Restoration Australia: an easy watch about heritage glow-ups or another coat of whitewash?

Photo: ABC

Originally published in The Guardian, October 2020

Like a kind of Grand Designs with more trips to the library, Restoration Australia has returned for another season of genteel Victorian houses, crumbling cottages and rambling pastoral homesteads, and the brave (or foolish) homeowners working to rescue them.

Hosted by architect Stuart Harrison, it’s easily watchable, occasionally delightful television. We root for the country husband-and-wife teams who roll up their sleeves to give old beauties some TLC. We cringe when hubris or inexperience leads to baffling misses, like last season’s “stainless steel mesh cocoon”. We revel in millennial renter schadenfreude when unexpected structural issues start to bleed money, and nod knowingly at a well-restored wrought iron veranda (having learnt about the intricacies of “Italianate” motifs moments earlier).

But the limitations of its historical inquiry can sometimes prove frustrating.

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The golden hands of Olivia Kathigitis

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, January 2019

From a backyard shed in Goodwood to a secluded arctic island, artist turned jeweller Olivia Kathigitis is making it big by making things small.

“Essentially it’s just miniature sculpture,” Kathigitis says as she saws the outline of a small hand from a sheet of recycled silver.

An accomplished visual artist whose work has been exhibited at Fontanelle, CACSA and FELTspace, Kathigitis’ turn as a jeweller was at first an unexpected extension of her art practice.

“I couldn’t find any jewellery that I liked, that wasn’t too heavy to wear,” she explains. “So I just started making it with the skills I learned from university. From word of mouth it just became a viable stream for me.”

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Studio Mignone’s backyard world of family, colour and concrete

Aldo Mignone and Isabella Wood of Studio Mignone. Photo: Sia Duff
Aldo Mignone and Isabella Wood of Studio Mignone. Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, August 2019

As their sculptural furniture start up celebrates its first birthday, Studio Mignone’s Isabella Wood and Aldo Mignone invite us into their lemon tree-lined world of family, collaboration and very colourful concrete.

“It’s all like a village,” Mignone explains as he emerges from a shed set a few houses back from The Parade. Norwood and Kensington were once peppered with market gardens, workshops and fruit tree-filled backyards tended to by generations of Italian and Greek families. Many have been gradually replaced by townhouses or units, but this cluster of workers’ cottages, sheds and abundant citrus fruit has been the heart of Mignone’s family since his grandfather, Aldo Sr., purchased the main house in the 1950s.

“I remember coming here with Nonno as a little kid, because they looked after us like second parents,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of time here, old Holdens everywhere, so it’s nice to come back here and start our own business in the same place.”

Mignone left the family village in his mid-20s to pursue acting in Sydney, having made his screen debut in locally-made, SBS-backed cult hit Danger 5. He found his way to a starring role in a Channel 7 period drama, but it was meeting Wood that proved most formative.

Living in a “gorgeous” 1920s apartment building in Potts Point, the pair discovered a shared love of terrazzo and design that laid the foundation for their current collaboration. “Then we went to Italy which sparked our love for terrazzo and Italy and Al’s family heritage,” Wood explains.  “When Bels was pregnant with Valentina we started thinking about design, and drawing things inspired by our building – not really hip to the idea of how much [terrazzo] was taking over in the design scene,” Mignone says.

The subsequent birth of the pair’s daughter saw them relocate to Adelaide to reconnect to Mignone’s family traditions – and start their own. “That’s when we decided to just give this a shot making some shit, and just started doing it. We both decided we were at points where we wanted to do our own thing, to see what happens while we have the space, and the family village really provided the right kind of space.”

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Inside Thebarton’s historic garbage incinerator turned studio

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, June 2019

Having famously laid out the nation’s capital, American architect Walter Burley Griffin spent his final years bringing a bold aesthetic vision to a most unedifying subject: burning waste. Now, the former Thebarton Reverberatory Incinerator is cooking up fire tracks in its new life as a recording studio.

Driving down West Thebarton Road a keen eye might notice the angular red smoke stack poking up from the industrial lots and car parks, its sharp lines and polychromatic brickwork resembling something out of Minecraft. It’s one of several architecturally significant ‘reverberatory incinerators’ around Australia that Griffin and colleague Eric Milton Nicholls designed during the Great Depression. When it opened in March 1936, less than a year before Griffin’s death, newspaper reports welcomed the influence of “modern architecture” on Thebarton’s “imposing” new addition.

Today it’s home to Lewis Wundenberg, an Adelaide engineer and producer who has spent years training his ears to avoid ‘rubbish’. But when the city studio he worked at went under, leaving him at a loose end with more recording gear than he could fit at home, this “really weird” online listing caught his eye.

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