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LOTUSLAND: A POTTER’S RETREAT IN THE TROPICS

LOTUSLAND: A POTTER’S RETREAT IN THE TROPICS

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ENTERING THE HOME of artists Michael Pugh and Janey Pugh I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland — suddenly falling into another world so special and unique — a house hidden by tropical rainforest, surrounded by towering black bamboo and a truly amazing array of exotic tropical plants and trees.

The couple came home in 1971 after working and travelling in Europe and “Michael and I wanted to live a different sort of lifestyle,” says Janey. “We were expecting our first child and we wanted to live simply and tread lightly on the earth. We aimed to be as self-sufficient as we could .We grew our own vegetables, raised goats and bartered our goods.”

Living initially in a derelict settler’s cottage on the former banana plantation the couple now laugh about the years spent without electricity, limited fresh water and gaps in the walls big enough for snakes to crawl through.

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“We really worked very hard,” says Janey. “Michael would spend hours just collecting firewood to fuel his kiln so that he could fire his pottery.”

It was in 1988 with the old cottage, set in the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, pretty much eaten out by white ants that the couple and their three young daughters Saffron, Jasmine and Shelley knew the time had come to move on and the process of building a new home and studio began in earnest.

“We decided to move deeper in onto our land and initially we made a model of the house from clay,” she says. They showed it to an engineer who they hoped would help them realise their dreams. “We wanted this house to be an oasis of calm and peace — open to the elements — with the scent of the perfumed garden I would plant, wafting in to our bedrooms on the evening breeze.” The fantasy included surrounding ponds abundant with flowering lotus. They would call the property Lotusland.

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After  the years of experience living in this tropical environment the couple opted to build a house of polished concrete floors and thick rendered walls with minimal timber. It would be set over three levels and crowned with a flat-top roof for watching the stars or catching the warm winter sun.

Recycled building materials were sourced from demolition yards, local building sites or donated by friends. Once the basic structure was completed the couple spent endless hours finishing off the detailing that would ultimately make this house uniquely theirs.

“One of the biggest jobs was hand-making and painting  the hundreds of individual bathroom tiles,” says Janey. “Michael did all of this in –between working as a very busy potter. It was a real labour of love.”

Janey is herself a talented artist and she planned and planted the garden – a huge project.

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“I constantly had to fend off over-enthusiastic brush turkeys and bandicoots who can cause so much damage with their constant digging and burrowing. I actually used to camoflauge new plants, hiding them with old leaves and sticks just to outsmart them.”

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“I constantly had to fend off over-enthusiastic brush turkeys and bandicoots who can cause so much damage with their constant digging and burrowing. I actually used to camoflauge new plants, hiding them with old leaves and sticks just to outsmart them.”

Furnishings are an eclectic mix with pieces picked up from all corners of the globe by the family and friends. Bamboo furniture is from The Philippines,  colourful embroideries from Mexico, rugs from Morocco – all married with a seemingly endless supply of books, shells, sea glass, driftwood and children’s precious artworks. A stone Buddha that literally “fell off the back of a truck” in Java is even more endearing to the family for its broken nose.

Janey and Michael’s daughters now have families of their own and are all pursuing their own creative careers. Saffron now lives in Bali and designs and produces  a children’s clothing range;  Jasmine lives in Melbourne and is a talented painter and Shelley lives close by and is a potter like her father. Family time together is precious and, as Janey explains, at least once a year the whole family reunites for three weeks to catch-up. “There is nothing I enjoy more,” she says. “The house is a hive of activity filled with the chatter of small children, the conversation of adults and we are all together again – a perfect day in Lotusland.”

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KAREN COTTON

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Karen has produced features for many of the world's leading lifestyle publications -- including UK Instyle, UK Homes & Garden, US Interiors, Belle, Inside Out, Madison, Home Beautiful, Country Style, the Australian Womens Weekly and Harper Collins. Karen's styling expertise extends to both editorial features and advertising campaigns. Karen Cotton Stylist

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