See the seasons from on high
Melbournebased illustrator Kelly Thompson gives us a peek inside her airy ‘‘treehouse’’.
Kiwi illustrator Kelly Thompson lives in a ‘‘big wooden box up in the trees’’ in Melbourne with her husband, restauranteur Christian McCabe, her beagle Billie and ginger cat Butter.
Thompson started her career as a fashion photographer in New Zealand, but after being inspired by the models she shifted her career to illustrating and started her own creative consultancy and illustration agency, Maker’s
If she were to describe her style, she would call it ‘‘warm and transitioning’’ and said she considered the lounge as her favourite room in the house, especially in Melbourne’s cool winter months.
‘‘It’s the sunniest warmest spot in the house, which is so good in the winter,’’ Thompson said,
‘‘I also love how we can slide across all of the windows on warm days. They all stack away so it becomes a big open air room.
‘‘It’s really nice to be up in the trees and watch the seasons changing.’’
Where is your home and who lives there with you?
I live in Abbotsford, which is a lovely green suburb close to the river with lots of greenery.
It’s so close to the city, but you still feel close to nature. I live with my husband Christian McCabe – he’s a restauranteur and has a couple of restaurants here, The Town Mouse and Embla in the city. We have two fur kids, Billie the beagle and Butter the fat ginger cat.
What is your favourite room in the house?
At the moment it’s the lounge because it’s the sunniest warmest spot which is so good in the winter. I also love how we can slide across all of the windows on warm days. They all stack away so it becomes a big open-air room. It’s really nice to be up in the trees and watch the seasons changing, although at the moment it’s a little sad without all the leaves outside.
In the summer the favourite room is different because with all the windows in the lounge (and Melbourne temperatures) we cook, so I’m in the process of turning the second floor which was previously my studio into a lounge room. It’s darker and more cosy and once I get a rug and a new lamp will be a little hideaway.
What is your proudest DIY moment?
Unfortunately we rent, so there isn’t much DIY permitted, the closest I get to DIY is dragging the table and chairs over so I can hang pictures up high ... probably not recommended.
What is the best-kept secret about the area you live in?
I would say Mavis the Grocer, a cute little cafe down the road that we go to once a week. They grow their produce, compost all their food waste and the staff are super nice once you get to know them. It’s fuss-free good food, no hype, I hate poser cafes. There are also many great walking tracks across the river from the Collingwood Children’s Farm just down the road. They’re less busy than the main tracks and so nice for clearing the head.
What is your favourite way of entertaining?
Christian is an incredible cook, me, not so much, but I make a great sous chef and ingredient chopper. He also has a wine distribution company so we are all about setting aside afternoons to cook and having friends over. We are also pretty lucky to have a pool in the backyard, so if the weather is right it’s barbecue and wines by the pool.
What is your favourite piece of furniture?
My giant vintage globe lamp definitely. I also really love my Minimalux Lamp from the Simon James Concept Store. I put a warmer bulb in it and it emits a beautiful soft light.
Watch out for frost
You might be able to simply enjoy the phenomenon and the beauty its icy crystals bring – my camera comes out on frosty mornings and I crunch around the neighbourhood taking photographs of leaves and stalks bearded with frost – but you might have plants that do badly when frozen and you’ll need to take measures to protect them. The simplest frost-proofing is a cap of newspaper, draped over any frostintolerant plants and left in place till mid-morning when the white rime has been burned off by the sun. My brugmansia and lemon trees get this treatment, when I remember to do it, and it keeps them safe from the cell-exploding action of a hard frost. Purposewoven anti-frost cloths can be purchased from garden centres and they work well, though have to be disposed of eventually, once their fibres have disintegrated. Newspaper – cheaper and more readily found – can go into the soil or fireplace. Structures covered in burlap are traditional protections for valuable frost-tender plants and can remain in place throughout winter, providing shelter from unexpected late frosts.
There’s a rust that’s threatening the family of plants that feijoa belongs to, but we shouldn’t abandon favourite plants just because there’s a new pest in town.
The myrtle rust that’s arrived looks to be a big problem for the myrtle family, but there’s always the possibility that your garden and the plants growing in it might be the ones that have resistance or show signs of resilience when the attack comes – that they’ll be the basis for a recovery for the variety and the industry it’s part of. It’s perhaps a little far-fetched to think that your own little garden might play a valuable part in the saving of a species, but it might, you can never know. In any case, feijoas are fabulous fruits and taste wonderful freshly picked from your own garden. I have seen one grown on the feijoa variety, ‘‘Kaiteri’’, and it reached an impressive size, especially considering the location, one step away from Antarctica. Look for trees at garden centres now.
Don’t be too fastidious in the garden
Take extra care when moving anything you’ve left stacked on the ground over this wetter season. Small creatures like frogs or these gorgeous leaf-vein slugs are likely to be resting, hibernating even, beneath planks, bricks, stacks of pots or whatever you may have piled up in an out-of-the-way corner.
I found a handsome little slug had nestled into the basin of a fallen apple. It must have been surprised when I gathered it up on my windfall round of the latebearing apple trees.
I put him and the apple back onto the ground. Populations of sensitively-skinned creatures like these, and the whistling frogs that shelter under the stacks of timber beside my tunnelhouse, are easily lost when gardens are kept too tidy and their habitat is removed.
Give flax and astelia a chop
Trim your astelia and flax bushes back from the paths they are so often planted beside. Strap-leafed plants like these are marvellous foreground features; they are soft to brush past and grow low enough to look over, into the wider garden, but they can also get thick and sprawling if not attended to with some sort of sharp tool. The best of those tools, in my opinion, is the Niwashi Shark, a saw-toothed, Japanese-made draw-knife that makes short work of trimming back the blades of any floppy plant. A quick and decisive pull through the lower part of the leaf of flax, toetoe or astelia is all it takes to bring those plants back into order and favour.
Don’t drop the severed leaves onto the path; they become very slippery in the rain and you’ll have visitors sliding off into the shrubbery if they try to walk over them. Niwashi Sharks can be ordered online and remain sharp for a very long time.
Don’t prune wintersweet
Prune everything that would benefit from a careful trim, but stay well away from your wintersweet! I pruned mine for years, growing as it did underneath the kitchen window and trying with all its might to block my view as I washed the dishes. I had to trim it every year or lose the morning sun.
I did wonder as I snipped away, why my wintersweet flowered so poorly, while others around the district were dripping with blooms and redolent with the exquisite scent that wintersweet is famous for.
Finally, I twigged – I was pruning off the flowering bits. Wintersweet requires to be left alone, remain uncut, untrimmed and unmolested, so I’ve taken action. I couldn’t move the kitchen, so I shifted the shrub. The wintersweet now stands where it can grow tall and wide and won’t be visited by a secateur-wielding me. – Robert Guyton
‘‘It’s four storeys tall and is a big wooden box up in the trees in a street full of old Victorians,’’ Thompson says of her Melborune rental home nicknamed ‘‘the Treehouse’’.
Butter the ‘‘fat ginger cat’’ perched by the window in Thompson’s living room. Billie the beagle is the other ‘‘fur kid’’.
Thompson purchased her couch from a vintage store in Brisbane six years ago and considers it, along with her lounge chairs, as the best money she spent on her home.
You might have plants that do badly when frozen and you’ll need to take measures to protect them.
Floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light to flood into the home all day.