- Article by Online Editor
Location: Sydney, Australia
Project: Astor Apartment
Design: Greg Natale
Text: Gillian Serisier
Photography: Anson Smart
The grande dame of Sydney apartments, The Astor on Sydney’s Macquarie Street is quintessential glamorous inner city living. Built in 1923 with views across the Botanic Gardens, it has been the home to both Portia Geach and Barry Humphries.
Once the tallest building to risk the innovation of reinforced concrete, the Donald Esplin and Stuart Mould designed residence remains one of the most prestigious addresses in town. Magnificent ceiling heights, huge windows framing park views (with reversible steel frames, for ease of cleaning), glorious architectural mouldings, framed doors and spectacularly rich timber floors make this one of the finest. Rather than down play these elements, Natale has embraced both the glamour of the building itself and the 1920s with lush velvets, taffeta, gold detailing and thick wool rugs that allow the beauty of the flooring and architectural details their due.
As with all Natale interiors there are several layers at play that will shift and evolve with the client. At a glance it is the zebra skin rug, the pink touched chandeliers, rose-mauve cushions and fantastical geometric wallpapers that greet the eye. These, however, are ostensibly the last layers, the finishing touches that make the whole zing. The apartment as a shell is, in fact, coolly blue with white highlighting picture rails, architraves (door and ceiling) and the expansive ceilings, which are exaggerated by dropping the ceiling line to the upper picture rail. This is a strategy that works particularly well in conjunction with the large framed windows in serving to minimise the architectural line, while paradoxically constituting an architectural Natale has chosen to paper both the drape overhang and window head to exaggerate the false drape height rather than negate the illusion. Previous—Regency armchair upholstered in Kelly Wearstler ‘confetti’ in cream Opposite—Park Avenue Bergere: Hickory Chair by Laura Kincade upholstered in Kelly Wearstler ‘Flair.’ Custom rug, Designer Rugs highlight in its own right. Moreover, it creates a sense of scale that allows the terrific height to be simultaneously grand and human.
In the main living room, the window treatment comprises drapes of heavy taffeta, in a slightly deeper, slightly greyer shade than the walls, offset by a broad dull gold Greek Key trim. Natale, however, is not a shy designer and the next layer is a boldly geometric rug in black and white with an equally boldly upholstered chair in black and white ikat anchoring the room’s focus to the interior, despite the tree filled view beyond. A plump pink pillow dispels the overt masculinity of black and white masterfully. The large, but not overly fussy, Marie Therese chandelier creates a vertical midpoint, while a large vertical panel of architectural moulding serves to delineate the space. Both of these are countered by the extreme horizontality of a large velvet lounge in deep blue grey.
At centre, a mid-century oval glass coffee table with stylised gold rams’ heads picks up the gold of the curtains, as do the ornate picture frames of the featured artworks and an abstract black and gold ceramic lamp base. Which is not to mention the extraordinary gold starburst framed mirror, collection of ceramics and gold on white sideboard. Leading into this room is arguably the most perfectly realised of the rooms. Comprising an alcove, rather than an actual room, the space is clearly defined by a single painting and chair of ideal proportions and weight, while thick woollen Kelly Wearstler upholstery in an elegant zigzag of black and white is offset by another plump pink pillow.
The master bedroom is ostensibly the lounge in reverse. That is, where the lounge boasted a geometric rug and architecturally defined walls, the bedroom is papered in a similar geometric print as the carpet in the lounge, while the rug is a large self-framed square of deep grey and cream. The drapes, in the same shade as the rug, are thick matte velvet, bringing warmth to the room. Interestingly, Natale has chosen to paper both the drape overhang and window head to exaggerate the false drape height rather than negate the illusion. It is, as Natale would say, a Verner Panton response, of using pattern on pattern to define the architectural lines. Colour has been introduced with embossed plum upholstery used on the bed end stool, fringed ikat cushions in plum and grey, the lilac touches of the Murano chandelier and a warm pink glass piece on the gold trimmed black dresser.
Colour plays a linking role throughout the apartment with muted shades of pink, blue, green, gold, brown and plum making up the abstracted pattern of the dining room chair upholstery. These colours are then separated out to the rooms in pairs framed by the black and white elements of the design. The pink and lilac of the master bedroom, or pink and blue of the lounge, for example. Green and plum in combination is visited for the second bedroom, where a much lighter palette is brought into play. The walls are again papered, but for this room Natale has chosen a large diamond pattern of a slightly three-dimensional ilk. The room is much smaller, but rather than add dimension through a Spartan approach, Natale has allowed the room’s grandeur to exist in its height by pooling the mid green bedspread onto a framed rug of the same shade. All of this is overhung by a small but quite lovely Vienna chandelier and backdropped by white drapes trimmed in soft brown. Green is stunningly revisited in the kitchen, which, while small, has been filled high and low with abundant glass-faced cabinetry. Effectively, this leaves the entire mid section as clear bench space and is the sort of solution cooks appreciate. A black and white marble checkerboard (Black Nero Maquina and Statuario Venato White) pays homage to the building’s era while being rather cheeky for appearing in the kitchen (and bathroom) rather than the foyer.
The nature of Natale’s work lies in his ability to be both of a particular style and able to surprise at the same time. This allows the client to be completely present within the Natale stylisation. In this case the art collection makes this point. Clearly it’s the collection of the owner; the apartment decoration does not interfere with the art, which is exhibited in its own right and not as an element of the design. As such, each painting is given its own space, has been hung to an appropriate viewing height (rather than centred on the wall) and placed to create a dialogue between the paintings. Just as importantly, objects such as the Daydream Australia anodised apple, a favourite with midcentury object collectors, is given a home, adding a shot of vibrancy to the whole.