Home-keeper as shopkeeper: 10 reasons why treating your home like a store isn’t as weird as it sounds

Approach decorating your home as though it’s a shop and the rewards will follow, suggests Bianca Tzatzagos.

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  1. Re-merchandise regularly so you can see old stock in new light. That means moving around furniture, rearranging vignettes and clearing the dust bunnies.
  2. Refresh for the seasons. Use moments in the calendar to create opportunities for elevating your space. Spring flowers, bowls of fresh autumnal produce, Christmas decorations and cosy winter throws are just the start.
  3. Find ways to entice the customer and draw their eye. In your home, the customer is you and the people you love. Make every inch into somewhere you want to be and can’t wait to return to.
  4. Dream up creative ways to surprise and delight your ‘regulars’. Put out a cookie jar, or create a cocktail station for a glamorous night in.
  5. Turn over your stock. Sell things or donate them when they are no longer useful or beautiful to you. Don’t sit on dead stock.
  6. Make financial sense. Successful shopkeepers make sound financial decisions. They don’t invest in things that won’t make solid returns, and are careful not to spend above their means. Happy finances = happy home.
  7. Tell stories. Fill your home with symbols of the life you are living and the things you love, such as holiday souvenirs, family heirlooms, meaningful gifts and handcrafted creations (even if it’s your kid’s finger-painting). Provenance is becoming more and more important in the retail space, and should be a top priority in the home.
  8. Be authentic to your “brand”. Who are you and what does your home say about you? Is it representing who you truly are and the values you hold dear? Words like ethical, sustainable, intentional and local come to mind.
  9. Pour energy into your home, invest in it. There’s nothing sadder than a shop whose owner has clearly lost interest.
  10. Practice good housekeeping. Scrub the kitchen sink, clean the windows (or hire someone to do it). It will make the world of difference to your outlook.

The above photo was taken some years back in the wonderful Igigi General Store, a shop I wouldn’t mind living in.

The case against holiday homes

Bianca Tzatzagos makes a case against maintaining a holiday home and, in the process, espouses her one true love.

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As much as I love houses of all kinds, especially the idea of decorating houses, I have never understood the mentality behind a holiday house.

To me, the whole idea of travel is to create microcosms – mini temporary homes within unfamiliar places.

Part of the joy of travelling (and I’ll admit, my idea of travel isn’t the gritty kind) is the thrill of researching and pondering and choosing a wonderful place to stay.

That means immersing myself in the location and spirit of a place by finding boutique exemplars of that place.

I love the novelty of making home work within 15 square metres. I am always curious about what a designer’s optimal haven to rest, relax, rejuvenate and reinvent looks like. A transient home entirely different to my own. Somewhere that I haven’t decorated. Somewhere that inspires me to live differently for a week or two.

There’s also something to be savoured in being without the trappings of home. Even the most luxurious hotel room is there to remind us that we are away, for better or worse.

Unfamiliar lighting, sounds, smells and surfaces are to be enjoyed, sure, but they also hone our senses to what we love – or need to improve – about our own place.

When you lose the dream of a holiday home, you lose the fuss and obligation of decorating, maintaining and returning to the same place.

By definition, the concept of home is singular. So invest in a single home. Invest everything in it. Be monogamous to it.

Then when you travel, do it from an unfamiliar base. Be elsewhere.

 

Ode to a curtain rod

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This article first featured here

I’ve always worked from home, but right now of course I’m spending even more time here. And I still love it.

It was while washing dishes and staring aimlessly out the window that my eye fell upon my curtain rod. I fixated on its beautiful details and it did – as Marie Kondo would say – spark joy.

It also got me thinking about the importance of seemingly trivial decisions on our overall happiness. If you’re an aesthete like me, I don’t think these things can ever be overthought. Even a humble curtain rod can be a star.

And this is its story.

In as much as anything is forever, this is our forever house. We bought it seven years ago because it was in a perfect spot and, while an old girl, she was well renovated so we knew we wouldn’t have to stress about doing any updating before moving in.

Of course, the trouble with buying anything pre-renovated is that it’s inevitably not going to be your exact taste. But overall, we were fortunate. Fixtures were pleasing enough, I could make it work.

One thing that did bother me was the choice of blinds throughout the large open-plan living space. I disliked everything about them: colour and type of fabric, the mechanics, the design. But they were functional, and we were busy, so more than five years flew by before I finally did something.

After so much time living with window treatments I didn’t like, I was well attuned to what I wanted to see in their place. Houses, particularly interiors, are a lifelong passion of mine and I had plenty of sources bookmarked and reference images saved.

I was familiar with architectural hardware sites all over Australia. For previous homes I’d ordered holdbacks online from Victoria and bought kitchen handles from bricks and mortar shops here in Sydney. It was through these adventures that I’d discovered Tasman Forge.

Cue gorgeous curtain fittings handmade in solid wrought iron, with the perfect mottled black-brown finish. I was drawn to both the authenticity of the material and the artistry. These rods look – and more importantly feel – exactly like something you might find in a 300-year-old European farmhouse, and I knew I would never regret the investment.

I did look at pre-fab options in cast-iron that might have achieved a similar look, but it was almost impossible to find identical rods in all the varying the sizes I needed, ranging from well over 3 metres to under 1 metre. They also weren’t anywhere near as beautiful as these.

The thing with hand-forged ironwork made to order is that it will be perfectly sized, shaped and fitted to your windows. No unsightly overhang or awkward joins. It’s like haute couture for your home: exquisitely executed, timelessly elegant and forever joy-inducing.

I did have concerns about commissioning craftsmanship, conveying measurements and organising shipping from another country, but after speaking with Tim and receiving his detailed, prompt and thorough communications, I was completely confident. He really knows curtain hardware!

Fortunately, I found an equally talented and dedicated artisan to complete my long-held curtain vision, crafting simple pure linen drapes that perfectly complemented the simplicity of the rods.

It was well worth the almost six-year wait. Indeed I’m grateful for that wait because it taught me to be patient and hold out for something meticulously considered and truly beautiful.

Now that we’re home so much, each day begins with opening the curtains to let in the sun. I love the sound of the wrought iron rings sliding along the sturdy rods, and the way the linen gathers into a heavy mass and puddles onto the floor.

And as each day ends, the ritual reverses: we draw the curtains and close out the world. It’s such a small thing, but it brings happiness every time.

Shop Love: Some retail moments are worth the spend.

Nostalgic it may be, but it often feels like the era of legendary bricks and mortar retail is behind us. It may have even been behind us before I was born. There are tonnes of reason for this, and obviously online shopping is a fundamental one. But I can remember a handful of truly legendary Sydney shopping experiences that have stood out for me in my lifetime, and I’m not so old.

One that sticks in my mind was in 2009, the first time I entered Sibella Court’s The Society Inc in Paddington, a curious haberdasher-collector-merchant that felt old and new, exciting and authentic all at once. I recall buying tiny dried starfish as Christmas ornaments and spools of antique ribbon plucked straight out of the stylist’s own curated cabinet of curiosities. Sibella lived upstairs at the time, and yet nothing in the building felt off-limits to visitors.

About the same time (2010 or so) began Suzie Anderson’s weekend shopping events at her Bowral estate, Hopewood House, a beautiful destination of French goodies in a chateau-like setting, replete with potting shed, dining hall and magnificent gardens.

I also recall much earlier visits in the 1980s to the Strand Arcade’s “Martinvale” gift store where Mum bought me the teeniest blown-glass punch bowl for my future doll’s house. I still have it, and now also the doll’s house in which it resides.

The common thread throughout all these memorable boutiques? The shopkeepers were of singular vision, seemingly tireless and uniquely driven. Making money was never the primary objective – there was always a generosity of spirit that shone through. Even if you didn’t buy anything (and I very often didn’t), you still got something out of a visit. The sense of a legacy being created was palpable.

When I was first given the biography of Chuck Williams, the founder of Californian behemoth Williams Sonoma, it read to me like a fairy tale. I was enchanted by the story of this single individual who had lived through the Depression and travelled to Europe for the first time in 1950s, by then in his late 30s. A builder by trade and foodie by passion, he came back from his trip, bought a hardware shop in Sonoma, added a few housewares to it – and plenty of characteristic flair. “He laid a black-and-white floor, painted the walls butter yellow, and installed his own shelving, which he painted a glossy bright white.”

It didn’t take long for the shop’s hardware inventory to be overtaken by Chuck’s natural inclination for kitchen items. This included “…a set of black-and-white cups and saucers from Sweden. Another was oyster baskets made of dark willow, which Chuck had seen used for carrying and displaying shellfish in the Parisian markets.” Later in Merchant of Sonoma, Chuck explains his buying philosophy: “I have never bought anything with the idea that I think somebody else is going to like it. I buy because it appeals to me, and when others feel the same way, that’s good. Those are the kind of people I want for my customers.”

What a marvellously ballsy approach to retail. It assumes one important idea: that you know instinctively what you love and let intuition rule your decisions. It means finetuning your eye to recognise quality and investing in your own integrity at all costs. It’s risky, brazen and certainly no guarantee of business success.

Before Instagram guided everyone’s aesthetic opinions, I would look to the fervent words of local shopping doyennes and writers such as Marion von Adlerstein, Maggie Alderson and Melissa Penfold. They helped to glorify the art of retail for me and I’ve been chasing that buzz ever since.

Not that I’m a shopaholic. Not even close. I could never stomach anything but relatively careful spending within pretty practical limits. I just love to collect retail experiences, and prior to camera phones these were captured in my mind’s eye and savoured through any ephemera I could get my hands on. I have collected paper shopping bags for at least 30 years now – and the quantity belies my rather modest shopping habits. Like any collector, I am particular about which ones make the cut and, in most cases, this packaging has long outlasted the products within.

Same goes for pretty postcards, business cards and catalogues from my most revered stores, sometimes mailed to me and other times nicked from the shop’s counter. Heavenly printed ribbon and embossed gift boxes can be reason alone to elevate a store to legend status.

But back to my original point. The glory days of bricks and mortar are surely behind us now. Perhaps in my lifetime, they were already gone. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to see Mark Foy’s in its day, or even the 1910 version of Selfridges in the UK. That was an era where department stores reigned rather than flailed.

The Lost + Found Department

Yet among today’s confused concept stores and online retailers, some gems are flourishing. The Lost + Found Department in a heritage corner store in Sydney’s oldest garden suburb is a glorious case in point. It’s all down to the vision and energy of another legendary shopkeeper, Silvia Noble, who has been savvy enough to use social media and online as a vehicle for pedalling more of the old-world magic that emanates from the shop. Another stellar example is Lily Pond in Geelong, Victoria. I haven’t made to that store in person and yet I’m thoroughly captivated by its portrayal on Instagram. It alone has inspired me to visit one day and follow along virtually in the meantime.

What both these current shops share is their ability to effortlessly straddle past and present, digital and physical with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity. All to bring their customers some of the world’s most wonderful things, presented in the most tantalising ways. It makes me hopeful that some delightful moments of retail nostalgia are still to come.

(C) Bianca Tzatzagos

Travel light: An aesthete’s guide to fuss-free holidays

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Greenwich Village, NYC

One major overseas adventure every year. Two adults, two carry-on bags. A tonne of research before and during the trip, which is a big part of the fun (really).

I’ve refined my approach to travel over the past five years and here are my learnings for anyone who’s interested in squeezing the maximum aesthetic delights out of a city with a minimum of fuss. (Please note, I don’t claim to have advice for people travelling with kids, or medical conditions, or on tight budgets. But plenty of other writers out there do.)

I tend to treat my city explorations like a serious sport – I’m like that even in my hometown. Browsing Instagram or other media, I’m always on the lookout for exciting new places to visit or explore, beautiful eateries to support and enjoy. I spend no more time browsing social media than most of my contemporaries and like to think that I’m at least using it for something constructive. I use the “Save” function on Instagram and save into city folders, so I have a ready well of inspiration when I finally book my tickets.

This kind of Instagram-based research is easy, free and plentiful. It’s also very visual which means it risks being a little light on substance. I try to make sure the weightier/cultural parts of travel are covered by investing in one high-quality, up-to-date guide book.

Because we travel so light (more on that soon) I try to consolidate my breadth of travel research into one simple, digestible list, segmented by area, that I can email myself and reference on the go. Leave the books and paper maps at home. (I do keep a physical travel journal though, an old-school habit I’m not prepared to shake.)

Google Maps is an absolute godsend. Not only to help me navigate to all the places I have earmarked in advance, but often I’ll use it in reverse. If we’re spending a bit of time exploring one area, and wondering whether we’ve missed anything before moving on, then I will check Google Maps for any historic landmarks, cafes, shops, museums that might catch our interest. Of course I know there’s value in getting lost and finding unexpected treasures that way, but it doesn’t hurt to embrace web-based navigation tools, too. Google Maps has often opened our eyes to things that we would never have found just by walking and sign-reading. (And no, I’m certainly not sponsored, I wish.)

That means occasionally relying on expensive data roaming, and after being burnt by a bill in the past I now pre-purchase travel packs to keep my phone costs in check.

I know this might seem intense, all this eager coverage and endless effort to suck the marrow out of a city. However, my husband and I do offset this go-hard-or-go-home approach in a few essential ways:

1. We spend at least double the amount of time in a city than is ‘normal’. It means we can be really leisurely about the amount of stuff we have to squeeze into one day, allowing for jet lag and/or off days or unforeseen delays or just those times when you’re inclined to spend two hours in one cafe reading a book (standard). It’s still a holiday, after all. It also allows time for me to research extra places, or to go back and repeat a really great experience, or even develop little habits like getting to know the corner barista and feeling like a local for at least a bit.

2. A minimalist attitude. That is, we undertake minimal travelling within a trip, minimal luggage (carry-on only! Even for a month in Europe!), and minimal organised or ‘locked in’ activities (e.g. ticketed events, restaurant bookings and advanced purchases). There’s nothing less holiday-friendly than needing to be somewhere at a certain time.

3. While we spend lots of time seeing lots of lovely shops, we aren’t shoppers. We don’t try on clothes/shoes as part of our day’s sightseeing (ugh, no thanks) and don’t find ourselves carting bags of shopping home each day. Most of the time, my photos are my only souvenirs. I’ve rarely, if ever, regretted not buying something. Our spending money flies out more than quickly enough on good food, admission tickets, eating and snacks. Also meals and did I mention food? In this era of online shopping, there really is nothing that you can’t buy from home, disappointingly, and usually more easily and for almost the same price. Obviously, there are occasional lovely exceptions. Flea markets are a good source of unique and memorable souvenirs.

4. Speaking of photos as souvenirs, a big part of the travel fun is sharing my own finds on Instagram, paying it forward to inspire the next person’s adventures. I only post a careful edit of positive, pretty things on Instagram, not because that’s all we experience but because it’s all I want to document in that space. In fact, what I choose to share online is only a tiny part of my real travel experience. The richest parts, the fruits of all the research, expense and legwork, are gift-wrapped and shelved carefully in my mind’s eye, remembered in a flash of déjà vu or an anecdote shared solely with my favourite travel partner.

 

Why I stopped buying things

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I just saw today that they have demolished a beautiful house at the end of the street I grew up on and it makes me so sad, because I just know that whatever replaces it will be nowhere near as lovely – and hardly likely to be there almost 100 years later.

It’s not that I’m against progress, or improvement – quite the opposite – but I am against the thoughtless destruction of good design and craftsmanship.

It got me thinking about what else we are too quick to replace in our lives. Clothes, shoes and bags, for starters. Umbrellas. Storage solutions. Kids’ toys. Furniture. Gifts. Buying too much, choosing poor quality, having too much and then throwing things away is costing not only us money and the earth resources, but also moving us away from integrity.

When we don’t opt for quality, we don’t invest in our decisions, so we are less likely to stand behind them. “Oh that top’s got a pull, I’ll just chuck it, I was never that happy with the colour anyway but it was on sale, so…” Etcetera. If we’d saved up, and considered, researched and pondered and ogled and revisited the same expensive, well-cut and classic wool trousers for some time before finally going back to buy them, spending a few days’ salary on them, getting them carefully altered to our specifications, then we would certainly seek to repair them when the button finally fell off the back pocket. And we might – perhaps, quite possibly – be a little more motivated to fit back into them when we found ourselves on the other side of our ideal weight. Because I love the pants enough. And thereby, I love myself enough to make it worth my while.

Occasionally, of course, the things that we do pay a premium for and research carefully and think about critically before buying will still let us down – but undoubtedly less often.

It’s not always easy – or desirable – to overthink every decision. Sometimes, we just need something for right now and the idea of spending less so it can matter less is liberating. Especially for people with children who are constantly growing and changing and looking for new and feeling the pressure of their peers, it’s a big ask to resist purchases, to be the one who says “no”, to tirelessly research and consider and invest in every small purchasing decision.

And sometimes, it doesn’t matter. But overall, we will all be a little richer (well, except for those companies making subpar products) if we:

  • Buy less
  • Buy better, meaning:
    • support craftsmanship over price
    • buy for the “true love” of the thing
  • Learn to make, or find people who can
  • Try to repair, or find people who can
  • Don’t succumb to envy
  • Appreciate what we’ve already got.

(P.S. I haven’t stopped buying things from the Oxford Brush Company, pictured above. And I won’t. It’s got the good stuff.)

A procrastinator’s guide to working from home (for yourself)

BiancaTzatzagosCopywriterProscrastinate

20 tips to help you achieve success every day from a freelance copywriter

If you’re reading this then let’s face it – you probably shouldn’t be. Clicking on this headline means you are probably a class-A procrastinator who should actually be working, not reading self-indulgent articles on the internet. Chances are you’re just like me: you’ve recently started working for yourself from home and you’re looking for genuinely helpful advice. Or a few sympathetic words. Or both.

Yes, setting up your own business from home can be daunting, lonely, stressful and financially bumpy. Especially if you possess that very human inclination to procrastinate. If your work happens to be writing, then on top of procrastinating you may also find yourself suffering from writer’s block, which is just a more specific form of procrastination anyway.

But being your own boss and working (occasionally) in your pyjamas can, not surprisingly, also be incredibly freeing and rewarding.

A big step in the right direction is to identify your capacity for procrastination, learn a few tricks to overcome it, then find your work rhythm and carve out your own path to success.

Here are some things I’ve newly learnt working as a freelance copywriter after years spent in full-time office employment. I hope they prove helpful to you too.

  1. Don’t set crazy goals. Be realistic. If you’re like me, a compulsive list-maker, you might feel the urge to list all the dream jobs you’d like to achieve with your new-found home time (write novel; landscape yard; refinish dining table; build e-commerce side business). But the greatest burden to a procrastinator is to have this kind of list constantly in view, taunting you with all that you haven’t achieved yet. By all means, write down your big goals, dreams and ambitions in a journal, date it, and close the book for now. This brings us to point 2.
  2. Keep a daily to-do list. This list should comprise one or two necessary, actionable and achievable things you need to – and can – do that day. Write them down (my preference is to use paper and pen) so you can physically tick or cross things off your list at the end of your day. Trust me – it will feel like the best pen mark you’ll ever make.
  3. Recognise your priorities and then prioritise them accordingly (see to-do list in point 2). This should be a logical process. Need to get paid ASAP? Then do actual paying work first and forget everything else until it’s complete. The sooner you finish, the sooner you get to send an invoice, and the sooner you see the money in the bank. Next, you should apply for jobs and actively solicit new work from your contacts. Third in priority: market yourself via marketing, content marketing, an up-to-date website, great collateral and more. The second and third priorities are what I call “proactive” work, which can be hell for procrastinators as there isn’t even the burden of a deadline to push you into action. This brings us to point 4.
  4. Schedule/diarise your proactive work just as you would your regular deadline-driven paying work. Proactive work is where the bacon starts its smoking (or curing?), so if you don’t take this part seriously, you won’t be bringing any home. Set up job alerts to your inbox, and set aside 5 minutes every morning to check if anything new has popped up. Freelance job applications sometimes need to be addressed quickly so you don’t miss the boat – so be sure to reprioritise accordingly, so long as you’re still meeting your bird-in-the-hand paying deadlines.
  5. Avoid using overworked and mixed metaphors in your writing. See point 4 for why.
  6. Be a writer: write. Writer’s block is overwhelming sometimes, yes. But as I’ve already mentioned, it’s really only another form of procrastination, and something that everybody suffers from at some time. The only real way to overcome writer’s block is to write. Not compose a script in your head, or trace letters onto the shower screen. Type words into the computer and keep going, editing and reworking and rewriting until your ideas start to come together. Or, if you must, pick up a pen and scribble sentences into a notebook until you get to the same point. Writing out thoughts and ideas will eventually lead to that great hook or angle you’re looking for. See point 7.
  7. Trust yourself, your skills and your talent. You can do this.
  8. Separate ‘work’ work from regular house work. Schedule in time for both. Unless you have someone else to clean up after you at home like you would in a workplace, you do need to take the time to keep your surroundings pleasant, clean and organised. Otherwise you’re hardly going to feel inspired to work there. That said, procrastinating can work wonders on your housekeeping skills. Folding laundry never looked as appealing as it does when there’s a tricky deadline looming.
  9. Change your scene once in a while. If a messy house is getting you down or distracted but you don’t have time to tidy, then get out. Take your laptop to a café and lose yourself for an hour or so in the white noise of coffee grinders and other tables’ conversations.
  10. Minimise digital distractions. Moderate your social media notifications. Unsubscribe to time-wasting (or money-wasting) emails. Even turn off the data or WiFi on your phone if you really need to focus for a while.
  11. Don’t turn on the TV. Ever. For any reason. Ever. And it’s not just because daytime television is an abomination. The same goes for streaming and binge-watching of anything at all.
  12. If you can’t bear to be at home in total silence, or need to drown out noisy neighbours, then listen to music. Just don’t turn on the TV. Did I mention that?
  13. Bookend your working day just like you would with an office job. Maybe your day starts by taking the kids to school, or driving your partner to the train station, or maybe it’s gym in the morning or dinner prep in the evening. Whatever it is that’s going to mark the start and end of your “work day”, it’s healthy to build a routine.
  14. Try to schedule all your social time in advance. One of the best things about being your own boss is being able to enjoy a cheeky mid-week catch-up with other available friends. But similarly, one of the biggest pitfalls for a procrastinator is having people close to you who are happy to play distractor. You really don’t want to set a precedent for spontaneous drop-ins and outings.
  15. Be organised. Along with your diary, daily to-do lists and routine, staying on top of essential business tasks like invoicing and bookkeeping is really important (you don’t even want to imagine how much worse a procrastinator becomes around tax time). The good news is that mundane jobs like digital filing and bookkeeping are excellent tasks to pick up when writer’s block hits.
  16. Be busy. The more you can pack into your day, the more productive you are likely to be. If you really, really feel like you can’t start a project right now, or things are a little quiet on the work front, then start something else you’ve been putting off (like decluttering your wardrobe or weeding the garden). Don’t do nothing (refer to point 11 again). I find the more I do in a day, the more I want to do, and the more I get done. This is where that big-picture list from point 1 comes into play.
  17. Squeezing in 10 minutes of work is better than none at all. Really. If you only have half an hour before you have to be somewhere, set an alarm (so you don’t end up losing track of time) and sit down and pump out a few emails or an opening sentence or two. The adrenaline rush of a short countdown of time can be surprisingly effective for some people.
  18. Don’t be afraid to work out of hours. Just like you would in an office job, make up time lost during the day with after-hours work. So you spent from 10am-12.30pm having coffee with friends or watching a made-for-TV movie (never!). Make up the time by working later that evening or on the weekend.
  19. Be a generous boss. When you do meet a big deadline, or pick up a new client that you’ve been after for a while – reward yourself. If you don’t, who will?
  20. Treat every day like a new one. Forget about yesterday’s inefficiencies, mistakes, procrastination or time wasted. Or even better than forgetting about them – learn from them. Today will be better.

Make sense? Good. Now get back to work. No really. It’s time.

© Bianca Tzatzagos