bed and a small amount of convenient storage space is very appealing. In Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander and his colleagues suggest that, unlike what the most common house designs offer, dressing is an entirely different activity than sleeping and is best accommodated in its own space. The old dressing screens or walk in wardrobes with sufficient space for mirrors etc would be ideal. Alas, we don't have that amount of space in our little town house, but this room is wonderful anyway. 

In the winter months when it is dark in the evenings, the light on the dressing table provides a soft welcome into the room. Immediately inside the bedroom door is a short corridor with mirrored wardrobes on each side, a nice proxy for a walk-in wardrobe. It is a clever way to keep the clothes and dressing space clear of the bed.

But the best feature of this room is the north facing balcony. That side of the bed is Maria's reading spot of choice; the sun streams in for most of the day with the view across to the Village Park drawing your eyes outside. It is not unusual for me find either Johanna or Winnie (Johanna's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) curled up with her on the bed. It is a gorgeous spot to pass the time.

The prints on the walls are from a local photographer. We got talking to him one day at the market in the town hall around the corner. In keeping with what we wanted for the room, the images are simple and clean. 

For me this a regenerative space. It's where Maria and I reconnect at the end of the day; it's where rest rejuvenates and in the ensuite off to the side, it's where we ready our bodies for the day ahead. Maria's yoga mat rests in the corner; her morning routine also regularly involves stretching and centering before the bustle of the day begins. 

I agree with the idea that simplicity is a good design principle for a bedroom and I'm pleased that this room not only ticks that box, but our experience of spending time in it generally leaves us feeling better than when we walked in through the door.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

#2 eating and drinking

This post is part of a series where I'm recording the appreciative thoughts and emotions associated with various spaces in our house. For context, read my post Thinking about houses.

The first dining table we bought was a round one. It had four rickety chairs and was bright glossy red. I found it in the trading post and drove to Bachhus March to pick it up in my chocolate brown HK station wagon. It cost us $25. We were so pleased to have it and after a couple of coats of white paint it even looked the part. Over the next 30 years, there were six more dining tables, chosen to suit the stage of life and style of home, including a white glass one in the apartment we rented on the Sunshine Coast.

Few items of furniture are as formative as a dining table, so we took our search for the one that would occupy this dining nook pretty seriously. The chestnut wood is polished smooth on the top, but the edges retain a rough and uneven finish - a nice bit of rustic luxury design. We chose low-back chairs to keep the space open. Soft pads on the bottom of the legs mean they slide quietly and easily on the polished floorboards and the grey fabric is just the right mix of comfort and everyday functionality. Although it is designed for eight, ten is pretty comfortable.

But what really makes the space is not so much the furniture as the nook itself. Externally it is annexed by a deck, and the dominance of clear glass invites the outside in. In the warmer months we sometimes open the doors to feel the breeze and hear the evening sounds of the town while we eat. The relaxed curve of the hammock, the rambling shapes and colours of the veggie garden and the clean lines of the fences and garden beds are close and therefore attract-ive so draw people from the living area to the table... the trees of the village park provide the backdrop.

Looking the other way, the open kitchen and lounge area make up the integrated communal areas. On the wall at the end is the only original painting we've ever bought. We spotted it at a market stall in Port Macquarie and arranged to pick it up from artist Lynne Bickhoff's home studio later in our yurting excursion. We bought it to hang behind the sofa in Brunswick and it later hung in my CityPoint apartment as a reminder of the continuity of life. We think it fits beautifully in its new home.

This is the place that Maria and Johanna sit to work. The placing of the windows and the proportions of the kink in the external wall that define the space give it a sense of separation, but it is  also bright, comfortable and thoroughly part of the living area.

It is fitting that I am writing this on Easter Sunday. We've missed Rachel who is on the Overland Track and Alex who is at home recovering between shifts on a busy start to the AFL season, but the rest of our mob and a friend or two, have spent many hours this weekend eating seafood, cooked breakfasts, drinking tea, and of course eating chocolate and easter buns, around this table. It is the place we gravitate to to mix those two critical dimensions of life; communication and food. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

#1 thinking and working

This post is part of a series where I'm recording the appreciative thoughts and emotions associated with various spaces in our house. For context, read my post Thinking about houses.

There are two spaces in our house which are mostly mine. A right turn at the front door leads up a straight wooden staircase which leads away from the hospitality and common areas to a private second floor. I love my office; the light comes from the west so in the mornings the tones are softer and being furthest away from the road, it is also the quietest room.

The desk is the dining table we bought when we rented an apartment in CityPoint (Melbourne CBD), so it has always been associated in my mind with working away from home. It was also the table around which we gathered regularly as a family so has the memory of shared family meals on its surface. I love its deep cherry colour and slightly rugged feel. When we found it at Freedom Furniture in 2013, I instantly knew I had found what I had been scouring the stores for. 

There is a line of black spined journals at the back of the desk. Three times in my adult life I have given away most of my books. My commitment is to retain only the number of books that fit on my one bookcase. One of the problems arising is that my journal collection has nowhere to go, so again most of them get recycled. Except for a few collections which I keep; The New Philosopher; Dumbo Feather; Kinfolk and Monocle. Monocle has been an genuine inspiration for me for many years. I have already once given away a couple of years worth (two purges ago), but I have chosen to hang on to my editions from 2012. With little shelf space they sit on the back of my desk (the black spines.) Monocle has an elitist feel that I don't warm to, but overall I love the mix of British and Japanese sensibilities. I experience irrational joy when, after all these years, I sit on the couch and crack open a new edition. It inspires me because of three things:

1. The unique cocktail of the six focus areas; Affairs; Business; Culture; Design; Entertaining; Fashion. (Yep, ABCDEF for the observant). 
2. The media is predominantly old school; hard copy and radio. In the early days there was no internet presence. I find that it therefore pays attention to things that I feel are sometimes lost in the digital age; a commitment to the quality of the tactile sensation of engaging media.
3. The journalistic style showcases what is working (rather than what isn't) from across the globe. I get to read about the ABCDEF from places I've never heard of, without it presented as novel. I love having the Monocle spines face me every time I sit at my desk.

On the wall in the corner is wall art from the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are. I did not put them there. Before we lived here it was a child's bedroom and I like the idea of retaining this playfulness in what sometimes feels like a serious space.

The bookshelf was an engagement gift from our friends Jenny and Brett 30 years ago. At the time, I was used to buying op shop or cheap pine furniture, so to receive a quality bookshelf with half a dozen coats of varnish felt like luxury. It still looks like new. As mentioned above, I have given away most of my books three times. When we moved out of our office in West Melbourne, I decided only to keep titles that had meaning for me. The books on these shelves are not the best books I've ever owned but they are the ones that have been most formative. Only a few authors get multiple titles: Alain de Botton, Peter Senge, Christopher Alexander, Adam Kahane, Naomi Klein, Henri Nouwen. For other favourite authors I've chosen their seminal work or the one that has formed me most deeply. (eg. Jonathon Haidt, A Righteous Mind; Ched Myers: Who Rolled Away the Stone?, Patrick Lencioni: The Advantage. I am currently wondering whether more than one of Nassim Taleb's Incerto series deserves a permanent spot, and if only one, which one?) Every book on the shelf is a long conversation if you were to ask me about it. The collection is visible on my Goodreads account

A few titles have multiple copies. At any one time you will find bulk copies of Fredric Laloux's Reinventing Organisations (both academic and popular editions); Adam Kahane's Collaborating withe the Enemy and Patrick Lencioni's The Advantage. These are my three must read progressive organisational leadership resources so I give them away regularly.

On top of the shelf is a retro internet radio, a recent but prized piece of equipment. The stack to the right is multiple complete collections of The Alpine Review, the think-style magazine that I rate as one of the best magazine publishing projects I have encountered.

The couch is special. It's where I sit in the evenings to read, or where I retreat to if I need to digest hard copy material. We bought it when we moved to the Sunshine Coast at the beginning of 2013. I removed the leather-top desk and captains chair from the library in our West Melbourne office and replaced it with this sofa bed so I could sleep there during the week when I was back in Melbourne. It then moved to CityPoint (the apartment we rented in the CBD) and began its life as 'the kid's bed'. Then and now, it is the first bed to be used when people come to stay. So while this is 'my space', I love that it also doubles as the bedroom for family and friends.

(When Heidi stays, it's not unusual to find cartoons left on the whiteboard ....)

This photo (above) won't mean much to anyone else, but it is heavy with history for me. Ever since I was a little tacker I kept a journal ... or in the early days it was a retrospective diary. (As in: Saturday, March 3rd 1978; "played cricket all day"). I began the practice of writing my ponderings about life on paper while living in Japan in 1981. This cupboard holds a box and rows of journals from those early childhood ones to recent years before blogging and Evernote encroached on the domain of paper and pen. Alongside the introspective musings of my evolving mind are rows of work notebooks. Initially (from May 1991) they were Collins hardcover notebooks, but since April 2006, Moleskins. 

Even though the room is an office and so has a sedentary style, behind the mirrored wardrobe doors is a recreational theme. One wardrobe is where all our bushwalking gear is stored and on the far side is all my cycling stuff. When I sneak out of bed at 5.20am, I come in here to get ready to ride in an effort to allow Maria to keep sleeping.

Other things to note:
  • I confess to being a Fossil brand fan. There are two Fossil bags that are visible in this room. The larger one on the couch has been used most work days for many years and just gets better with age. The canvas man-bag hanging on the side of the bookcase is for occasional and particular use. 
  • There is also a leather satchel on the chair beside the desk: I bought this from the Wildhorse gallery in Bangalow. This is the work-lite alternative to the Fossil messenger bag and connects my work-life to one of my favourite times of the year ... our regular winter sojourn with friends at Cape Byron.
  • Apart from the wall art, three prints hang on the wall. The one above the couch is a photograph of some women in India. It was a gift from TEAR Australia when I left the board in the early 2000s. It was my first 'serious board role', from which I learned a formative amount of good things. In the corner near the bookcase is a studio photo from my mum and dad's wedding day. Behind the whiteboard, is a van Gogh print; The Dutchman got tired of city life in Paris in the 1880s so moved to the countryside in the south to enjoy the sunshine and quiet, during which he painted the View of Saint-Maries. The print was a gift from Jan's parents after one of their regular trips to Hong Kong.
  • To the left of the couch is a yoga mat and dumbbells. I am committed to exercising regularly, so when there is no time for a cycle or a surf, my morning routine often involves stretching and groaning using these.
This is my work space and my retreat space. It is a place where I am extremely productive. It is also a place with stuff that I value. I know I am incredibly privileged and at the risk of being misunderstood, I'll say I am a materialist. In a podcast interview with renowned minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Nicodemus Ryan I listened to last week, they provocatively say that the problem is not that we are materialistic, it is that we are not materialistic enough; by which they meant that we don't value our possessions sufficiently. We buy too much stuff that adds no value to our lives, rather than only having things that do so. That theme, what I prefer to call essentialism, will be a recurring theme in these posts.

"Deciding what is essential in our lives isn't about paring back our belongings and foregoing our beloved but unnecessary frivolities: Instead of determining how little we can live with, it's about working out what we simply can't live without." 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

thinking about houses

18 months ago I bought a house without Maria seeing it. Here is part of the story of why I did so, why I have never regretted it and what happened next.

For more than 20 years of our adult lives we lived in a cul-de-sac in Brunswick. We bought the house we could afford, a brick veneer with ugly yellow bottle glass doors, gaudy chandeliers and many other southern European features. They were fabulous years and we loved living there. But we didn't love the house. We chose it for function not form.

Over the years we did our best, with our limited budget, to make it our own. We could afford to do very little in the early days but we chipped away ... we removed the rusted old Hills hoist, with the help of a couple of mates I laid a slab and put up a garden shed. I made a (very shoddy) chook run and shed (it was Brunswick after all). We painted inside. We were lucky that the house was very functional; the kitchen had stuff in the right place and we had a massive family room with lots of flexibility. After about 10 years we could afford to start fixing the un-permitted dodgy renovations of the previous owner (bless him and his mates) and doing more substantial improvements; we ripped up the old brown carpet and polished the floor boards. We rebuilt the bathroom and the kitchen.

Then a few years later we completely cleared the backyard and designed our little corner of suburban paradise. And then later still the front yard got the same treatment. It was hardly recognisable from the house we moved into, and we felt much better about it than we had 20 years earlier.

The walls and floors held the stories of our growing family. Every year or so, I'd walk through the house from front to back taking video to record that point in time, an un-sanitised memory of messy bedrooms and daily activity. It was the home our family will always remember. We will forever tell stories of things that happened there.

But we knew we would not be there forever and I used to regularly make a promise I could not be certain of delivering on ... that one day we would have a house Maria really liked. We fantasised about where it would be and what kind of place it would be. Like so many discussion about dream houses, we considered location, and the kind of lifestyle it would facilitate. But there was another stream of thought for me. It was design.

For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to good design. I did not have a language for it in the early days. At school I loved the creativity of art (especially surrealist painting) and the detailed precision of technical drawing (especially drafting). And I was intoxicated by the beauty of patterns in mathematics; once I understood the patterns I created massive Pascals triangles to solve binomial expansions and drew huge magic squares marvelling at the symmetry and cleverness - just because I could. I found the intrinsic 'rightness' of the Golden Ratio fascinating (eg. think A4 - which has an overarching design principle compared with the awkwardness of US letter sizing) and I marvelled at how Fibonacci sequences occurred in nature (the shape of shells for example).

And I have always been a 'people person'. I had an early intuition and then later came to understand the sociological and psychological principles that governed the way people interacted; with others and their environment. Put these two interests and inclinations together and I now appreciate why I was curious about how buildings worked. As a child I knew some houses I visited 'worked', and others did not, and I sensed it was more than the personalities of the people. I wondered about why hospitals made me feel disconnected from the people in them and I knew that the way I encountered churches with bench seats all facing the front had a profound affect on the way people engaged with each other. I know now that the towns I liked, I liked because of their design and how they belonged (or otherwise) in the landscape. (Sheffield worked but Burnie didn't.)

But it wasn't until much later in life I began to discover the rich thinking of people-centred design. The Architecture of Happiness was an intelligence explosion in my head. Then, about 8 years ago, based on an off handed comment by someone I didn't know on the other side of the world, I chased down a copy of Christopher Alexander's classic A Pattern Language. Even though it was written back in the 1970's I had a strong sense it would be a significant book for me. The fact it was so hard to get in Melbourne at the time reinforced my excitement when it finally arrived. It far exceeded my expectations and I will now always see the world with the wisdom I gleaned (and continue to glean) from it.

I had never imagined such a field of knowledge even existed. How could I have been robbed of this for so long? Alexander and his colleagues had developed a set of patterns (253 to be precise) that govern how people interact in and with their environment. These 253 patterns are applied to design problems that range from how to distribute towns in a country, to where to put a window on a staircase. 

I am not an architect so I don't get to apply these directly in my work. Rather, I am curious to peel back the layers on why certain lounge rooms or cafes or playgrounds or carparks or towns or gardens  or workspaces 'work'. And why is it when I put furniture this way rather than that, or put the bookcase perpendicular to the window or parallel it seems to make a substantial difference. For me it's the code. It's the science to go with the art of design.

So when we began looking for the house we anticipated would be the one we'd live in for our 50s and 60s, design was an important consideration. Firstly as a structure / an infrastructure for our home life. And secondly, I knew that we had an opportunity to furnish it meaningfully. Maybe I could come good on the promise afterall.

I still pinch myself when I realise how lucky we were to find this place. Whoever designed this little house knew what they were doing. Lines of sight; window height and placement; corners, nooks; thoroughfares; ceiling height variations; textures; public and private space transitions; .... Before we made the offer, I had been inside for two visits totalling about 15 minutes. But I knew. It was superbly constructed and facilitated all the emotional reactions that I knew I wanted in a home. It was designed for hospitality and communion. It was warm and inviting but had distinct areas for more private living. The inside/outside transition worked well at multiple instances. I had zero doubt Maria would love it too.

In the months leading up to our move I had a copy of The Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes on our coffee table. I would pick it up and browse it randomly, infusing my mind with good design thoughts. And so when we moved in we set about making this well designed house into a home that is infused with meaning and homeliness. We have not built a dream home in the 'Grand Designs' sense of it. But we have been lucky enough to find a place that is an exceptionally good container for our lifestyle and desires.

I have come to love so much about living in these spaces. We have been intentional about little things and continued our commitment to give away or recycle anything that doesn't add something of value. Every bit of furniture has a story, Every piece of art or print on the walls has meaning. And now that we are a year into calling this home, the stories of being within these walls are beginning to accumulate. And so for my own satisfaction, as a disciple of thankfulness, I intend to write a series of posts with little snapshots of what I enjoy about our little home. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

seasonal mental health prescription

Be active and eat well everyday
Be kind to Maria
Cultivate a home that is regenerative
Read (even when I don't feel like it)
Go camping
Go hiking
Go surfing
Go riding

Remind myself that work is a privilege

Be sceptical about my own opinions and beliefs

Don't put much weight on proverbial self help slogans ;-)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

remember these days

Father, son board meeting this morning

One day life will get harder. More stressful. More complicated. Sadder even. 

But now is not that time. It is summer, we are healthy and life is a good mix of work and play. We are privileged and blessed. And we do not take it for granted.

This little blog is to remind me. I hope that when life turns and we are struggling to smile, that I will remember life cycles through seasons. I hope I am big enough be gracious. I hope I am strong enough to think in years not in days. I hope I am sufficiently disciplined to do the basic things to regenerate wellbeing. I hope my world doesn't shrink too much.  

But now I will work hard. I will surf and ride my bike in the sun. I will sit in front of summer sport and drink cold beer. And I will glance over at that woman and pinch myself.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Pollutri - now that's a cook up

We have experienced some incredible places in Italy, but the reason we are here is Pollutri, a village a few kilometres inland from Vasto and the place where Maria's father grew up and where her two of her cousins still live. with their extended families.

Pollutri is home to Anna and Giovanni, wonderfully hospitable and gentle people who have made us feel like we belong here. A happy coincidence is our visit being at the time of the biggest village celebration of the year, the San Nicola bean festival, a key feature of which is a massive cook-up of locally grown beans which are then eaten as part of the family celebration. Maria's father was named after 'Saint Nicholas'. Having already visited the houses where he lived in the narrow roads below, it was difficult to imagine him as a boy in the medieval streets of the hilltop town centre.

Imagine rows of massive pots (the kind used in historical movies in which people where cooked alive!) full of broad beans, and the local lads stoking fires in preparation for a competition to see which pot they can get to boil first. Today we head back into town to see the beans being seasoned and eaten, although we did take a sample home to Anna's place last night to sample with home made olive oil, year old (yes) bread and a touch of salt.