Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lilyfield Life Country Home Ideas magazine feature

As you may know, our house and my painted furniture was recently featured in Country Home Ideas magazine. I have received so many lovely emails and comments from people all around who read the article and love our house. Thank you so much, I find it so rewarding to have inspired so many of you. If you didn't get your hands on a copy of the magazine, here is the article below.

I've copied the captions to the photos below each photo for easier reading and the full article is at the bottom of this post.

country home ideas french house
country home ideas french house

The coffee table was billed as “French provincial parquetry-topped” when a very excited Fiona bought it on eBay for just $30. But it turned out to be more Chinese in style and was covered in a thick reddish lacquer. So began one of her biggest jobs, sanding the piece down, discovering to her disappointment that the parquetry was super-thin plywood, then painting it white and antiquing it. The effort has paid off.

country home ideas french house magazine

With some loving brushwork and by replacing what were originally Spanish-style iron handles with vintage French crackle porcelain ones, Fiona created the perfect hall cupboard.

RIGHT: This antique trunk cost just $45 at auction and is the perfect place to store lounge room throws.

RIGHT: The dining room buffet is a feast for the eyes with the pineapple lamps which Fiona first spotted in Pigott’s Store in Woollahra, a terracotta ornament from a holiday to Bali – where these are used to cap temple roofs – and, of course, the mirror, a timber and plaster piece which cost just $60 at auction, and which Fiona painted white to amazing effect.

country home ideas french house magazine

Fiona had lusted after a $7000 dining table, but what put her off as much as the price tag was the thought of having to stop the kids drawing at the table. She picked this one up for just $105. Similarly, she covered the chairs in drop cloth rather than linen. “So when my little boy wipes his hands on it, I just go, ‘OK’. I don’t like having too precious a house.”

Artwork by Laura Matthews.

country home ideas french house magazine

In the old kitchen, Fiona and her husband were constantly bumping into each other. Now they have space and amplitude, and perhaps most importantly, a great area to work in with zones for prep, cooking, serving, cleaning and even a corner for preparing coffee. The cupboards were painted in British Paints Colorbond Dune and the walls in Dulux Sleigh by Fiona and Phil. Benchtops in Caesarstone Snow.

Fiona’s blog contains descriptions of projects she is
working on, great tips for those who want to try painting
furniture themselves, recipes, and more.
For a little slice of country life in the inner city suburbs

ABOVE: Standout features of the kitchen include the porcelain Domsjö sink from IKEA, the rangehood cover which Fiona researched and designed herself, and the Italian Bertazzoni – the Ferrari of stoves.
country home ideas french house magazine kitchen
country home ideas french house magazine

ABOVE: Fiona herself created this chalk drawing, based on a 1950s photo by Lillian Bassman. “It’s always been one of my favourite black and white photos,” she says. “I found a vintage frame with the world’s ugliest picture in it, so I just put plywood in and painted it in chalkboard paint, then drew that picture. I’m so thrilled with how it turned out.”

BELOW: Fiona planned to paint a pattern on the front of this cupboard, but the plain white finish – sanded and waxed to a soft velvety finish – seemed complete. Then she just changed the handles to these lovely fluted ones. She now uses the cupboard to store quilts, most handmade by her mother.

As you’d expect, Fiona is a big advocate of pre-loved pieces. “What always surprises me is that you can buy furniture so cheaply at auctions or second-hand,” she reflects. “So I would say look at pre-loved stuff . You might have to put a bit of effort in, but you can pick up really beautiful pieces for not that much money.”

country home ideas french house magazine

It’s family entertainment with a sophisticated touch in the light-filled TV room. The antique trunk cost $45 at auction and is the perfect place to store throws and cushions.

country home ideas french house magazine

The master bedroom, painted in Taubmans Northern Star, is a tranquil space. Fiona used a slightly distressed finish for the bedside tables. Although she admits she’s not a huge fan of shabby chic, it certainly works for some pieces – and it’s always in demand! The artworks are by Fiona, painted while she travelled and lived overseas.

This amazing vanity is another creation of Fiona’s. She bought the French-style cupboard for around $150 on eBay several years ago, and when the time came she painted it in white acrylic enamel paint, then had Snow Caesarstone put on top (to match the kitchen) as well as a Caroma Liano above-counter basin. The tapware is from Brodware – “There are heaps of other ways to save money but tapware shouldn’t be one of them!” Fiona says.

ABOVE: This French-style chest of drawers in Sasha’s room is not just gorgeous, it’s large and practical. It was an unfortunate baby-poo yellow until Fiona painted it in Dulux Lexicon White at Quarter Strength – the same blend she uses for all her bright white pieces of furniture – then waxed and buffed it. The mirror and vintage lantern were market finds.

country home ideas french house magazine

TOP RIGHT: Sasha’s serene and pretty bedroom includes many pieces with sentimental value: the hydrangeas painting was done by Fiona’s grandmother, the cross-stitch by her sister, the cherub lamp was a vintage find painted by her aunt and the striped armchair was re-upholstered and painted by Fiona herself. 
The frilly white Linen House bedding is from Adairs.

RIGHT: This chair is another of Fiona’s dearest pieces. She re-upholstered it with woven drop-sheet for an amazing linen-like effect. Her blog includes a step-bystep post on how it was done.

“ I'm a bit DIY,” says Fiona Gaven, before grinning cheekily at what is a brazen understatement. For her, repainting bedside tables, re-upholstering armchairs and creating beautiful artworks are everyday activities. When many would call in a professional, Fiona and her equally handy hubby, Phil, enjoy taking on the task themselves. “ I've always been quite practical,” she explains. “I studied engineering at uni, and I've always been good with my hands. I just believe that if somebody else can do it, well, I can give it a go.”Fiona’s blog, Lilyfield Life, shows that this ethos has reaped divine dividends. The website is an inspiring journal of the projects she and Phil – and their two kids, Sasha, nine, and Jonty, six – have undertaken over the past two years, including their major renovation in 2011…


The couple’s brick and tile house dates back to the 1920s and had the usual limitations of that era: the kitchen was poky and walled off ; the bathroom had a shower and bath, but no toilet. Over the years, previous owners had also inflicted various ‘improvements’ on the home. “The study floor is an old verandah that has a big hole in it and what they've done to fix that is mix up concrete and pour it over,” Fiona recounts. “And they’d cut all the joists in the dining room and never secured them, so the floor bounced up and down by 5cm at the walls.”

Rather than accumulate huge debts by taking on a complete rebuild, however, Fiona and Phil decided on a half-house renovation: the front bedrooms, the bathroom, the dining room and kitchen. They replaced the original Kauri pine floorboards – which, sadly, were too damaged to save – with spotted gum, and put new joists in at the same time. They also opened up the kitchen, and completely redid that room as well as the bathroom.


Elsewhere in the house they found interim solutions. The living room – another of the home ‘improvements’ mentioned earlier – suffers occasional damp. Until they can afford to fix the underlying structural problems, they have simply ditched the carpet, put legs on the cupboards and painted the concrete floor for a result which is by no means perfect, but is great looking and practical.

“Part of what my blog is about is showing that you can work around problems, do things yourself and make things better,” Fiona says. “So many people these days want everything perfect from the beginning, and pay a fortune and get themselves into debt. We just make it nice and it all looks really pretty and light. We’ve made the best of things.” Fiona and Phil finished their renovation for just over $80,000. Impressive as that bottom line is, saving money was not their prime objective – rather it was the happy consequence of their general approach. Fiona was heavily involved throughout the project, using a 3-D design tool to map out the new kitchen, and painting the cupboards herself in a three-day, 28-hour marathon. Instead of buying new décor she searched eBay and the auctions for older pieces which, though tired or damaged, could be given a new lease of life. And this last activity was something that she fell in love with during the renovation.


“By painting furniture, you can absolutely transform it,” says Fiona with obvious enthusiasm. This passion comes through in her blog, where she describes the pieces in detail, including before and after shots showing the amazing changes. There’s also a ‘for sale’ section which is attracting plenty of visitors.

For her, a lot of the satisfaction comes from saving items that might otherwise be tossed out in council clean-ups. And above all, she enjoys it. “I just find it very relaxing and therapeutic. It’s not even that I expect to make money. You don’t expect to earn money from knitting or reading a book or something, so that’s how I view it with the painting of the furniture.”

It’s easy to see why she likes it – the change in the pieces from heavy-looking dark timber to white and other pale shades is breathtaking. They help brighten up the house, evoking a French provincial style that is elegant but not at all fussy. “I’m not a girly girl,” Fiona laughs. “But I like nice shapes and I like solid, old, well-built pieces – and I like white furniture because it makes the house seem so much fresher.”


As well as her revived pieces and their positive vibe, there are artworks which Fiona has created herself – such as the chalk drawing of a woman in the sitting room – and others by family members, such as the cross-stitch in the daughter’s bedroom, made by Fiona’s sister. These, as well as treasured keepsakes from travels, are given pride of place over store-bought decorations. “I’m not into clutter,” Fiona states. “If I have things in my house, I want them to have meaning.”

And there is a real sense of that here. There are many memories of Fiona’s mother in the house, who passed away in 2012, including handmade quilts and artwork. And she’s left a legacy in other ways, too. “My mum was a big believer in having a project and being productive,” Fiona reflects, as she talks about the bedside tables she is currently repainting, the plans for renovating the other half of the house, and the blog where she will record it all. It promises to make fascinating reading.

What a thrill this has been to have a big magazine feature, especially in this old house that has needed so much work... and still does. I'm meeting with an architect soon for phase 2. Stay tuned!

Fiona xx

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  1. hi Fiona, I made sure I got the magazine straight away and I was so impressed with your house and all your painting efforts. What a wonderful article and photos. You must be very proud.
    thanks for sharing this.
    Karen x

  2. beautiful photos! so well deserved, friend!

  3. Wow-it looks amazing!

    One of my favourite bits of furniture is a 'free' side of the road find that is now our desk. L though I was mad when I rang him to come with the ute, and thought I would never sand away the mahogany red!

    1. Free stuff is always a score! and that old red mahogany is totally transformed by white paint, isn't it.
      thanks so much
      Fiona x

  4. Such a great article & photos! Loved it! Marita x

  5. I loved the pictures when i first saw them on your blog i loved them when i bought the magazine and i love them noe .love dee x

  6. It is a great article Fiona. Well done xx

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