The Journal

Intuition and Imagination with Briony Fitzgerald

The homes designed by Briony Fitzgerald have an almost magnetic pull, layered with colour, pattern, texture, shape and fabric in ways that are so unexpected that they defy imagination. Below, the Sydney-based interior designer muses on the influences that have shaped her unique aesthetic and where her creative spark comes from today.

Top image and above: Clontarf House featuring artwork by Dick Watkins, Makinti Napanangka and Virginia Coventry. Photography by Prue Ruscoe.

Describe yourself as a child. Have you always wanted to do something creative?

Well, you might say I was a “kinesthetic” child. I was always on the move, exploring the area around Sydney Harbour where I was lucky enough to grow up. Growing up in a creative household during an exciting time in art and design – the 60s and 70s – I think I subliminally absorbed all that was going in in my personal world and the world beyond. People were landing on the moon, my parents embraced all the wonderful designs of the late modern era and were both working in creative industries. There was an optimism and positivity around us which I think was reflected in the design and creativity of the era, so I guess you could say it was inevitable that I would do something creative.

Your mother was an incredible designer in her own right. What traits of hers have you woven into your own practice?

My mother was and still is a huge inspiration. Working for Marion Hall Best and then setting up her independent studio – Ann Gyngell Design – was inspirational. She was always pushing the boundaries, combining colours and palettes that were full of creativity and surprise. From a young age I was aware of important designers and architects such as Richard Neutra, Alvar Aalto and and Eero Saarinen among others. We were even dressed in Marimekko!

Top image and above: Clontarf House featuring artwork by Idris Murphy. Photography by Prue Ruscoe.

You originally worked in fashion design. Do you think that has informed your inclinations towards colour, shape and texture when it comes to interiors?

I think my love of texture and pattern have definitely informed my attitude towards design. My fashion design training taught me how to work with textiles and gave me an understanding of the way they drape, handle and perform. Certainly, that “hands-on experience” working with textiles has profoundly affected how I use and work with them in my practice.

Left: Art House. Right: Darlinghurst House. Photography by Brigid Arnott.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Simply put, I would describe my aesthetic as eclectic, with a strong emphasis on texture, colour and pattern being the common thread. In some respects, my aesthetic is post-modern – combining styles and principles from many eras with an emphasis on balance, warmth, comfort, colour and whimsy.  I love combining older pieces with contemporary ones and, so long as they are imbued with a similar language or essence, they will work together. The Australian aesthetic of relaxed living and confident palettes that complement our environment also plays a part.

Give us a little insight into your design process.

The design process is always a collaboration between the client and designer. Firstly, I visit the site and listen to the client and observe how they live, absorbing cues along the way. On many occasions I observe the space and it often tells me what it wants. Then I present the client with ideas that I feel confidently expresses the way they live, and as well as working within the parameters of my aesthetic and style.

Gable House featuring artwork by Kathleen Petyarre. Photography by Brigid Arnott.

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

Absolutely, I am passionate about colour – but the right use of colour. I truly believe it can change the way you feel. As a visual person with many years of experience, I am used to looking at colours and assessing if they have the right tone and hue and how they will work within the space, taking into account scale and the way in which light interacts with colour.

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

I love working with both types of palettes. Currently, I’m working on projects which feature both, including bright, clear palettes and more subdued tonal, smoky palettes.

Bellevue Hill House featuring artwork by Garry Shead. Photography by Brigid Arnott.

What considerations are front of mind when you are choosing a rug for a space? For example colour, size, texture, material and placement.

All of those aspects are important, but for me scale has a significant role. I also feel that the rug should sit quietly in a room, not shout out and take over. Rather, it should work as a piece that brings all the elements of the room together to make it sing.

From your work, it’s apparent that you’re both a visual and tactile person. How do you think engaging that sense can enhance the wellbeing of the inhabitants?

I think in this post-COVID world where we are spending more time than ever in our homes, these aspects are very important. Certainly, for me, combining colour, texture, design, and art with the right balance engages our senses to provide a feeling of serenity and comfort which without a doubt enhances our wellbeing.

Bellevue Hill House featuring artwork by John Coburn. Photography by Brigid Arnott.

Décor trends seem to come and go so quickly these days. Do you have any tips for someone who is trying to establish a more timeless interior aesthetic?

Over the 30+ years I have been working in this industry, I have witnessed a plethora of trends come and go more than once. Trends that encapsulate beauty, quality and artistry always last the distance of time and these days we have come full circle as it is an exciting time for individuality and bespoke design and commissions.

What’s keeping you creatively stimulated right now?

Modern and contemporary art. I’ve been poring over the work of Agnes Martin, Milton Avery, Ellsworth Kelly, Sally Gabori and younger artists such as Louise Gresswell and Tonee Messiah.  I often find artists are the first to try out ideas that appear in design some time later, and I find their use of colour combinations inspiring.

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

I love them all, especially the Agra collection as the colour palette is endless and works so well.

Thredbo Penthouse. Photography by Brigid Arnott.

Follow Briony Fitzgerald on Instagram.


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