Spaces Volume Five, by Frankie Magazine, is new a book that drops in on creative people around Australia, New Zealand and Asia, capturing a glimpse of the places they live, work and play, and gathering tips on everything from choosing a housemate and decorating for next to nothing, to building a sustainable home.
Poke your head in most backyards and you’ll find a few garden beds, some lovely things growing, and, if you’re lucky, a wonky hand-built barbie. But there’s nothing average about these beauties – the clever folks who created them realized there was a whole lot more they could do with the space.
Adam James, Hobart, Tasmania
Interviewed by Alex Warren
Alex Warren: Where’s your backyard?
Adam James: On the border of Hobart and West Hobart. My house is an old sandstone cottage, built in the 1830s – it was the servants’ quarters for the mansion up the road. Back in that time, they were the only two houses on the road, and the rest was pastureland with farm animals. As far as size goes, my backyard is a normal kind of inner-city one.
AW: What’s the main thing that happens here?
AJ: It’s my office, really. It’s where I ferment things, which is my work and livelihood. I have about 30 fermenting crocks, and around 11 of the bigger ones live outside. They were made out of local clays by three local ceramicists – Studio Zona, Ridgeline Pottery and Georgie Vozar. There’s also a big wine barrel out there for vinegar made out of different summer berries.
AW: What are some of the things you ferment?
AJ: I’ve always got some misos going, but I focus mainly on vegetables. I try to source whatever’s in season in Tasmania, and I have a network of small-scale farmers who call me up if they have a glut of anything, or have things that aren’t aesthetically pleasing. Recently, I got 80 kilograms of celeriac from a farmer in northern Tasmania. That’s where I can get creative – I’ve got this ingredient, what am I going to do with it?
AW: Where do you do all the preparation?
AJ: In my kitchen at the back of the house – it’s a certified commercial one. I’m hoping to run some workshops from there some time.
AW: How did you get into fermenting?
AJ: About six years ago, when I was at Tricycle Cafe in Hobart, I started dabbling in pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi – that sort of thing. It was in Japan, where I go regularly, that I started really appreciating the role of fermented foods. That sparked my thirst and, after experimenting more at home, I set up Rough Rice, a business that encompasses my fermentation.
AW: Do you get attached to things you have hanging around for so long?
AJ: Funny you should say that – all I have left of the hot sauce is a small jar and I’m going to be very sad when it’s gone. I bring it out occasionally for special events, but once it’s gone, it’s gone, and I’ll never be able to replicate it.
AW: What else is in your backyard?
AJ: A planter box area made out of recycled sleepers – that’s where I grow a lot of vegetables and herbs that feed me through the year. Near that is a pizza oven I built when I first moved in four years ago. It works as a woodfired oven but doubles as a smoker. There’s a standalone shed, built by Aedan Howlett, for the fridge – that’s my ageing room for the ferments – and the centrepiece of the backyard is a big table, also made by Aedan, that has a built-in wok burner.
AW: Anything decorative in the garden?
AJ: No, everything’s functional – it all has its role and place.
Skye Kelly, Mount Crosby, Queensland
Interviewed by Samantha Allemann
Samantha Allemann: Where do you live – and who with?
Skye Kelly: On an acre on top of a hill. I live there with my daughter Summer, my son Ethan, our two cocker spaniels, Archie and Scout, hen-house chooks and three ducks.
SA: What’s in your backyard?
SK: As well as a chook pen and small raised veggie garden, there are a couple of buildings I made myself. My cabin is mainly used for photoshoots, but on weekends we have family camp-outs in it. The chapel is my creative space where I practice carving wooden spoons and dream up my next build. My children love outdoor play and building, too, and they’ve made their own hideouts using my timber offcuts.
SA: Why did you take up building?
SK: I couldn’t draw or paint, but always wanted to have a creative outlet. Building is an art form of sorts. And it became a way to cope with a traumatic experience – it was extremely cathartic.
SA: How did you come up with the designs?
SK: My design ideas were inspired by simple structures of the past. I love how those old homes were small but very functional.
SA: Tell us why you used locally sourced, salvaged and repurposed materials?
SK: Obviously there’s the environmental aspect, but there’s also a connection you get when you’ve spent hours looking for materials, driving to the various locations, checking them out and loading them into the van yourself. Every piece of timber was touched by my own hands many times. All of this helps bond you to place in a way that can’t be replicated by hiring a tradie to do the work, or phoning and ordering lumber that’s come from who knows where.
SA: Any building disasters along the way?
SK: Not really a disaster, but when we dug the holes for the foundation, they filled up with cane toads. We poured the cement in, the cane toads started rising to the surface, and my dog Archie dived into a hole full of cement to get them. We nearly lost him in the foundations. He made it out, but with hardened fur.
Brooke Penrose, Reservoir, Melbourne
Interviewed by Taz Liffman
Taz Liffman: Who and what is Captain B Studios?
Brooke Penrose: I’m Brooke Penrose and Captain B Studios is a recording studio I set up in the backyard of my house. Bands hire out the space, which I’ve fitted-out with instruments, amps and recording equipment, and I record and mix their albums. I have a qualification in fine art, so the bands can also get me to do their album artwork and video production. It’s like a one-stop shop for album production.
TL: What gave you the idea to set up a studio in your backyard?
BP: I’d set up the garage of the house I’d lived in previously for my band, Saint Jude, to rehearse and record in. That had worked really well, so when I started looking to buy a house, I searched for places that had a shed or garage.
TL: Did you build it yourself?
BP: Yep, with the help of a builder. We gutted the existing brick structure, built a room inside it, and then double-insulated and double-plastered the walls for sound insulation. It’s not completely soundproof – few studios ever are – but the acoustics are great and the sound from outside is very muffled. I’ve never received complaints from the neighbours.
TL: How did you deck out your studio?
BP: You tend to naturally accumulate instruments and recording equipment when you play in a band, so a lot of the gear that I needed I already owned. The interior decorating has also been a fairly organic process. I wanted my studio to have a homely feel, so basically just started furnishing and decorating it with my stuff: prints and posters, carpets, garlands of flowers, a stuffed fox.
TL: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a studio in your backyard?
BP: In both cases, it’s working so close to home. It can be hard to make the mental transition from home life to work mode on the 10-step walk it takes to reach my studio from my back porch. On the plus side, any time I feel like making music I have everything I need in my own backyard. The biggest challenge is my three-year-old son, who’s liable to wander into the studio any time he knows I’m there. Whenever bands are over to record, I have to say goodbye to him at the front door so he thinks I’ve headed out for the day, then sneak back around the side.
TL: The unimaginable happens – a fire breaks out in your studio and you only have enough time to grab two things. What are they?
BP: I’m actually not a very sentimental person. Probably just whichever two guitars happen to be closest to the door. Oh, and my son too, if he’s in there.
Michelle Roger, Gippsland, Victoria
Twelve years of chronic illness that largely confines me to the house also means the backyard is my refuge. I may spend five minutes or five hours there, but it has an enormous impact on the way I feel. It’s a pocket of colour (primarily vibrant red) and life in the middle of surrounding carbon copies of blandness.
It’s where I create. Where I write, take photos and grow. Or simply sit and feel life. Nothing beats the sun on my face and the earth beneath my feet.
Running my hand through chook-trimmed herbs. The mint battling through its use as a nesting box or the rosemary in an old concrete pot rescued from a pile of ivy. The waft of perfume is strong and rich. Fragrant oils leave traces on my hands and fill the air on warm spring and summer evenings. The bees meander through borage and tiny blue rosemary flowers, legs laden with pollen. The sound of birds seeking their spring mates fills the neighbouring gum trees. The rainbow trout splash in our ever-growing aquaponics system.
Through it all I lose time in the life that surrounds me, and open my eyes to find myself a step closer to being whole.
My design style could be best described by what my husband calls OPJ (Other People’s Junk). I feel a thrill when hard rubbish collection, aka Second Christmas, rolls around, or I spot a piece of wood or rusty metal in a rubbish pile in an industrial area as we drive by.
My chooks are central to my backyard. They are personality plus and well pampered, though free-range has its downside and I could do without the surprise poos on my back step or in my shoes. Their shed hasn’t escaped my attentions. A disco ball hangs from their roof and solar-powered fairy lights flash at night (I’m sure they appreciate my efforts).
We can now pop out to our once-sterile backyard for fresh fish, vegetables and eggs. A small space that is truly ours and gives back in spades. If there is a heaven, I’m sure it involves sitting in a red chair, feet up, a morning coffee, red-wattle birds singing in the gums overhead, my dog Freyja by my side, and a warm, chatty chook snuggled in my lap.
This is an edited extract from Frankie Magazine’s Spaces Volume Five , RRP $24.95, available online or from your stockist.