The Journal

In Perfect Harmony with We Are Duet

After years of working together early in their careers and informally collaborating on a few projects, interior designers Dominique Brammah and Shannon Shlom launched their new studio, We Are Duet. Not ones to shy away from bold hues, whimsical patterns, and quirky design finds, their spaces constantly surprise and delight. We spoke to the dynamic duo to find out what it takes to work in sync.

Checkmate photographed by Pablo Veiga. Architecture by Philip Abram. Styling by Megan Morton.

Tell us a bit about your career paths, and how you came to join forces.

Dominique: I have a Masters of Architecture and worked in residential architecture for six years before finding my feet and landing in the studio of Arent & Pyke, where I spent another six years being nurtured and given the most incredible foundation for my career from [founders] Sarah-Jane and Juliette. Shan and I met at Arent & Pyke and formed a close friendship and a huge amount of professional respect for each other, collaborating often with the support and guidance of our dear mentors. We talked a lot, worked a lot, dreamed a lot and then left to start our families. Very naturally we came together over a large project which we simply could not have done on our own. Our collaboration blossomed so very naturally from there, and we made Duet official earlier this year.

Shannon: I have a Bachelor of Interior Architecture from UNSW. Once leaving university, my design training started in the commercial world. I spent many years designing commercial fitouts, which gave me the necessary knowledge around detailing, documentation and deadlines. But I always craved something more personal, tailored and creative. I then made the leap to residential design where I met a friend for life in Dom. On my very first day at Arent & Pyke, Dom opened the door with a warm smile and made me feel so welcome and assured. Little did we know we would be business partners many years down the track. In fact, we never intended this to be the outcome – it was simply an alignment of our life stages, aesthetics and a large amount of luck. We started our journey together whilst both on maternity leave when neither of us could tackle a huge job solo – so we combined forces and before we knew it, we had 11 jobs together and decided to put one logo on the title block. And We are Duet was created.

Checkmate photographed by Pablo Veiga. Architecture by Philip Abram. Styling by Megan Morton.

We love how you describe your work as “solid, joyous, longhand interiors”! How would you describe We Are Duet’s aesthetic to someone who hadn’t encountered your studio before?

Dominique: We always talk about longevity with our clients and design being an ongoing conversation between the many ‘duets’ encountered during the process of designing a space together. It’s about us and you, you and your family, a builder and their trades, makers and craftspeople. At the end of the day, it is about investing in those key relationships that allow the design to evolve, reacting to and being responsive to all who play a part in the process. The greatest joy are those long conversations with clients, collaborators and craftspeople, those happening even years later, because these conversations should almost have no end. After all, the best interiors are those that are left perfectly incomplete.

Shannon: Our aesthetic is always evolving. It is most definitely client-specific and no two clients are the same. At our core, we are progressive with a traditional twist. We try to solve problems well into the future for clients – not just for now. We love being able to journey through the process with a client from the start to finish and love most when clients allow us to design custom pieces that become iconic to their project. The joy comes from the process as well as the outcome.

Checkmate photographed by Pablo Veiga. Architecture by Philip Abram. Styling by Megan Morton.

Give us a little insight into your design process. What strengths do you think each other bring to your partnership?

Dominique: Shan has an absolutely incredible sense of style. She has a natural flair for bringing together finishes and materials in a way that is layered, unique and utterly joyful! Watching her work her magic gives me such joy. She can find the quirks, the twists and the unexpected with such effortlessness. We both pride ourselves on sourcing far and wide, and being really thrifty, but she is the absolute queen of trawling for beautiful things for our clients. I absolutely marvel at her ability to see the end result right from the beginning, and she has a confidence in designing that I really find so inspiring.

I live down the coast and Shan is in Sydney; we both have young children, so pre-COVID we already had the rapid-fire design sessions at all hours of the night and the long distance relationship nailed. I think we’ve learnt when we really need the other just by working intensively together over a very short period with a lot of diverse projects all at once. There is a natural ease with which we have found each other’s strengths almost subliminally. The Duet way is that you get us both, and only us, designing together hand-in-hand.

Shannon: Dom is an all-rounder. She is without a doubt one of the smartest humans I have had the pleasure of working with, which makes our process very seamless and easy. She is always across every detail of every project, which is such a strength in our line of work. She brings effortless design ingenuity, a strong business mind and the most divine personality to our duo. Our process is largely intertwined but we have worked out our strengths and hard passions, and luckily it forms our ying and yang. I love the big ideas and setting the tone. Dom loves the details and making it all a reality. We both have the ability to start and finish a project entirely alone but have the most fun and best result when we do it together.

Checkmate photographed by Pablo Veiga. Architecture by Philip Abram. Styling by Megan Morton.

Your interiors really pop. Do you have any advice for the interior enthusiast when it comes to mixing and matching colours, textures and patterns?

Dominique: I think it’s about trusting your gut but knowing when it needs an edge or something that makes it all almost uncomfortable. A great mentor of ours said, “if it makes you feel a bit off then that’s the right thing.” Also, I think we are both completely obsessed with colour and pattern. We are not minimalists by any means and we are working with each and every project to integrate colour, texture and pattern in a way we haven’t before. We have just completed a large farmhouse in Jerrara on the NSW south coast and it’s been by far our boldest yet.

Shannon: Always follow your gut when it comes to colour combinations and pattern partnering. If you don’t have an instant positive reaction, there is probably a better solution out there.

Escarpment photographed by Maree Homer. Building design by Nadine Ryan.

The Escarpment House is full of some beautiful decorative flourishes. How do you balance a client’s design preferences with the architecture of a house?

Dominique: This client came with her own set of uniquely decorative flourishes (which we love so much) so the focus was turned to honouring the house’s original features while creating a contemporary home for her family. The key was making the renovated portion as gutsy and layered as the old part of the house so that all the decorative flourishes had a strong backdrop. So we found a mid-point, the renovation was pared back, essentially a white space, but it was layered with a strong kitchen, a moody bathroom, potent jewel-like hues in furnishings and artwork. Again, it’s always the duality that makes the conversation rich! It’s as much about the client and what they bring as it is about the house.

Shannon: The balance always comes from a client. It is our job to have a sixth sense about what clients need from us. This is largely informed by our initial workshop with the client where we first take the clients’ brief, and then take note of the parameters we are to work within for the existing home. Mostly these marry together well, but sometimes there is a real disconnect and it’s our job to bridge the gap. The balancing happens through communication and education. Sometimes clients are set on a particular result because they haven’t properly understood the alternative which might be a better outcome. It is our job to do the investigating, educating and problem solving.

Escarpment photographed by Maree Homer. Building design by Nadine Ryan.

Your latest project, Checkmate, is equally stunning. When it came to the brief, what were the client’s “must-haves”?

Shannon: The most general ‘must have’ was creating a functional family home – a spot for everything.  A missing linen cupboard was something we flagged right from the get-go. This mantra filtered through the entire design process, all the way down to finishes and furniture selection. A wipeable leather sofa coupled with a soft, comfortable Armadillo rug that has the ability to mask any potential spills in its lovely pattern and selected hue.  

Whether it be a particular room or a unique object, what is your favourite feature of the home?

Dominique: The curved flick of the stair handrail. There is such sass, character and the feminine touch in that little moment.

Shannon: The large island bench and banquette seat combo is a total winner in this home. The oversized nature of the kitchen island bench is something we don’t typically encourage. It means a join in the stone, reduced paths of travel around the kitchen and a large drop-down zone which can be tricky from a practical perspective for most clients (as it can get messy with lots of things dumped on top). But this size and proportion works so beautifully in this space. We book-matched the stone and created a real social opportunity to gather around the island whilst perching on the banquette seats. It’s a real entertainer’s kitchen and essentially another room within a room.

Checkmate photographed by Pablo Veiga. Architecture by Philip Abram. Styling by Megan Morton.

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?

Dominique: We turn to Armadillo for many reasons. Firstly, I deeply appreciate that they are socially and environmentally responsible; I find that their core values as a company align with our own. They keep doing things differently, redefining themselves often. When choosing a rug, it’s always “go big”. It’s also about being sensitive to the family that will live on top of it for the next many years and choosing a material that is suited to them. For us, a rug is as much about finding a texture that is compatible as it is about finding a colour that works. We find a neutrality even in those rugs that are rich in colour, allowing an interior scheme to sing.

Shannon: We love Armadillo rugs! The accessibility and price point versus quality is really amazing.  Our most typical job starts at the planning phase so we always plot out an ideal rug size as part of the furniture plan. Getting the size right is crucial to the success of the room. It’s as important as ordering the right size shoe. If you go too small, it will always feel uncomfortable. If you go too big, you probably won’t enjoy using it. Once this is established, colour and material are the next most important considerations. And then the sourcing starts.

Ferndale photographed by Maree Homer. Styling by Kerrie-Anne Jones.

One of our all-time favourite dining settings is the one at your Ferndale project. What do you think makes a home a great place to entertain?

Dominique: We see dining as a meeting of kitchen and living. So few of our clients sit formally at a dining table, so it is about reshaping this space to be more compatible with how we are all  naturally gathering with those we love. Very often we are introducing a banquette seat beside a dining table as a strategy to de-formalise the space and make it comfy, or a smaller scale table which seats just so many as live in the house. We also often bringing dining into the kitchen – we are all familiar with the very natural congregation around our island benches – so often it’s about reshaping island benches to gather around.

Shannon: I firmly believe being house-proud is what makes the entertaining experience so successful for both the homeowner and the visitor. There is nothing more rewarding than witnessing the pride of a client on handover day. It’s what makes our job so important – getting the brief, process and result so spot-on for the client. It’s like being comfortable in your own skin. A successful job to us is a happy client – and a happy client will most definitely create a great atmosphere for entertaining.

Ferndale photographed by Maree Homer. Styling by Kerrie-Anne Jones.

We strongly believe in buying fewer but better things. What are your reasons for investing in quality, timeless pieces?

Dominique: I think Marie Kondo has it right when she asks us to think about the feeling behind what we have collected and what we purchase. It has to be about consuming less and investing more because our planet demands it. Why we choose to buy a certain piece is as much about a story – the story behind it, the stories it will tell over time, the snapshot of life captured when it was bought – as it is about its function, so our collected objects knit themselves into our lifetime tale. I think that’s reason enough to think twice – if you carked it tomorrow, what would your objects say about you?

Shannon: I’ll always remember the furniture I grew up with in my family home. It was never swapped out for an IKEA unit because it never needed to be. When I think further into this idea, it wasn’t swapped out for two reasons. First being the quality, ergonomics and longevity of each item – it stood the test of time and never needed replacing; and secondly, because life is busy and investing in furniture should happen once or twice over one’s lifetime. These two reasons, along with environmental preservation, is why we try encourage clients to invest in timeless furniture pieces.

Left: Ferndale photographed by Maree Homer. Styling by Kerrie-Anne Jones. Right: Escarpment photographed by Maree Homer. Building Design by Nadine Ryan.

You’re juggling so many things, including young families. Where are you turning to for creativity and inspiration these days?

Dominique: It’s a busy time for us both. I find a very happy place with my work which feels like a tranquil escape from the mayhem of a young family. Currently I am diving into books and magazines again after the numbness of scrolling far too much in the middle of the night, rocking a baby back to sleep. I also find trawling through First Dibs and vintage dealers online really fruitful for creative inspiration.

Shannon: Inspiration for me at the moment is coming from anything closest to my fingertips – which is usually my phone. Online trawling for hidden gems is a personal favourite. Timing is everything, and finding the right piece for the right client is such a welcome challenge. One piece can inspire a whole room or scheme – and can equally inspire a totally different thought process for another client.

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

Dominique: The Egyptian in Russet, hands down.

Shannon: I sway between two rugs – the Agra in Duchess and Malawi in Blush.

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