Thursday, February 28, 2008

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber House Hunting in Sydney

Naomi Watts and her actor boyfriend Liev Schreiber are looking for a family holiday home in Australia.

The couple and their 7-month-old son Alexander were spotted viewing property in Sydney on Feb 17.

Rumours are making rounds that the acting couple is looking for a home in Sydney neighbourhoods Bronte, Tamarama and Bondi, so that Watts and Schreiber are able to live close to the actress' best pal Nicole Kidman.

Born in England, Watts was brought up in Sydney.

Simon Turner

Interest in Renno's Rising

SYDNEY'S home owners have shrugged off rising interest rates and started renovating again, with the value of renovations and additions increasing for the first time in 18 months.

But the jump in renovations came amid a slump in overall building late last year, sparking speculation that interest rate rises were starting to bite into economic activity.

The jump in renovations - a 7.9 per cent increase in the three months to December, according to Bureau of Statistics figures released yesterday - breaks a fall in NSW renovations since mid-2006.

Home-buyers tended to renovate soon after they purchased a property, which means most of the work would have been done in buoyant inner-city property markets. But the national chief executive officer of Masters Builders Australia, Wilhelm Harnisch, said the high cost of property in inner-Sydney would prompt more people to start renovations, which would be cheaper than moving house and paying stamp duty.

This means that it is likely that alterations and additions will be a growing feature of the Sydney housing market.

Give Your Interior Walls Texture From Outside

Interior trends are increasingly looking outside for inspiration, and River Rock - a new premium textured special finish paint from Dulux - epitomises the latest direction in effortless, natural style for the home. It draws inspiration from the great outdoors, resulting in a grounded, confident finish.

The beaded texture gives rooms a depth and sensory appeal, and is a lovely link back to nature. River Rock delivers a seamless shift from outdoors into the home, particularly for those who live in urban dwellings and otherwise miss out on that connection with nature.

The palette, comprising 30 directional earthen colours, gives plenty of scope for new moods in the home. European Stone, Spring Sage and Thistle Ridge are some of the softer shades on offer for rooms exuding understated sophistication. Warm, instantly-inviting environments would look to Oyster Farm, Weathered Rock or Charcoal Wash. Those with a penchant for bolder, dynamic colours can turn to Wild Rivers, Mulga Downs or Anglers Dream for striking feature walls.

Dulux knows that leading fashion comes and goes, and with that in mind River Rock has been developed so that walls can take on a new look and feel when it is eventually time for change. It is available nationwide from Bunnings, paint specialists and hardware stores, in 250ml sample pot, 2L, 4L and 10L sizes. RRP starts at $17 per litre.


Simon Turner

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Surfing on the River Thames

Who knew? London has 60,000 surfers, according to the British Surfing Association, a fraction of the roughly half million enthusiasts throughout the UK. Up till now British surfers basically had two options: don wet suits and brave the crowds at Cornwall and other close-to-home spots or hop a flight to catch the waves abroad.

But a GBP 20m outdoor wave machine along the Thames set to open in 2011 could create an urban surfers’ paradise in East London. The attraction is part of a huge planned sports complex called Venture Xtreme that will also include rock and ice climbing walls, mountain bike and skateboard courses, what’s touted as the world’s longest artificial cave system and a vertical wind tunnel that simulates a skydiver’s freefall.

Venture Xtreme’s backers hope it will give active Londoners an exciting alternative to an after-work health club visit, the Guardian noted. An hour’s session in the surf reportedly will cost GBP 30, higher than rates charged by Adrenalina, the smaller wave-machine-in-a-mall-sporting-goods store we profiled earlier this month, but cheaper and more convenient than a day trip to the English coast.

And in fact, Venture Xtreme is the latest among several new and extravagant sports complexes located within major urban areas. Like Dubai’s famed indoor downhill snow-ski slope and a similar attraction called Xanadu now under construction in the New Jersey Meadowlands near New York City, Venture Xtreme will give city dwellers easy access to experiences they would otherwise need to travel for.

Buyer Beware: How to Spot Illegal Building Work

If you are looking at buying a property, Marquette Turner always recommend that you carry out a building inspection before you make any concrete decisions.

Recent national statistics on building faults show that those buyers in South Australia are most likely to discover something to be wary of. Those in New South Wales are statistically the safest, but nonetheless the figures are alarmingly high.

VIC: 33%
QLD: 23%
WA: 24%
NSW : 22%
SA: 43%
TAS: 30%

Often home buyers are not aware of the illegal building and could find themselves in lengthy court proceedings or having to undertake costly repairs in relation to wiring, plumbing or structural repairs. Some of the basic signs of illegal building include:

- Wiring which has not been correctly and neatly arranged.
- Unsympathetic additions using materials which do not blend with the original home.
- The removal of walls inside the home to 'open up' the interior of the home.
- The building of extensions over gully traps.
- Ceilings that are lower than regulation height.
- Toilets positioned directly off areas such as kitchens where food is prepared.
- Lack of adequate ventilation in toilets, laundry, and bathroom areas.
- Staircases which do not conform to regulations.

Many of these problems are either under the floor or in the roof wher many prospective buyers cannot normally access. Therefore, get a detailed inspection before you act.

Simon Turner

Dream Homes: Paul Mercurio of Strictly Ballroom

FOURTEEN years after Strictly Ballroom made women weep and men take up dancing, Paul Mercurio has settled in a bayside suburb with his wife, Andrea, their three children, Elise, 16, Emily, 14, Erin, 10, and two dogs.

Black-and-white photographs of Mercurio in motion for the Sydney Dance Company decorate the lounge walls at Casa Mercurio. When he was dancing for the SDC, Mercurio earned raves from the greats: Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Wife Andrea Toy also danced for the SDC and when they were travelling the world together, they fell in love and eventually married.

"We are nomads," he says. "Very much used to being on the move. We've now been here for more than 4 1/2 years, the longest we've ever lived somewhere and the longest I've lived anywhere since 1981. "No wonder we have the `itchies'! A renovation means we can be here long-term." Asked if he still dances, Paul scoffs: "Are you kidding?"

About the closest he gets to a dance floor these days is judging Channel 7's Dancing With the Stars. Shunning Hollywood for family life in Australia after Strictly Ballroom has led to some career sacrifices and a variety of jobs. In 2001, he spent five months in Vancouver choreographing robots in the Alex Proyas film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, before heading home to sell computers for a few months. Later that year he got the call to play Guy in The Full Monty.

The Mercurios like where they live, but the house does not suit them. Two bedrooms between three girls, two of them teenagers, has proved troublesome. "The girls want a room each. This is what's motivated everything," Mercurio explains. Architect Adam Woledge stepped up to develop a design brief for the couple. Mercurio gave a guided tour of his house recently to Archicentre and to Woledge. The brick house has been renovated at least twice by previous owners, once to the front and once to the back, obscuring its original character.

Woledge thinks the house was probably built in the 1960s. The front gained a huge master-bedroom ensuite and walk-in-robe which Paul and Andrea like. The back of the house has a narrow, exposed brick extension under a steep, timber-lined ceiling giving it a rustic character. Meanwhile, the boxed-in rooms in the middle of the house could use some of the fluidity associated with Paul's dancing.

Other than the need for an extra bedroom, the Mercurios are eager to resolve a pokey laundry set-up and shift the central bathroom to an outer wall with a much-needed window. Out the back, they want to extend the house with a combined kitchen, dining and living area linked to a year-round entertaining area with swimming pool. The wishlist includes a revitalised garage to store Mercurio's motorcycle and an office from which he can work and brew beer.

With motorcycling, brewing is one of his favourite pastimes. For the Mercurio household, the kitchen requires special consideration. "The great thing about the kitchen is it's the hub of life. We spend a lot of time here," Mercurio tells Woledge. "One of us will be cooking and someone will be standing there with a glass of wine chatting or you'll be cooking and the three kids will be chopping up stuff.

"I want an open-plan kitchen with a big bench, stools and a massive pantry." Several weeks later Woledge comes up with a design concept that leaves the existing house untouched through to the lounge and third bedroom. Opposite the third bedroom, Woledge converts the existing kitchen into a large bathroom. On the other side, he designs a laundry with easy outside access. The west wall of the family dining area would be knocked out to make a bigger and better space, creating the open-plan of the Mercurios' dreams under a single pitch skillion roof.

A row of clerestory windows to the north, set high in the wall, would keep the area bathed in natural high light and encourage a natural cross-ventilation path. "The large open living spaces are well suited to the everyday demands of contemporary living and the opposing skillion roof forms provide a good, modern touch," Woledge says. "There is a strong visual link to the rear private open space and also expansive north-facing clerestory glazing to take advantage of natural daylight." The new kitchen is not only open to the dining and living areas, it is more spacious and ideal for parties. There is also an extra-large island bench and extra storage.

"I like this," Mercurio says, pointing to the floor-to-ceiling pantry lining the east wall. By extending the lounge into the back yard, Woledge's plan creates room for a fourth bedroom (much to Emily and Erin's delight). It sits flush on the southside, with its own access. Woledge has made great strides in rezoning the house. A heavy-duty sliding door at the entrance of the kitchen/living room will be handy to muffle any revellers if others are trying to sleep.

Out the back, he turns a liability -- the garage -- into an asset. "The garage occupies much of the rear yard but it is structurally sound and removing it would be somewhat onerous," he says.
"What we have done is incorporate a free-standing pool house and office -- which is linked to the garden -- with the capacity to act as a covered pavilion. "Upstairs, Paul would have his office and on summer days, from the balcony, he could watch the family swim in the kidney-shaped pool."
Story — Archicentre's Shane Moritz

Friday, February 15, 2008

Michael Jackson on the Brink of Losing Neverland

Trying to raise USD23 million in mortgage finance for a home is not easy in today’s credit squeeze environment. This stark reality is facing Michael Jackson who now faces losing his fantasy land home Neverland.

The mortgage broker trying to find fresh financing for Jackson on his $23 million loan held by Fortress Investments is finding it near impossible to find a willing lender. If Neverland is not refinanced, Fortress can foreclose and sell the ranch at auction. Recently, Fortress laid off $300 million in loans to Jackson on HSBC.

The refinancing resulted in Jackson's paying off around $20 million in debt, but it still left him cash-strapped and unable to deal with the Neverland crisis.

Neverland Valley Ranch is a developed property in Santa Barbara County, California, It operated as his private amusement park and home when the facility opened in 1988, but is no longer in operation. The property is over 2,800 acres (11 km²) in size contained among other things, a zoo and a theme park, with a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, zipper, spider, sea dragon, wave swinger, super slide, dragon wagon kiddie roller coaster and bumper cars. It is named after Neverland, the fantastical island in the story of Peter Pan, where children never grow up.

Jackson has not lived at Neverland since 2005. Two weeks after he was acquitted on charges of child molestation and conspiracy, Jackson decamped to Bahrain. Within a year, Neverland was shut down when the pop star fell behind on wages for the remaining employees and did not maintain insurance or workmen’s comp for them.

Simon Turner

David Beckham's Spectacular Brazilian Venture

One of the most famous soccer stars on the planet David Beckham has announced plans of a football academy in Natal Brazil. He describes the new facility as one of the best in the world. During his visit he explains that Natal is a place of tremoundous excitement owing to new hotels and property in the area. The husband of posh spice also feels that Natal Brazil is an area that will attract celebrities and other football stars.

David Beckham has announced a scholarship program available to local Brazilian children in order to actively reach-out to schools within the region. He hopes that the children will benefit from on-site coaching and access to the top class facilities, much in the same way as his Academies in London and Los Angeles.Rubens Barrichello, Brazilian F1 champion, is also involved in the development, as well as Norwegian multi-millionaire businessman Torben Frantzen, brother of Findus founder Geir Frantzen.

Natal, the capital of the Brazilian state Rio Grande do Norte, is about 2600 km north of Sao Paulo along the northeast coast of the country. This city of 710,000 residents is an increasingly popular target for international investors and real estate developers. The spectacular location along the ocean and miles of undeveloped beaches north and south of the city make it ideal for those who are looking to get into an area that is up and coming.

Natal and the areas surrounding it is currently the target for over a billion dollars (US) in development. There are at least 10 golf courses planned or under construction and dozens of new housing, apartment and resort developments are also under construction. The city and surrounding communities are a major tourist destination for domestic travellers in Brazil. The area is being marketed as an international tourist destination as well, and the city is becoming increasingly popular among foreigners.

Simon Turner

The Hotbeam: Solar Powered, Glowing BRICKS!

The SolarBrick from Hotbeam is a self-contained solar powered light designed for traffic and decorative uses. This device is waterproof, easy to install and can be driven over by vehicles. The SolarBrick is available in 6 bright colours. It comes in 2 standard sizes, 200x200x60mm and 200x100x60mm.

Rechargeable batteries currently used in conventional solar devices need battery replacement every 2-3 years at best. They also have a narrow working temperature range. The SolarBrick uses a ultracapacitor called the EnergyCache to store its charge. The EnergyCache enables the SolarBrick to be used in any environment without maintenance for more than 10 years and has a wide operating temperature range of -40?~75?C.

During the day, solar energy is converted to electricity through the solar cells and stored in the ultracapacitor. At night, the inviting soft glow from the light emitting diode (LED) is automatically turned on. Full charge takes 1 hour under direct sunlight and 6-8 hours under shade. The light stays "on" for more than 12 hours from a fully charged ultracapacitor.

Public Space: Walkways, driveways, pool-side, decks, landscaping, lawns
Commercial: Plazas, shopping malls, showrooms, shop windows
Traffic: Roadsides, airports, pedestrian crossings, sidewalks, median strips
Architectural: Building entrances, corporate signage
The SolarBrick can also be installed vertically on the sides of buildings or structures.

Stays illuminated for more than 12 hours
Quick recharge. 1 hour charge under sunlight, 6-8 hours under cloud or rain
No maintenance. No expensive wiring labour required
Lasts more than 10 years
Automatic on/off at ambient illuminance levels of 150~300 LuxHot
Available in 6 attractive colours: amber, blue, green, orange, red and white
Super-strong polycarbonate housing with high compressive strength
Tolerates environmental extremes. Works in temperature range of -40? to 75?C
Waterproof, UV protected and scratch resistant
Non-contaminating materials

Find out more from

Simon Turner

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Celebrity Mansions: A Bird's Eye View

Take a tour aboard this chopper and view the mansions of such stars as John Travolta, Shaq O'Neill, Tiger Woods and more.

The Hidden Spells of Smells

Aromas affect us on a subliminal level - which is one reason we often underestimate their power. But thanks to a mix of ancient knowledge, recent research and new technology, change is in the air. Smell after all has a mysterious ability to plug straight into our memories and emotions - and their discoveries look set to shape our lives in subtle but significant ways.

What makes smell so powerful? Humans can recognise close to 10,000 aromas, and we breathe about 30,000 times a day. Smells are processed by the limbic system, an old area of the brain relating to memory and emotion. While responses differ across individuals, cultures, genders and age groups, certain scents can spark vivid feelings and recollections

There are signs that we're rediscovering our sense of smell. Supermarket aisles are packed with a growing array of air fresheners, home deodorisers and scent dispensers. US company Demeter sells a range of home fragrances, including Wet Garden, Never Lonely, Between the Sheets and the Christmas-themed Egg Nogg.
The ancient art of aromatherapy is also enjoying a boom, with essential oils being used in millions of homes. The typical blend names - relax, energise, focus, harmony, romance - suggest the moods we want to conjure up in our private realms. But it's the retail world that's leading the pack in the more sophisticated uses of aroma. Smell is a powerful hidden persuader, and many businesses are using "ambient scenting" to influence our shopping behaviour.

Recent studies show the careful use of scent, combined with lighting, music and store layout, can affect the way we shop. Pleasant smells shorten our perception of time, create positive associations, cheer up staff, and make us likely to browse longer, impulse buy, spend more and visit again.

While these aromatic discoveries are new, the basic principles are not. "Fragrance has been used for thousands of years to excite, arouse and tantalise," says Mark Gordon, marketing manager of fragrance specialist Ecomist. "Bakers in the 1960s would place fans near the ovens to push the smell out into the street and entice people in. We've just advanced technologically on that idea
The company's in-house Parisian perfumer, Yves Dombrowsky, has developed 180 fragrances which can be diffused through homes or shops with a small computerised dispenser. Gordon likens it to a high-tech offshoot of aromatherapy, minus the burning candles. Two of Ecomist's niche scents - the floral/spice mix Ronan, and the seaspray/citrus blend Ozone - have proved popular in display homes; surf shops go for the Mango blend, while cafes prefer Blueberry Muffin.

Australia has been relatively slow on the uptake, but aroma marketing is gaining ground. Morrison has worked with fashion chain Supre to study the combined effects of music and scent. The conclusion? For Supre's target market (teens and young women), a mix of vanilla-scented air and loud dance music does wonders at the till.

Globally, the profit power of smell has infiltrated the realms of gambling, education, pop culture, fashion, interior design and the internet. When a Las Vegas casino pumped a floral scent into its slot machine area, gamblers spent 45% more. A US children's museum recently ordered a "dinosaur dung" aroma, and researchers are exploring the use of scent in schools and hospitals to improve learning, treat phobias and speed recovery. Singer Shania Twain has released a daffodil-scented "fragrance disk", and you can buy alarm clocks that emit a coffee scent, curtain fabrics embedded with tiny perfume capsules, and a gadget that lets you sniff products online, or concoct and email your own scents.

Top 10 scents to make you ...

- Feel safe, secure and nostalgic talcum powder
- Be more alert peppermint, citrus
- Relax lavender, vanilla, chamomile
- Perceive a room as smaller barbecue smoke
- Perceive a room as bigger apple, cucumber
- Buy expensive furniture leather, cedar
- Buy a home fresh baking
- Browse longer and spend more tailored floral/citrus scents
- Get road rage unpleasant smells rotting rubbish, air pollution
- Become sexually aroused a pumpkin pie/lavender blend (men); the sweat of nursing mothers (women)

Note: Individual memory plays a role. If you've had a traumatic experience involving vanilla, you probably won't find that smell pleasant.

Est 9819 0726; Douglas and Hope 9417 0662; Husk 9827 2700; Kleins 9416 1221; Manon bis 9521 1866; Peony 9882 0662

Robot Servant's Will Soon Be A Reality

Robot servants for the home will become a reality within ten years.

Technology unveiled at the world's biggest gathering of industry leaders heralds the arrival of 'house-bots'. Sophisticated new robots have been developed essentially as toys are opening the door to wider acceptance of the technology.

Among the latest examples unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show(CES) in Las Vegas were the Spykee series from Wow wee. However, even more sophisticated worker robots are in the pipeline, such as the iRobiQ, from South Korea.

The robots - like iRobiQ - which are linked into the home's own technology and broadband internet service, will effectively become the technology hubs of the home.

Voice commands to the robot would be translated into wireless signals to turn on the washing machine, change the TV channel, dim the lights or change the music.

iRobiQ can also be programmed to wake you up in the morning with a song, tour the house during the night to provide security and even order a second low-grade robot to vacuum the floor.

In South Korea she is even programmed to help teach children English, both through the spoken word and letters which appear on a screen on her chest.