Soon after moving back from New York in 1998, to Sydney, I was encouraged by my dear friend, Donna Hay, to make a book. I had recently purchased a beautiful 1860s 2 storey corner store in Paddington, so I chatted with my brother Chris Court, an outstanding James Beard awarded photographer (yes proud sister) and we decided to shoot some content.

I had shipped back mountains of props collected over my many years of bowerbirding and from 10 years of NYC living. After stripping back the rental years at my new building to its beautiful bare bones, we began, before any contracts were signed, on a journey that I have been on ever since of creating beautiful books. Here are some insights & stories from the 6 books I have created over the years.

I also have had 2 of the most wonderful publishers, that have supported me to create books. They have demanded little information about the content and offered full belief in my ability to deliver. Thank you Kay Scarlett & Brigitta Doyle.

 

ETCETERA: Creating Beautiful Interiors With The Things You Love 2009

Photography: Chris Court

Our mother Dee had recently died, and I wanted to delve into some of the childhood memories that moulded me (& my siblings) into becoming the creative I was. Chris & I photographed the whole book with no words and a very loose format of chapters based on colours – the paint palettes I was creating for my paint range became the bases of each chapter. Although I had a history degree from the University of Sydney under my belt and thousands of words of essays, I hadn’t written any articles or books before so I booked a flight to Byron Bay to immerse myself in memories and stories to share.

I cut the polaroids out and stuck them in a ledger book and wrote the book, in its entirety, in pencil. Although the final draft was somewhat altered from this original, it helped me celebrate & remember the magical world our beautiful mother created for us and how much she encouraged me to see life in all its glorious detail.

Etcetera was sized from the brown paper bag my Mum used to put my lunch in as a child.

 

NOMAD: Bringing Your Travels Home 2011

Photography: Chris Court

Travel Photography: Sibella Court

I had always had a love & knowledge of photography but hadn’t acknowledged it for some time, perhaps I was too busy styling shoots! From a young age my brothers & I did courses & dark room hours at the Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington, and then later built our own darkroom under our house.

In 2006 I went on a tour of the ‘Stans’ with my Mum – Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan. I took my Nikon film camera. On this trip, I took over a thousand photos that I printed out and some of them ended up on p.149 of Etcetera. It was at the suggestion from my oldest friend, Edwina McCann that there was a book in them, an idea of travel as inspiration and how it can inspire your interiors. At this time, I had fortuitously started traveling with US brand, Anthropologie and their heads of creative as a kind of companion & muse. We adventured the world to many beautiful wonderful places that became the chapters in Nomad.

 

THE STYLIST’S GUIDE TO NYC 2011

Photography: Sibella Court

I lived in NYC for 10 years and with the combination of curiosity and being a stylist, I knew the city like the back of my hand. When I first landed there to stay, which was accidental and more an extended stay after one of my styling jobs, I set about pounding the pavement and learning all the supplier, makers & manufacturers by looking at the resources pages of Martha Stewart Living. By doing this I fell in love with the built up, stone, hectic city and was able to scratch away the grit to see all the beauty NYC had to reveal.

I collected the information & every piece of ephemera that makes up the pages of this book, over those 10 years and when I moved home, began collating it. I had my best friend & photographer, James Merrell, lined up to shoot it whilst on one of my visits. However, he got a big advertising job and told me to go and buy myself a Canon G11 and get shooting. I did just that, on bicycles, trains & taxis I visited over 200 places & organised to photograph. Funnily enough, once I returned home, it was revealed that I had unknowingly set the camera to shoot the size of postage stamps, meaning none of them could be used! Another trip was organised, and I had to reshoot every single place.

 

BOWERBIRD: Creating Beautiful Interiors With The Things You Collect 2012

Photography: Chris Court

I have this fascination with Cabinet of Curiosities & museums. Museums before they became museums. I looked around my beautiful store & studio in Paddington, and the object library I had amassed over the decades, and thought it would be a lovely dictionary of sorts. Almost a portrait of me. I was often asked by customers, clients and friends, what they were to do with their stuff. I wanted to answer the question with a book.

I photographed the pages in some of the most beautiful locations, kindly lent to me by friends and even Carriageworks in Sydney was loaned to me for the day!

One of my favourite parts was researching the history of collecting and having an excuse to access the back vaults of museums. I visited curators & unseen objects at the Queensland Museum, Melbourne Museum, Macleay Museum and Sydney Herbarium. I continue to explore the back vaults of museums, libraries and natural history museums.

 

GYPSY: A World of Colour and Interiors 2014

Photography: Chris Court

Travel Photography: Sibella Court

I found out I was pregnant when I was shooting the styled photographs for Gypsy & had begun the 2 and half year journey of my television show, Restoration Australia, at the same time. I knew this would be my last book for some time!

Both Gyspy & Nomad required a huge amount of travel, writing and then I would shoot in locations all over Australia with trucks of props and furniture to create the styled shots. Again, the locations that were loaned to me to photograph all my styled interiors were outstanding, including Cockatoo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the busy waters of Sydney Harbour. The island was generously loaned to me for a week. We barged a truck on to the island and finished the week by camping on its shores.

The cover, like Nomad, is a piece from my Mother’s textile collection.

 

IMAGINARIUM: A Compendium of Inspiration 2018

Photography: Sibella Court, Hugh Stewart, Anson Smart, Chris Court, Steve Baccon & Captain and the Gypsy kid, The Descendants, James Merrell, William Meppem, Andy Lewis

Although I own many coffee table books, I had always aimed to create more of a handbook to instill confidence in my readers, photos they could relate to and think they could do in their own homes. That all changed with IMAGINARIUM | A Compendium for Inspiration. In my studio, we constantly reference my travel photos and with the magazine-like appeal of Instagram & Pinterest I decided that pictures, my true love, would be enough. I worked with one of my favourite co-conspirators, Rebecca Buttrose, who has been in the magazine world for as long as I have. We worked on no chapters, no page numbers, originally no intro or foreword but that changed, and we allowed the rhythm of colour and pagination to tell the story. It was a lovely way to celebrate my 25 years in the industry. To me it is part travel guide, part design reference but inspiration above all else.

 

This World Book Day I encourage you to immerse yourself in a book or two, be it for fun or for learning!

Written by Amber TSI Byron — October 25, 2019

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