The Journal

The Audacity of Colour with Annie Bowen

In her arsenal as an interior designer, Annie Bowen keeps coming back to colour. Whether it is a dash of a punchy hue or an orchestral combination of complementary tones, her trademark makes a space come alive. Below, the Sydney-based designer shares what drives her studio’s creative process.

Photography by Ess Creative and Samantha Mackie

What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?

Gosh, that’s a hard one! I’ve always loved design and art. I think looking back, my love of heritage architecture was always something I valued. In my 20s, living in London, I used to wander the streets for hours looking at the houses and buildings. I still do that – in some Sydney streets it’s like stepping back in time, with Georgian, Federation and Edwardian buildings in the suburbs close to the city.

Tell us a bit about your career arc and how you go to where you are today.

When I was finishing school, I had planned to study architecture but for some reason changed my mind at the last minute and did a business degree focusing on Tourism Management. I think as an 18-year-old I was swayed by the idea of travel, and this followed about 10 years in events, sales and marketing in the tourism industry.

When my babies started to arrive, I left the corporate world and did a bit of freelance marketing work as well as started a small retail business focusing on boutique Australian design. We had renovated a terrace in Sydney’s Leichhardt, and I was drawn more and more to interior design. When my youngest was a baby, I decided to bite the bullet and re-train, and haven’t looked back from there.

Starting a boutique residential design firm 4-5 years ago has been a journey. We learn something on every job and hopefully are constantly improving not only in our design ability but the client experience of working with us. Relationships are key, and something front of mind as the business grows.

How has your design sensibility evolved over the years?

While studying I was lucky enough to work with an expert colourist who really pushed my boundaries in terms of using colour, but also my understanding of what colour does in different environments. When I started my own business, this knowledge is something I took with me and expanded on.

Over the years, we have become more confident in our choices around materiality and colour, and more assertive in pushing the boundaries with clients and trades to get the best outcome. I’ve also learnt to clearly identify when less is more – you only need one or two heroes in the room!

"I love natural materials – they just feel good underfoot."

We’d love a peek into your process, from the initial brainstorming to the final install. What aspects comes naturally to you, and what stages can toss up challenges?

We start every project with an initial consultation with the client, in their home. We like to understand not only the architecture and aspect we are working with, but the people who will live there. We spend a lot of time delving into the scope and what they hope to achieve; this really drives the project as we move forward.

In terms of the design, we start every project with the colour palette and a floor plan. I know some designers apply the colour once they have finalised the interiors in more detail, but I can’t work on joinery design or furniture choices until I have a clear look around the colour palette, key materials and how the homeowners move around the space. From here we start to plan the detail.

The biggest challenge for me personally is the styling. By the time we get to install, I am so close to the project I struggle to decide on decorative items. And the reality is I’m not as good at styling as I am at selecting a strong colour and material palette, or large furniture items. I have no problem selecting the right sofa or rug but often flip flop on the cushions and throw to put with them! To combat this, I have a great team with a specialist stylist who is really good at the area I find challenging. I know how I want things to look, and she helps me put it together.

How do you incorporate a client’s personality into a space?

We get to know our clients from the beginning and, by the time a renovation is finished, we have a clear sense of how they plan to use their space. Often, we are incorporating artwork, furniture or treasures they already own. A client’s personality can also be brought out in the colours or finishes we use, lighting and other decorative elements. Our design choices are influenced by the client’s personality as well as the building itself.

Let’s talk colour, as we know it’s one of your signatures! Do you think hue has an impact on our mood, energy and emotions?

Absolutely. Don’t get me wrong, I love white and use it often. However, sometimes when you walk into an all-white room it can feel a bit soulless. It might photograph beautifully but I normally find myself trying to inject some colour to inject some life.

We use colour to emphasise the mood of a room – the front room of a terrace, for example, might be painted in a darker hue to create a ‘red wine drinking’ winter room. Or we might select a colour for the walls in a bedroom to create a calm, restful feeling.

What hues are you personally drawn to? Are you into tonal or contrasting palettes?

I know warmer colours are very fashionable right now, but I still do love grey, navy and sea green. Soft pinks are also a favourite. And I love a contrast – the pop between two contrasting colours always makes me happy.

We’re honoured to have our rugs featured in many of your projects. What considerations are front of mind when you are choosing a rug for a space?

I love natural materials – they just feel good underfoot. I also love texture, for the same reason. And, of course, colour. The Armadillo rugs tick all these boxes – we use stock sizes where we can, but the ability to customise means we can find the right size for any space.

Is there a particular design element that you think is underrated or too often overlooked?

It’s not so much underrated, but I really encourage people to invest in quality pieces and original design rather than trying to fill a house with replicas or fast fashion. There is a temptation to cut the budget sometimes when we get to furniture and rugs after the large cost of a renovation. But I really advise people to wait until they can afford the right piece rather than buying sub-quality items that will end up in landfill.

I’m a huge fan of Australian design and always look to locally-designed products where I know the people, their ethos and how they manufacture their designs. From an ethical and sustainability perspective, this is a priority for us in our practice.

Are there any design rules you live by? Any others that you think were made to be broken? 

When my clients have 1000 ideas in a Pinterest board, and want to use all of them at once, I do tell them they can’t have too many heroes in one room. One, maybe two, heroes only.

[When it comes to] rules to be broken – often people get caught up in having everything match their interior design but sometimes the unexpected can be the thing that brings joy to a space, particularly if it’s a vibrant artwork or sculpture in an otherwise muted space.

What’s keeping you creatively stimulated right now?

I wish it wasn’t on a screen, but I have to admit that Instagram is an endless source of inspiration. But I do also love a good magazine, and during lockdown getting out for a walk in Balmain and Rozelle, where I live, is always nice.

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?

It’s got to be the Agra or Paragon, which I have in my own home. I love the colours and the softness of those rugs.

Follow Annie Bowen Design on Instagram.


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