Home interiors designed to make you feel something

Man caves, movie theatres with Versace popcorn holders, curated art collections, acid-green accents, customised everything … just some of the new essentials in styling up the home.

By Susan Skelly 23/05/2017

On the 10th floor of the Time Warner building in New York, two days before the Presidential Inauguration, more than 200 marketing executives, retailers, analysts and researchers assembled to glean some insights into the rebooting of luxury in 2017.

And if there is one thing the speakers at Luxury FirstLook 2017: Time For Luxury 2.0 agree on, it is that there is a notable shift in the perception of luxury – from acquisitive to inquisitive, from expensive to experiential, from the old “I am what I own” to the new “I am what I do”.

Luxury is about emotion and the experiences a purchase brings. Home interiors in 2017 are as much about how they make you feel as they are about the brand statement.

“What’s really hit in interior design in the past two years is eclecticism,” says Perth interior designer Christian Lyon. “It’s very much about making your own statement. The cookie cutter look has completely gone.”

To that end comes layering; customised curation; investment collections; big, brave ideas; peerless craftsmanship and the story-telling in the design that brings a new interior to life. Lyon, who designs the inside of everything from beach shacks and boats to palaces, planes and penthouses, likes anything he does to be emotive, “to evoke a reaction”. From the strategic use of colour (“I have a very emotive connection to chartreuse and lime greens, and that bright spring new-leaf green that has just been voted the colour of 2017”) to the way a museum-quality collection of Paul Evans furniture might announce discerning ownership.

Australian interior architect Blainey North, too, likes to get to the bottom of how something will make her clients “feel”. For example: what does an underwater world feel like when there is no natural light and everything’s moving around you?

That was the question that drove North’s design of Crown Towers Perth’s Crown Spa, inspired by refractions of light seen on the surface of water from underneath and by the cruciform arrangements and circular vestibules of Roman bath houses.

Meanwhile, clients Marly Boyd and her property developer husband John Boyd wanted their 43rd floor apartment atop the ANZ Tower in Sydney’s CBD to feel like being on a luxury boat. Achieving that required a 3D mapping tool (the space had three different planes of curvature, all intersecting) and joinery that required the specialised skill of a guitar maker. A ribbon of black lacquered wood links all the different spaces – a modernist cornice that morphs into the balustrade, traces windows and bar units, and turns up in the bedroom as a bedside table.

“I live and die by how a client feels about the project … if they are happy, I’m so happy,” says North, who revels in scale. Her clients have included Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Shane Warne and Kerry Stokes, as well as James Packer’s Crown Resorts. North recently completed The Revy apartments on Sydney’s Darling Island, and is working on a new international store concept for British fashion designer Alice Temperley MBE.

“You create a miniature community for each project,” North says. “The builders, tradespeople, the client and my team. And if you all work together really well, something amazing will happen … better than you could imagine.” The return to that individual workmanship is, for North, where luxury environments are going – both in top-end residential and in commercial spaces such as luxury hotels.

Interior designers are consummate sleuths, art curators and investment advisers. Their little black books are an unrivalled entrée to the zeitgeist. As well as keeping an eye out for works by Paul Evans on his travels, Christian Lyon sources works by contemporary Paris-based artist designer Mattia Bonetti, Irish light sculptor Niamh Barry, and Hervé van der Straeten, who makes desirable jewellery, furniture and lighting.

“Van der Straeten works with beautiful mid-metals and bronzes, with many different finishes such as silver gilding,” says Lyon. “He works with materials like velum and hair on hide and exquisite stone samples, and he even incorporates antique panels into some of his work, like vintage Chinese Coromandel screens.”

North’s recent discoveries include French designer Coralie Beauchamp, who creates lighting designs from fibreglass and leather; a New York company called Egg Collective, which makes clever tables, mirrors, bookends and objets from polished brass with lacquer coatings; beautiful fine sheets from textile titans C&C Milano; and Apparatus, a New York lighting and furniture laboratory whose pieces radiate industrial glamour.

“We used a pendant of theirs made of horsehair in a four-storey-high [residential] entry space,” says North. “Giant strands of looped woven horse-hair with lights underneath.”

Versace, Roberto Cavalli and Fendi are on Michael Chard’s speed dial. Luxury brand director and creative director of Palazzo Collezioni (which distributes all three of these lines), Chard worships at the shrine of Gianni Versace.

He tends an exclusive club that loves the juxtaposition of drama, classicism and colour that the Italian house delivers. “Sometimes clients want Versace from the front gate to the back gate – tiles, architecture, fretwork, exteriors, pool design, landscaping …” says Chard. And when that’s done there is always the plane, yacht, helicopter and Lamborghini to style up.

The Versace look, says Chard, is “confident, unapologetic, bold”. “In a cinema room, there might be panelling in Versace fabric and/or Versace wallpaper … fully decked out, right down to the popcorn holders. These clients love the detail. They want the big picture, but they’ll look at every cornice, every edge.”

Chard will work outside the Versace aesthetic, however, working it back with personally sourced antiques and other befitting luxury interior offerings. “We do a lot of beautiful floors where clients want hand-inlaid parquetry. We’ll get thousands of pieces manufactured. There’ll be an artist who does all the flooring, sometimes mixing marble with timber. We might incorporate semi-precious stones.”

Walls are also a great canvas – especially for mirrors, with patterns etched into the glass, coloured to complement the interiors, and skilfully lit. And the ceilings? Maybe a cloudy, airbrushed sky, or an ambitious collage of works by great masters, Versace symbols incorporated, painstakingly painted onto a lounge room ceiling over several months.

Devotion to the Versace aesthetic doesn’t come cheap. “The average room is about a quarter of a million dollars to furnish,” says Chard, “and up to $400,000 with a more customised finish. That’s just furnishing – you could easily spend a million dollars all up just with the furniture. The dining room is usually the most expensive – there’s the table (it may need to seat 20), cutlery, napkins, glassware and porcelain to factor in, too.”

Oh, and throw in the big square turquoise crocodile skin-covered tray for the coffee table, at less than $3000.“What I celebrate with Versace is the layering of colours,” says Chard. “Be daring; don’t be afraid of layering colours. I love the juxtaposition of old and new; for example, patterns from the classic Gianni period (1980s) but given different colourways.”

In 2017 the trademark Versace gold and black is making room for a more muted monochromatic palette. Upcoming collections see grey, taupe and turquoise – a fresh look that marries with a simplifying of borders and cornice details, and opts for “clean” lighting, flush to the ceiling in place of chandeliers.

Chard’s clients, many of them self-made millionaires and out to celebrate their achievement, understand scale. If there is a standout trend in 2017, he says, it is “Big”. Bragging rights? You bet. “They want everyone to see it and say ‘Wow’. You can feel the emotion in the room.”

Chard has one client who is building a seven-bedroom home with spacious underground bunker, bowling alley, a 10-metre “lolly wall”, full-sized cinema, pool tables, air-hockey court, pinball machine room, spa, and lagoons with waterfalls. “It’s like Disneyland inside,” he says. “She has grandkids and she wants it to be almost like a theme park.”

Indeed, maintains Chard, with the diamonds around the dial of his Breitling watch beaming, homes are the new holiday. “Our clients like to travel, but once they have a home that is actually more luxe than a luxury hotel, its finishings more high grade, they just want to be home to enjoy it.”

The trend towards big houses, says interior designer Greg Natale, brings with it the man cave (most likely with a pool table, and/or several TV screens), media room, butler’s kitchen, a beautifully finished cellar and a master suite that is essentially a mini apartment with lounge room, dressing area, huge walk-in wardrobe and ensuite.

Acclaimed American potter, designer and author Jonathan Adler puts Greg Natale up there with Kate Moss, Roger Federer, Noel Coward, singer Adele, Ellsworth Kelly and Marc Newson. All of them, he writes in the foreword to Natale’s 2014 book, The Tailored Interior (Hardie Grant), have “it” – the enviable and elusive “ability to make perfection look effortless”.

“Any great designer has to get the detail right,” says Natale, who set up his Australian design practice in 2001 and now has 16 product lines under licence, from cushions and rugs to bed linens and candles.

His studio in Sydney’s Surry Hills is evidence of an ordered mind. There’s a mathematical precision and a palette of black and steely grey in the gridded gates, terrazzo flooring, rugs, leathered granite reception desk, geometric tiling and marble stairs.

Some years ago, Natale came to the rescue of Australian prisoners of mid-century minimalism, putting pattern, layering and personality on top of it, to further evolve the Hollywood Regency style that people like Jonathan Adler and Kelly Wearstler were doing in the US.

“Americans do layering really well,” notes Natale, who tends to look to the US and France for inspiration before he looks to Italy.

In New York at 101 East 63rd Street, just off Park Avenue, sandwiched between a Church of Science Sunday School and a building listing dentists and podiatry tenants, is the townhouse that kick-started Natale’s passion for modern interiors.

Built for American fashion legend Halston, who entertained a who’s who of the avant-garde there in the ’70s, it is one of only three Manhattan residences designed by modernist architect Paul Rudolph.

“It was clean, really modern, but sexy and sophisticated,” says Natale, who might well be describing his own aesthetic. “The exterior was all black steel, the interior all white; the spaces were incredible.” Think 9.75-metre ceilings, a wall of windows and a skylight, floating staircase, double-height master suite, and a 149-square-metre terrace on the top floor.

Who else inspires him? He admires the style of Tom Ford; the “choreographer of spaces” William Adler; Jean-Louis Deniot; David Chipperfield; India Mahdavi; and David Collins, “an English designer who had quite an American look – very layered, very beautiful”.

What’s in store for the coming year? Natale admits he’ll be glad to see the back of the colour red, feature walls and retro-Scandinavian. He’s seeing kitchens moving away from black or white to shades of blue or even green. Hot, too, in living rooms are blush pinks and olive, and organic malachite-like patterns in textiles. Maybe a little cubism in the patterning, too.

Natale’s team is factoring in age-specific kids’ spaces (to cater to the first family and the second), bespoke libraries, joinery that’s fitted and fixed, and every runner and rug custom-made. Covered outdoor spaces are being given the same attention as that devoted to indoors – lots of layering with rugs, cushions and weather-resistant materials.

“The art is a big part of all properties. We source the signed Warhol and five great key big pieces … sometimes a client will have a collection, often they don’t, but we’ll do the whole art collection if needs be.

“An interior designer needs to be a good art buyer. We curate art collections. I get to act out my art-buying fantasies on my clients!”

Fundamentally, says Natale, interior design is about being practical and not overly clever. “It is about creating great, warm, comfortable spaces; that’s why the layering plays such an important part in what we do. It’s where the psychology lies.

“Who doesn’t want to feel glamorous and amazing when they come back to their home?”


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