Telling the Story of a Home
with Studio Gorman
Studio Gorman takes that sense of wonderment we derive from art, architecture and travel and imbues it into the heart of the home, creating spaces that are beautifully resolved yet robust and engaging. We spoke to creative director Suzanne Gorman about nailing the casual yet discerning Sydney lifestyle with her expert layering of highly textured material palettes.
What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?
To be honest, it was my childhood home – it was built in the late 60s/early 70s and was inspired by the modernist project homes designed by Pettit and Sevitt. Their lead architect was Ken Woolley, who became part of what was known as the “Sydney School” of architecture. My mum has always had a great eye for colour and textiles. In the interior of our house, we had big bold prints, floral Marimekko blinds, a bottle green corduroy sofa and a beaten copper rangehood. It was the 70s, so it was a little bit groovy and fun.
Tell us a bit about your career to date.
Interior design wasn’t my first career – I was originally a kindergarten teacher for 12 years, which was wonderful and inspiring. There are a lot of parallels with being a designer, even if they may not be immediately obvious. After I had my kids, I was going to go back to teaching but my sister had just studied law in her early 40s and shown me how you can go back to uni and change careers, and it was inspirational. She and I had a discussion about what I would do if I were to do something different, and she said to me, “You know, you’re always sketching houses and you’ve got architecture books all over your house – why don’t you do that?” I’ve been in design for almost 13 years now.
Give us a little insight into your design process. How do you balance your keen eye and vision with a client’s taste and preferences?
This is one of the connections to my career as a teacher, but I’ve always loved storytelling. I very much like to work with a client and help them to create something that represents them and works with the architecture of their house, drawing inspiration from materials, travel, art, European hotels and the Australian landscape for colour. I’m fairly un-regimented and spontaneous in my personal life, so in my work I find it essential to have a process to follow. There are so many people involved in a build, there are time frames and budgets that need to be kept to, so it’s very important. At Studio Gorman, we are very concept driven. We spend quite a lot of time at the beginning on the brief, pulling together a visual concept and doing preliminary sketches of what the client wants the house to look like in each space. If you have a great concept to refer back to, it helps you stay true to the heart of the project.
What design rules do you live by? Any others that you think were made to be broken?
With colours, I like them a little dirty and greyed off. I like to take the colour theory and then purposefully clash them just a little bit – I don’t mind a mustard with a plum! It’s a little boring when colours match too perfectly, so I like to create interest and a bit of energy and friction.
Recent studies show that our surroundings have a very real impact on our energy and emotions. Is that something you subscribe to? Are there any colours, textures and patterns you constantly return to?
Absolutely. At Studio Gorman, we love to layer materials while keeping the lines quite simple – the detail is there, but it’s subtle. Materials with texture and an artisanal quality add something very special – a softness and a perfect imperfectness. I love warm colours because they do exactly that, they bring warmth to a home and I like “homey” homes. I love everything from chalky white and ivory to yellow, mustard and terracotta, and recently I am drawn to coral and ballet pink. Working with light is also essential – bringing in more light makes a space feel more energising while going darker can be cosy. There’s always going to be a couple of rooms in a house that don’t have the best aspect and in those instances I tend to go with it and create snug, moody little rooms.
Right now it seems like we’re all seeking comfort from our homes. How do you think the inclusion of tactile elements, like a rug, can affect our mood?
They do much more than provide physical comfort, they also provide visual comfort. I love layering up a home with a ton of art, ceramics, books and rugs in every space because it’s so welcoming and comforting. In our own living room we have the Cairo rug, with its textured diamonds.
Can you share what your own home is like – how would you describe the décor?
The bones are very minimal with simple lines and a materials palette based around timber flooring, oak joinery and lots of white walls covered in art. It’s almost like living in a gallery! I love collecting, especially from Australian artists. A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent the whole weekend swapping the artworks around so they’re in new positions. We have lots of glass, and I like to grow the plants right up to the windows so it feels like the garden is coming into the room. I suppose it has a bit of a 70s vibe. It’s not unusual for us as humans to be nostalgic and end up loving the era when we were young, so I do love the 70s!
What have you found is essential in your own living space?
Art, lots of art! I’m also a creature of comfort so I love to have a lot of textiles. In winter, we bring out lots of rugs. My mother hand-knits patchwork rugs and we have all our floor rugs in every room – I think I have 3 Armadillo rugs in my house at the moment! And then I have amazing storage so I can hide all the boring stuff and just have all the beautiful stuff on show.
We strongly believe in buying fewer but better things. What are your reasons for investing in quality, timeless pieces?
That’s something I very much believe in, but for me it has come with maturity. If you buy well, you can bring those items with you on your life’s journey and build your own story. If you have a partner or live with someone else, you can join your stories together – the same way you join your lives together, you join your physical collections together. Building a collection of quality things over time gives interiors an uncontrived, more natural and personal look. And while everything dates, that’s not a bad thing – I believe that when a piece can be pinpointed in a certain era, it shows that it was a great representation of its time and more likely than not was well-designed and made.
What’s keeping you creatively stimulated during these uncertain times?
I had a lot of overseas trips planned this year, to France and Italy, which is one way many designers and creatives find inspiration, but there is endless inspiration in our own backyard. I was lucky enough to take a road trip with my family to Byron Bay and the landscape was stunning – the textures and colours by the sea and in the bush.
Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?
I absolutely love the Savannah in Natural which, with its sculpted zig-zag, is a very cool 70s-style rug. I also love the texture of the jute rugs like the Sahara. And I need more rooms to bring some Agra rugs in Duchess pink and Byzantine yellow into my life. Handmade, ethical, Australian, beautiful and really fairly priced – of course I have a lot!
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