Jessica Bellef’s first book, Individual, is a triumph in encouraging all of us to be more confident in creating a home that is uniquely our own. From city terraces filled with colour and the collected finds from a life of travel, to the beauty of old homes worn with the patina of age, Individual is the paradox of the cookie-cutter approach and sheds light on ways we can transform our own homes into warm, creative spaces we can be proud of, no matter what our style or budget.
Here we share a few questions with Jessica on the eve of her new book launch.
SWC: ‘Individual’ seems to be filled with like-minded collectors, curb burglars and garage sale junkies. In these times of global concern about the environment, we love that INDIVIDUAL celebrates the concept of slowing down to think about reusing or finding objects that are an extension of who we are, and not just buying more stuff. Is your addiction to the thrill of finding a second hand treasure something that you were brought up with or did the idea develop over the time you’ve worked in the fast-paced world of retail?
JB: The addiction is 100% a direct result of my upbringing, when weekends were spent traipsing around vintage stores, garage sales and op shops with my family. I learnt the very important lesson of never walking past a second-hand store without having a peek inside, and I grew up in a home that was filled with antiques, family hand-me-downs and pieces my dad had made. It was layered, autobiographical and filled with character, and it fostered my fascination with that particular way of making a house a home.
Working in the fast-paced world of retail has opened my eyes up to the way Australian’s consume. It has taught me to appreciate the companies that are doing their best to produce and operate with integrity, on an ethical and environmental level. We are all becoming savvier shoppers and for some people that has meant a shift of their spending habits entirely and not buying new at all, while for others, their purchases are a mix of new and second-hand items. Regardless of whether an item is new, second hand or repurposed, I think it’s important that people consume mindfully, acquiring the things that they truly love and that they think will serve them well. It’s better for the soul, the bank balance and our precious, fragile environment.
I grew up in a home that was filled with antiques, family hand-me-downs and pieces my dad had made.
SWC: Your book doesn’t hold back in exploring the different ways in which Aussies use their homes to express who they are. As a retro lover yourself, which style best expresses who you are?
JB: I am definitely happier looking back rather than forwards (I am a soppy nostalgic) and I think my style is dictated by whatever my most recent second hand find is! My house was built in the seventies and we have retained the original features (timber panelling and exposed brick walls, a kitchen with golden-hued laminate, seagrass matting etc), so it’s usually things from the seventies that look the most at home in our house. But I have always loved strong, solid shapes and things that are built to last. I also go for rich colours and lots of texture; I need to layer art, books and objects around me. I love the calm of a neutral, monochromatic room but I would end up feeling flat and uninspired if I had to face a space like that every day. My style (for interiors, fashion and everything in between) works on a principle of basic, simple shapes that have some kind of twist in design, acting like a little knowing wink to another time or place.
I have always loved strong, solid shapes and things that are built to last.
SWC: You live in a beautiful part of Australia and in our opinion, the world – a national park no less! What’s your favourite thing about living in the bush and what are some of the ways you connect with, and bring nature into your own home?
JB: Living where I do, it’s hard to not connect with nature! Once I turn off the highway to head home, it’s a 30-kilometre drive through the bush (beautiful, quiet stillness) and it’s that leg of the trip that fades out the flurry of the city and tunes me into our epic natural surroundings. My favourite thing about living in the bush is the feeling of being protected by the surrounding trees, rock formations and waterways. They have been here for centuries and represent strength and spirituality, and their power is palpable. When I am home, I throw open the curtains and windows to let the sound of the birds and the sweet air in, and walks and jogs through the bush and along the water are a regular occurrence. I know that if I am feeling stressed and unhinged it’s usually because I haven't spent enough time in the week out and about in my amazing ’hood.
My favourite thing about living in the bush is the feeling of being protected by the surrounding trees, rock formations and waterways.
SWC: We can all relate to skipping the bindi patches on the lawn, or towel jumping the hot sand at the beach. It sounds like you’ve had a quintessential Australian childhood! How has growing up in Australia influenced your own design thinking?
JB: I grew up by the beach in the Illawarra, with a green escarpment hovering behind us and the excitement of Sydney a train ride away. I was born in 1981 so I was coming of age at a time when Australia was finding a new identity on the international stage. It was all about being outdoors, with a casual, relaxed approach to life. The notion of ‘she’ll be right mate’ has filtered down into everything I do, including the way I think about design. Not to say I do a half-arsed job, but rather I try to not get too precious about things and I am conscious of staying grounded; life should be lived and not over-designed!
The notion of ‘she’ll be right mate’ has filtered down into everything I do, including the way I think about design.
SWC: We love the part in your book that describes how to bring rituals into our daily lives and how they connect us to our spaces. What’s one of your favourite rituals in the home?
JB: Cooking on the weekends when my husband and I get time to slow down. We don’t get much time during the week to cook (the downside of having a long daily commute) so we love to take our time in our kitchen on days off. There is always some kind of egg-based breakfast happening on the stove (with added herbs and veggies from our garden) and the weekend winds down with a roast every Sunday, usually prepared with episodes of Seinfeld playing in the background. Seinfeld Sundays. It's a thing in our house.
SWC: Cheeky last question, favourite Southern Wild Co scent?
JB: The ‘Southern Sky’ scent, hands down. It’s sweet and smoky, spicy but soft, and it really does capture a sensory moment by the campfire. Love.
Rituals and how they connect you to your space
By Jessica Bellef
Do you have any rituals in your home? During the week, I look forward to the lazy weekend breakfasts we cook in our happy, yellow kitchen. I’m on the pans, while Beau looks after the coffee. We play music and dance around the dog. We pop toast and sprinkle herbs from our garden over the meal, sitting at the kitchen table, taking our time with the food and enjoying the idea of the free day ahead. When the week gets too much for me, I take solace in knowing that our sunny weekend breakfast is coming up.
Our homes should make us feel both comfortable and safe. They should envelop us in positive feelings and offer a sense of calm and stability when the outside world is tough and unpredictable. Rituals within the home infuse the space with a sense of value and meaning, heightening our connectedness and sense of belonging to ourselves, to each other and to our personal spaces.
Rituals are repeated activities that mark moments, creating a familiar rhythm and adding a real sense of significance to our everyday life. They can be gestures as simple as lighting a candle when the sun sets, or events with a bigger scope, such as a monthly dinner party at home with close friends. Even the ritual of making the bed every morning—a mundane task that many people skip—can adjust your headspace and set you up for a productive day.
The ritual can be a solitary ceremony that recalibrates and grounds your sense of self, or it can be a shared moment that connects you with those you love. Rituals that include the whole family will foster a stable home environment and generate warm, positive memories.
At the core of any ritual is the idea of taking time out to be in the moment of the significant activity, leaving everything else behind and focusing on the singular event. The rituals we choose to create and maintain in our homes are a reflection of our values and our goals. Rituals that focus on social interactions say something about how we value relationships and the importance of belonging and feelings of connection. Solitary rituals highlight a drive to stay strong from within, with the idea of self-preservation as the motivating force.
By maintaining rituals in your home, no matter the scope or frequency, you connect yourself to your space. The location becomes an important part of the moment, and the good feeling associated with the ritual is transferred to all the bits and pieces that surround you. Your rituals add to the layers of who you are and strengthen the bonds with others, and it’s wonderful to know that our homes can play an important part in that process.
If you feel that your home life could benefit from more marked moments, use the following list as a starting point to find your own rituals.
- Take the time to brew a tea or coffee, and use a mug that is pleasant to hold. Ignore all your screens, sit in your favourite chair and enjoy every sip.
- You can’t beat a Sunday roast for the delicious aroma it sends through the house, and a plate of home-cooked food simply makes you feel good. Elevate the weekly occasion by setting the table with candles and napery.
- Blast your favourite music or play an interesting podcast as you do the household chores. Spend Saturday morning in your garden or tending to your potted greenery. Get the kids involved, and you will all see the benefits of digging through soil and caring for plants.
- Run yourself a bath once a week, using your favourite soaps and beauty balms, and luxuriate in the quiet.
- Arrange a vase of flowers or foliage each week, and place it somewhere prominent. Enjoy the act of arranging flowers, and appreciate the arrangement each time you pass by it.
‘How could I possibly find the time to arrange flowers or sit in a bath?’ I hear you ask. The answer comes down to using your precious time wisely. Think of the hours that are spent on social media, and how the mindless content can leave you feeling anxious and empty. Cut back on screen time (delete apps from your phone if you have to), and you will find yourself with more time to spend on yourself and your loved ones.
Images and text from Individual by Jessica Bellef, photography by Sue Stubbs, Murdoch Books
You can buy Individual here