Interior Designer Tamsin Johnson Shows Us Around Her Sydney Home - The Gloss Magazine

Interior Designer Tamsin Johnson Shows Us Around Her Sydney Home

Known for creating luxurious coastal interiors, Australian interior designer Tamsin Johnson explains how her own beach cottage in Sydney is both testing ground for her design practice and a relaxed and elegant family home, in an extract from her new book …

It’s no secret that my house is something of a second showroom, with its own revolving door. During the four years we have lived in this beachside cottage, the place has seen six different coffee tables and three dining settings. Several armchairs have spent quality time with us, each bringing its unique beauty of line and texture before moving on to residences new. Like international guests, some of the pieces I’ve discovered on buying trips will arrive, stay for a while to the enjoyment of all, then head off on a new adventure with a client. Sometimes, too, when my clients’ style or space requirements change, they’ll return a piece to me and I will welcome it back like an old friend. Since I would never buy anything for a client that I wouldn’t love in my own home, this works out just fine.

When my husband Patrick and I bought and renovated this four-bedroom house for our growing family, we wanted to create a relatively subtle backdrop, partly to complement frequent changes of furnishings and partly in response to the commanding view outside. The 1940s residence looks out over Sydney’s Tamarama beach, also known as “Glamarama” for its style-savvy regulars. The electric blue water, an intricately curved coastline, and the little surf club below are all iconic sights of the area that we were keen to soak up. When we discovered the house, its main floor featured only a few small windows facing the ocean, so one of our first moves was to completely open up the space to the view and add steel-framed bi-fold doors that allow for optimal ocean gazing.

The view of Tamarama Beach from the terrace.

Removing internal walls and opening spaces was pretty much our focus here, given that the place hadn’t been touched in 50-odd years and was a series of dark rooms. One happy discovery during this process was a concealed high-pitched ceiling, which we restored, retaining the beams, and adding lining boards painted in a gorgeous glossy white enamel. Simple white tones with a little texture to them form the basic canvas of the house, with Venetian plaster featuring on the bathroom walls and in the kitchen. This finish is not a traditional choice for a kitchen countertop, but dedicated weeks of hand-layering have given it a smooth and divinely tactile effect that I adore. Paired with the whites are warmer sandy hues underfoot, created by larch floorboards with a white stain, and Belgian sisal in the bedrooms.

Starting with this calm, natural palette, and the ocean view as anchor, we worked our way back through the rooms, introducing colour, energy, and surprise with furniture and art. Some pieces came from our previous apartments, such as a white cotton sofa and cloud-like wool Fritz Neth chairs, which continue the lightness of touch established by the walls, ceilings, and floors. Among our favourites is a pair of concrete side tables by Gaetano Pesce with a cheeky “his” and “hers” design. From here, we built up a collection to suit this new home, adding discoveries from trips and late-night internet trawls.

Tamsin Johnson at home.

I wanted the house to feel international in its aesthetic but also possess that very Australian sense of coastal comfort, where indoors and outdoors merge, and a relaxed, beachy vibe prevails – where nothing appears too contrived or unapproachable. I believe that houses and the pieces that fill them should be durable, comfortable, and functional as well as beautiful. It was also important to me that we utilised every available space. At the entrance, I transformed a large cupboard into a little nook with banquette seating, which increases the size of the hallway and establishes a mood of elegant repose. I always prefer a piece of furniture to built-in storage, and so sideboards and consoles feature prominently in the house, perfect for displaying art as well as showcasing the artistry of their own design. In the living area, a glossy black cabinet reinforces the monochromatic impact of a series of photographs that we’ve added to over time. In the master bedroom, a 1940s Belgian oak cabinet with verdigris copper inlays brings extra punch to a pair of vibrant green, bamboo-shaped lamp bases. The rugged rattan lampshades and the sun-kissed look of the cabinet have a textural, calming quality that balances the strong hit of colour.

White walls and white-stained larch floors provide a neutral backdrop for always-shifting furnishings and allows the focus to remain on the view from the windows.

At the time of writing, our collection of furniture is undergoing another evolution. The well-travelled Fritz Neth chairs, having wended their way here from Denmark via New York and Paris, have moved to a house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, while a pair of Audoux Minet rope armchairs now reside in another beach house in neighbouring Bondi. But some pieces are stayers: the black and grey kitchen bar stools, which were custom made to fit under the counter; a chair in the corner of the living room, which I made during weekly woodwork classes, inspired by the work of Gerrit Rietveld; and a 19th-century carved timber trunk from my parents’ collection, which my sister and I used to fight over to sit on during phone calls back in the days when we had landlines. And then there are our artworks, which we’d never sell but happily shuffle between home and showrooms. Patrick and I have been collecting art for many years, often looking to our generation of emerging local artists as we enjoy watching their styles develop. In the living area, the monochromes of an abstract painting by Kirsty Budge sit above the fireplace, near the rich terracottas of an Australian landscape painted by Luke Sciberras and, between them, a strip of sky-blue metal riddled with bullet holes by Saskia Folk. I think this trio sets the tone for the house – cool and coastal with elements of surprise and a robust, enduring beauty.

Layers of Venetian plaster give a beautiful finish to the kitchen countertops. The painting of the rooster by Lucy Culliton is one of our oldest artworks – I love its thick brushstrokes and sandy tones. A magnolia branch in a Murano vase provides a vivid burst of colour in the room. I think fresh flowers are an essential part of a room’s design.

Lighting choices, such as the pendant and the triangular wall sconce, are sculpturally appealing but don’t dominate the space, keeping the focus on the view outside.

The study with an antique Flemish tapestry, 1920s American oak desk and a little coconut lamp: “One of my parents’ finds, this has been a part of my life since childhood.”

From: Tamsin Johnson: Spaces for Living by Tamsin Johnson and Fiona Daniels, Rizzoli.


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