Tamara Watts' Brunswick Home Is an Ode to the '70s

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans and crafters of all types by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to Melbourne's Brunswick, where homewares maker Tamara Watts’ house is an ode to all things retro.

Tamara Watts’ journey with this Brunswick home began with a compromise. When house hunting some 13 years ago, the homewares designer and founder of Retro Print Revival and her partner searched high and low for a new home, and were eventually approved for two spaces on the same day. It was a coin toss between which they would accept: Watts wanted one space, her partner the other. He won and Watts ended up in Brunswick and, 13 years later, she couldn’t be happier. “Obviously he won,” she recalls, “but now I’m glad he did.”

The space in question was a retro gem in the heart of Melbourne. The aesthetic when they first moved in, Watts jokes, was “very strong peach vibes”. “The carpet, walls and venetian blinds were all peach,” she adds. Though it’s a rental, Watts formed a strong relationship with the landlords and over time has made integral changes to the space. Walls have been painted, wallpaper added, carpet pulled up and original ‘70s curtains hung. “I’ve really been able to put my own touch on the place, and am very fortunate that I’ve been able to do so.”  

Watts’ personal space is full of reclaimed gems. There’s the historic piano, sitting in pride of place for whenever she wants to play a tune. There’s the record player and enviable collection of records housed in a honey-coloured wooden sideboard. And there’s the woven cane bed, with a curved headboard, in Watts’ bedroom.

The bedroom is one of Watts' favourite rooms in the house, filled with atmospheric artwork, wooden furniture and one gorgeous, earth-toned lamp on her bedside table. It matches the Bed Threads sheet set, in Rust and Terracotta, that Watts has on her bed – and it matches the sunrises that she can see through her balcony in the morning. “The balcony faces east,” she explains, “so at sunrise I often open the door and watch the sky turn pink and orange while still laying in bed. Absolute heaven.”

Hi Tamara! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?

I am the owner of the mid-century homewares brand, Retro Print Revival. I design the products, then work alongside local craftsman to have them made in Melbourne. 

How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?

I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of the aesthetic and the tactile, visual beauty existing in a distinctly physical realm. My products are made from lots of different materials: ceramics, fabrics, glass, brass, fibreglass, and my favourite of all, timber. The process of bringing  all these materials together to create a new, singular work that is beautiful both to the eye and to  the touch is deeply satisfying to me.

“Making things” relates to who I am just not for the style, but the ethos too. Building everything  locally for sustainable and ethical reasons is really important to me. I’m a big believer in recycling and reusing, and when I started making lamps from old salvaged lamp bases and fabrics, Retro Print Revival was born. As time went on, the lamp bases became harder to find, so I started making my own here in Melbourne, where I can make sure their carbon footprint is as light as possible. 

Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this  line of work?

Alongside my business, I am also a freelance fashion and homewares stylist. My professional  background is in Visual Merchandising, and I spent several years working in VM and styling at  Country Road before deciding to go into business for myself.

Those years gave me the skills to be  a multi-skilled creative that I apply to running RPR today. I fell into designing lamps and planters – it wasn’t a career I ever thought I would be doing! I’ve always been drawn to light and how it creates the ambience of a space, and how it affects your mood. I have A LOT of lamps in my house; four lamps alone in my lounge room that I use for doing various things and setting different moods. I even use only lamps in the bathroom and kitchen.

Create Tamara's look with the Sage Hand Towel

Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?

I’m constantly taking screen shots and saving images into folders of shapes of objects, images of interiors, colour combinations and textures. I have a vintage fabric wall in my studio of fabric pieces I’ve been collecting for over 15 years, which is an endless wall of pattern and colour inspiration.

I’m lucky enough to have found some really talented makers that create each component of my products. When I come up with a new design, whether its a lamp or planter, I work with my makers on the best way the design can come to life. 

My woodturner uses the lathe to turn a mock up in timber of the new lamp base shape from my drawings. With this mock up, I can see what different size and shape lampshades best suit the lamp base. That mock up lamp then goes to the ceramicist who makes a mould from it. I choose new glazes after lots of tests with my ceramicist, then the lamp casting begins. 

What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?

Investing in photography. Imagery is so important, especially in these times of online marketing and instagram. Having really strong images will set you against the rest and also help with getting more press. 

What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?

That I can't wear every hat in my business and I need to outsource things that take time away from creating. It was challenging to let some things go, but you  need to leave some things to the experts. 

What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?

The countless instances of lovely press in various magazines, newspapers and blogs, both in Australia and internationally. 

Create Tamara's look with Olive, Mineral & Sage in our Build Your Own Bundle

Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to  pursue a similar line of work?

Find one thing and stick to it. Work hard at making that one thing the best you can. Stay true to your own style and don’t follow trends. Create something that’s timeless and will last the decades, not just the now.   

Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?

Thirteen years. Gosh, I really didn't think I’d be in the same place for that amount of time!

How did you initially know this was the space for you?

I didn’t actually want to move into this place at first. My partner at the time and I were house hunting and we got accepted for two houses on the same day. I wanted the other place, he wanted this one.

What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?

I tend to operate on instinct more than anything else: I just find vintage pieces I love and make it work in one of the spaces. I happily spend a lot of my time sifting through flea markets, garage sales, op shops and market place finding treasures that are unique and true to my style.

There's a lot of rich wood and earthy tones throughout my home. I want my interior to feel welcoming, warm and cosy. A place people can come into and feel at home.

Create Tamara's look with Rust & Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle

What are your favourite pieces in the home?

My piano and fire pit, both things I need to ground me. Getting lost on the ivories or sitting by the fire makes me feel like a new woman. 

Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?

Some new artwork. I’m on the lookout. 

Which is your favourite room in the house?

The lounge room, the couch nook especially, it sucks me in to some serious ultra-relaxing moments. The afternoon suns streams in through the windows creating beautiful sunlight flickers across the room, this is my favourite time of day to sit and play the piano. 

What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally? 

The bedroom is a space where it’s important to achieve a calm and restful atmosphere. I do this by keeping my room minimal with only the necessary furniture pieces, some artwork, a few objects, a lush rug and a bedside lamp that creates cosy low ambient light.

Fill your home with pieces you love and plenty of plants. It doesn't have to be a lot of things, but ones that represent you. Take your time in decorating your home - homewares and artwork will come along eventually and you’ll know the right piece when it does.

Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about? 

Designing and creating is my favourite part of running Retro Print Revival. I have a never-ending stream of new product ideas, which are visually planted in my mind and ready to be created.

I’m currently working on a few projects, including a new fabric design with our textile designer. We’re up to the final stage of finalising the colours. Its bold, floral and I love it. It will be available in a few colourways and printed on a beautiful linen.

I’ve started the process of designing a new lamp and planter. The lamp base is sculptural and simple. It will be smaller than the other styles, ideal for a beside lamp and smaller spaces. I’m experimenting with using different clay bodies and raw earthy glazes. The new planter reflects our Raven Planters hexagon shape, but made from another material.

I’m also looking at different lampshade shapes for some of the existing lamp base styles. Plus, I’m exploring making side tables, made from timber and glass.

Create Tamara's look with Rust & Terracotta in our Build Your Own Bundle

For more from Tamara, follow her at @retroprintrevival and @tamarawattsy

Love this home tour? Inside Josh and Jenna Densten's Dream Family Home

Discover more of Australia's most beautiful homes in our series, The Makers.

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