It's a funny thing, living in the country. Well, as an ex-city person anyway. There's more talk about the seasons. The rain. The frosts. About what plants grow, and how to grown them. About nature in general. And animals. Dogs, chickens, foxes, kangaroos, cows... But the thing I've learned the most about hasn't actually been nature-related at all. It's been more about people. Myself mostly.
You see, when I lived in the Melbourne, it felt like I was always surrounded by people fairly similar to me. Not deliberately, it just sort of... happens. Sure everyone has their different hobbies or interests, but you go to work where everyone else is in the same industry, working on similar projects. Your friends have heaps in common with you, that's how you become friends in the first place. Even the stranger next to you on the tram is battling the same commuting grind as you, with the same sense of frustration. You begin to think that how you are is how everyone is... and if anyone seems different, it's easy to dismiss them as kind of, well, weird. Sadly, it's easy to be a bit judgy.
Towards the end of my time in Melbourne, I started to feel like the odd one out. I just wanted to move to the country to live a simpler life, quit my corporate job, bake sourdough bread and restore vintage furniture. Like this Danish teak baby I've been working on this week....
I know, freaky dream right? But since we moved to Daylesford I feel like many of the people I meet seem somehow... different. Different to what I've subconsciously deemed 'normal' in the past. But different in a good way.
Yes, some work crazy hours, like our city-dwelling friends. Hell, some even still do the massive commute to their fancy jobs every day! But some raise chooks. Or pigs. Some love fossicking for food. Some are into making ceramics or painting or writing... or unusual combinations of all these things! Some live chic country lives, and some live simply. Some couldn't care less about the corporate world that I couldn't really see beyond a few years back. The old me probably wouldn't have understood those people... but now I'm with them!
It's been great to get a totally different perspective on things. And that's when you learn.
I've learned that everyone has their own interests and motivations and passions and values... And, more importantly, I've learned that I'm just fine with that. No judgement to anyone who lives without the rat race. And no judgement to those who can't live without it. In fact, no judgement at all (unless someone is a total a-hole then by all means, judge away!) Some will zig while others zag. I'm just glad I've found my thing that makes me happy. And I'm grateful I've met some interesting people who show me different ways to look at the world.
So let's just all go about our days, being different, and doing whatever it is that makes us happy. And being happy for those who do their own thing too.
It just started to get really cold in Daylesford, even though it’s still only Autumn. I mean, seriously cold. Like “the-weather-app-tells-you-it-feels-like-zero-degrees-in-the-morning” cold. So I’m just mooching around today, tying up some loose ends. Paperwork, some washing, that kind of stuff. Partly because it’s cold, but mostly because it’s been a belter of a month and that’s about all my poor little brain can handle today. Actually, it’s been a belter of a few months if I’m honest…
I’m a bit of a jack of all trades at the moment. Not only do sell vintage mid-century furniture – which is my real passion – but I also work in David Bromley’s beautiful Daylesford Bromley & Co galleries a few days a week (come visit sometime, they are truly lovely spaces filled with amazing art). Then I’m also a freelance Creative Director and Graphic Designer, which is my professional background… and helps a bit when there’s one too many bills on the fridge.
But, lately it’s all been getting a bit chaotic. And it’s great to be busy, don’t get me wrong, but I have started thinking about that elusive thing called “balance”. I mean, after all, isn’t that why I gave up my job as in advertising and moved to the (very cold) country? To get a bit more balance?
And it’s always your own stuff that takes a back seat when you are running around trying to look after everyone else’s interests. I’ve been pretty bloody slack with housework and exercise (seriously, I’m a slob… I gross myself out daily), and Von Braun has been suffering too. Not enough product updates on the website, no blog entries, and not enough social media posts to show you guys to new stock I’ve sourced. And I have restoring jobs piling up like crazy… so, sorry for all that!
I’ve been thinking that maybe I don’t say “no” enough. It’s funny – although it’s something I really had to work on – I got quite good at saying “no” in my design career. “No, not that typeface”. “No, that’s not the right solution for the demographic”. “No, I can’t work on that right now because I’m focusing on this.” I realized, that be saying “no” you’re actually saying “yes” to something else, so you commit and do that other thing really, really well. And that’s what I feel like needs to happen with Von Braun now. It just needs a bit more time and energy.
I don’t want to get rid of my other jobs altogether. They help keep my design eye sharp and I get to work with some seriously lovely and inspiring people. But I know it’s OK to say “no” occasionally. To prioritise my own stuff. Because in the long run, that means I’m saying “yes” to Von Braun Vintage & Home. And to me in general… And to getting some of that elusive balance back.
Upcycling. It's a term that often strikes fear into my heart. Sure, a little refresh can be great, giving an average old piece of furniture a new feel and new life. But often those spruiking their work as "upcycling" seem to me to be "ruining". Harsh, maybe, but when you see a beautiful, classic mid-century teak sideboard randomly painted with non-sympathetic colours, it really is heart-braking.
Enter my dilemma. I found this gorgeous 1960s Noblett teak sideboard in a junk shop. They new it was good, even though it was filthy. Seriously, FILTHY. It was covered in years of genuine vintage grime. So I cleaned it up, gave it a light sand, oiled it and generally showed it some love. But under all that grime were scratches, watermarks and damage. The pic below shows after it was cleaned. I couldn't even out those watermarks and scratches without sanding through the veneer. What was supposed to be a quick restore job was turning out to be a bit of a nightmare...
I started thinking, "why not paint it?". I knew I didn't want to "upcycle" it with 16 different colours and some bad stencilling. But what about black and teak... classic tones we've all seen before, and appropriate to the era. I drew some inspo from one of my all time favourite designers, Arne Vodder. His sideboards make me feel something deep inside that is totally unnatural and wrong, but at the same time so, so right. Look at this sideboard (image: https://www.1stdibs.com/)
Teak. Black. Cigar legs. THOSE DRAWERS!!! It was on. Of course, being a graphic designer I used all my photoshop skills and over a decade of design experience – plus about 20 seconds – to create this crappy mockup to make sure I wasn't creating mid-century sin, and that I'd end up burning in hell surrounded by ugly, poorly made furniture in hideous fabrics. It was time to paint!
I filled some chunks in the edges, bought a semi-gloss water based enamel paint, got my roller out... and away I went. Here's the results:
BOOM! I think it really works. It's classic, looks much better than the banged up old top, the chips have been filled... I even painted the back so it can be placed in the middle of a room. Win-win. Art by my talented friend Carly Williams. Find her on Insta here. And great news, if you like it, it's for sale and on display at my stall at the Mill Markets in Daylesford.
We often get asked ‘How’d you end up in Daylesford?’. It’s a good question, and one you hear a lot around here, since there are so many people who’ve somehow ended up here, rather than being born and bred here. You hear lots of different answers, and it seems that we have quite a few answers to our little story, too.
First, there’s the obvious reasons. It’s beautiful. Like, seriously beautiful… especially in Autumn when the leaves change, or the steam rises off the lake on a chilly morning. The icy winters – while a challenge on their own – make you feel like you’re in Europe, not country Australia (and are perfect for us because we love the cold… and my superwhite skin is allergic to the sun!). Then there’s the amazing food and abundance of cafés and restaurants. It’s very accepting and gay friendly in a way that many country towns just aren’t. And it’s all just over an hour drive to Melbourne to get you big city shopping/culture/traffic jam fix. But then there’s the personal reasons, and that’s where everyone’s story starts to differ.
As I touched on here, I was frustrated with my career. Sure my job was great, but I’d been working in graphic design and advertising agencies since I was 20 and I was just over it. I’d become a Creative Director and worked on many great household-name brands, but I had that typical creative personality trait where you always want to try something new…
That’s where mid-century furniture came in. It had been a passion of mine for years: collecting, restoring, selling a chair to buy another chair I’d recently developed a schoolgirl-like crush on.
Then one June, whilst on a little winter holiday for my birthday in Daylesford, we were sitting in the window at The Farmers Arms (really great pub food if you’re yet to try it). It was snowing outside. Ben and I were chatting about work and life in general… and no doubt a little about the next vintage piece we were thinking of buying. Then it hit me, like some sort of epiphany. “Why don’t I try and do vintage furniture for a living?” We could move to the country, get a bit more space to restore things than we had in our little inner-city apartment, and I could buy and sell vintage pieces since I am obsessed so passionate about it. It’d be less stressful, more relaxed, we’d have more time to do… nothing in particular. It’d be great!
After a lot of “should-we/shouldn’t we?” consideration, worry about leaving the comfort and convenience of the city (and of our paychecks), we finally took the plunge at the end of 2013. And the truth is… it’s great! It’s a more open, welcoming community than I’d ever expected. I think since almost everyone had come here from somewhere else and were in the “newbie” position at some stage, they are quick to make you feel at home. It’s something I definitely want to do when I meet newcomers in the future.
Then Ben landed a perfect marketing job at the absolutely stunning Lake House (seriously, do yourself a favour if you haven’t eaten there before) a few months after the move. For almost 8 months I did the commute to Melbourne. My best advice for those thinking about it is… don’t do it! Not every day anyway, and definitely not if you work in advertising and a 9pm end to the day is all too common. Life’s too short to spend three or four hours a day commuting with no free time left over. Time is just too precious.
Time is also the only thing I thought we’d get more of with the tree-change but didn’t. Sourcing and restoring furniture takes up most my time, then working at the inspiring and beautiful Bromley & Co gallery a few days a week, then throw in the occasional restoration for a client or freelance design job and there’s not a lot of free time for, well, anything really. The dust in our house and weeds in our garden are an everyday reminder of how busy life can get, even in the sleepy countryside!
Don’t get me wrong, I love that we’ve established a busy, full life in a new town in such a short time. In fact, every time we stroll around the lake in the morning I feel so lucky to live here (seriously, look at the pic above... how gorgeous is our little lake?!)... and like I've figured out some secret that I just didn't know when I lived in the city. I’m infinitely more happy here than I remember being for a long time. We just need to work on getting some of that illusive thing called “balance”. And we’ll work it out eventually. But in the meantime, I’m just content with the fact that we’ve made a big change for the better.
Well, I’ve had one of those nights. You know the ones where you just wake up at 3am, having only been asleep for maybe 3 or 4 hours, and… that’s it, you’re awake! There’s nothing you can do to get back to sleep, and every noise (usually in my case a certain someone snoring next to me or the random, singular bark of one of our dogs) seems to make the possibility of getting back to sleep seem further and further away.
So, I decide it’s official: I am awake. And no amount of flicking through Instagram or Facebook, or reading whatever blog I’m currently favouring is going to help get me back to sleep. It’s time to get up and be productive. I’m going to start the blog I’ve been mentally toying with for a while now… so here goes!
Lately it seems I’ve been thinking more and more about the clearing out all the excess stuff from our home. I believe some people call it ‘minimalism’. You know, those people who consciously decide to live with less stuff and invariably say it’s made them exponentially happier. It really appeals to me, and in my own way I’ve started to let go of some meaningless stuff in my life, although there’s a long, long way to go. But I do feel a little conflicted. Conflicted because I’m a vintage furniture dealer: I buy and sell cool stuff for a living. And, like all dealers, it starts with a passion for collecting. Collecting, well, stuff.
How can I be an anti-stuff minimalist when my passion and my job is all about stuff? Well I’m not sure if I can, so I’ve been asking myself “what is it about minimalism that appeals to me?” And the answer is kinda complex. Largely because I’m a very visual person. I’ve made my living from my aesthetic my whole life, so naturally aesthetics are very important to me. In my heart, I love beautiful, thoughtfully-created, well-made things. They make me happy. That’s why I collect. It’s also why I know I’ll never be one of those people who lives in a stark white box with just one chair in the corner (as beautiful and appealing as that can be). But still, I’m drawn to this idea of living with nice stuff, but less stuff. Having the stuff I love and have a connection with around me, but not feeling weighed down by the other stuff that just seems to get in the way. It’s about ‘Good Stuff Vs Bad Stuff’. I’ve been calling it ‘living beautifully, not burdened’… so I guess that’s my goal.
I think what first got me interested in living beautifully, not burdened was toying with the idea of leaving my career of over a decade in graphic design and advertising. I had a great job as a Creative Director, working on blue-chip brands, with a comfy salary, about a dozen designers to mentor, and plenty of creative stimulation. But I wasn’t happy. And I hadn’t been for a long time, and it was affecting other areas of my life. So I’d buy some fancy new stuff with my paycheck to make me happy. After all, that’s what good ol’ advertising tells us to do…
Then, seemingly all of a sudden, all that extra stuff I’d been buying just seemed to be in the way. Yes, some of it is really great stuff I love and makes me happy, but a lot just ended up being annoying stuff that made it almost impossible to enjoy good stuff. And it’s everywhere. Like, why does it take me 5 minutes to do a simple task like find ‘the good scissors’ in a drawer? Because, like the rest of the kitchen, it’s crammed with useless stuff that we just keep buying. And why do we even have other scissors stashed around the place if they’re not ‘good’ anyway?
These little hassles all this extra stuff creates only take an extra few minutes to navigate. But multiply that by every time clutter gets in the way every day, every week, every year… and all of a sudden that stuff is chewing up a lot of possibly the most important and luxurious thing we have: our time. It’s burdening us. And that’s not cool.
So that’s when I realised the difference: I need to be more thoughtful with what we have in our home. I only want useful stuff. Stuff that makes me happy because it’s beautiful, or that’s well designed and makes daily rituals better, or is sentimentally important to me. Because the rest is just stuff. And it’s probably – no, it is – getting in the way.
It’s also made me realise why I love great vintage furniture, especially mid-century modern pieces, so much. It’s almost always better made than any comparably priced things you can buy today, and someone has put thought into creating it. The designers thought about how it will enhance someone’s life as they use it – it’s thoughtful stuff. It’s not just beautiful, it’s enduring. It’s not just a cheap imitation of whatever’s in the magazines this month that we’ll all be sick of in 12 months time. So it’s never going to become ‘bad stuff’ to me… and that breaks the constant consumption cycle.
I know I’ll never live a totally minimalist life whilst I’m a collecting beautiful things for our own or other people’s homes. And I’m more than happy with that. But starting today, I’m going to stop and appreciate some of the great stuff we have, and let go of or donate some of the things that are just in the way, burdening our life. And after that, I’m sure I will sleep much, much better.
Ash von Braun
Happy tree-changer and vintage furniture dealer living in Dayesford, Australia.