This piece is part of an IDEA retrospective series of interviews and articles conducted and written by local CATC interior design students, which will feature in the coming weeks in the lead up to the IDEA 2014 event and anticipated release of the book Life Spaces: Live Work Connect.
For a 400-page limited edition hardback book of this year’s IDEA winners, order your copy of Life Spaces: Live Work Connect.
No other designer has influenced the discourse of Australian design quite like Janne Faulkner. She is internationally recognised as one of Australia’s most talented and influential entrepreneurs, responsible for leading interior design and advising product manufactures in Australia. Many of the items found in Australian homes are a result of Janne Faulkner’s design influence; the Colourbond steel roofing on Australian homes, the colour of telephones and kitchen bench tops – even the patterns on tissue toilet paper. In 1967, when interior design professionals were practically non-existent, Faulkner was one of the first to open an interior design practice in Australia, Nexus Designs.
Nexus Designs, based in Melbourne, is renowned as one of Australia’s leading contemporary art and interior design practices that encourages emerging Australian artists and designers. Nexus offers graphic design, residential, commercial and public design services to its array of clients.
Faulkner’s monumental portfolio includes setting the design standard for Country Road (in 1980), acting as design consultant to Uluru’s Yalara Resort (in 1983), Admiralty House in Sydney and Government House, Canberra (both 1983). Janne is best known for her timeless, natural style with an emphasis on colour and integrating the aesthetic beauty of the Australian landscape into interiors around Australia and the world.
Faulkner’s flourishing career has spanned for over half a century, extending her accomplishments to author of Inside: Australian Interiors, Using Australian Colour and The Making of a House (with Harley Anstee) and Living (with Harley Anstee and Sonia Simpfendorfer). Each offers ideas on interior design and decoration, particularly in designing with simplicity and elegance while encompassing the essence of the Australian landscape.
Faulkner has served on the Board of Heidi MOMA (Heidi Museum of Modern Art) as well as on the Arts Board of the Australian Council. Amongst her achievements, she was appointed a member of the Order of Australia for services to Design and the Arts in 1998. Her involvement in the design community, including maintaining an active role with Nexus Designs, continues to create a positive impact on the Australian design industry. Janne’s drive for creating unique and authentic design continues to influence countless designers and the homes of Australians.
Having been awarded the prestigious IDEA Gold Medal in 2011 for a lifetime contribution to Australian design, what in your career are you most proud of?
I am most proud of our championing of the Australian landscape and the influence it has had on our designs, our product work and our books.
Working alongside some of Australia’s most gifted designers / architects in your career must have been an experience. Tell me about the most influential people that you are most thankful for having worked with throughout your career.
I guess number one would always be David Yencken, (now Professor David Yencken AO) without whose mentoring I would have had no career. The two architects who both fostered my career and went out on a limb for a very inexperienced person were Daryl Jackson who gave me my first commercial project (The State Bank in Baxter), and Philip Cox who expressed great faith in appointing Nexus Designs to by far its biggest job in the interiors of Yulara Resort – a milestone in Australian design. This was among the first in the country to promote Aboriginal art works.
In the mid 60s, you moved from Tasmania to Melbourne. What kind of reaction did you receive from people / employers as a female in this era?
I was extremely lucky having always had an interest in design through my family – (my father being headmaster of an innovative farm school) meeting with David Yencken who was then starting the very new concept of Merchant Builders.
David asked me to join the group who consisted of architects, landscapers and graphic designers all committed to creating a unique Australian product. I had enormous support from this group who remain close personal friends today, my husband was very supportive, however friends who were in those days not used to working women found it more difficult.
Your first venture into commercial design resulted in you working alongside Daryl Jackson (Founder of Jackson Architecture) on the State Bank in Baxter. What was it like working with Daryl and what do you think he remembers about working with you?
My husband and I were close personal friends of Daryl and his wife Kay, having met spending weekends on adjoining properties at Red Hill. Daryl was immediately supportive of our wish to base the interiors on the surrounding landscape (where there has always been a strong nexus) and worked very closely with us to blend the architecture with the interiors. We then continued to work continuously with Daryl (until his work developed to the stage where it was necessary to start his own interiors department.) What I remember most was the incredible enjoyment we both had, although we worked incredibly hard, we had a lot of fun.
From all your experience, what attributes make a good interior designer?
First and foremost, education. A Nexus Designer must have a sound background in the arts, an interest in music, painting and literature, history of architecture and present architecture.
We expect them to be lateral thinkers and to learn throughout their employment to respect the philosophy of the company and to develop their skills continuously. A good interior designer has a strong sense of their own design aesthetic and should not be continually influenced by fashion trends.
Technology not only helps architects and designers communicate, it influences workplaces and sets the standards of required skill levels for applicants in the modern workplace. What is your view on the technology used in today’s design workplace?
For the very personal, tailored work of our studio we make sure that technology does not hijack the design process, but it is used as a powerful tool for the designers. There is still a place for thinking on paper and not just on screen. Technology does not make us better designers, but it certainly allows great freedom and the ability to work all over the world.
What drove you to becoming an author?
In our practice we are constantly being asked of the design process so it seemed a logical development. With the success of Inside : Australian Interiors it seemed logical to me to show how our interiors have a strong affinity with art, literature and the landscape.
It also was an opportunity for my partner Harley Anstee to develop colour palettes in conjunction with the interiors for use by architects, designers, students etc. This has been our most successful publication and is now in its third edition. The other books confirm the original theme.
Having witnessed the design / architectural trends in Australia for over the past half of a century, what do you believe are the main influences in contemporary design, particularly in Melbourne today?
There is a huge diversity of influences in design today so it is not easy to speculate about other designers motivations.
For us, our work has always been a direct response to the natural environment and the context of the project. Contemporary Australian art, literature, music and architecture all inform our design response.
Did you ever feel an urge to live and expand your portfolio overseas?
We have worked on many overseas projects including the Embassy of Saudi Arabia and the Consul Generals residence Kobe, Japan. Most recently we designed a loft in TriBeCa, NYC for which we have won two ADIA awards including Best International Design.
We will continue to expand the practice with an emphasis on Asia and China. Having drawn interest from Chinese design media we are responding to enquiries which will inevitably draw us to China in the near future.
Having spent many holidays in Italy, we purchased a small historic property near Siena and renovated it from our office. I love living in Australia but thoroughly enjoy travelling to as many parts of the world as possible. Both our grown children are also seasoned travellers.
This year Nexus Designs won the International Designer Award for a penthouse in New York, what was the client brief for this project? And what is your personal opinion on the finished design?
This was a dream project. We made a quintessentially NYC space feel like home for two expats, creating an interior that is at once sophisticated and welcoming.
They are delighted with the result which works equally well for just two or for eighty people when it is in party mode. Their collection of contemporary Australian art was pivotal to the project.
What is your advice for Australian architects / designers who are dedicated to pushing the design envelope and are looking for innovative ways to catch prospective employers’ / clients’ attention?
When we are assessing a potential collaborator or employee we look at their attitude and likability as well as their technical abilities. Brilliant design skills and eye catching work are great starting points, but are not enough to make a project or studio successful.
Written by CATC student Samantha Miller.
For a detailed look at the life of Janne Faulkner, read Toby Horrocks’ article here.