Pure Colour: Rikki Stubbs

Rikki Stubbs looks at colour and your home interior design on 2UE Sunday Afternoons from 5:15pm with Peter Berner.

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When Small can be Plenty



At some stage most of us will think about downsizing our home. Whether it’s because we are childfree, single, want to live close to the city and our work or, like me, fantasise about living more simply.

When I came back from Japan I decided to move from my home of 20 years. I dreamed about a little apartment pared back to the essentials – one beautiful teapot and cup, a refined collection of kitchenware, some elegant furniture and treasured personal objects. I even designed a lightweight roll up swag lined with a parachute silk insert to sleep in. The simplicity of this small but perfect space spelt security and freedom.

Bigger does not equal better in design. Architectural awards are not won by McMansions. They are won by inspired solutions to the limitations of a site or client brief. It’s about quality not quantity. The point is to make the most effective use of whatever space there is.

One of my projects was a one bedroom Bondi apartment. The challenge was to make a small open plan room into a cosy writing den with a multi media area and separate sitting and dining spaces. In a little space the big issue is storage.

All the furniture, including the bed was designed to double as storage. A banquette incorporated book cases and a built-in writing alcove. The amazingly adaptable Roro sofa from Siekaup provided seating bliss.

Blessed with and expansive view of the headland with an ocean, the colours and textures I chose for the paint, carpet, veneers came from the surrounding seascape. Blurring the distinction between the interior and the exterior expanded the space visually, so the walls almost seemed to dissolve. If you don’t have a view you need to create the illusion of space. A wall of mirror will double the size of a space visually but think carefully about what will be reflected.

Small spaces look good with bold colour but keep it simple. I used shades of warm grey with a dash of vermillion picked up in the interior of the open storage boxes and the red ball in Rex Dupain’s beach scene.

A smaller area means you can afford better quality flooring, bathroom tiles and kitchen surfaces. Upgrade lighting, switches, door hardware and taps. Remember you will be close up to things and using them often. Especially when the look is understated, the materials should feel sensual and luxurious.

Be inspired by Small Spaces in Redfern, a unique shop where the owner imbibes the philosophy of living lightly with fewer possessions of outstanding quality. And a word of advice from author and architect Leonard Koen, ”pare down to the essence but don’t remove the poetry.”

Working with a small space is an opportunity to think creatively about how you live.


The Kitchen


“The kitchen is the new living room,” says Gywneth Paltrow’s designer, according to the article about her renovation. So what’s new about that, I thought. We all end up in the kitchen at parties.

I look at the picture of Gywneth’s kitchen again. Although it’s sleek and expensive it still looks convivial. It’s  different from most contemporary Australian kitchens. To begin with, it’s not open plan. It’s a separate room –spacious and casual with lovely windows framing the garden. The huge kitchen table in the middle is used for cooking and eating.

I’m reading the magazine at my mother’s in the country, sitting at the kitchen table. Her kitchen is not as glamorous as Gywneth’s, but it’s still the hub of activity. This table, which belonged to my grandmother, is at the centre of it.  The jug is endlessly boiling, people come and go, vegetables are peeled and household matters attended to. 

The kitchen table is nearly a museum item these days. It has lost out to the island bench and open plan living. As much as I admire the way open plan kitchens “communicate” with the family room, I lament the loss of this trusty piece of furniture. A kitchen table brings people together. It’s also a comfortable place to do your own thing. There is nothing nicer than sitting in the heart of a kitchen, whether it’s to have a cup of tea and read the paper or have a glass of wine and talk to the cook.

Many contemporary kitchens are too clinical and too sleek – full of white polyurethane and white caesar stone.  And islands make me think of separation. They can look and feel a bit unapproachable.  But I know in many homes, especially apartments, the island provides much needed storage and bench space. So if you have one, humanise it. Treat this item of joinery as a piece of furniture, by designing it to look free standing. I often use a solid timber or a timber veneer for warmth and texture and to differentiate it from the rest of the kitchen. Make it generous in width so you can eat there. Top it with something special like zinc, Stone Italiano’s Jaipur Anis or marble.  It is good for storing books and wine.

I’m not talking about country style. A kitchen can be contemporary and still be welcoming.

Try some open shelves for cookbooks, vases, bowls and plates. Use muted mid tones instead of white and handmade Moroccan mosaics for the splashback from In Site. Make yours a kitchen that will be remembered with love.


Welcome to the slow renovation movement



Why are we all in such a rush? Houses and gardens are blitzed every night on television and by day in every Sydney street. Blitz: to attack, damage, destroy something as if by air raid.

The ultimate in fast-renovation programs is the British 60 Minute Makeover. A couple go up the road to shop and while they are out, their house is completely renovated, even the kitchen, in an hour!

Not surprisingly, the unsuspecting owners are stunned on their return.

I’m convinced we are missing something. Where is the joy in being in such a hurry?

Why are we so impatient to change everything so quickly when we buy a house?

It’s got to the point where renovating is a kneejerk reaction. Getting rid of the old for the new is done almost for the sake of it. Houses are often over-renovated with all the character ripped out and end up looking the same.

There is another way – a slower approach, with less waste, less excess and often considerably less expense. I’ll call it slow renovating, taken from the Slow Food movement so close to the heart of Maggie Beer and the Italians who started it, and which has spread to the Slow Cities movement.

When you live with a house for a period of time, it gives you direction. It grows organically. You work to a plan but you are flexible when you recognise a good thing.

It’s a room-by-room approach and you can often stay living in the house while you do it – a huge saving and you get to keep your eye on things as they progress.

This is the approach of Janie Patterson and her husband Michael, who own a gracious double-fronted Victorian home in Leichhardt. Janie suggests taking “the time to look and use all your senses. It’s a learning experience; you gain confidence as the house evolves”.

Michael confirms that “things that worry you in the beginning become less so. You see other possibilities. You can also leave something for the next person to do”.

On one of my projects, a small Edwardian house in Woollahra, the original kitchen was a small lean-to adjoining the garden. Instead of demolishing it, we lined it with tongue and groove and redid the kitchen with painted joinery including plate racks, book cases, a comfortable sofa and lots of art. It is charming and the couple’s favourite area of the house.

It was a less expensive approach and, to my mind, it was a much more satisfying solution than the common practice of adding a white kitchen more suitable for professional caterers.

Let’s take the time to look at our houses afresh with renewed respect for what has come before. Slowing down connects us with our lives as well as our homes.





Bedrooms are not for show except at open-house inspections. Because the bedroom is out of sight, often it’s out of mind. I see a lot of bedrooms that look a little forlorn. This is a room you need to prioritise and put more effort into rather than less. The payoff is huge.

Chrissie Jeffries of No Chintz says everyone deserves a beautiful bedroom. It may be pure, sparse and simple or luxurious and sensual or anything in between. Creating your particular kind of sanctuary affects your whole sense of well being.

Bedrooms are an extension of our personal space. Teenagers know this. Perhaps it is also why bedrooms have often been special rooms for writers. Proust, Mark Twain, Churchill, Edith Wharton and Colette all loved to write in bed. George Orwell hammered out the last words of 1984 on a battered typewriter sitting up in bed.

The American decorator Billy Baldwin says everything in the bedroom should contribute to an atmosphere of peace. Comfort should reign supreme. It’s so true that a cosy, inviting bedroom where you feel safe, makes for sound sleep.

Here are a few pointers -

A master bedroom is not a place for kids’ toys, televisions, computers or folding the laundry. Keep your bedroom clean and de-cluttered and resist using the space under your bed for storage. Clear it out and feel the difference.

Buy the best mattress you can afford. Mattress technology has come a long way, as I keep telling my mother, who thinks it’s fine for me to sleep on my grandmother’s 50 year old mattress, when I visit. Fortunately, it’s not made of hair, wood shavings, sawdust, sea-moss or straw as listed in order of comfort in the Goodholmes Cyclopedia, a popular nineteenth century book.

Never make do with just a base and mattress. This is the most common mistake I see. Every bed needs a bed head. It’s reassuring to have something behind your head, supporting you and it’s an opportunity to use colour, pattern and texture. A bed head gives presence and a focal point for the room.

You need layers on beds - linen, quilts and throws preferably in natural fiber. Duvets alone are not enough. They often look lumpy rather than welcoming. A folded throw at the end of the bed is beautiful and adds visual interest. Missoni, available from Spence & Lyda, make gorgeous bedding and for a childs’ room, Pure and General, have exquisite hand embroidered Scottish nursery blankets. These treasures will last for generations.

Use the textiles as the starting point for the colour scheme. Colours on the cooler side of the palette are more conducive to relaxation. Lighting is important. Rather than a central pendant or just down lights, use smaller pendants hanging low on either side of the bed or chic wall mounted lights reading. An upholstered chair or an ottoman at the end of the bed is practical and another opportunity to use fabrics.

When you get it right just make sure you spend enough time there.

Follow the house whisperer www.facebook.com/RikkiStubbs

Ask Rikki your colour and design questions each Sunday, 5:15pm on 2UE (954AM)


Start where you are


Demolishing rooms and renovating from scratch is not the only option for a renovation.  Starting where you are with what you have is often the most practical solution. It requires the confidence to be yourself, and not a slave to fashion. It’s easy to get lost between the fantasy of your dream home and the reality of the house you have – the one you can afford. This is a challenge we’re all working with, no matter our budgets.

Extensive renovation can mean your house ends up looking the same as everyone else’s. You make more work for yourself, and it’s more expensive. Having something individual is more interesting. Cosmetic renovations are a good alternative – redecoration that won’t prove too costly, and won’t occupy too much of your time. Repainting, retiling and decorating beautifully can completely change the look of your home.

One example, a colonial semi-detached cottage, the available funds were spent on making the house beautiful, with minor structural changes. The other half of the house was extensively renovated. The owners over-capitalised, eliminated most of its charm, and lost money on the sale.

If you compared this to choosing a man – you start off dating a bookish, nerdy type, only to spend all your time trying to turn him into a suave, Johnny Depp impersonator. Better to choose another guy.

The key to renovating your home is thinking about what works for that particular house.



Contact Rikki:

Email: rikki@purecolour.com

Website: http://www.purecolour.com.au

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RikkiStubbs


Who is the House Whisperer?

Over a period of 20 years Rikki Stubbs has consulted on colour and interior design, leaving her stylish handprint on many of Australia’s most beautiful homes. Rikki’s strength as a specialist in colour underpins her work as an interior designer. Rikki established the first colour consultancy in Sydney in 1998, and she is a regular columnist in The Sun Herald Domain.

Why did you become interested in colour?

Colour is the design element that is most overlooked or left as an afterthought and I think it is because people don’t realise firstly what a powerful design tool it is as

Colour is quite difficult though. What is your advice then to the novice?

Approach colour as an integral design element, at the very beginning of the job when you are designing or planning your build or renovation.

Look at all the paint colours and other materials – flooring, tiles, kitchen finishes – interior and exterior – so everything from the roof tiles to the interior  window coverings as a single colour composition. Generally when people think of colour they think of just paint. Colour is in everything – the floor is the largest area of colour.

Do you think people are a bit afraid of using colour so they just keep safe?

Yes definitely. People are afraid of getting it wrong and afraid of what other people will think so they go for bland. But bland is not very relaxing in fact. Really bland interiors make me feel agitated!

What do you mean by bland?

What I mean is when is when everything is all the same – all white or neutral. So you have an off-white kitchen; off white tiles, off-white paint scheme, beige lounge. Every colour scheme needs contrast and accents and texture.

Colour is very subjective and personal isn’t it?

It certainly is personal. We each have a personal response to it. It affects how we feel so it’s important to get it right.

So how would you get an idea of what direction to go in?

You have to get an idea what you are drawn too, what appeals to you, what makes you feel good? As you look more you start to get an idea about what attracts you and what repels you. Nature is a good place to start looking – while you take a walk.

So if you have a neutral colour palette in your home already and it is all pretty much the same colour what can you do? Could you add a feature wall?

Yes you can but you have to really consider it. Don’t do it just because you have seen a million feature walls in magazines or on tv. Feature walls only work in certain situations and the colour has to be spot on. A feature wall looks very good in an entry area if it is a stand-alone wall. It can look good in a bedroom behind a bed.

If you are unsure should you just follow what is in fashion?

I do think that is what people do because if someone else has it, it must be ok.

But what happens is that everyone’s house ends up looking the same. So try to find

your own way and don’t worry about other people. There are lots of great people working in tile shops and other places who can guide you. Talk to them. But try to get in touch with your own sensibility. It’s your home.


Contact Rikki:

Email: rikki@purecolour.com

Website: http://www.purecolour.com.au

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RikkiStubbs

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