John Price – Mediterranean meets Moreton Bay

It took the combined skills of an architect, an engineer, a surveyon geotechnical firm and an irrigation consultant to prepare this site, by Brisbane’s Moreton Bay. But the end result was well worth the difficulties – an impressive mansion designed by architect John Price.

LOOKING AT THIS SOLID AND STATELY house today, it is difficult to imagine the worries and setbacks that beset its construction. Essentially, it was a fight against the elements: record-breaking heavy rainfall during the construction period added to already difficult soil and drainage conditions.

The site is on reclaimed land on the once-swampy edge of Queensland’s Moreton Bay. The ground is a highly toxic, reactive clay which required a sophisticated drainage system and the carefully considered placement of buildings. At ground level an out-of-ground monolithic concrete slab is anchored to the site via an interconnected grid of substantial footings. All the stormwater and surface run-off feeds into five 25,000 litre in-ground water tanks, which in turn form the basis of a comprehensive irrigation system.

The clients asked architect John Price to design a two storey family dwelling, combining classical and Mediterranean styles. Their main requirement was that the focus be on entertaining, with an interconnected network of outdoor living spaces and a separate guest accommodation wing. The clients had also lived in Indonesia for some years, an influence which is discernable in the overall character of the house and its grounds — especially in external details such as the pillars, the wide pagoda-style eaves and pavilions, and the carved timber outdoor furnishings. Inside, timber furniture and oriental-style rugs and accessories create a similar effect, with glittering chandeliers and lofty ceilings lending a sense of old world opulence.

As the site is rather exposed — especially where it backs on to the water — John has placed the main residence at the front, surrounding it with landscaped gardens which will offer good shelter once the trees are established. He has used architectural elements to provide additional weather protection: a series of screen walls, covered walkways and open pavilions links the main house to the guest pavilion and beyond to the pool and boat shed.

The key living and entertaining areas are on the lower level of the main house. These formal and casual spaces enjoy a northern orientation to the front of the property, and a close connection with walled gardens and outdoor dining areas to the south-facing rear of the site. The heart of the entertaining zone is the ‘kermesse’, a formal dining pavilion — open on three sides — which features in Indonesian architecture. This area, marked off by sturdy pillars, connects directly with the pool via a straight path.

The impressive front entrance is sheltered by a large portecochere, the roof of which is tiled to echo the style of the house itself. Flanking this structure, a colonnaded walkway leads, on one side, to the garage and, on the other side, to the glass doors leading through to the bar/billiards area and the study.

This house has been designed to cope with the tropics, as well as the difficult site conditions. The cavity walls feature their own insulating layer of air, sandwiched between the inner and outer skins of brickwork. The second-storey bedroom wing rests on a suspended concrete slab, and the roof frames are trussed with integral extension pieces to support the deep roof overhangs. These wide eaves provide solar, as well as weather, protection. Openings to the east and west have been kept to a minimum, and wool insulation in the ceilings helps keep all the rooms cool.

Now that the house is finished and the clients have moved in (the house-warming party was legendary), memories of those site problems are rapidly fading. The family is now able to enjoy their spacious, secure and comfortable retreat.

Strait-talking style

Looking bass strait squarely in the eye, this holiday house bears tibrent of salt spray, sun, rain, and southwesterlies. Designed by dawson tanner architects, it has been given a robust street facade and look get to weather the elements gracefully.

FOR THIS HOUSE, tucked in behind the scrub-covered sand dunes along Victoria’s rugged Bellarine Peninsula, easy maintenance and durability were always going to be a priority for the owners. The front of the property is skewed towards the southwesterlies blowing in from Bass Strait, and the rear faces the northern sun. You only have to look around at the wind-deformed trees to gauge the ferocity of the conditions!

The clients asked Dawson Tanner Architects to design a four-bedroom holiday house that would be easy to live in, easy to keep clean — and just as easy to lock up and leave for periods at a time. The house serves as a relaxing base for extended holidays: in the distant future it may become the family’s permanent residence.

The clients required a guest wing for when other family members come to stay, an open dining/living area (with separate study/playroom) and an extensive outdoor entertainment area. To meet these requirements, the architect arranged the rooms so that the family bedrooms are on a separate floor to the living areas, and the guest quarters are separated from the communal living spaces. To achieve this, the front entrance and a short hallway leading from it do double duty as a visual and acoustic buffer.

While the street elevation is severe, the V-shaped dwelling is open to the north, with the deck and adjacent family room designed for year round comfort. This north facing aspect is dominated by rows of windows on both levels.

In winter, heating is provided by the sun, which streams through the entire living area, and is aided by the heated concrete slab floor and an internal blockwork wall which acts as a thermal storage wall. In summer, the ground floor windows are shaded and protected by the upper floor, which cantilevers over the living area. The cantilevered curved roof, in turn, shades the upper storey bedroom windows.

The wall of glazing in the main living area opens to axial and curved landscape elements leading out to the boundaries of the property. A long path made from railway sleepers visually continues the horizontal lines of the rough-sawn weathered feature walls. In contrast, the timber deck finishes in a graceful curve creating an enclosure partially embedded in the lawn by way of a shallow retaining wall — a cosy spot for outdoor living.

Facing the street, the house appears to have thrown up an impenetrable shield against the winds coming off the Strait. Here, there are few openings in the severe fortress-like facade of rugged, radially-sawn, stringybark cladding and rendered cement sheeting. Windows are generally high-positioned narrow slots, and the landscaping has been pared down to a restrained arrangement of straight paths, ground cover and gravel. The house has been sited as close as possible to the street to ensure maximum space in the more sheltered rear yard.

With its back and shoulders firmly set against the elements, this dwelling has been shaped to form a cosy enclave for the clients and their young children. Its rugged, no-nonsense exterior will weather with dignity, while the protected north-facing zone will provide a sheltered spot for relaxation and play in all seasons.

Victorian era – a place in the country

GIVEN ITS VENERABLE AGE and picturesque garden setting, any renovation work to this house needed to be sensitive and unobtrusive. After all, the building is part of the architectural heritage of the area — a beautiful rural pocket in central Victoria where vestiges of gold rush splendour still remain.

A magnificent existing courtyard wall, built from local stone, has become the focus for the new wing. Enclosed on three sides, the courtyard extends from the house for quite a distance before meeting with the far wall at the north-facing end of the garden.

The clients decided to make the most of this sunny, sheltered spot by having the new living areas face directly out to the courtyard. In the extension they wanted to make provision for casual living, formal dining, and a bar and billiards area to be shared and enjoyed with their teenaged children and friends. Besides opening out to the pergola-covered courtyard terrace, these living spaces also had to link to the existing kitchen and formal living room.

In his design resolution, architect Michael Rigg has taken into account the heritage flavour of the existing house — both inside and out. The interior had been carefully decorated with details and colours true to the Victorian era, and the exterior still features a number of original period details.

Michael linked the old to the new via a long strip of glazing in the ceiling. Using a vaulted structure, he repeated the lofty ceiling heights and deep cornices seen in the existing rooms to help give the new wing an air of old world solidity. The glazing visually divides the new from the old, creating a sense of there being two separate pavilions. With its walls of glass and multi-paned windows the extension recalls the grand conservatories of England’s nineteenth-century country manor houses.

There’s certainly no shortage of light in these new living spaces, and the glazed ceiling throws additional light back into the existing kitchen and vestibule. Exposed existing brick walls near the bar and dining area contribute to the indoor-outdoor atmosphere.

Michael has arranged the rooms as the clients requested, using an open fireplace to create a partial division between the formal dining area and the billiards table. A sandstone border around the perimeter of the whole area links the interior to the sandstone-paved terrace.

Michael also made clever use of some original structures. An existing outdoor toilet, all brick, has been converted into a commodious cellar accessed via a glass door at the side of the extension, An existing garage has been reroofed, partially rendered and converted into a large office complete with a bay window.

With this extension, the architect has altered the orientation of an older-style house very much for the better. The new wing has brought much comfort and amenity, without diminishing the charm of the original house. And the living spaces are now focussed on the courtyard, and the beautiful old garden sheltered within its stone walls.

Tom Ormonde’s dwelling design: Upstairs downstairs

Designed around a central core – a nine metric high atrium and stair – this compact dwelling achieves a lot on a very small site squeezed in between victorian cottages up a laneway in melbourne’s albert park, the box-like building reveals dynamic internal spaces and fascinating juxtapositions of materials over three levels.

THE ATRIUM AND STAIR FORMING THE CORE of the building have been designed to provide the main visual focus and also so serve as a spatial demarcation between the two upstairs living zones. The moment one steps into the downstairs entrance foyer, the atrium reveals itself to be a dynamic structural element which sets the pace for the rest of the house.

Architect Ian Browne collaborated with client Tom Ormonde to design a dwelling that would play out energetic rhythms of colour, texture, light and space over three levels. Tom initially drew his own rough floor plan, incorporating the bedrooms and bathroom downstairs, open living on the first level and a terrace up on the roof, positioned to take full advantage of sweeping city skyline views. Ian broadly adhered to this concept, and set about designing the house in detail.

While Tom had initially envisaged the stair section as a square, Ian proposed a far more dramatic and angular resolution — a wedge, capped by a raked glass roof, driven boldly between the building’s two wings — which the client accepted with enthusiasm. It meant sacrificing some floor space, but the resulting sense of drama and space was deemed well worth it. In view of the secluded laneway location, the local council had agreed to relax some of the restrictions pertaining to this heritage conservation precinct — an invitation to creativity neither the client nor architect could resist.

With its raw cement-rendered walls, steel construction and steel mesh landings, the stair has been designed to convey an industrial feel. Downstairs, a polished concrete floor — ground hack to create a speckled black and white terrazzo effect — and stainless steel bathroom surfaces continue the industrial theme. This mood evolves into a warmer, more homely environment on the upper floor where bagged brick off-white walls, timber floors, and Victorian ash veneer cabinets combine with contemporary furnishings to create two distinct living areas.

The external finishes assert the building’s status as a local landmark, rising above a cluster of century-old weather board cottages, rear fences and sheds. The combination of raw cement render, bagged brickwork painted off-white, and anodised aluminium cladding is repeated inside, where most of the internal wails have been matched identically to their corresponding exterior wall. The front entrance is emblematic of the building’s dialectic between edgy industrialism and a relaxed Japanese-inspired aesthetic: here, a brushed aluminium door contrasts with the fish pond lapping gently at the edge of the door, flanked by a bridge of timber slats. The presence of water sets the scene for the Zen-like calm which pervades the entire house.

Compact bathroom design

The bathroom is undergoing a rejuvenation process in tune with design trends world wide. Inspirations come from both the natural environment and the industrial arena: timber veneers, sandstone tiles and granite surfaces resonate with brushed aluminium, stainless steel, glass and chrome. Colours are neutral but not insipid. The palette embraces warm browns, cool greys, clay tones and quiet greens and blues. Chrome tapware and glass surfaces are used to sculptural effect, creating dynamic forms and lustrous highlights.
Utilising the under-stair alcove in an inner city renovation, architect Katie Molnar designed a compact bathroom for the restricted space. The bath is inserted directly under the stair, and the vanity is positioned behind. A Graphic Glass opaque wall allows light to flow through from the stair, while retaining privacy. As the building was too close to the boundary for windows, a skylight with timber battens filters light instead. The Carrara marble vanity features Vola taps and a Caroma Laser handbasin.
Light blue and aqua marine Pazotti mosaic floor tiles give off a watery glow in this bathroom by architects Sam Crawford and Emill Fox. The effect is enhanced by natural light filtering onto the glossy white wall tiles and being reflected in the large mirror. The vanity features a 44 mm rotary cut hoop pine marine plywood veneer, with taps from Brodware’s Eko range. The glossy 200 mm x 280 mm ‘Rose White’ wall tiles are from Tilecraft.
A mid Meiji era (circa 1890) kitchen storage chest in cypress and elm has been converted into a vanity in this Melbourne bathroom. On top of the antique a slumped glass basin design by Joseph Licciardi, available through Vetrosystems, is teamed with Fantini ‘Stilo’ tapware from Rogers Seller & Myhill and Taps Design. On the floor, walls, and lining the deep Japanese-style bath are limestone ‘Isernia’ tiles from Domus Ceramics. The bath spout is a Hobspa, from Classic Ceramics, and the pair of shower fittings are Grohe Relaxa Plus, from Rogers Seller & Myhill. The bathroom was designed by David Reade, of Id Entity, and Peter and Danielle Longmore, of Issho.
The System Pool range of hydromassage baths and showers focus on the importance of well being and relaxation. The spa bath shown here features jets which create a therapeutic whirlpool effect, easing muscle tension and improving blood circulation. With its simple rectangular casing and rounded pond-like form, the unit is styled to suit most bathroom settings. Available from Earp Bros Tiles & Bathrooms.
Full length glazing captures the surrounding natural beauty in this bathroom, designed by Perth architect Stephen Hoffman. The Lestro round bench-mounted basin and Neo Hob swivel gooseneck outlet, with Neo single lever tapware, are from Rogers Seller & Myhill, available through Attitude Design Collective.
Extra big tiles are gaining a strong foothold in the world of bathroom design. The tiles shown here are a generous 666 mm x 363 mm. With few visible grouting lines, the effect is to make the room appear larger. To prevent the appearance of screen dots on the tile, special rotative printing technology has been used to increase the definition of the design. A layer of high gloss crystaline glaze has been added to the normal glaze to create a mirror finish. Inquires to Earp Bros Tiles & Bathrooms.

Victorian terrace

The two faces of this inner sydney dwelling are divided by one metre and one century. Victorian lacework to the right, funky hardwood battens and corrugated steel to the left. And behind it all? relaxed contemporary living orchestrated by Lahz Nimmo architects.
IN ITS ORIGINAL CONDITION THIS VICTORIAN terrace had sound front rooms, with unremarkable rear add-ons and a cluster of sheds at the side. The sheds and add-ons were demolished, leaving architects Annabel Lahz and Andrew Nimmo an unusually generous amount of free space in which to transform the dwelling.
Usually, old terraces sit cheek-by-jowl with their identical neighbours. But in this case, the removed sheds left valuable metres on the southern side — and the client responded positively to the architects’ ideas for expanding sideways. The front entrance, still in the original terrace, now leads into a hallway with the original rooms to the right, retained as living rooms on the ground floor and bedrooms upstairs, and the new section to the left.
Standing at the foot of the new stair, the dividing line becomes apparent. The wall to the right of the stair is actually the exterior wall of the original dwelling, painted greyish blue and now a feature in its own right. The stairway itself forms a spine, either side of which the new and old are anchored. It is also a light well: clerestory windows, in the north wall under the skillion roof to the extension, cast light back into the new upper story studio and down the stairs into the kitchen and living area. The bathroom, clad externally in aluminium sheeting, straddles the old and new halves of the building at the top of the stairs.
In the extension — about as far away from the darkened interior of the Victorian era as one can get — the kitchen elements are set flush against the south wall. This leaves plenty of open space for furniture and traffic flow: this is a zone designed as much for passing through as living in. Front and back, the outdoors is embraced via sliding glass doors inside steel-framed timber-clad vertical lift doors. Facing the street, a masonry wall creates a private courtyard and presents an anonymous facade to the street, while at the rear the doors open out to a raised timber deck.
On the upper level, the studio is similarly an essay in light and colour with windows opening at either end, and vertical timber columns creating a series of internal openings parallel with the stair. The light from the clerestory windows illuminates the yellow feature walls opposite.
Both upstairs and downstairs, the front and rear windows are protected by screens of timber battens, softening the intense light coming from the east and west, and providing privacy facing the street.
At the rear, the removal of existing additions left space enough for an enclosed outdoor area designed by landscape architect Kristen Martin. Square pavers form a path to the shed and workspace (the client is a designer and has had this space fitted out with three data outlets and three-phase power) and the rest is predominantly a ground cover of white pebbles softened by bamboo, moss and lilly pillies.
Behind its chalk-and-cheese exterior, this dwelling is all about harmony — between indoors and outdoors, and within living zones. It’s also about creating a liveable environment in a built-up urban area, hidden from the outside world — yet in constant contact with it.

Beach-side house

John Cocking’s clients ran a mini competition before choosing his design for the revamp of their 50s property. His seductively simple concept is essentially a sleeve and over the back of the original house.
A SIMPLE FORM – A BOX – IS THE BASIS of this striking renovation in one of Sydney’s beach-side suburbs. Placed as a ‘sleeve’, which has been slipped over the rear of the existing house, the box has been used to define the new space, frame the views across Manly Beach and frame out the neighbouring buildings. The box form is also evident in the way materials, textures and finishes have been used inside and outside the building.
The three-storey extension integrates well with the existing house and provides the accommodation necessary for a family with changing needs. Architect John Cockings spent a lot of time with his clients considering the internal arrangement of spaces, the inter-relationships between the family members and the needs of their growing children.
The design gives the parents their own private space on the upper level with the living areas and children’s bedrooms located on the street level. Below this, at the level of the garden, are a large playroom and guest accommodation.
A few steps mark the transition from the pre-existing part of the house to the new, while the new stairwell is the central spatial link which allows the differing floor and ceiling levels of the old and new to happily coexist.
The rear and centre sections are light and bright with walls of glazed panels to the south and slot glazing running across the north elevation at the top junction of the ‘sleeve’. More light to the centre of the house also spills in from the stairwell.
The internal spaces are open plan with strong visual connections at each level as well as between levels. This has been aided by the thoughtful design and placement of fixed storage units on each level which define different usage areas without enclosing them.
Colours and textures play an important part in the execution of this project. Materials were chosen to reflect the beach-side location so they are easy care and practical yet with a warmth and softness appropriate to the nurturing environment of the family home. The choice of flooring and treads to the stair, for example, combine the natural warmth of timber with the texture of sisal, while the perforated stainless steel balustrade to the stairs is another textural experience — visually interesting, it softens divisions and links adjoining spaces.
The colour palette was also carefully chosen. It is practical yet playful, with warm earthy colours used for internal feature walls, repeated in the furnishings and again in the colourful panels of the rear elevation.
While this extension is based on a humble box, there is certainly nothing humble about the design of this project or the family’s ongoing enjoyment of their new home.

Architect Stephen Hoffman

A group of friends commissioned perth architect stephen hoffman to design the perfect antidote to hectic city living. The result is a series of linked pavilions that meander among the treetops taking in glorious coastal views. It’s a tonic for body and soul.
AS A SITE FOR A COUNTRY RETREAT it had all the essential elements: a canopy of banksia and peppermint trees, a sweeping 270 degree view of the coast, proximity to Perth, and all the seclusion a laded city dweller could desire.
The clients, a trio of executives looking for a place to share, asked architect Stephen Hoffman for a dwelling that would sit lightly on the natural terrain and relate sensitively with the surrounding vegetation, while making the most of the north easterly views. They required separate sleeping quarters and an accommodating, flexible living space where they could socialise.
Stephen has arranged the house as a series of three separate pavilions, or “pods”, linked via elevated bridges and walkways. “These open bridges, stairs and walkways are to give the owners a chance to interact with the natural bushland, feel the breezes, and occasionally get wet!” says Stephen. “It is good for the soul, an opportunity to break from the artificial environment of the city.”
The curved driveway leads directly to the middle pavilion, comprising the garage with shared living/dining and kitchen space upstairs. Out from the living area, a curved balcony hovers out among the tree canopy and enjoys views of the coast. Off to one side, a walkway rakes one for an amble among the treetops to one of the sleeping pods – two bedrooms (one up, one down) and a store underneath. From the garage, a walkway leads to the other sleeping pod, where two bedrooms (both with sitting areas) are linked via a deck and shared bathroom.
Externally, random rubble limestone walls with timber cladding and Colorbond roofing are the perfect combination for a project that needed to be sensitively related to its environment. The construction method — a steel frame connected to limestone walls and brickwork boxes — enabled Stephen to get the best of the views, and to ensure that the tall, narrow pods were braced against windloads. Tiny windows facing west give the stone exterior an impressive fortress or lighthouse quality, while banks of sun-protected louvres to the east and north provide cross ventilation.
The views are the main visual element in each room, switching focus from distant ocean vistas to close-up bushland scenes as one moves up and down stairs through the three pavilions. Generous room dimensions, especially in the bedrooms, combine with lofty raked or curved ceilings to create a soothingly spacious mood throughout.
In the sleeping quarters the colours are subtle and neutral, the furnishings are contemporary, and accessories are minimal. Tones are bolder and earthier in the living areas, where the dramatic corrugated ceiling, vibrant feature walls and paprika scatter cushions lend a sense of fun to this shared zone.
Affectionately known as the Tree House, this secluded abode has broken away from the restrictive parameters of the suburbs. Here adventurous journeys link a series of individual spaces.

Stephen Coffey house

Situated below the ridge line of a massive dune on stradbroke Island, This house enjoys a rara and beautiful panorama. Architect Stephen Coffey angled the walls and fanned out the rooms to embrace the ocean, the nearby reef and moreton Island.

WITH A GRADIENT OF ONE IN FOUR and a glorious oceanfacing northeasterly aspect, the site really demanded a dwelling that would double as a lookout. And with such a dramatic incline, a raised split level double storey structure — with decks and glass doors along the entire facade — was the most effective solution.

Architect Stephen Coffey conceived the dwelling as two fan shaped towers linked together, where the front tower is embedded in the rear tower and is vertically separated from it by half a level. Stephen used the symmetrical layout to define the private and shared living zones: the sleeping quarters are in the rear tower, and the living spaces are at the front. In their brief, the clients requested the separation of these zones and the provision of demarcated living zones for themselves and adult guests, and their young children and friends. It was also important that the children’s bedrooms be close to the main bedroom.
To achieve this, Stephen used the back tower to arrange the bedrooms in a two-up two-down formation, each room with its own deck facing the ocean. For privacy the building is rotated 10 degrees towards the north, subtly but effectively obscuring the decks from the neighbours’ outlook. The bathrooms and utility spaces form a service core in the centre of the tower.
The front tower is an elevated open plan two storey structure with the children’s space below and the adults’ area above. The glazed front wall of this tower features a track system that allows the glazed doors to be stacked at the sides for maximum views and ventilation. This wall has no structural function in terms of the rigidity of the building: it simply hangs from the portal frame like a curtain. When the wall is pushed aside, the fan shaped decks on each level can be read as an integral part of the living space. On the upper level, an outdoor dining setting becomes an extension of the lounge area — and its proximity to the kitchen ensures the deck works as a convenient outdoor room.
Viewed from the street, the arrangement of towers and staggered levels creates a series of planes that help break down the visual mass of the building. The poles supporting the decks and overhangs form the vertical elements in a grid where the slightly-curved roofs and balustrades comprise the horizontal lines. The exterior colours have been selected in response to the natural surrounds — grey green and subdued blue treated timber — and a cluster of tall gums creates a leafy backdrop that further softens the visual impact of the building itself.
Internally, the wall colours and upholstery are much bolder, recalling the vibrant tones of the tropics. A special feature is the kitchen bench: formed glass on top of a layer of polished coloured glass chips embedded in a highly durable resin compound.
While the obvious point of focus here is the inspirational view, the house itself is an object that invites the gaze. Down at street level there are the converging horizontal and vertical lines of the facade to admire, while from the decks one looks back into an interior that glows with fresh, vital colours. And the clever, versatile layout of rooms — on a steep, difficult site — has ensured the house not only looks the part, but does the job it was designed to do.

Treasure Hunt Collecting Today

The Victorian love of gadgets and bibelots coupled with a passion for all things Scottish fueled the development of tartanware. Made in Scotland, the souvenirs were decorated with Scottish plaids, or clan tartans. These charming 19th-century souvenirs–which range from snuff, boxes to thread winders–are prized by collectors in the United Kingdom and the United States. According to Sir Alasdair T. Munro, a Vermont-based collector and dealer of tartanware, aficionados are drawn to tartanware both for the delightful plaids–more than 60 patterns were used–as well as for the intriguing objects decorated with tartan.

Tartanware first appeared in the early 1800s as a decoration for wooden boxes used to hold snuff, or powdered tobacco. The Scots were particularly adept at creating boxes out of sycamore wood that would keep the snuff dry. One of the finest makers was the firm of John and James Smith, founded in 1810 in Mauchline, near Ayrshire. Over the next century, the Smith brothers came to be the dominant name in tartanware. (Tartanware falls under the umbrella name of Mauchlineware, which includes other small wooden objects decorated in different fashions.)

Like all good marketers, the Smiths wanted to make their product distinctive. Tartans, so classically Scottish, seemed the obvious choice. The first snuff boxes were ornamented with hand-painted tartan. To speed the process, the Smith brothers invented an ingenious machine of multiple inking pens that created tartan patterns on paper. The paper was glued to the wooden object. To hide the inevitable folds (or joins) in the papers, especially when they covered curves, artists would paint over the joins with gold wavy lines. The entire object was then coated with as many as 36 coats of varnish by teams of young boys. Just as the habit of taking snuff began to die out, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, turned Scotland into a popular English holiday destination. In 1850, the couple bought Balmoral Castle and transformed tartans into a fashion statement. Where the royals led, the rest of English society followed.

The Smiths and other firms responded by making tartanware souvenirs for vacationers to bring home. Tartanware branched out to include clever sewing items–spool holders, needle cases, thimble boxes, and thread winders. "Go-to-beds"–match safes that would hold a single match to light the way to bed–also were common.

Many collectors seek out categories such as sewing objects, books, and games. Others search for particular shapes, such as whiskey bottles or eggs; some amass articles related to an activity such as writing, and search for blotters, pens, pen trays, and inkwells. Yet others collect specific tartans, a task made easier by makers who labeled the tartan name on each object. "Many people make a special effort to look for their family tartan," explains Alasdair Munro. Twenty percent of all Americans have Scottish ancestry. Although tartanware objects are generally small and only cost a few shillings when sold in the 1800s, they are no longer inexpensive.

Prices are determined by rarity as well as condition. Some objects are especially unusual, as are some tartans. Napkin rings are probably the most readily found. Patricia Funt, owner of Patricia Funt Antiques in New Canaan, Connecticut, sells tartanware napkin rings for $75; 10 years ago she sold them for $30. "There’s not much tartanware for under $100," she says.

"Needle cases and thimble holders– the next most common tartanware articles–cost between $200 and $400," says Munro. The most unusual tartanware objects claim prices in the thousands of dollars. Funt has a tartanware box filled with many smaller snuff boxes, each covered in a different tartan. "That would cost around $5,000," she says.

With prices like these, fakes are inevitable. True tartanware is hardy and well made. If you detect folds in the tartan paper over the object, it is probably not genuine tartanware. Many fakes are not finished with gold wavy lines. Look also for the toughness and patina that comes from countless coats of varnish.

"Most pieces were so well made and so well finished with varnish, they look new," says Munro. He once found a small, rectangular box with a hinged lid that had 116 tartan game counters (poker chips). "They had been used so much that it took me all day to clean off the finger grease," he recalls. "But not one of them was chipped."

There is no way of knowing the limit and kinds of the tartanware made. A devastating fire in 1933 destroyed the Smiths’ factory and all their records. "With most areas of collecting, there are documents that show exactly how many pieces were made and the different types," says Munro. "Not with tartan. No one knows how much is out there and what it all looks like." For many collectors, it’s a mystery worth pursuing.

Reference books about tartanware include: Tunbridge and Scottish Souvenir Woodware by Edward H. Pinto; London: G. Bell & Sons, 1970; and a softcover publication, Mauchline Ware by John Baker, Princess Risborough, England: Shire Publications, 1985. Both are out-of-print, but copies may be sought through art or hard-to-find book dealers, or through Internet bookfinders such as, or