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Textile mania at Tango & James HQ

Nicola Smith

I’ve known Lisa Barrett for many years, since working together in commercial furniture at Cite Office Design in Fyshwick, now Zenith Interiors.

I remember Lisa had moved from Perth with her husband and had a background in fashion design. She made all her clothes and came to work in gorgeous original designs that we all envied.

These days, Lisa is best known as the driving force behind Tango & James, a popular shop at the Handmade Markets. Lisa rescues retro chairs and lamps that she recycles by adding new upholstery and new shades to sell along side a range of handmade cushions.

“It all started with handbags and jewellery” Lisa tells us. She had reupholstered a chair simply to use as a prop in her stall. “The chair sold, so I had to make another”. And so began Lisa’s furniture business.

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Lisa’s previous home has been featured in the media, as has this house when they first moved in. We share a joke about checking in on Lisa’s renovation and decoration progression. As Lisa’s business grew, so did the need for more space for the family.

“We really purchased this house to gain more space. It’s old and was quite run down, but the internal layout was perfect. I could finally have a separate space for my office and work room and there were enough bedrooms for us all.” 

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We are invited into Lisa’s living room. There is so much to see… prints cover the walls, bright fabrics on chairs and cushions shout out from all corners of the room. There isn’t a space left untouched. The space is large so Lisa has divided it into two using furniture.

A sense of fun and creativity oozes from every piece of furniture and from every surface covered in pretty pieces. The house is very much a family home with creative family photos making up much of the wall art. There are also framed pictures produced by Lisa’s boys and art works she has collected by other local makers and market stall regulars, as well as a myriad of works she has produced herself. 

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Lisa, Chris and their two boys Dylan and Hugo and two dogs live here. The boys are at school today. Brindy and Jersey, very much part of this family, are inside and follow us from room to room.

We meander into the dining room. The chairs are old Bertoia chairs that Lisa found on an auction website. The pendant light shades were made by Lisa in fabric she designed on Spoonflower

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The kitchen floor is striking in black and white. Lisa spent a week taping and painting the terracotta coloured floor because she simply couldn’t stand it. One day they might renovate the kitchen, but for now the space is refreshed and fun, suiting the personality of this home.

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The first of possibly many renovations has taken place. The bathroom, toilet, ensuite and WIR have been newly refurbished. 

“The main bathroom had a huge ugly corner spa and pedestal basin. There was no floor space and there was absolutely no storage!”

Lisa selected a white subway tile laid in a herringbone pattern for the walls. The striking black and white theme continues into the wet areas and these rooms are welcoming and full of interest. The walls around the vanity have painted timber cladding that softens the room. Hooks and cabinet handles come from Anthopologie

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Bedrooms are across the hall. The boys bedroom robes are painted in black chalkboard paint. One ceiling features bold yellow stripes. The curtains, bed covers and chair upholstery are all made by Lisa.

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Lisa tells us that the boys’ favourite room is the sunroom off the kitchen. This is their play room and a place to hang out, watch TV, play games or even ride their scooters. Through the gate in the garden fence they have direct access to a nature reserve.

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Glancing down the hall from the boys’ bedrooms, we are wooed by a light-filled wardrobe space filled with eye catching bright clothes and shoes. The WIR is a new addition, created by adding a wall inside the main bedroom.

The bedroom, situated in the front corner of the house is now a beautiful private escape, with full windows across the north-facing corner. On the wall behind the bed is a feathered costume that Lisa made for her son.

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It’s difficult to imagine mint and blood-red coloured walls as Lisa describes the original paint. The floor boards are now painted Black Japan and nearly every surface inside has been reworked. 

Lisa and Chris are working their way through this marvellous “renovator’s delight” room by room. Their next project will be repairing and painting the Spanish-style exterior.

Lisa is a maker with a talent for finding treasures and seeing the potential in objects discarded by others. Her favourite local sources include Gumtree and the Green Shed.

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Thank you Lisa for letting us in! We really enjoyed your tales of renovation and home making.

You will find Tango & James at the Handmade Markets this weekend as well as on Etsy and Facebook

Nicola Smith

Nicola Smith is the creative force behind YOLK on the inside, a Canberra business specialising in residential design. She has a passion for authentic design furniture and architectural history and her design mantra is all about reusing, recycling and sourcing local products and services where possible. When she's not helping to make beautiful homes, you'll find her putting her hand up for far too many volunteer projects than her time allows, and spending time with her family. More about the Author

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