Benjamin and Kaspia Gilmour talk of wanderlust like it’s a daily affliction. They’ve only just returned from two months on the Subcontinent, but you get the feeling the next trip is never far from their minds.
From their creative base in Sydney’s inner west – a richly textured space of endless books, vintage furniture, textiles and treasures from far-flung places – the couple map out new and exciting ways they can take their work overseas. They’re always accompanied by their toddler Paloma Rose, who at the tender age of two has seen more countries than most adults.
Benjamin, who might just be Australia’s only writer/filmmaker/paramedic, has just finished his second film, the documentary Paramedico, which premiered at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival. The film, which follows the book of the same name, traces the inspiring work of ambulance medicos around the world, capturing the extraordinary circumstances they are confronted with. Shot in Mexico, Hawaii and a handful of countries across Europe, the film was not without its challenges, as Benjamin found himself torn between filmmaker and paramedic.
“I kept rolling whenever I thought everything was in hand but if I thought the patient was in a critical state and I could be of assistance, I had to put the camera down,” he recalls
Benjamin’s first film, the highly acclaimed Son of a Lion, was shot in Pakistan, a region he’d like to work in again (current projects include a Bollywood script and a feature film shot in Afghanistan). For the moment, he is reviewing a book of Taliban poetry for one of the broadsheets (alas, not this one) that he suspects might ruffle a few feathers, but hey, he’s never been one to shy away from controversy.
While Benjamin was visiting remote Afghan villages, Kaspia (a stylist), based herself in India, studying the opulent interiors of Jaipur’s ancient hotels, interviewing Maharajas and understanding cultural attitudes towards restoration work and modern designs.
“Despite the abundance of opulent, old buildings there’s definitely a movement of younger designers working in interiors and furniture,” she says. “But what’s interesting is that they always put an Indian cultural stamp on their work. It’s not too westernised.”
After studying jewellery and object design, the lure of travel and experiencing different cultures is, for Kaspia, a tangible source of inspiration. So while Benjamin writes or shoots, she gathers fabrics, books, objets d’art and other keepsakes to enrich her own work.
When at home in Sydney she focuses on interior styling, particularly residential work, because “while the economy remains uncertain, many home-owners are turning to redecorating rather than a full renovation”.
Drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources, such as the freeform lines of Matisse, woodblock paintings by Australian artist Cressida Campbell and the detailed embellishment of the Ballet Russe, she has developed a strong creative connection to India, where she would love to launch a soft furnishings and homewares range.
Despite their nomadic lifestyle, for this family home is still an important base and daughter Paloma Rose always travels with the couple. In fact, she is so well travelled she has no trouble making new friends, be it wise old men in Varanasi or gypsy peasants in Bulgaria.
According to Kaspia the couple share a creative vision when it comes to the styling of their home but concedes it changes all the time. The one constant seems to be anything with a history (Benjamin’s collection of retro Bollywood film posters is impressive) and things of beauty grounded in nature.
A mutual respect for each other’s work is paramount for this creative team who, despite their love for Australia, will continue to look beyond the borders for inspiration.
Says Benjamin: “At the moment, I’m more interested in overseas stories. I mean, it’s important that we try and understand ourselves, but I feel my job is to help us understand other cultures.”
Favourite Bookshop – Darling Street Books, Rozelle
Favourite Coffee House – Gertrude & Alice, Bondi. Benjamin: I wrote both my films at their former Darlinghurst shop (now Ampersand) but we love the Bondi shop too. Favourite Restaurant – Eathouse Diner, Redfern and Caffé Sicilia, Surry Hills (Kaspia: Best granita in Sydney)
Cinema – Palace, Leichhardt
Playlist – Elza Soares, Brazilian 60s singer, Florence & the Machine
Reading – Kaspia: Tracks by Robyn Davidson, Benjamin: The Orientalist by Tom Reiss