Fashion designer Arabella Ramsay, her yoga teacher husband Nick Wilson, and their two children Marlowe and Lottie live in a straw bale house near the coast in the town of Jan Juc, Victoria, Australia.
Arabella grew up on a sheep farm in the country and says, “I wanted my daughters to have an upbringing like my own – with open spaces, horse riding and muddy gumboots.” She says the straw-bale house stays cool in the hot Australian summers, processes waste water for irrigation via a worm farm, and runs on solar panels. A vegetable garden and chicken coop help to feed the family.
Arabella studied textile design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and launched her own label at the age of 22. She then founded the label Ryder in 2012 with her friend Penny Brown, but stepped down to focus on being a mum when she had her two children.
She says, “I often feel like we live in a tree house or some magical wooden house from Robinson Crusoe. When we bought it we painted the interior white as it was an ocre colour that was almost too earthy. It is a very unique house with lots recycled wood and organic, earthy type fittings.”
The white walls give a Moroccan riad feel. The concrete seating is topped with ample cushions, many of which Arabella makes herself, some from fabrics she has found on her travels, and some reworked from tea towels and vintage finds. The floor is softened with shag pile carpet, perfect for Marlowe and Lottie’s tiny feet.
Timber pole supports, wooden stair treads and the dining table are all made from recycled wood. The dining table is by Mark Tuckey and made from reclaimed hardwood and silver birch.
Recycling and sustainability also feature in Arabella’s fashion. She is a self-confessed hoarder and loves to rework vintage fabrics and recycled remnants. She also did a small collection of vintage/rehashed boots which she adorned with mirrored embellishments and a few vintage denim reworked pieces that she made from collected vintage Levis. “I also use old upholstery fabric for my clutch bags and cushions.”
Arabella’s family are also creative and her walls showcase her brother’s and father’s work. She says, “My brother is a photographer so we have a lot of his photos on the walls and obviously my Dad’s naïve illustrations, which the girls love … we recently bought a large Michael Muir, which has the most amazing colours.”
Her father is Dougal Ramsay a renowned artist, her brother is photographer Tom Ramsay and her great-great uncle, Hugh Ramsay was a famous Australian painter. “My family are very creative, my Mum sewed, Dad was an illustrator. I was always surrounded by textiles, fashion and art. Dad would have exhibitions and we would travel a lot.” She also used her father’s illustrations as prints for her fashion designs…
Arabella says her love of fashion stems from her mum, Nellie, who had a big impact on her decision to become a designer. “My Mum has always been very passionate and creative. She made a lot of my clothes when I was little, lots of hand smocked dresses and hand knitted jumpers.” And amazingly Marlowe and Lottie are still wearing Arabella’s childhood clothes. “Most of the children’s clothes are mine from when I was little, as my Mum kept them all.”
Arabella says her favourite space in the house is her bedroom. “I love our bedroom. I love our big yellow brass bed that we can all fit in and the view out the window is so calming. We see the tops of all the trees and watch the kookaburras go past. It’s so nice for my husband and I to chat in bed. I could talk to him all night if he’d let me.” She made the quilt from tea towels and fabric swatches.
“In the girls’ bedrooms, I like a colourful and quirky style with hints of my own country upbringing. I like mixing antiques with modern pieces. My Dad’s playful illustrations adorn the walls.”
The beautiful bathroom opens on to the garden…
The family spend a lot of time outdoors, even in winter when they gather round a fire pit. In summer they sit on the large deck and watch films shown from a projector, accompanied by the sounds of koalas, kookaburras and cockatoos!
If you have enjoyed reading this and wish you had a straw bale house of your own then click here. And don’t think you need a plot like Arabella’s. These seven straw bale eco houses have just been built in a very ordinary street in Bristol! And there are plans for more!
To find out more about these Bristol homes and others being built click here.
WORDS: Cand Juskus and Arabella Ramsay
PHOTOS: Derek Swalwell, Marcel Aucar, Elle Deco and Arabella Ramsay