The cost of unrivalled luxury

By Lauren Knight

This week we were alerted to a £1million crystal bath purchase, made by Tamara Ecclestone; daughter of billionaire Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. It took months for the crystal to be sourced from the Amazon, but Tamara insists it was “worth it.”

Image from the Sydney Morning Herald website

It got us thinking, what other expensive bathroom purchases have people made? One definitely worthy of note is a solid gold bathroom from Hong Kong, worth HK $80 million! It weighs 350kg of pure gold, and includes 6,200 encrusted gemstones in the bathroom features.

Image from the Whats the latest website

Another bathroom that caught our attention is from Frankfurt, Germany. The trendy public bathroom worth €900, 000, is complete with a reception desk and complementary wash cloths.

Image from the land lopers website

Doing the research: how the internet can make you a savvier shopper

By Lauren Knight

Statistics show Australian electronics customers are becoming smarter shoppers, with 79% doing their research online before walking into a store, and 71% haggling to get the best deal possible on products they wish to purchase.

A report from Canstar Blue showed Generation X to be the most likely group to haggle (76%), followed by the baby boomers (75%) and lastly Generation Y (58%). However, when it comes to researching online, the opposite is true. Generation Y came out on top at 86%, closely followed by Generation X shoppers (84%) and finally the Baby Boomers at 73%. The report also found men to be more likely than women to haggle for electronic goods at 71% and 68% respectively.

Despite being more informed when it comes to buying electronics, we still impulse buy, with 3 of 10 customers over committing once in the store.

Here are some tips on smarter ways to buy electronics:

1. Check the product warranty: Product warranties can vary between brands. A good product warranty is an attractive feature, giving you peace of mind that you won’t burn your money if the product develops a systems failure.

2. Energy Star rating: Appliances carrying the energy star logo will use 20-30% less energy than products without, meaning its better for the environment and for your wallet!

3. Features and Functionality: Unless you’re an electronics product guru, it can be difficult to distinguish the differences between models/brands of products. Reading online reviews or magazines can be helpful to decide which one will best suit your lifestyle or needs.

4. Ease of Use: Make sure you read up on the instruction manual and make sure to ask the sales staff lots of questions. You want to be getting the most out of your new product!

Escaping the daily grind: how to make the perfect cafe-style coffee from home

By Ashleigh Lonsdale

We all feel the pressures of the “daily grind”; after all, there are never enough hours in the day for the amount of work we need to get through. Despite our constant struggle with juggling work, life and play as well as the ever-present economic pressures, Australians are spending more time indulging in their love of coffee than ever before. In fact, the average Australian drinks on average more than seven sups of coffee a week, many taking time out of their busy schedules to visit a café for their daily dose of caffeine.
Catering to this increasing desire for café-style coffee, it’s estimated that three in ten households now have coffee machine at home. Intertwining cafe luxury and a “time-is-money” lifestyle, the at-home cafe experience is on the rise, with many of leading appliance companies offering innovative machines, making it simpler than ever to replace instant coffee with silky-smooth cafe lattes.
Being your own in-house barista can be a tricky task. From sourcing the best beans, achieving the right milk temperature and correct consistency, the checklist for the perfect coffee seems endless. UK-based World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies is in Australia to participate in the Fine Food Festival in Sydney and Melbourne and lends us a few minutes of his time to shed light on the skills you need to create a top-notch cup at home.

What are the most important tools to create a café-style coffee at home?
A coffee grinder is as important, if not more important, than the machine. Coffee needs to be ground just before use. [And] fresh roasted coffee beans – naturally – and a quality machine.
How do we know what coffee beans are best and tastiest to use?
The most important factor when choosing coffee beans is that they are freshly roasted and traceable. Personal taste is individual, so what’s best and tastiest will be determined by your own taste.

What’s the best way to store coffee beans to maintain quality?
Treat coffee like fresh produce; buy and use very quickly. An airtight container in a cool, dark place is best. Coffee is an agricultural product and needs to be treated as such.
What’s your advice on how to achieve silky steamed milk, and what happens if it’s overheated?
If milk is too hot, you will lose sweetness and the foam won’t be stable, so it will break down quicker. When you are steaming, you put the air in with the steam wand at the start, when it reaches body temperature just spin the milk in the jug. When [the jug] is too hot to hold it is too hot to put in your mouth.

Does the type of water we use affect the coffee’s quality?
Absolutely, we should be using filtered water at all times. If you use bottled water, be careful not to get one that is too high in minerals because it affects the fine PH balance and can be disastrous to the taste.

What are the most common mistakes that untrained baristas tend to make?
They don’t clean their machines. You cannot make good coffee with a dirty machine. Always clean your machine every time you use it.
They don’t taste the coffee. A chef tastes his food; baristas need to do the same so they can determine if the coffee is over/under extracted. It is very difficult to visually determine this with coffee, so tasting is integral to serving good coffee.

What are the consequences of over/under extracting coffee?
Under extracted is sour and over extracted is bitter. They taste almost identical to some people, so it is very difficult. [The extraction process should take] somewhere between 22 and 30 seconds but this completely depends on taste.

How do we correctly pack the coffee to ensure perfect extraction?
Simply put, as long as the grind falls evenly into the basket and it is tamped level and flat, then that’s all that is needed. Don’t over think it.

Finally, what do you love about coffee and what makes it such a life-long passion for you?
Making delicious coffee is a very new idea. We don’t know that much yet and there is a lot to discover. It is the excitement of that journey and that all the time we are getting better at producing nice coffee. There are so many new tastes and flavours as we discover different varieties and improved processing methods.

Whether you consider yourself an amateur barista or need a little more assistance, there is a range of coffee machines on the market to suit your needs. From coffee machines that do the hard work for you to ones that give you a lot more control, whatever your skill level, there is a product out there to help you get the perfect caffeine hit from home.

Bodum Grinder from Matchbox, for more
Information visit:

Nespresso Lattissima+ coffee machine, for more
information visit:

Vacuvin coffee saver, available from:

Smeg fully automatic coffee machine, for more
information visit:

Vibiemme Domobar Junior coffee machine, available from:

Creating a worm farm in your garden

Owning a worm farm is one of the most unique and interesting ways to do your part for the environment.

From breaking down your table scraps and saving you waste, to fertilising your garden, a worm farm is economically and environmentally friendly.

A worm farm is easy to maintain and gives you a myriad of benefits! Setting one up isn’t too hard either.

Choose your type of worm farm.

The most common type of worms for worm farms are Red Wriggler and Tiger worms. Both can be sourced from a hardware store or your local nursery. They come in bags of 500 to 1000, and they will multiply over time. It’s best not to purchase more than 2000, depending on the size of your worm farm.

Worms love a good worm bed. Worm farm bedding is usually made up of a nice soil, leaves and some shredded paper, and is generally 15 centimetres deep.

Simply spray some water over this mix, just so that it becomes moist, but not wet.

You can purchase ready made worm farms – or it’s easy to make your own out of an old styrofoam fruit box. Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom though, for the liquid fertiliser they will produce.

Gently spread out the worms for your new worm farm all over the bedding material and watch them settle into their new home.

Your worms may be a little uncomfortable after their journey to their new home, so give them a day or two to settle in and explore before you feed them.

A worm farm are best kept in the shade. It doesn’t matter if it’s inside or out, as long as they’re not exposed to too much heat or sunlight. Under the house or in the garage is the perfect place to keep your worms happy.

Try not to feed them too much during the first week or so as they are still getting settled into the worm farm. Lettuce and small bits of mushy fruit such as banana is a good start. Throw some damp hessian or newspaper over the top to keep them moist, and keep this constant. After two weeks or so add a new layer on top. It’s now time to start feeding them all organic waste.

Golden Rule: Don’t Overfeed!

If the rate your feeding the worm farm is faster than they can eat, it can create an acidic environment and they will suffer. If you notice the food is being eaten slowly, stop feeding them and wait till they finish.

Your worm farm will eat its weight in food. So 1kg of worms will typically eat 1kg of food per day. But don’t force them, they’ll go at their own pace.

Worms are simple folk, vegetable and fruit peelings are ideal for their diet, along with tea and coffee grindings, egg shells, and small amounts of cardboard. Avoid feeding them dairy and meat, along with citrus, onion and garlic. These are quite acidic and will not do your worm farm any good.

Food disappears quickly in a worm farm if its size is reduced. Chop, mulch or grate their food first and they wolf it down quicker.

Give them food regularly in small amounts and cover this with a light dusting of soil or their bedding material. Feed them again only if they’re close to finishing their last meal, or it could start to rot.

General Maintenance

Remember the worm farm needs to be kept moist. Some foods like fruit contain a lot of moisture, so keep that in mind when checking the soil.

Aerating the bedding won’t do any harm. In fact if promotes a healthy worm farm population. Once a week or so, wait till the surface food is gone, and using a hand trowel lift the bedding gently.

Harvest for your garden!

If yours is the type of farm to capture liquid, empty this regularly. Its an amazing liquid fertiliser which should be diluted at least 10:1.

Worm farm castings, or vermicast, is pretty powerful too. There are several ways to harvest this. Move the old to one side and add new bedding. This will allow the worms to mostly migrate to the new bedding leaving you to take out the old and sprinkle it all over your garden. It doesn’t matter if some worms get taken out as well. They’ll just help improve your existing soil.

Another method is exposing them to light. The worms will tunnel to the bottom, allowing you to scrape off the top and surround your pot plants with healthy worm farm fertiliser.

So, now you’re on your way to a happy and healthy worm farm and a fantastic garden – saving you waste and worry!

Howard Backen: Architect

World renowned for his rustic looking yet luxurious designs, Howard Backen is one of the most sought after architects in America.

Called upon to undertake projects for many high profile, and highly demanding clients, Howard can only be called a genuine Southern Gentleman, having never taken on the ‘great architect’ persona.

Howard’s career has spanned generations. He has worked for such names as Steve Jobs, film director, Nancy Meyers, and the Harlan Winery Estate. Having started out in 1967 in San Francisco, and moving to Napa Valley in 1966, Howard Backen’s career has been highly successful and incredibly exciting. He’s designed restaurants, resorts and wineries. Although it’s not so much the extravagance of his work, but rather the elegant simplicity and rural designs that make him so astonishing.

Backen launched ‘Backen Arrigoni Ross’ (BAR) in San Francisco. He was part of the highly successful firm for 35 years, which grew to more than 100 staff. BAR has overseen the design and building of vast projects like the Robert Redford Sundance Institute and the Disney Sound Studios and the new Restoration Hardware stores.

During his work at BAR, Mr. Backen had the opportunity to design the main office for the Delancey Street Foundation, a successful rehabilitation centre. Most of Howard’s work on the project was pro bono, undertaken as a genuine service to his community.

Not only did the project win several awards for humanitarian service, but it has also been recognised for the unique design and beauty it contributes to San Francisco city.

It was in 1996 when Backen took his career in a new direction and headed to a new firm in Napa Valley. The Head-office in St. Helena and his new, self-designed home not far away in Oakville. Such a decision continues to be one of the most exciting and advantageous of his life.

At 75, Backen starts his day wandering through the morning chill over a series of fieldstone paths, to reach an open-roofed outdoor shower. It’s his favourite morning ritual which he finds sublimely invigorating.

Sketching and drawing seems to come so easily to Backen who keeps a sketch-pad and pencil by his bedside, ready for anything his inspiration might come up with.

One of his treasured sketch spots on his five-acre plot is a lengthy zinc table in his open plan pool house. Sketching only on paper and leaving the computer work to others adds to the farmlike, natural focused designs he is famous for. Backen often leaves whole walls open to the elements, almost like a picture frame, to enhance the natural beauty of the surrounding country.

In 2010, Howard Backen was named in the top 100 architects by Architectural Digest.

Howard Backen works 24/7. A few days a week he visits current construction sites, enabling him to talk directly with the workers and leaving him time at home to work without interruptions.

Currently, Mr. Backen is designing a company, off-site dining location for Apple employees, in association with Steve Jobs. Whatever Mr. Backen decides to do nexr, you can be sure it’s going to have the same breathtaking natural, rural beauty he is celebrated for.

Electrolux – Plastic? Not so fantastic.


As Australians, we are pretty lucky with our land, our forests, and our oceans. Many of us do all we can to preserve these treasures with efforts such as Clean Up Australia Day, which help Aussies recognise the effect our careless lifestyles can have on our environment. Yet, with all the energy we put into recycling and disposing of waste, we are still not making a significant dent in the problem. What we are constantly reminded of is that we are running out of time.
According to a 2011 Electrolux Plastics Pollution Report, up to 72% of Australians do not understand what constitutes recyclable plastic. We all know that plastic bags are not recyclable, yet we still dispose of them thoughtlessly. When unusable plastic is disposed of incorrectly, we risk contaminating potentially re-usable materials. With nearly 88% of us confused about which plastics to recycle, is it any wonder that there is a blimp in our recycling programmes?
Champion Surfer and lover of the ocean, Layne Beachley has teamed up with Electrolux to introduce the global Vac from the Sea initiative. The collection of funky vacuums not only makes the humdrum task of cleaning your house more exciting, it is also made of 55% recycled plastics, from marine plastic debris.
“As a surfer I regularly experience first-hand the vast amount of rubbish that ends up polluting our oceans,” Layne explains. “The Vac from the Sea initiative brings attention to the issue of plastic pollution, while at the same time addressing the lack of recycled plastics needed for creating sustainable products for future generations.”
The scheme, initiated by Electrolux, aims to direct attention to the amount of plastic entering our water systems. “The Pacific Ocean is polluted with the largest floating garbage islands in the world,” says Julian Huitfeldt, Electrolux Product Marketing Manager, Floor Care and Small Appliances. “Yet, on land we struggle to get hold of enough recycled plastics to meet the demand for sustainable vacuum cleaners.”

It is important that we sustain a recycle programmes in our households and familiarise ourselves on plastics that can be recycled, and those that cannot. Daily waste such as plastic bottles, bags, containers and lids can easily be discarded or used as landfill if they are not put into the correct disposal bins. More often than not, these unrecyclable items end up in the ocean, causing potential harm to many of our protected species such as sea lions, whales, dolphins and penguins.
DIY jobs and renovations are also a huge source of waste and considerable effort must be taken to ensure that we dispose of our plastics smartly. Exercising wise choices can mean a sustainable environment for all our beautiful Australian marine life.

The colourful Electrolux Vac from the Sea range includes a model manufactured from waste found in Australian beaches and the coastline.

Growing tomatoes in your garden

The fresh taste of a tomato is one easily recognised in your Grandmothers’ pasta sauce or in a light, summer salad that everyone enjoys.

Growing tomatoes doesn’t have to be hard and the reward of home-grown, succulent tomatoes is reason enough to give it a go!

Whether growing tomatoes in a pot or in a garden bed, all types love similar conditions. As a spring/summer plant they adore warmth and sunlight, so keep that in mind when thinking of growing your own.

Before planting either the seed or a seedling, make sure their future home has fresh soil (to prevent disease and to ensure a nutrient rich food base). Preparing the soil a few days in advance is ideal by digging in compost or manure, and adding a little potash and some lime per square metre. This gives growing tomatoes plenty of calcium.

A raised planting bed in an area that gets at least five hours of sunlight is the most ideal location to plant your tomatoes, to prevent water-logging and to keep the soil warm. Be sure to give your seeds plenty of space and avoid overcrowding.

Growing tomatoes is easy. Don’t be afraid to bury them deep and remember – warmth and sunlight is key!

It’s advised to set stakes in to provide support for the growing tomatoes now, to prevent disruption to the roots later in the growing process. Keep plant ties handy, as the tomatoes start growing they’ll need the extra support. You can use almost anything as a stake; wooden poles, chicken wire, even the back of chairs – but be careful when considering metal objects, as they can heat up and burn your plant.

When it comes to growing tomatoes, remember the plants will need lots of nutrients, so mulching every so often is required. The afternoon is a good time to mulch as the soil is warm. Try to find a brand of mulch that breaks down quickly, like straw, which also adds to the soils valuable organic content, or slivered plastic, which is useful in retaining soil moisture and reflects sunlight back onto the tomatoes.

Watering goes hand-in-hand with mulching. It is a very important step when focusing on growing tomatoes. Keep it regular, giving them constant moisture, but avoid over watering and watch for signs of water-logged soil.

As your tomatoes grow higher and higher, give them some extra TLC by pruning. You don’t have to prune if you don’t want to, but it can lead to a better crop with bigger, fuller, and more flavoursome tomatoes.

Pruning should be directed to the lower leaves. When these start to become yellow it’s best to get rid of them to prevent disease affecting your beautiful growing tomatoes.

Side-shoots are a growth of new leaf between the shade leaf and the main stalk, in what’s known as the “crotch.” If these are only a few centimetres long, pinch them away gently with your fingers. Side-shoots only take energy away from your growing tomatoes.

Go easy on pruning! Due to Australia’s hot climate and sunny disposition, pruning an excessive amount could lead to the scalding of your tomatoes.

From here on out it’s only a short wait till your delicious tomatoes will be ripe and fresh, becoming a juicy addition to the delights of summer.

2012 Venice Architecture Biennale

By: Johanna Grahn

Planning for the world’s most important upcoming architectural event, the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale is in process. The latest news is that the creative directors who will be designing the Australian Pavilion for the event have been announced, namely Anthony Burke and Gerard Reinmuth.

The two creative directors were chosen for their deep knowledge about the field, and the expertise they will provide to the Australian contribution at the event.

Anthony Burke specialises in contemporary design and theory in relation to technology and its implications for architecture in the built environment. He works as associate professor and Head of the School of Architecture at UTS, he is an international curator, writer, and architectural designer, and a director of the architectural practice Offshore Studio. Anthony also has a prestigious academic background, with a Bachelor of Architecture from UNSW and a first class honours in 1996, and he is a graduate of the MS AAD from Columbia University from 2000.

Gerard Reinmuth founded Terrior in 1999 together with Richard Blythe and Scott Balmforth, and is today one of the directors for the practice. The idea was born from conversations between the directors around the potential for architecture to open up questions of cultural consequence. His research and practice on these questions led to his appointment as visiting professor at the Aarhus School of Architecture in 2010 and Professor in Practice at UTS in Sydney in 2011.

The Australian Pavilion will be designed as a “soft landscape of connections and possibilities”, and display the exhibition ‘Formations: New Practices in Australian Architecture’, which will “challenge traditionally held beliefs about what architecture can be, and celebrate new opportunities for architects working in non-traditional ways”. ‘Formations’ will highlight “the unconventional and world-leading innovative range of architectural
practice types being developed across Australia”.

The Australian pavilion will be a “space of engagement” in which viewers can interact and “participate in architectural conversation at close quarters”, as it will focus on actual projects and their impact. There will also be a series of what they call ‘flash formations’, which are free informal and intimate public events around Venice that will “allow viewers to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most innovative architectural practices and commentators and their work”. The creative minds of the Australian team will be bringing their skills and expertise to areas as diverse as robotic fabrication, government policy, and indigenous housing.

To find out more about the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale visit The Australian Institute of Architects at:

Easy azalea care tips

Azaleas are known for their ability to grow beautifully with little attention. However, if you want the best looking flowers around, then these tips for azalea care will help you get on track!
Azaleas come in all sorts of colours including vivid pinks, violet, orange and golden yellow. Azaleas also respond well to pruning and make excellent hedges or feature bushes. However, to ensure you get the most from your plants, proper azalea care is needed.These vibrant flowers thrive in the afternoon shade, though now more species of hybrids are available that are able to adapt well to survive in any garden. They prefer to be situated in the mild and humid regions, making them perfect for the backyards of low coastal Australia.Azalea care doesn’t have to be a complicated matter. Following these few steps for azalea care will get your flowers in full bloom in no time.
Azalea care 101
Azaleas need soil that has good drainage, but still slightly damp. They prefer cool, slightly acidic soil that doesn’t become too dry. When the heat sets in, try to water your azaleas once a week or so. However, remember not to over water.When it comes to azalea care, be aware of their root systems. Roots that have wrapped themselves around the root ball can strangle the plant when it grows.If this occurs, use an old knife and cut the matted roots away. Make sure to leave most of the roots intact, but spread out, to keep growing.Make a raised mound for planting when you’re ready. This provides the best drainage possible. Dig out the middle, adding some peat moss and a sprinkle of fertiliser. Place your azalea in the middle, fill in the surrounding hole, and mulch.The best mulch for azalea care is pine needles or pine bark. Apply twice a year to get the best from your plant. A peat moss fertiliser is best applied at the same time as mulching. It’s okay to use plenty of compost. It acts as a sponge around the roots, keeping them moist but not too wet.Pruning and fertilising is best done shortly after their main flowering period from July through to October – although there are some varieties that will flower earlier or later. Pruning gives your azaleas a full growing season to fill out and time to mature before the colder months hit.Azaleas aren’t known to have too many problems with pests or disease. The most common problems are red spider mites and lace bugs (both of which can be controlled easily and do not affect the plant much).During the wetter months you may discover that some of the azalea flowers have become mushy and brown. This is a process known as petal blight, a fungal disease. Although, it’s easiest to pick them off and throw them away, spraying with a fungicide and/or Bordeaux mixture for best azalea care.Azalea care isn’t hard and it’s a hugely rewarding process that will allow you to reap the final product of beautiful blooms and vibrant colour in your garden for a long time to come.

Sweet sensation

Kathryn Sutton, owner of Sydney’s suave Sparkle Cupcakery talks to us about a world-wide love affair with cupcakes
What sparked your love for baking?
My passion has always been food, either eating or making! Straight out of school, I studied Hospitality Management and after years in the world of hotels, returned to my original passion.
What’s the one item in your kitchen that you can’t live without and why?

A great oven. Love thy oven and get it know it well!

What’s your most interesting food experience?

I love to travel and love to cook. Combining the two is pure bliss. I had the luxury of spending a week in a small school, in a tiny town in southern India. Students had the choice of fabulous studies such as yoga, languages, art or cooking. Of course, I ended up in the kitchen with an amazing teacher who’s philosophy was ‘you must enjoy the chop’, meaning enjoy the entire cooking process…not a bad philosophy for life. Indian sweets are such a sugar hit. Our Pistachio & Cardamom cupcake is inspired by my travels in India – aromatic and sweet!

How do you think Australia’s love affair with cupcakes began, and where do you see it heading?
It’s not just Australia, but the world, that has fallen in love with the cupcake. I think it came from a strong trend back to the simple things in life. A cupcake is a little sugar bliss bomb that is suited to any of life’s celebrations.

What surprisingly delicious flavour combinations have you created?
So many! Oriental flower, lychee and rose is a fabulous flavour sensation. I also love the simplicity of Pure Sparkle, our signature cupcake, made with fabulous vanilla bean paste.

What’s the best accompaniment to a cupcake and why?
Sparkle is all about combining a cupcake with a glass of bubbles (which is lemonade is you are under 18 and French is you are over!). Nothing quite says ‘celebration’ like this combination!

Sparkle Cupcakery, 132 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, (02)93610690,