In 1990 I acted impulsively and destructively in an act of defiance that still haunts me. I was two years old, and armed with a marker pen entered my Nonna’s ‘good room’. There are no prizes for guessing what happened next. I took to her curtains in what can only be described as a Jackson-Pollock-inspired-creative-rage. Nonna’s beige floral curtains were marked with hypnotic pink squiggles. She found me just in time, before I could unleash havoc on my next canvas: her dusty pink velvet couch. My career as an artist died that day, but my obsession with ‘The Good Room’ began.
A good room is the best room in the house. We all have a good room. Some look like my Nonna’s, and are history preserved in time, or for me, it’s the tiny living space in my apartment, where I sit on my couch and yell at the TV during tribal council in Survivor. Good rooms are safe spaces to love, cry and congregate.
Now as an adult who no longer defaces other people’s property, and perhaps on a mission to atone for my good room sins, I’m here to spread the good room word by visiting other people’s good rooms. I’m also on a mission to see how many times I can include the words ‘good room’ in a sentence.
The first people I visit in this series are The Toscanos in Essendon. Pauline, 77, and Mick, 83, have been living in their home for 37 years. “We moved in two weeks after I turned 40,” says Pauline, who hugs me within seconds of entering her home. She also offers me a coffee, mineral water and a cannoli. “You’ve got to eat!”
Sitting at their table with their eldest granddaughter Isabella, I Instantly feel like I could be a distant cousin, there’s a familiarity and they talk openly. Mick tells me about moving to Australia in the 1950s and marrying the love of his life, Pauline. “We got married at the Royal Exhibition Building, and 1100 people came to our wedding,” says Pauline. “In those days you had to invite everyone!” adds Mick.
The couple’s Essendon home was a long time coming, and the result of decades of hard work. “We just found out Nonno worked as a cobbler in the village,” says Isabella. “And apparently when he was working all the girls would come in saying their shoes needed to be fixed.” Moving to Australia, Mick’s work ethic continued, and he emerged as a multi-businessman. He worked for an insurance company before going out on his own and opening a travel agency, and then for a decade he and Pauline were partners at iconic Melbourne restaurant Florentino’s, before eventually running their own events reception centre, which is still open for business today.
It would be twenty years into their marriage before Mick and Pauline found their dream home in Essendon. “We were just driving home from my Mum and Dad’s, who lived around the corner and saw the place was for sale,” says Pauline. Built in 1875, their Victorian home was in need of some love when they became its new custodians, and it was a challenge Pauline fully embraced.
“We’ve worked on the house slowly over 37 years and it’s still not finished, next I’d like a slate roof as all good Victorian homes have them,” she tells me. Five minutes later Isabella enters the room and asks me, laughing, “Did she tell you about the slate roof yet?!” Pauline’s home is her lifelong project.
“I was always very interested in interior design but was at home raising four kids,” she says. “I don’t have any training!” She started with the first the dining room. “I had to start somewhere, and loved the colours in the original fireplace tile,” she says pointing to the tile in question. “Then we ripped up the old floors and I found this old wallpaper sample, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was, so I sent it to England to get reproduced.” She stands beaming next to the wallpaper, which is actually four sectional pieces that slightly differ from one another to achieve one cohesive “Am I in Versailles?” look. It’s fantastic. She slowly collected all the antique furniture over time, and fondly remembers every Christmas when the entire family sits around the table. “She cooks for days,” tells Isabella. “And I mean days!”
Next Pauline takes me on a tour of the sitting room. “This is my daughter Tina,” Pauline tells me, pointing to a framed photo of a young girl. There are actually lots of framed, family photos, and she tells me who everyone is until I have the entire Toscano family tree mapped out in my mind. “There’s about 80 of us,” laughs Isabella.
Pauline says her good room is a place to relax, be with family and enjoy life. I watch as she stands back, looking at the room with pride. “When I first met Mick he told me ‘I have nothing now, but I am going to give the world to you’ and you know what? He did and more.”