In 2011, Ingrid Weir bought the former schoolmaster’s house in the Australian gold rush town of Hill End. The purchase marked the beginning of his love affair with rural life: from long lunches on the terrace with friends to swimming in the picturesque local bathing cove, Wallaby Rocks Crossing. Now the Sydney-based photographer and interior designer has formalized her thoughts on the country’s appeal in her book New campaignreleased in the United States late last year.
“Over the past 10 years my cottage in Hill End has been many things. A reset. A keystone for my interior design business. A creative laboratory. A place to host gatherings of friends, weekend house parties,” Weir writes in New Campaign. “The opportunity to be part of a community. A place to rest and dream.”
New campaign is a combination of personal story, travel guide, interior design advice, photography (all done by Weir herself) and interviews with rural people Weir admires, by artist Tamara Dean at barista Pip from Pulford. Weir also talks about her childhood growing up on film sets as the daughter of Oscar-nominated Australian director Peter Weir –The Truman Show; Dead Poets Society; Master and Commander; Picnic at the hanging rock— and costume and production designer Wendy Stites.
Weir spent decades working in costume and set design herself before moving into interior design eight years ago. Her interior design work is characterized by vintage finds, warm leather, polished woods and an abundance of florals. Notable projects include Charlies, a creative workspace designed for non-profit Australians based in Los Angeles; a pop-up cafe and bar at the iconic Sydney Opera House; and The Monkey Bar, an actors’ clubhouse on the grounds of Fox Studios in Mexico for the casting of Master and Commander. Weir also worked as the art department graphic designer on the film.
penta talks to Weir about how his past shaped his design and asks what exactly is New Rural?
SLOPE: Why did you decide to write New campaign? What was your inspiration?
Ingrid Weier: I had started to notice something happening in the rural areas. A new energy. People are doing things with cafes, homeware stores, inventive Airbnbs. Artists and designers led hybrid lives between town and country. This was surprising because I had always seen big cities as places where new movements were happening.
Is the ‘new rural’ only in Australia or a global movement?
I feel a pulse coming from overseas. In articles on the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. And, definitely, with the pandemic, there has been a big upheaval. People have found out what it really means to work from home.
New campaign was researched and written about during the pandemic – did it help or hinder the process and what you discovered?
That meant there was a lot of dodging and weaving – and in Australia, crossing state borders that were at risk of lockdown. But I think it gave the process extra poignancy. I felt real appreciation sitting around a farmhouse table with Glen and Lisa Rundell in rural Victoria, for example, which I feature in the book.
You traveled across Australia for the book. What was the most inspiring or interesting place you visited and why?
I loved the sapphire coast. There’s something wild and magical about it. Old bridges, lagoons, forests, ancient rock formations. The historic deep-water jetty of [the small seaside town of] Tatras.
What new things have you learned since writing the book?
Especially the power to get in a car and drive out of town. Feel that sense of freedom. There’s something about seeing new things that fills you up, takes you out of the routine.
How has rural life changed in Australia over the years?
There is better coffee!
You grew up on movie sets run by your father Peter Weir, even appearing on some as a child and, as an adult, working on some yourself. How does this inform and influence your work and your style as an interior designer?
Well, really, it was going into fantasy worlds. Dress up as a little Amish girl to Witness. A student at St. Andrews, the place of Dead Poets Society. I loved everything – the sense of play, the creativity and the handcrafted serving table! A lot of times I would go to the rushes at night and see how all the hard work translates into something on the big screen. My mother [Wendy Stites] I did production design and costume design on many of my dad’s movies and spent time going to flea markets and looking at fabrics and props.
You also grew up between America and Australia. How has this affected your career choices and your sense of design?
Australia is an island and we have less design resources than America. For example, there are wonderful, huge costume and prop houses in Los Angeles that we just don’t have here. But it also means you have to be innovative and resourceful and invent something from what you have.
You were inspired to create your own rural haven in Hill End after buying a house there. What drew you to the area, a former gold mining town, and to creating your own rural home?
A strange instinct. It’s hard to describe. And yet, I have heard quite a few stories of people having the same experience with country houses. Maybe it comes down to a connection to the region. Of course, I then had to do a lot of thought and rational planning to underpin that feeling.
What are your top tips for creating the “new rural”?
If you’re considering buying a house in the country, I think David Glen, the wonderful gardener I interviewed for the book, has the best advice. He said “find the area you love and respond to it emotionally. And there will be a place that will come. You have to respond to it on a heart level.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.