In a 1930s Narooma house, a very individual collection reflects fragments of life, moments of history – and a red spotted caravan is a stylish home for the chickens.
April Creed is wearing a short-sleeved cotton frock of turquoise blue with large white spots and an organdie white collar. A bluebird tattoo peeks from under one sleeve and a modern metal octopus brooch nestles quietly at her collar. It is an individual, striking look that echoes many times through the rooms and eclectic treasures of this rambling pink weatherboard house in the heart of Narooma.
As well as collecting, April restores furniture, makes clothes, quilts, rides a motorbike and a surfboard (both of which she is ‘just learning’) and is a registered nurse working in the field of palliative and aged care. She and her husband David have four children: Lawson, Lucy, Grace and Megan, who range in age from 4 to 17.
In her warm kitchen – a congregation point for the family, where homework is done and meals are taken – April talks about growing up in Bowral where she was ‘fortunate to have a not very affluent family’. From her parents, especially her Dad, she learnt to love the stories around particular pieces and ‘how to salvage’. This led quite naturally to a love of the pleasures of collecting.
Among her Australiana is a Chesty Bond mannequin, wearing a spectacular feather headdress, made by one of many talented friends. And she has – and uses – a genuine Hills Hoist, with a spare waiting in the wings in case the other one breaks.
In the main living room, a room of gracious proportions, the dominant colour is a soft green, taking its tone from an old floral Axminster carpet which she rescued and had cleaned. A display cabinet is filled with shelves of green Depression glass, each piece carefully arranged: ‘I just love the way something looks when you put it together,’ April says. For contrast, against the wall is a chaise lounge – the Victorian day bed on which ladies could drape themselves to advantage. When April acquired it, it was covered in purple shag pile and was said to have been part of the furniture for a brothel. Stripped of the purple, it is now a more modest dark green leather.
Inevitably, this is a room of memories: a bowl of old cricket balls from the Sydney Cricket Ground, a print of one of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s famous Asian women, owned by April’s grandmother, and a large light, in the shape of a Peter’s ice cream cone. A blackboard leans against one wall, regularly updated with a new quotation, written in chalk. This week it is from Coco Chanel: ‘The most courageous act is still to think for yourself’. April says that although they may not mention it at the time, the quotations work their way into the minds of everyone in the family.
In a hallway stands a favourite piece: forty-eight apothecary drawers, about 200 years old. Painted a fading greeny-blue, the drawers show signs of a life well-lived. They live again here, a perfect hiding place for 4-year-old Lawson’s many miniature cars. Not surprisingly, all the children have acquired interests in decorative things: Lucy loves her eiderdowns, Grace her very old ballet prints and dress-ups and 17-year-old Megan’s interest is in architectural detail.
The children have a family room, with an orange leather couch and chairs, a television, and shelves for books and games. This small room, previously too dark to be welcoming, was transformed by a huge arch-shaped stained glass window which came from the 1920s-built Ritz Hotel in Fitzroy Street, Kilda. Originally a hotel, club and coffee palace, the window proclaims its history with the black ‘RH’ at its centre.
April’s inventive mind works out what to do with pieces that might prove a puzzle to some. A set of original wooden water skis, cut in half and polished, have become slim and elegant shelves for Lawson – ideal for displaying small and precious possessions. And a vase full of tortoiseshell knitting needles, knobs upward, sit on a ledge: ‘I like them rather than flowers,’ April says. There are occasional modern pieces, too: an abstract photograph by her friend Jo Erskine.
After thirteen years, the family is moving on now, relocating to Queensland, where they will build another life in another house – perhaps with even more challenges, April says. She will still put the same energy into collection. And for those beginning to collect, her advice is ‘not to follow trends, to remember that “in” and “out” doesn’t exist and to collect something you love. You have to have things that make your heart sing.’
By Jane Sandilands