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In 2000, half-way through the Sydney Olympics, I left Australia to travel through Italy and spend a few years in London. As a young(ish) Sydney designer I was consumed with the stark white Sydney style back then – you know the one – pure, clean and rational. Residential design was about carefully detailed elegance, everything had to line up and we didn’t use much colour. And you weren’t worth your salt as a designer if you didn’t tip your hat to the legends and select a few furniture classics; perhaps a Saarinen table, or a Barcelona lounge – or if the budget was a little tight, perhaps an Eames plastic side chair. No matter where you looked, we were vigorously pursuing rational, resolved, open interiors. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
But now, ten years on, it feels as though we have thankfully relaxed a little. Residential design appears to have softened. It’s become more textured, more eclectic, more varied and even more natural. It feels less about conforming to pure design principles of the past and more about embracing all that is current, and indeed new, right now. You could put that down to a number of reasons, but the big one would probably be way the internet has affected our industry. The extraordinary impact that the internet has played on design over the past 10 years cannot be underestimated. This explosion in communication has given us access to virtually anything and everything – fast. New designers, new products, new materials and new technologies are all within reach now. On top of that, we have avenues like the various design blogs that let like-minded design nuts, like me, share fresh ideas and images with the rest of the world. It’s amazing.
Sustainability may also have played a part in the way we loosened up this decade. Sustainability became mainstream over the past 10 years and with its noble principles, it also brings an aesthetic shift. A certain rawness and a general embracing of the way materials age, has resulted in even the most refined residential interiors having shots of recycled timber, patina’d copper or weathered natural stone. Local furniture manufacturers like Mark Tuckey in Sydney have developed a distinctly Australian-looking aesthetic with recycled materials. Ironically, the sustainable look became so desirable that battered old steel bistro chairs with the paint falling off became more valuable than the same chair new.
So what have been some real highlights in residential design over the past decade? Well, there’s plenty to think about: Patricia Urquiola’s inventiveness for one, Christian Liagre’s ability to make elegance seem so damn easy for another, Tom Dixon’s ability to capture simplicity – so well that it makes you wonder why you never thought of it. These have all been brilliant additions to the residential design world in the past 10 years, and are merely three of so many established names.
We recognise the international brands for what they are, but we also celebrate our local talent, more so than we’ve tended to in the past. Since the turn of the millennium we have seen some wonderful Australian residential interior design: Sue Carr’s perfectly refined spaces, BKH’s mix of cool modernism with decoration and HPG’s crafted drama. It’s impossible to single out names over a decade of design, but these are just three of the more enduring interior practices. On a smaller scale we have local furniture designers like Koskela, Tomahawk and Schamburg+Alvisse producing residential pieces with a cultural conscience.
Looking forward, as everything becomes available to everybody that is working freely in design, our attention will surely be drawn to those things that are obscured. We now seek uniqueness; things that are rare, hard to find and personal. Enough of living among overused design classics: 2011 will definitely be about doing your own thing.
Jonathan Richards and Kirsten Stanisich are at the heads of SJB interior design in Sydney. With a clear focus on their residential works, Richards’ award-winning effort at SJB seeks to create original and imaginative spaces, that ultimately retain contemporary appeal years after completion.