The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
House of Misfits – Veerle Wenes. Irreverent and pleasing, the painted intervention cascades down the wall to contain the setting by Muller Van Severen.

The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace

Elisa Ossino – Tranquil Apartment. The moodiness of the bedroom, perfect for sleeping, provides a contrast to the rest of the apartment.

The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
Robert Baciocchi – House of Curiosities. The precision of the Arredoluce Diabolo lamp, circa 1950, is framed against the pleasingly distressed door.


I suppose you can call me a Karen McCartney groupie. I am genuinely in awe (and a little bit in love) with this talented, passionate woman whose work ethic has cemented her as one of most respected experts and authors in the world of interiors, architecture and design. Karen was editor of marie claire lifestyle and launch editor of Inside Out, which she ran for ten years. In tandem with her magazine work, she has written several architecture books – Iconic Australian Houses, Superhouse and most recently Perfect Imperfect, amongst a whole bunch of other achievements.

It’s unfair to put this sort of pressure on anyone, but I am confident to declare that everything Karen touches, turns to gold. So it’s entirely apt that her latest, truly magnificent book should have ‘Alchemy’ in its title.

The Alchemy of Things: Interiors Shaped by Curious Minds details the interior design and inimitable style of 18 fascinating homes (9 international and 9 Australian), with each transcending conventional notions of collection and display. A mix of artists, interior designers, architects, collectors, gallerists, stylists, furniture designers and vintage retailers open the doors to their own homes – many for the first time. To create a consistent look and overall vision for the book, photographer Michael Wee and stylist David Harrison embarked on a month-long odyssey from London to Paris, The Hague, Antwerp, Ghent, Toulouse, Arezzo and Milan.

Together with Michael and David, Karen’s insight, compassion and knowledge of the subject have manifested into a tome that celebrates confidence, individuality and design conviction evident with every page turn. The combination of exquisitely chosen subjects, retina-busting imagery and superbly written words make for the sort of book that’s truly rare these days. In other words, you seriously need to get yourself a copy.

Read on for a little Q&A with Karen about the making of this project.

The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney, Published by Murdoch Books is out now (RRP $59.99).


The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
Dom Cameron – House of Tableaux. A refined industrial wall unit by Vittorio Introini provides the backdrop to a voluptuous Soriana sofa set by Afra and Tonia Scarpa for B&B Italia. The Roberto Gabetti and Aimaro Isola rug, Tapileo, is from the Tapizoo series.

The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
House of Misfits – Veerle Wenes. Moving from the public to the private space, a new level of intimacy is achieved. Left, glass crutches in the corner are by Lieve Van Stappen.


+ Can you tell us about how the idea for this book come about? And how long did it take from inception to completion?

This book was a slow burn – about three years from conception to completion. As an idea, it evolved out of a previous book called Perfect Imperfect, also published by Murdoch Books, and the level of extraordinary creativity in some of the homes featured there – people such as Martyn Thompson and Nectar Efkarpidis. I felt that I wanted to uncover more people with this intense level of interior energy and base a book around their very diverse aesthetics.

+ What do you love the most about this project?

For me, the real joy is when you see how everything comes together – mainly through working with great people at every stage of the process. As an ex-magazine editor that desire for the overview never leaves you and so with David Harrison styling and art directing on the shoots, Michael Wee photographing, Evi-O designing and Leta Keens editing I had this group of talent to bring the idea to life.


The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
Robert Baciocchi – House of Curiosities. The Castiglioni Taraxacum Cocoon pendant light sits quietly among the baskets, not making any overt design statement.


+ What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this book to life?

Finding the right people to feature in the book was tricky – because I wanted the very kind of people who have no interest in publicity – and so it became about recommendations through friends, and friends of friends. In Europe it was even harder because we didn’t have the contacts. After identifying who would be great to feature, we were able to spark their interest by sending them the previous book Perfect Imperfect as an example of the aesthetic standard we would work towards.

+ What did you learn during the making of Alchemy? And would you have done anything differently?

I am always touched by the generosity of people who open their homes and share their world view through the prism of interiors. I learnt different things from different people. The way artist Henk and fashion designer Hubert don’t feel the beauty of an object is compromised by being chipped, or heavily worn, the way Don Cameron can place a Gothic Christ on a 1970s Roger Capron ceramic coffee table and it not feel at all questionable and architect Timothy Hill can create new possibilities with a complete interior world inside an 1811 house in Hobart, resplendent with carpet remnants stitched together. The freedom the owners of the houses have to collect, re-shape, invent and play is evident at every turn of the page.


The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
Clemence & Didier Krzentowski – Art House. A Sarfatti light is suspended above a sitting area which includes such pieces as an editioned sofa by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, a vintage Florence Knoll. Sofa and a Marc Newson cocktail table made by Galerie kreo.

The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
Timothy Hall & Michael Bugelli – House of Invention. Elements of a make-do-and-mend spirit can be seen in the carpet, stitched together from remnants. The artwork is by Heather B Swann, and Trophy, a bronze, by Michael Zavros.


+ Any interesting facts you could share with us about this project?

The journey of making a book, as with any creative project, has its ups and downs. The scheduled shoot of a London apartment, belonging to a talented but elusive interior designer, was flooded while the Michael and David were in the air over the Indian Ocean, and had to be cancelled. After some frantic emails, it was replaced by one of the most wonderful chapters in the book. In another instance, an email snafu took us to an unscheduled destination – the Parisian apartment of Michael Coorengel and Jean Pierre Calvgrac – and while it was not what we were expecting, its rare design pedigree and the welcome of its owners give it a special place in this book. That sliding doors moment when an accident becomes opportunity is always a cause for celebration.

+ What do you hope for readers to take away from this book?

Not everyone will like every chapter – but I think there is a level of creativity that is exciting even when challenging – and while sounding obvious – to read the words is important. Everyone featured has such a deep understanding of themselves and why they live the way they do. What you can take from it is the utter freedom to be yourself, live how you want and surround yourself with things that matter to you – that is when the alchemy happens.


The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney | Yellowtrace
Images and text from The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney, Murdoch Books, RRP $59.99. Photography by Michael Wee & Styling by David Harrison.


[Images courtesy of Murdoch Books and Karen McCartney. Photography by Michael Wee. Styling by David Harrison.]


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

Leave a Reply