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Kirsten Stanisich: how an architectural background has helped shaped her approach to interior design

Kirsten Stanisich: how an architectural background has helped shaped her approach to interior design


In the lead up to IDEA 2018 ADR is running a series of interviews with the esteemed jury panel, kicking off with Kirsten Stanisich, director of  SJB Interiors. We caught up with the architect-turned-interior designer to find out what inspires and informs her interiors style as well as what she will be looking for as an IDEA judge. You can enter this year’s awards here

ADR: You began your career as an architect, how do you think this has shaped your approach to interior design?

Kirsten Stanisich: That’s a hard question to answer. I was trained at university in the Modernist approach of developing a plan first and then designing the space from the plan, while interior design has taught me a lot more about the sensory experience of a space. So maybe it has helped me to somehow marry the two ways of thinking together.

I have really developed my ideas around the smaller detail of a space as well as the texture of materials and we response to lighting and colour. These can seem like small ideas when we first present them to a client, who may be looking for a more obvious big gesture, but once they are built it is really the collection of these smaller ideas that work together to make a space feel right to me and in the end that makes the big gesture.

I hope my architectural training has helped me to develop concepts for our projects, which have some meaning and are truly connected to the spaces we work in, whether in a literal or more abstract way. I see many of our projects as an opportunity to develop ideas rather than re-inventing every project as something completely new, which allows us to explore a greater level of complexity and depth within shorter commercial project programs.

What’s the one critical question that you ask yourself before you design anything?

I don’t generally ask myself a single question before I start to design, but I do ask myself am I going to be able to able to come up with good idea in the time I’ve been given. Sometimes a new project brief can come into our studio at exactly the right moment, and I feel like I have almost been thinking about the concept before I meet the client, although that doesn’t happen as often as I would like.

If it is a commercial or hospitality project, I ask myself if the users will respond well to the space, but as the project progresses, it can be very tough to stand back far enough to take an objective view of the design. I usually sit down at that stage and ask my business partner, Jon Richards to give me an honest critique at that stage.

What are you favourite kind of spaces to design and why?

My favourite kinds of projects are the ones with an interesting brief. Whether that means it’s a new work type for me, or a space that allows me to continue developing existing ideas. Jonathan Richards and I made a very conscious decision for our design practice to be capable of working on large, small and medium size projects, which gives us the opportunity to work across a number of sectors; hospitality, single and multi-unit residential as well as commercial.

It works for me to be challenged and put under a bit of pressure to work through new things. It helps me to think more broadly, creatively and to understand better how people respond to all kinds of spaces.

What has inspired and informed your interiors style and how has this evolved over time?

It took quite a long time for me to get through the basics of learning how a project is built, a good vocabulary of materials and furniture and just understanding how to make spaces really work. This is probably true of most designers. I am really interested in context and how a client’s brief can be knitted into this idea.

At the moment I have been interested in what Australian design means to me, and how to bring a client to understand the value of an existing space, even if it may seem a little out of fashion right now. I also feel very passionately about interior decoration, meaning the furnishing and styling, and how it can respond so beautifully to bring a human scale and a contemporary experience to an existing space without the wastage of destroying the original interior.

What’s one design rule that you like to break?

I don’t really think of myself as a rule breaker. I hope that I explore and develop new ideas with every new project. Many rules around design are there for pretty good reasons. I think what we can do as designers is change the way we respond to those rules in line with contemporary thinking.

I guess you could say the fundamental rules around interiors as a place to rest, contemplate, gather, socialise and so on, have not changed for thousands of years, but it’s the way we translate and develop the details of these spaces that constantly evolves. I don’t think of that evolution as rule breaking.

As judge of IDEA 2018, what will you be looking for in the entries?

I’ll be focusing on progressive and well-executed interior design that responds to the context and brief with enough depth to make me want to experience the space.


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