At the start of September, Karen McCartney‘s awe-inspiring new book, The Alchemy of Things, hit shelves.
Spotlighting 18 Australian and international homes ‘shaped by curious minds’ (artists, interior designers, architects, collectors, gallerists, stylists, furniture designers, and vintage retailers), the book reveals penchants for rich layering, a touch of oddity, and a celebration of the joy of life through space design.
The homes Karen has brought together err on the side of humanity over ‘pomposity’, and at the same time ‘transcend conventional notions of collection and display’. This is totally her forte – she wrote a brilliantly insightful feature on ‘Why We Collect’ for our Open House newspaper last year, and if you had a chance to pick one up, you’d remember it.
But that’s just one piece from literally thousands of words that Karen has penned across the eight books she’s authoured/co-authored. Then there’s those during her 10-year tenure as editor of Inside Out magazine, time helming Marie Claire lifestyle, and in her current roles as architecture editor of Belle magazine and Good Weekend columnist.
Here we share a brief Q&A with Karen, Australia’s long-serving authority on all-things interiors.
The Alchemy of Things is book number eight for you, how did the inspiration, concept and motivation for this one arise?
This is indeed book number eight – but that is over a 12-year period.
The idea for The Alchemy of Things arose out of a previous book – Perfect Imperfect – where some of the content revolved around remarkable people with quite extreme interiors – people such as Martyn Thompson in New York and Nectar Efkarpidis in Canberra. I loved the energy and the singular driving vision of their places, and I wanted to tap into that sort of energy that defies trend and has its own utterly personal agenda. I took the idea to Murdoch Books who had published Perfect Imperfect, and really understood the genre and what I was trying to achieve.
What has been the most challenging aspect of pulling it all together?
The most challenging, but also most interesting aspect was tracking down the interiors both here in Australia and in Europe. There are 18 interiors in the book and it is split 50/50 here and overseas. I wanted places that hadn’t been seen before, or ones that we could bring a fresh perspective to. I wanted a mix of creative people – artists, vintage retailers, gallerists, architects and designers – who were utterly passionate about their personal space.
To find the right people it was a question of using relationships, friends or friends, and of course the internet to source the right places. I looked at a lot and got my eye in so that I instantly knew when I saw something that had the right degree of charge to work.
On the other hand, what’s been the cherry-on-top?
The highlight for me as a writer was the words of wisdom I experienced along the way. Every homeowner was able to articulate their philosophy with such clarity it opened my eyes to all sorts of possibilities and broadened my understand and my outlook. And that is a great thing.
Michael Wee the photographer and David Harrison the art director/stylist did an amazing job which gave Evi O, the book’s designer, and I great material to work with.
You’ve now been in the publishing game for decades! How do you reflect on the industry’s evolution, and where do you see it going?
I actually think we are in a great phase of creativity, particularly with books, as chances are being taken, and more adventurous ideas being explored. I love the combination of certain niches such as Nicole England’s new book – Resident Dog – beautiful architect designed house made characterful by the presence of dogs – not least because our boy Buddy is featured!
Speaking of which, what will Karen McCartney be turning her adept hand to next?
When you finish a project of this nature you just want to breathe a big sigh of relief.
But I am an ideas person and I drive my husband mad by having a new one every minute.
I am pleased to be the ambassador of Sydney Craft Week organised through the Australian Design Centre, in October and I am the keynote speaker at a symposium in Canberra based on the work of one of my favourite architects Enrico Taglietti, coming up in November.
‘The Alchemy of Things’ by Karen McCartney is published by Murdoch Books (RRP $59.95) is available in bookstores now and online here.