bought the old schoolmaster’s house in the Australian gold rush-era town Hill End. The purchase marked the beginning of her love affair with rural life: from long lunches on the terrace with friends to dips at the picturesque local swimming creek, Wallaby Rocks Crossing. Now the Sydney-based photographer and interior designer has formalized her thoughts on the pull of the countryside in her book New Rural, published in the U.S. 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 lab. A place to host gatherings of friends, weekend house parties,” writes Weir in New Rural. “The opportunity to become part of a community. A place to rest and dream.”
New Rural is a combination of personal history, travel guide, interior design tips, photography (all done by Weir herself), and interviews with rural folk Weir admires, from artist
Pip de Pulford.
Weir also touches on her childhood growing up on film sets as the daughter of Oscar-nominated Australian director
—The Truman Show; Dead Poets Society; Master and Commander; Picnic at Hanging Rock— and costume and production designer
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 made for the Los Angeles-based non-profit Australians in Film; a pop-up café and bar at the iconic Sydney Opera House; and The Monkey Bar, an actor’s clubhouse on the Fox Studios lot in Mexico for the cast of Master and Commander. Weir also worked as the Art Department graphic designer on the movie.
Penta talks to Weir about how her past has shaped her design and asks what, exactly, is the new rural?
PENTA: Why did you decide to write New Rural? What was your inspiration?
Ingrid Weir: I’d started noticing something going on in rural areas. A new energy. People doing things with cafes, homewares stores, inventive Airbnb’s. Artists and designers living lives that were a hybrid of city and country. It was surprising as I’d always looked to major cities as places where new movements were happening.
Is the “new rural” just in Australia or a global movement?
I sense a pulse coming from overseas. In articles on the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. And, definitely, with the pandemic, there has been a big shake out. People have discovered what it really means to work from home.
New Rural was researched and written during the pandemic—did that help or hinder the process and what you discovered?
It meant there was lots of ducking and weaving—and in Australia, getting across state borders that were in danger of slamming shut. But I think that it gave the process an added poignancy. I felt a real appreciation sitting around a farmhouse table with Glen and
in rural Victoria, for example, who 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 is something rugged and magical about it. The old bridges, lagoons, forests, ancient rock formations. The historic deep-water jetty at [the small seaside town of] Tathra.
What have you learnt that is new since writing the book?
Mostly the power of just getting in a car and heading out of the city. Feeling that sense of freedom. There’s something about seeing new things that fills you up, shakes you out of routines.
How has rural life changed in Australia over the years?
There is better coffee!
You grew up on movie sets directed by your father Peter Weir—even appearing in some as a child and, as an adult, working on some yourself. How does that inform and influence your work and style as an interior designer?
Well, really it was going into make believe worlds. Dressing up as a little Amish girl for Witness. A student at St. Andrews, the location for Dead Poets Society. I loved it all—the sense of play, creativity, and the craft service table! Often, I would go to the rushes at night and see how all the work translated to something on the big screen. My mother [Wendy Stites] did production design and costume design on many of my father’s films and I would spend time going to flea markets and examining fabric and props.
You also grew up between America and Australia—how has that affected your career choices and design sense?
Australia is an island and we have less in terms of design resources than America. For example, there are wonderful and immense costume and prop houses in Los Angeles that we just don’t have here. But that also means you have to be innovative and resourceful and make something up out of what you do have.
You were inspired to create your own rural haven in Hill End after buying a house there. What attracted you to the area, a former gold mining town, and to creating a rural home of your own?
A strange instinct. It’s hard to describe it. And yet I have heard quite a few stories of people having the same experience with country homes. Maybe it comes down to a connection to the area. Of course, I then had to do a lot of thinking and rational planning to back that feeling up.
What are your top tips for creating the “new rural”?
If you are considering buying a place in the country, I think
the wonderful gardener I interviewed for the book, has the best advice. He said “find the area you like and respond to it emotionally. And there will be a place that will come up. You have to respond to it on a heart level.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.