Articulate (verb) ärtĭ'kyəlāt: to explain meaning, to put into words coherently. Writing contemporary art, rewriting art history.

An Historic Heritage

SPI-Siena-Italy-Italian-ImmersionSurrounded by the greatest art and architecture in history, in a country where the Renaissance seemed to happen last week, heritage is not merely something Italians are aware of, it’s the cornerstone of their identity.

And for Italian migrants beginning a new chapter in Australia, holding tight to that heritage has helped them forge friendships and close-knit communities. Given that people of Italian descent now make up 4.6% of the nation’s population, it’s also transformed their adopted home.

“Culture involves a whole way of life,” says Sara Wills, Associate Professor in Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. “It’s not only tangible objects like art or buildings, it’s also social behaviours like dances, sports, habits and customs.”

Heritage, on the other hand, is the distillation of culture. “It’s those things that are passed down from one generation to the next, that give someone a sense of belonging,” says her colleague John Hajek, Professor of Italian Studies.

For migrants, largely bereft of their material culture, heritage can be vitally important. “Identity, mindset, and family influences are some of the strongest aspects of Italian heritage,” says Wills. “These have led to a greater appreciation of Italian culture, which has had a remarkable effect on Australia’s.”

There’s no question that Italy has, for centuries, been a cultural superpower: in fact, it is so highly regarded that 51 cultural landmarks are protected as global heritage, important to all of humanity. Even today all roads lead to Italy, with the Venice Biennale the epicentre of the contemporary art world. But more than that, the country’s art is welded to the very idea of civility.

Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator International Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, explains, “The genius of the renaissance was that it drew a straight line from Ancient Rome to Quattrocento Italy.

“Wealthy patrons and churchmen saturated Italian cities with art, not only to boast of their power, but to edify the public and instruct them in virtue and civic pride. And that art was read with complete understanding, even by illiterate audiences.”

But in the 18thcentury, English aristocrats plundered this heroic heritage for themselves, taking ‘souvenirs’ as they made their customary travels around Italy. “Huge amounts of Italian artworks were taken back to England, as trophies fit for cultured gentlemen,” rues Gott. And as Britannia came to rule the waves, Italian art became synonymous with English civilisation.

This British Italophilia was imported wholesale to Australia, and in the years preceding Federation, our fledgling art institutions were mandated to collect Italian art as a way to to ‘improve culture’ in the Antipodes.

“Australians at the time were familiar with Italian music and opera, and certainly the old masters,” Gott says. The public certainly responded enthusiastically to the newly-acquired art, from haughty Bronzino portraits to Canaletto’s Venetian scenes, drenched in light.

And they flocked to see the crown jewel: Tiepolo’s magnificent Banquet of Cleopatra– which the Australian government had wanted so much that in 1932, it bought the piece clandestinely from Soviet agents on the steps of London’s National Gallery, paying for it with a suitcase full of cash.

Gott feels that the appeal, like so many Italian works, is that though grand in scale, “it touches the human moment, and makes you part of the story.”

Of course, along with fine art Italy is renowned for bespoke and luxury goods, the product of centuries-old artisanal practices. For Italians, their allure of these wares is entwined with the history and traditions of Italy itself- and they make some subtle statements about the buyer.

jacket 2
Bespoke tailor Carl Sciarra uniquely upholds this legacy, uniquely offering his customers the exquisite craftsmanship and authentic experience of an Italian sartoria.

“In Italy, it was customary for a a tailor to personally interact with his customers, and develop an intimate understanding of their needs over the years,” says Sciarra. “Tailors developed distinctive regional styles, and created clothes suited to the local climate and the way of life.”

Sciarra seamlessly updates this tradition for the Australian mindset, with garments that are lighter and less structured. “A more relaxed fit is a given,” he says, “with details like a slightly rippled sleeve head, styled pocket details and subtle asymmetries that animate a jacket.”

A different look to built-up, Savile Row-style tailoring, Sciarra’s suits are complex and nuanced, designed for the Australian climate.

He sources his fabrics from Italy and the UK, drawing inspiration from the local and Italian landscapes but toning it down for Australian tastes- the idea is always easy sophistication.  “It’s about extracting the character of Italian style, and doing it in a cleaner, up to date way for Australian modes.”

This attitude is itself a venerable piece of Italian heritage, known as sprezzatura, coined by renaissance courtier Baldassar Castiglione in 1528. “Sprezzatura is presenting oneself impeccably, carefully, but in a way that seems effortless,” Sciarra explains. “Italian craftsmanship is about creating and expressing that feeling. “

Many would argue- with good reason- that Italy’s greatest influence has been not on the way Australians dress, but on the way we eat.“Italians live in a romance with food,” says food historian Dr Tania Cammarano. “It’s how we share our love for others, it’s how we mark our moments; it defines what it means to enjoy life.”

Italian foodstuffs were available in Australia a surprisingly long time- pasta, then known as macaroni, was first imported in 1823. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that a handful of Italian restaurants appeared in Melbourne. Dubbed ‘the Spaghetti Mafia’, these close-knit families that ran these eateries shared a love of food and wine, and introduced to the mainly Anglo-Celtic population an exciting new way of eating and living.

While the earliest book of Italian recipes, the First Australian Continental Cookery Book, was published in 1937, it took the great Margaret Fulton to teach Australians how to eat pasta. In addition to a foolproof recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, her classic 1968 cookbook featured a step-by-step guide to correctly eating it, complete with photographs.

“In the 1960s, Italy was seen worldwide as the source of glamour and excitement,” says Cammarano, “Anything Italian was ‘in’. Food naturally capitalised on the la Dolce Vita craze, and the desirability of being Italian.” 

Illustrating her point is a glorious page from a 1960 issue of the Australian Women’s Weekly, in which a stylish couple sips espresso in an advertisement for Max Factor’s Café Espresso Lipcolors, that promised ‘real coffee aroma’ in every lipstick. This was a remarkable leap, considering Australia’s first mainstream café had only opened six years earlier.

“But cooking is not only aspirational, it’s family,” Cammarano says. “It’s a vitally important part of Italian culture to cook and eat together. On one level sharing food creates a family bond, but it’s also a chance to perform our culture and ethnicity- and pass along family recipes and traditions. Every family will have their own way of cooking something, which is how their beloved nonna did it, and their nonna before them.”

Cammarano is fascinated that Anglo-Celtic families are embracing such comfort cooking, taking their cue from the Italians. “This hunger for tradition, for authenticity, is a new thing in Australian food,” she muses. “It’s less glamourous and more akin to peasant cooking, but it’s closely linked to ideas of forming genuine connections with family and personal stories, as an anodyne to what’s become a very disconnected society.’

Immigration expert Daniela Grando argues that the intangible aspects of Italian heritage- the convivial community and appreciation of the good life- have influenced modern Australia even more than the country’s cuisine.

“Postwar émigrés were under enormous pressure to assimilate,” she says, “but instead they held on tightly to familiar customs and their regional identity, and established ‘Italian clubs’ to support each other.”

Today, Italian-Australians are proud of their Italianità (Italian spirit) and maintain strong ties to family in both countries. Customs from the old country, like passata day, and the lesser-known salami day, have found a new home in Aussie backyards. While they may be becoming less common in Italy, Grando notes the tradition is stronger than ever here, with family members, neighbours and friends of all ages coming together to cook astonishing quantities of tomato sauce. “The really interesting thing,” she says, “is that it’s now spreading out to non-Italian community groups.”

Equally strong is the Italian habit of treating their public spaces as social spaces- palace to meet, eat, and soak up the sun. “Italians did invent al fresco,” Grando laughs. In Italy, she explains, the whole town turns out for la passeggiata, the evening stroll, an opportunity to see and be seen. “No one just pops out casually. You put on the nice shoes, you make la passeggiata, consider this restaurant or that, sip an espresso, catch up on a little gossip.”

Having travelled widely and been exposed to Italian culture, Australians are embracing what Grando describes as ‘cosmo-multiculturalism’- eager to indulge in the enjoyable aspects of Italian-ness. It’s impossible to imagine Australian cities without their Italian communities, and from eating out to shopping, cooking and catching up over coffee, there’s barely an aspect of day-to-day life that hasn’t been influenced by Italian ways.

As Grando puts it, “Being Australian these days is a lot like being Italian.”

Published Il Tridente, Spring 2019.





Grand Designs


There’s something about good design that is deeply satisfying. Whether you’re handling a sleek domestic product or sinking back into a luxury car, there’s an undeniable frisson of excitement, a sense of the rightness of the crafted object.

It can be difficult to pin down the allure of fine design – much less determine what constitutes it – but its eye-catching appeal is a constant.

“People are drawn to beautiful things,” says Dr Paul Harrison, an expert in consumer behaviour at Deakin University and visiting professor at Milan’s Università Cattolica. “The response is deeply instinctive and emotional, even if our ideas of beauty vary with social and are personal tastes.”

In many ways, design has defined and refined those tastes. Near-constant interaction has created a design-literate public, with an appreciation for an aesthetic that often leans toward elegant minimalism and the sleek, industrial look of the Bauhaus. But while we are well placed to admire an object’s beauty, the appeal runs deeper than that.


“Owning a piece of design is not only aesthetically rewarding,” says Harrison, “it’s an emotionally honest way of announcing who you are and shares that with others for whom it’s also important, reinforcing a sense of belonging.”

Dr Brandon Gien, CEO of Good Design Australia, says looks will only get you so far. “If a product doesn’t match a quality aesthetic with superior function, it won’t last,” he says. “Those that break new ground, that do the job in an almost invisible way, are the game changers.”

Gien points to the iPhone as a groundbreaker par excellence. While the styling is enticing, the real innovation is its usability. “The first iPhone didn’t need an instruction book. Using it was intuitive and instinctive, playing on the sense of discovery and delight.” Its tactile nature worked to cement this positive experience in the mind; not only is it an innovative design, it’s a stunning example of design psychology.


“It transformed the industry within a few years,” says Gien, noting its equally rapid impact on our daily habits. Social-network apps, mobile banking and digital assistants are de rigueur today, but Gien says we need to be careful with this design-led social innovation. “Technology is only going to get faster and more integral,” he says. “the opportunity is in how we design these to changes enrich our daily lives, not make us slaves to our devices.”

Placing people at the heart of design is key to a product’s success. In the past, designers worked to a client’s brief with little other input; but today, designers and makers co-design with their prospective customers. “The aim is to develop a rich understanding of how people engage with objects in the everyday world,” says RMIT University’s Dr Scott Mayson. “Bringing people into the design process gives a clear picture of what their needs are across a broad spectrum, which can spark design speculation and refine the product.”

“Streamlining a product’s functioning is always important, especially framing information to reduce the user’s cognitive load- presenting information for the ways people naturally think and process, making the product easier to learn and easier to use,” says Mayson. “A product where every aspect is considered and works together immaculately creates a valuable experience and makes a strong emotional connection.”

Unsurprisingly, it was the Italians who first made fine design widely accessible. In the country’s postwar economic boom, chic consumers were hungry for the latest fashions and everyday objects were designed for modern flair as much as their usefulness. Pre-eminent architect and designer Ettore Sottsass summed up the new vibe when he famously declared “Functionalism is not enough. Design should be sensual and exciting.”

In 1955, kitchenware maker Alessi pioneered a new kind of collaboration between designers and manufacturing. Unique for the time, Alessi did not downplay but instead celebrated the designer’s role, partnering with the likes of Philippe Starck and Alessandro Mendini, and recently Australians Lisa Vincitorio and Adam Cornish.

Alessi became a household name, along with companies like Kartell and Cassina and, in 1980, Sottsass’s Memphis Group. They were lauded for creating everyday objects that showed a commitment to design excellence at every step of the manufacturing process. For the first time, master craftsmanship and high-end design were brought into the centre of daily life.

“Design is a reflection of what’s happening in the world at the time,” say Ryan Russell and Byron George, the award-winning directors of global design practice Russell & George. “The Memphis Group, like the Bauhaus before it, was a visionary response to how people wanted to live and work, and aimed to enhance the experience of living in that moment.”

But because design is a product of its time, it runs the risk of becoming stale. “Mid-century modern, for example, is extraordinary design,” say the duo. “It was affordable, modern and less formal, exactly the tastes of the ’50s and ’60s. But it was quickly overused and as times changed, it was seen as outdated then as cliché. The ideas that drive innovations are easy to lose out of context.” But, as the two point out, design is cyclical. “Important ideas will always come back to the fore.”

While designers often speak of lineages, Maserati regards its classic models as its lifeblood. “Our history is all around us every day,” says Rossella Guasco, manager of colour and material designgesturing to photographs of models . While a few models such as the 1954 A6GCS and 1960 Ghibli have become iconic, Guasco feels all models are important chapters in the company’s story. “Our mission now is to create timeless designs that don’t date.”

Unlike many manufacturers, Maserati’s design teams work closely together in order to conceptualise the car as a whole. “The engineering can be an inspiration to the designers and vice versa,” Guasco says. “We consider the interior and exterior together when we think about technology, lines and materials so that each complements the other. It’s like da Vinci’s Vitruvian man: everything is strongly connected, harmonious, well-proportioned and balanced. It gives the design a distinctive character – a soul.”

Her enduring inspiration is Italian culture, art and history. “We draw inspiration from everything,” she says, “food and wine, regional architecture and always, always nature: the tones of rocky outcrops and vineyards and water over stones.”

There’s also Maserati’s heritage to uphold, and the traditional workmanship that defines the brand. “We look for the highest standards of craftsmanship, but we are also willing to experiment – to reinterpret the traditions in novel ways. That has always been the creative genius of Italian culture.”


Guasco’s process blends the artisanal with cutting-edge technology. “In the beginning it was all practical work; now we balance the computer with being hands-on,” she says. “I need to touch the materials we have chosen – wood, leather, paint samples and so on – to make sure the mix is right. We adjust the final shape and proportions on computer to create a complete interior/exterior model that we can map the materials onto, and try different combinations and finishes. Once we decide, the final render is presented to the corporation.”

“We take the opportunity to experiment with the language of materials, and evolve the brand,” she says, noting the pigments developed for the opulent Levante One of One as having softer, richer tones: “Maserati is not loud, but subtle.” She avidly describes the textural Pelletessuta interiors, a woven Nappa leather made using loom technology developed by fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna. “Weaving with leather opens up so many possibilities. In some ways it’s like a performance material but it’s as comfortable and customisable as any woven fabric. It’s a perfect fit for Maserati, drawing from the craftsman legacy but innovating with it.”

While we often think of design as objects, design today is a process as much as a product, with designers often being called on to create systems for businesses, governments and the spaces we inhabit every day. Dr Rafael Gomez of QUT’s Design Lab says designers, “have to understand how people think, move and engage with each other to create liveable public spaces”.

He uses the example of a museum exhibition. “The designer needs to consider how people will be guided through a liminal space, how they will access the displays and be put in the right frame of mind to absorb the educational dimension.” This includes physical aspects – whether it’s expansive, cosy or evocative – and non-physical ones, such as public safety and how people will interact.

Considerations like these are essential to the layers of design that underpin a global city. Gomez points to digital services: “As well as public information and tourism apps, there’s the need to access Wi-Fi on transport links and to think about how Wi-Fi affects the way people move through cities.” This digital infrastructure must have adaptability built in, ready to deploy new technologies – like 5G phone networks – at speed.

Data analysing our movements also helps divine optimal locations for various precincts including successful social spaces. “People need inviting spaces to be included, to gather, eat, relax, socialise, and enjoy public events,” says Gomez. “ ‘Smart cities’ encourage interaction with art and green spaces, flipping the usual ‘keep off the grass’ approach. Public spaces are increasingly being designed to allow people to behave naturally and feel happier, rather than hemmed in.’

Experts predict that in coming years, more people will become their own designer as digital technologies become more sophisticated, yet easier to use. While there is currently a range of platforms offering customisable graphics for print or online use, Dr Scott Mayson of RMIT’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing believes the potential is far greater.

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, has already proven its worth in fields as diverse as prosthetic medicine and cultural heritage. Mayson sees the technology becoming ubiquitous in the future, albeit in a different way.

“It will be much more than printing pre-designed objects,” he says. “Digital tools, including very sophisticated forms of augmented reality, will allow people to design for themselves as interfaces grow more intuitive.”


Instead of having set options, they’ll use what Mayson terms “generative design”. “Rather than designing the overall form, you design the rules from which the design emerges,” he explains, describing the technique used to create RMIT’s breathtaking ceremonial mace. “The design uses algorithms based on patterns found in nature, that self-adjusts through millions of tiny interactions to create a harmonious, fluid form, like a flock of birds.” The final product was laser welded into thousands of layers of impossibly intricate titanium mesh.

Mayson feels this tech has the potential to make personalised, digitally crafted products available to the masses. “People will be able to adjust components of a design with almost infinite variation in shape, material, texture, pattern or patina, which will create value in a marketing sense but also give the user a real sense of attachment as the co-creator of a unique object.”

Dr Brandon Gien believes encouraging a knack for design among the next generation is essential to meeting future challenges, noting that the rapid changes in the workforce will only increase as technology becomes more integral and impacted by economic and social change. “Within 10 years, businesses will need entirely new approaches and solutions,” he says. “We need to be able to design effective and sustainable outcomes.”


But it’s not simply a case of building a better machine. Gien says that while the growing emphasis on science, technology and engineering in education is laudable, it doesn’t go far enough. “We don’t want to produce only ‘single-track’ thinkers,” he says. “We also need to develop creative faculties, the ability to take inspiration and think laterally – the domain of artists and designers.”

“In the future, we’re going to be facing business, social, and environmental challenges we can barely imagine today. It’s that creative spark, that ability to think outside the box, that will allow us to meet them.”

Published Il Tridente, Winter 2019



Centuries of Style


In the 1960s, it seemed the whole world wanted to be Italian. Italy was simply the place to be, a land of historic cities and sun-drenched lemon groves, high culture and fashion, glamourous starlets in every café and luxury yachts and cars high on the list. Even more so, it was the Italian people themselves who were envied not only for their innate sense of style, but also for their unmistakable verve and carefree attitude to enjoying the good things in life: a vibrant approach that was emulated the world over.

This distinctive and sophisticated style had been in the Italians’ blood for hundreds of years, shaped by their remarkable history. One of new ways of thinking the Renaissance had ushered in was an approach to living, leisure and luxury that became known as sprezzatura, a kind of studied nonchalance. Coined by courtier Baldassar Castiglione in 1528, sprezzatura could be seen in the small details of personal style and taste, how well one enjoys conversation and company- but all done so casually as to appear effortless, a perfect balance between constraint and sophistication.

Professor Richard Blythe, formerly Dean of Architecture and Design at RMIT University Melbourne, believes that such thinking is a cornerstone of Italian identity.

“To people who live surrounded by some of the greatest ever art, history and cultural expression, in a country that thinks of the Renaissance as happening last week, social awareness is just part of their mental architecture,’ he says.

“Centuries later, it’s a mindset that still shapes consumer choices and leisure activities. It keeps up a tradition of craftsmanship seen nowhere else in the world and provides a gracious example to others of how to indulge in it.”

roman holiday

This was certainly the case in the heady economic boom following World War II, when Hollywood itself came calling- and stayed. In the 1950s and 60s, American filmmakers flocked to Rome, touted as the most stylish city on earth, to work at the Cinecitta Studios, ushering in the period that made Federico Fellini, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni household names, and blazoned the freewheeling La Dolce Vita– coined after Fellini’s eponymous film- on the imagination of the world.


One of the hallmarks of this gilded age was the ubiquitous Vespa. Although designed with pragmatic goals in mind, its enduring impact has been one of style. Created by aeronautical engineer Corradino d’Ascanio for aeronautics company Piaggio, the redesign of the ungainly M6 prototype enclosed the engine, allowing the scooter to have a step-through design and tall splashguard to protect the rider. On seeing it, Enrico Paiggo exclaimed ‘Sembra una vespa!’ (‘It looks like a wasp!’) and in 1946, the Vespa went into production.

The Vespa’s appeal was instant, and near universal. It was smaller, cleaner and more comfortable than a motorcycle; it was affordable to run but with enough zip for busy streets, making it popular with the urban chic set. And its styling was as voluptuous and glamorous as a film star, with just as many seen riding them. In 1952, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck riding through the Eternal City filming Roman Holiday legendarily inspired over 100, 000 sales. Vespa had become an emblem of vivacious Italian glamour and style, an association which has only grown stronger with time. Today, Vespa is regarded as little short of a style statement with wheels.


Naturally, an even older and more lavish Italian luxury made its mark among the silver screens and superstars. Founded in Rome in 1881, Bulgari jewellery served a clientele composed of the creme of European aristocracy and American magnates, but it was in the 1960s that Bulgari shot to international fame, its lavish pieces adorning sirens such as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollabrigida and Elizabeth Taylor. One of its most famous was the diamond and deep green emerald necklace bought for Taylor by Richard Burton as a wedding gift in 1964; a true treasure, when the necklace was sold by Christies in 2011, it fetched over $6 million USD. The elegant matched earrings brought a further $3.2 million.earrungsbIn 1962, Bulgari led an exhibition of jewellers in Paris to mark the founding of the Italian Institute of Culture. Where Paris has previously reigned supreme, Bulgari was determined to inject new life into jewellery design, most obviously with its signature style of bold statement jewels that let creativity and colour take centre stage.

As well as eschewing the fussy establishment penchant for white gems, Bulgari’s coloured stones represented a different kind of exclusivity, taste and skill. Bulgari’s Brand and Heritage Curator Lucia Boscaini, emphasises that their inimitable aesthetics and constant experimentation is not only deeply entrenched in Italian artisan traditions, but also unique in approach.

“Larger coloured stones are harder to source, and require sophistication to design with them and great deal of skill to balance over an entire piece. Each is handcrafted, and can take a year or more to complete.” Boscaini explains.


“It’s this sophistication that takes luxury spending of this kind beyond simple display into something much more complex,” says Dr Paul Harrison, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Deakin University.

“When you ask Italians about luxury goods, they talk about it in terms of buying a piece of heritage. They see it as investing in something that has a story woven with Italy itself, that comes from a long tradition of fine craftsmanship, and has had care, skill and love put into every detail, be that butter-soft Ferragamo shoes or the equally fine crafted upholstery in a Maserati GranTurismo. It’s not simply buying from a company, it’s owning part of the story.”

Harrison says that aside from their considerable sensory fascination, the subconscious allure of luxury goods is what they represent. “They not only reinforce those ideas about history and heritage, but it represents a very basic human instinct: a desire to belong, to be seen as successful and desirable, and to communicate that to others.“Of course, this contributes to sense of self in more complex and intangible ways- the concept of wealth becomes more abstract, becomes about what it can do and the enjoyment it can give, what it projects about oneself- and how it feeds into self-regard, and elevates the individual in the eyes of others.” Harris elaborates that sense of deliberate control over one’s spending habits underpins Italian luxury consumption.

“It shows a nuanced command of the signals it sends,” he says, “ and Italians are very comfortable with that degree of self-awareness- after all, they’ve been doing it for centuries. And being less influenced by Protestant mores around wealth, they are fully able to project their social credentials and personal sophistication.”

Richard Blythe agrees the same approach informs their habit of integrating leisure, socialisation, and old-fashioned seeing and being seen with the work day.

“Italians have a very particular sense of what life and culture means: not merely getting through the week, but participating in a civil and elegant society, even in such a small way as chatting over coffee,” a habit at the heart of that most beloved of Italian institutions, and arguably Italy’s greatest cultural contribution to Australia, the café.


There were Paris-style ‘coffee palaces’ in Melbourne as early as the 1870s, as the Temperance Movement protested the anti-social nature of alcohol. The first espresso machine was invented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin in 1884; Luigi Bezzera then patented improvements in 1901. The first espresso machine in Australia came to roost in Melbourne’s Café Florentino in the 1930s, as an influx of Italian migrants searched for a taste of home.
Achille Gaggia came to the rescue, perfecting the first modern steamless espresso machine in 1938. Unlike earlier models, Gaggia’s machine forced water to flow at pressure over the coffee grounds, resulting in a thick, rich crema that is the hallmark of espresso. The first Gaggia machine was patented in 1947, and in May 1954 the first import licence was granted to Peter Bancroft and his father, who opened il Cappuccino in St Kilda. Police were quickly called in to manage the unruly crowds.

While most would assume that Australia’s enthusiasm for the bean was due to European migrants, it was actually American soldiers stationed in Australia during the War that did much to popularise cafes in the mainstream. And while Melbourne’s inner city suburbs had became the heart of a Euro-style café culture, its rival was, surprisingly,  North Queensland, meeting the demand from Italian cane growers.

Today most cafés offer substantial food and even wine as well as coffee and sweets, reflecting a trend towards less formal dining. Granted, this new breed of café has diverges from its Italian forebears: few Australians knock back a quick espresso al banco, standing at the bar, but in common with southern Italians, will order and imbibe at the table, il tavolo, to soak up the décor and warm climate, greet acquaintances or simply watch the passing parade.

But while Australians have a reputation for coffee snobbery, Blyth insists that beneath the differences the Italian experience remains unchanged.

“It’s the same appreciation of architecture and art on the walls,” he says, “the same pleasure of slipping on the new shoes, of indulging a little after a hard day, the same social experience that unconsciously reassures us we belong,” he says.

“And although the world might be constantly digitally connected, that sense of personal connection is more important than ever.”

Published Il Tridente November 2018


More Than a Moment


Photography has long been perceived as the quintessential scientific tool, to record and document with absolute veracity. But almost from the moment of its invention, photographers have sought to push the medium’s creative limits- and in their day, photography’s pioneers such as Hippolyte Bayard, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Alfred Steiglitz, were regarded first and foremost as artists.

Almost 180 years later, in a world where 1.8 billion digital photographs are taken every day, fine art photography is commanding ever-greater attention from art institutions and the viewing public alike. And with good reason, as it continues to grow in depth and complexity, far from simply documenting moments in time.

‘As with any art, photography is driven by its conceptual basis, the ideas it conveys, the thoughts and emotional response it prompts,’ says Susan van Wyk, Senior Curator Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria. ‘There are many ways to engage with contemporary photography, but a work that is well considered, layered and nuanced, always rewards time spent with it.

And today’s audiences are clearly prepared to spend time with it, with contemporary photography having grown to be currently one of the most popular forms of art.

henson 2

This year, the Head On Photo Festival, Australia’s only annual such event, exhibited work by 800 artists across 100 venues, while Melbourne’s NGV hosts a Festival of Photography featuring such luminaries as Bill Henson and William Eggleston. And later this year, the Art Gallery of NSW will show the surrealist work of Australian Pat Brassington, as well as a major survey of the late Robert Mapplethorpe from LA’s Museum of Art and J Paul Getty Museum. Australian art museums’ own holdings of photography now rival traditional media, and their mission to showcase local photographic artists to the world culminated in the selection of Tracey Moffat to represent Australia at this year’s Venice Biennale.

But this has not always been the case; the idea of photography as fine art lagged in the Australian imagination. When the Centre for Contemporary Photography was established in Melbourne in 1986, photography was largely regarded either as documentation- enshrined in magazines like Time, Life or National Geographic– or as advertising, with little in between. And while there was plenty of photographic art produced, the market was almost non-existent, and exhibiting institutions had scarcely begun to build their collections.


‘Photography needed a different kind of space,’ says CCP Director Naomi Cass, speaking both figuratively and literally. ‘It needed a particular space to show, and for specific criticism, a space to put a new framework around photography and contextualise it as art alongside more traditional media.’

The Centre’s strategy of exhibition rather than collection not only liberated photography from the marketplace, it also gave it vital room to grow and experiment. At the same time, it brought a great deal of exposure for emerging photographers as artists. Its salon-style events drew regular visitors and quickly demonstrated that fine art photography could be accessible and enjoyable, as well as aesthetic and considered.

But even more, that accessibility created an artistically literate audience who simply ‘get it’, and are able to connect with the various avenues contemporary photography explores, and the photographers who are re-imagining our world in unpredictable and unconstrained ways.

‘That imaginative enquiry is what has marked photography as art from its very beginning,’ says NGV’s Susan van Wyk. ‘Artists continually re-frame what they see, and  experiment with different development processes to imbue a photograph with emotion and imagination.’


This is nowhere better evident than in the NGV’s exhibition of William Eggleston’s Portraits, part of the Gallery’s Festival of Photography. Photographed in the American South in the 1960s, Eggleston’s images depict friends, family and strangers encountered in passing by his lens. Although using snapshots similar to the vernacular photography of the day, Eggleston’s works are remarkably sophisticated in composition, drawing attention to the closeness between strangers, and the distance between friends.

‘It’s not as straightforward as simply diarising,’ says van Wyk, ‘but neither are they treated with any sentimentality. Eggleston wants his audience to get beneath outward appearances’.

Eggleston’s saturated, practically vibrating colours- as van Wyk notes, unheard of among serious art photographers of the time- deftly grabs and guides our attention. The rich orange blouse of an African woman and a man in stark black and white passing in the street (Untitled, 1965-1969) is as composed as a sonnet; two teens sipping soda in a blazing red Buick (Untitled (Couple in Red Car in Drive-In Restaurant) 1965-68) is like a breathless still from a Hitchcock film, shimmering in the Memphis heat. One of his most striking portraits (Untitled (Memphis Tennessee) 1969-71) is of a carefully coiffed woman incongruously and ominously sitting on a curb: her dark blue cocktail dress speaks of prim composure: but it is the yellow-painted curb that focuses attention on her tightly crossed legs, and connects her to the padlocked bollard wrapped in chains beside her.


But while there is almost a sense of voyeurism to his shots, each moment trapped in amber reveals beauty in the banal, and poses layers of questions of identity, relationships, memory and perception.

‘Eggleston’s impact on impact on photography since the 70s has been enormous’ says van Wyk, and notes his lasting influence on current filmmakers such as David Lynch and Sofia Coppola.

The NGV’s Festival of Photography showcases an enormous diversity of photographic work  comprising digital media, documentary found photography, and of course a star turn by Bill Henson. Like Eggleston, Henson’s work is imbued with emotion and authority, but uses the language and aesthetic if renaissance art in luminous works of uncompromising, affecting beauty, that draw us ever deeper into the image.


Art history is one of the multiple histories photography has to draw on, so it’s important to show the many ways we encounter it,’ says van Wyk.

The same could be said for the work of Pat Brassington, whose exhibition opens at the AGNSW this August. One of Australia’s leading photographers, Brassington has long been inspired by surrealism, psychoanalysis and the uncanny in her treatment of the body as a malleable landscape. Her work draws strongly from the unconscious, taking the viewer into a world that is familiar, yet altered and shifted to create alternate realities.


In October, the AGNSW will also host a survey exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe, the American photographer regarded as the single most influential of the 20th century.

Isobel Parker Philip, Acting Curator of Photography at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, believes that Mapplethorpe, although known for his eye for detail, is more properly read in terms of his overall artistic vision.

‘He is not about documenting the curve of a flower stem or human figure, he is about the relentless pursuit of perfection that that line embodies,’ she explains.

‘It’s our hope that audiences will look at iconic works like these to gain a fuller understanding of Mapplethorpe’s conceptual processes, not just his formidable command of the medium.

‘We want them to look mindfully at the work, not simply through it.’

Parker Philip is excited that the conceptual basis of photographic art is being applied more energetically than ever before, not just to the treatment of its subjects, but to its ever-expanding capabilities.

‘Artists have always manipulated the medium and done unexpected things, but right now artists are really dissecting the inherent nature of the medium, and unhinging what people expect to see,’ she says.

‘Today, audiences live in a sea of photographic imagery, and as a result are extremely visually literate- navigating between commercial, social and fine art photography is just second nature to them. They are already primed to look at photography in a whole new way, and the reciprocal effect that has on artists is considerable, making them interrogate what it means to create a photographic work in the 21st century.

‘In many ways, there’s almost an assumption that a photographic artwork is reducible to its subject- that the image is all that counts, and we can almost bypass the photographic process on the way to the subject.

‘But there’s much more to a photographic work than that- or it might as well not be a photograph. Artists now are experimenting with all but forgotten processes, or inventing new ones to turn the photograph into a sculptural presence, or an evanescent one, one that asserts time or even thwarts the ability read the image.’

Parker Philip has seen these strategies draw a different interaction from the audience in the recent exhibition New Matter- recent forms of photography, making them stop and contemplate a work that’s not easily recognised, or defies fiting into a neat category.


Matthew Brandt’s work is just such, using gum bichromate photography (popular 1890-1920) known for its soft, dreamy tints that could resemble charcoal or watercolour. But Brandt goes further by developing the plate with pigments made from physical elements like dust, to create ghostly traces of the physical world.

Indigenous and Maori artist James Tylor similarly revives antiquated processes including daguerreotype- printed on a silvered plate- to reclaim control of one of the tools of colonisation and cultural disruption. The natural specimens he photographs, severed from the land and scientifically dissected, silently cuts across the narrative of settlement by showing its reality.


Perhaps the most innovative of these experiments are Justine Varga’s images, that not only challenge the idea of the photographic instant, but are produced without even the camera. Varga exposes the negative to light multiple times, and then subjects it to daily wear and tear for up to six months. Although technically an error, the patina of the degraded negative becomes a feature, and a record of time captured.

‘Photography has never been fixed or stable,’ Parker Philip asserts. ‘Photography continually re-evaluates itself, and forces us to be reflexive when viewing- or curating. Experiments like this are at the forefront of an international conversation on photographic art’s history, its place in contemporary art, and where it can go from here.

‘In a world were photography had become so ubiquitous, it’s crucial to keep questioning.’

Published Il Tridente, Winter 2017

Made in Italy

At the Geneva motor show in 2015, Maserati won the prestigious Car Design News Concept Car of the Year award for its stunning Alfieri sports concept, that had beeb unveiled in the Swiss city the year before. It was the latest in a very long line of accolades that the Italian marque has received over the past seven decades, for cars lauded not only for their sports performance and exclusive luxury, but for their outstanding design aesthetic. From cars like the 1950s & 60s A6GCS, 3500 GT and Mistral, through the Bora and the Ghibli in the 70s to the current stars Quattroporte and GranTurismo, Maserati’s superlative design has always been a highly praised, and prized, element of the brand’s DNA.

And that’s no accident. Italian design culture reflects a centuries-old heritage that draws on rich traditions of seeing, thinking and crafting that at first seem incompatible with modern innovation and the demands of large-scale manufacturing, yet has a way of walking the tightrope between the two, translating that tension into design full of nuance and individuality, without ever forsaking a distinct sense of quality, of the well crafted.

In the 20th century, that need to balance the legacy of craftsmanship against the rise of mass production let Italian design come into its own, and turned Italy into a dynamic manufacturing powerhouse. But it was a bumpy road at the outset, with the demands of mass consumption and Italy’s own political, social and economic landscape posing some significant challenges.

A unified nation more in name than fact, manufacture lagged at the start of the century, and for the most part, was confined to the old workshop model in separated cities. The tempo picked up slightly as new machinery allowed production to become serial during the 1920s and 30s, and Italian design began to stand out for its originality and sophistication.

But it was only after World War II that Italian design began to win global recognition, aided by Italy’s own economic miracle. In the wake of the War, Italy became an important ally for the free world, and the United States poured money into the country’s reconstruction. The Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (Institute for Industrial Reconstruction) negotiated the public and private capital needed to revitalise industry on behalf of the fledgling democratic government; the creation of the European Common Market in 1957, of which Italy was a founding member, opened even more investment and markets.

The effect was indeed a miracle. As the economy boomed, incomes trebled and living standards shot skyward. Italy was transformed from an impoverished and semi-rural to a vibrant, forward-looking consumer society in less than a decade.

And those consumers were hungry for the latest designs. Manufactures snapped up architects and designers, ushering in a golden age as everyday objects from refrigerators to portable fans were designed for flair as much as functionality. Famed architect Ettore Sottsass summed up the new vibe when he declared ‘functionalism is not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting!”

Industrial objects and furniture became a symbol of this heyday period during the 1950s and 60s, and was further popularised around the world by Hollywood and Italian cinema. By 1980, the success of Italy’s design style in turn become a brand itself, with companies such as Kartell, Alessi, Cappellini, Flos, Artemide, Driade, Foscarini and more trading under the ‘Made in Italy’ banner, guaranteeing high design, craftsmanship, and manufacturing quality.

Professor Richard Blythe, Dean of Architecture and Design at RMIT University Melbourne, believes that Italians are much more than merely invested in art and design, it’s a cornerstone of their identity.

‘To people who live surrounded by the greatest art, architecture and design in history, in a country where the Renaissance seemed to happen last week, awareness of design is just part of their psychology,’ he says.

‘It’s a very particular sense of what life and culture means: not merely getting through the week, but participating in a civil and elegant society. It counts how you present yourself to the world, how you engage with others, the messages you send by what you surround yourself with. Italian design draw on that awareness continually.’

A prime example is Olivetti, which from its beginnings in 1908, was famous for its preoccupation with art and design, that it developed into a full-fledged corporate philosophy.
Founded by Camillo Olivetti, the eponymous company launched the first Italian-designed and industrially manufactured typewriter at the 1911 Turin World Fair- with the advertising poster suggesting the Olivetti M1 was endorsed by the towering historical figure of Dante Aligheri himself. But it was Olivetti’s son Adriano who mainly developed the company, after visiting the US to study modern manufacturing and industrial practices in 1925. He expanded and restructured the small workshop into an American-style factory, and by 1933 Olivetti manufactured half the typewriters used in Italy.

Adriano was convinced that good design could create good business, and no detail was overlooked as typewriter designs were refined. The intention was to blend art, design, culture and manufacturing into a new kind of business product for the future.

And they succeeded. In 1950, Marcello Nizzoli designed the Lettera 22, the first portable typewriter, that in 1959 would be among the first fifteen products recognised for design excellence in the inaugural Compasso d’Oro, the world’s oldest industrial design awards.

The combination of function and aesthetics continued in 1969 with Ettore Sottsass’ Valentine, that similarly staked its place in the NY Museum of Modern Art. It was sleek, lightweight, styled, and lipstick-red, a race car for the desk top. Although ostensibly intended to bring vibrancy into the 1960s office, Sottsass opined it was invented for use ‘any place except an office…to keep amateur poets company, or to provide a highly coloured object on a table in a studio apartment.’

Another icon represented in MoMA’s collection is Vespa; and although a relatively late arrival to the Italian manufacturing scene, there can be little doubt of its impact.


Created by aeronautics company Piaggio, the first Vespa prototype MP5 gained the nickname ‘Paperino’ (the Italian name for Donald Duck) for its ungainly shape – to the displeasure of Enrico Piaggio. Areonautical engineer Corradino d’Ascanio was called in to redesign the ugly duckling, who together with designer Mario d’Este, created the MP6 prototype. The engine was completely enclosed in a pressed steel unibody, allowing the scooter to have a step-through design and tall splashguard to protect the rider. On seeing the MP6, Enrico Paiggop exclaimed ‘Sembra una vespa!’ (‘It looks like a wasp!’) and in 1946, the Vespa 98cc went into production.

The Vespa’s appeal was near universal, and crossed class barriers effortlessly. It was smaller, cleaner and more comfortable than a motorcycle; it was affordable to run even during petrol shortages, but with enough zip for busy streets, making it as popular with everyday families as with the urban chic. And its styling was as voluptuous and glamorous as a film star, with many seen riding them. In 1952, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck riding through the Eternal City filming Roman Holiday inspired over 100, 000 sales. Vespa had become an emblem of vivacious Italian glamour and style.

But while mass production was always the plan for Vespa, housewares and kitchen giant Alessi grew from the Italian artisan tradition.  Founded by Giovanni Alessi in 1921, it was originally intended to produce handcrafted tableware. And the company remained modest until Giovanni’s son Ettore Alessi began to collaborate with outside designers in 1955, establishing a model that has ensured so many Italian furniture and product manufacturers have remained at the top of the crop.

In 1970, Giovanni’s grandson Alberto began the transformation of Alessi, describing the company as the first ‘Italian Design Factory’, capitalising on its collaborations with design maestros like Ettore Sottsass, Richard Sapper, and Alessandro Mendini.

‘Alessi originated this collaborative model, and built it into a very successful structure for design companies,’ says Richard Blythe. ‘And uniquely for the time, rather then downplaying the designers’ involvement, turned them into household names in the 80s and 90s.’

Still a family business, Alessi’s quest for fine design has added Australians Susan Cohn, Helen Kontouris, Lisa Vincitorio and this year, Adam Cornish- all RMIT graduates- to their stable.

‘There’s a deep commitment to the design process, which is curated right through to end production, and at all levels from bespoke high end pieces to manufactured objects all the way down.’ Blythe says.

‘Alessi maintains a depth of range driven by design, and it’s their design that is the differentiator.’

‘A large part of that is designing objects that have a meaningful connection to everyday life,’ agrees design historian Anna Caione, noting that often, it’s with a note of humour. One of Alessi’s iconic pieces is the delightful Anna G. corkscrew, inspired by Alessandro Mendini’s fiancée Anna- a playful design that aptly catches celebration, dancing, and amore, all the things that go with wine.
Today, perhaps the most visible aspect of Italian design excellence is its furniture manufacturers, of which Cassina, founded in 1927 by brothers Cesare and Umberto Cassina, is an undisputed leader.  Originally producing an eclectic range of small wooden pieces, supplying work for ships, hotels and restaurants helped the workshop build a reputation for upholstered furnishings and quality work.

Toward the end of the 40s, Cassina opened itself to working with outside designers, marking their passage from artisanal to industrial scale. Like Alessi,  this step proved remarkably fruitful, letting some of the most dazzlingly inventive architects and designers of the twentieth century- Gio Ponti, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and more recently, Mario Bellini and Zaha Haddid- create refined, smart and quality objects that became design classics in themselves.

Among these was Gaetano Pesce, who experimented with unlikely materials in his concept of ‘individual units in mass production’- pieces that could be tweaked during production to give a one of a kind, ‘crafted’ cachet. The audacious result was his Feltri chair, made from felt impregnated with resin and moulded into a precarious seeming, but sturdy, chair- another star of the MoMA collection. The striking flared design was a witty yet respectful response to Cassina’s early history crafting luxury ship furniture, and offers a quirky appeal.

Prestige manufacturer Kartell takes a different approach, placing the industrial process squarely at the centre of stunning design. Founded in 1949, the consumer plastics manufacturer became known as a technical innovator, pioneering the revolutionary injection moulding technique that would become its signature.

When it expanded into home furnishings in 1963, Kartell made its mark bringing functional design to daily living; and although plastic was far from a cheap alternative at the time, mass production meant affordability. Designer and Kartell technical director Gino Colombini together with architect and designer Anna Castelli Ferrieri set about bringing a swinging style to even the most utilitarian household objects: carpet beaters, wash basins, and dustpans were redesigned with bright colours and ergonomic shapes, on trend in the vibrant Italy of the 60s.
Manufactured they might be, but Kartell pieces are nevertheless recognised by savvy Europeans as elite design. The epitome of this was Kartell’s 2002 collaboration with French designer Phillippe Starck, to create the Louis Ghost Chair. A daring fusion of baroque luxury and cutting edge minimalism moulded in transparent polycarbonate, the Louis Ghost was an instant design icon- and with almost two million sold, remains one of Kartell’s most successful products.

‘It’s that amalgamation of craftsmanship and manufacturing, the tension of innovation while staying true to history that produces superior design,’ reflects Blythe on the Maserati Alfieri, noting echoes of its design heritage in its silken lines. ‘It’s the touch of the master’s hand.’

‘The care with which we value and select design is an idea that goes to the very heart of culture. It says who we are as people.’

Published Il Tridente, 2016

Inside Line


For a nation of people so in love with the outdoors, Australians have always had a sharp eye for interior design.

In the early days, of course, décor was largely imported; and between the gold rush and the wool boom, money was little object. The prominent Barr Smith family, then Australia’s wealthiest, led the charge, and between 1884 and 1929 furnished seven grand homes around Adelaide entirely in William Morris designs…and along the way, amassed one of the premier collections of decorative arts outside Britain.

But home decoration was not just for the elites. Australian artists and designers were avidly applying Modernism to domestic interiors in the pages of The Home magazine, first published in1920. The most influential of these was Margaret Preston, whose vigorous graphic prints of native flora and Aboriginal motifs were widely published in women’s magazines. In 1929, readers of Women’s World were even advised to keep and frame Preston’s covers ‘as charming pictures…just the decorative asset we need for Australian homes.’

That same idea of place still winds like a silver creek through Australian interiors, but never in an obvious way. Contemporary Australian design has matured into a sophisticated but underplayed approach, always with an eye to innovation, character and subtle references to the natural environment.

Design expert Jan Henderson feels that the seeming lack of an ‘Australian style’ has become Australia’s signature. ‘That plurality is our real strength,’ she says. ‘We’re not constrained by set styles that are almost clichés. Australian design can take the best from many looks and reinvent it for all the ways Australians live.’

Today, we demand more of our homes than ever before. Not only do they have to be offices, hotel kitchens, education centres, gyms, and technology hubs, they need to energise and provide respite. They must offer warm social spaces and moment of private restoration for their busy inhabitants, and more and more people understand that interiors play a crucial role in creating a sense of individuality and well-being.

But creating the perfect home interior doesn’t happen by accident. Far from being an extravagance, engaging a professional decorator or interior designer is now simply seen as the smart choice.

Unquestionably, hiring a professional has numerous benefits. Foremost is obviously their experience- design that represents quality takes education and time, and rather like learning to appreciate fine food and wine, there are no shortcuts. Designers are experts at creating and utilising spaces, and will arrive at creative solutions most people would never imagine. Their knowledge of decorative styles helps resolve mismatches into a harmonious whole, and their understanding of design psychology creates positive responses to domestic spaces.

An interior designer will project manage every stage, helping to minimise costs, time and disruption, and in cases involving structural work, help navigate building regulations. Many work closely with architects to plan distinctive residences from the ground up, and have access to resources that are simply not available to the public. An entire industry of manufacturers, restorers and specialist importers deals predominantly, if not solely, with designers, dramatically expanding the creative possibilities for your home.

A good designer will also have the contacts for skilled craftsmen and women who can create bespoke cabinetry and furniture that will last a lifetime, while professional decor and well-designed builds can add substantially to the value of your home…not that you’d dream of selling.

When choosing a designer, it pays to do the legwork and develop an awareness of quality design.  The Design Institute of Australia a starting point; from there, design experts recommend shopping around. Online portfolios are an accessible way to gauge a designer’s aesthetic and flexibility, and a well-established profile and strong history is a good indictor of a designer’s calibre, often the key to a successful project.

Jan Henderson, co-Editor with Gillian Serisier of inside Interior Design Review, emphasises the importance of finding a designer you resonate with. ‘Design is a relationship you need to build, so you need to find someone on your wavelength, to bring ideas out of you that you didn’t know were there,’ she says.

With inside hosting the Interior Design Excellence Awards, Henderson has a valuable perspective what constitutes exceptional design. Now in its thirteenth year, IDEA is Australia’s largest and most successful design awards, adjudicated by a panel of leading professionals representing a broad cross section and deep understanding of the industry.

‘It’s a difficult decision,’ she says, ‘and only getting harder with the high calibre of entries. The jury looks for a special commitment to designing for the needs of the client, in a way that brings together pure talent, and eye for detail and a professional habit. Standout design thinks outside the box.’

It’s certainly a description that aptly summarises Arent&Pyke, 2015 IDEA Residential Decoration winners. Although working on commercial and hospitality projects in Australia and overseas, Sydney duo Juliette Arent and Sarah-Jane Pyke prefer the warmth and generosity of residential projects.

‘People yearn to have a connection to their spaces,’ Arent says. ‘A large part of our process is about distilling the ideas and emotions they associate with home, their families and their interests. We work closely and nurture clients through the whole project, so releasing that joy for them is important to us.’

Arent and Pyke spend a great deal of time learning how their clients actually use their spaces. ‘There are common threads in family homes. Practicality and making spaces to be together is important, but there also needs to comfort and finesse, special moments in the everyday that are unexpected, but still feel natural. That’s what makes someone feel the house is truly theirs, not a page from a magazine.’


Figtree house, their winning residence, is an elegant testament to their approach. The beachside terrace in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs is a far cry from the industrial space the clients initially wanted. Arent and Pyke lightened the stately Victorian lines with colour, layered lighting and kept a thread of industrial design throughout. The home’s different moods are shaped by the spaces- the deep navy and white of the sitting room, for example, is composed but laid-back, achieved with a mix of vintage and contemporary furniture. The family and dining spaces, on the other hand, are flooded with leaf-filtered sunlight playing on soft colours and natural textures.

Arent and Pyke delight in stretching themselves and their clients. ‘We never want to be formulaic, and we always want to give the client more than they ever expected.

‘Our clients, their ideas and the things they love and want around them, are our starting points. We take them on a journey, and we make sure they enjoy themselves and learn from it. It’s always gratifying to see them develop their own ideas, and get the confidence to carry on for themselves.’


Planting the right seeds and fully engaging with the client is all about building trust and for Sydney-based Amber Road Design, whose Cronulla Residence won it a Commendation in the 2015 IDEA awards, that engagement led to a significantly expanded project.

Initially briefed to source furniture for a modest waterfront weatherboard cottage in Cronulla that would ‘introduce sculptural and artisanal beauty’, the project then went on to encompass internal building works, custom joinery, selection of artwork and working with a paint consultant to provide a palette that improved light reflection to illuminate the various spaces.

The end result combining iconic furniture pieces, beautiful shapes and lines and impeccable craftsmanship is a delightful expression of the client’s request to ‘keep it as unpretentious and simple as possible’.


Interior design extends well beyond colour and texture, as architect Steven Whiting and creative director Carole Whiting eloquently attest, to encompass creating whole new interiors. And Whiting Architects’ Kerferd house, winners of the 2015 Australian Interior Design Awards: Residential Decoration, is a perfect example.

For the project, the five-person team responded to the surrounding architectural language with an understated extension to the existing double-fronted Edwardian red brick, that creates what Whiting describes as ‘precincts’- distinct areas for living that integrate with the structure. He notes that ‘good architecture doesn’t need more space- it does more with the space it has.’

It’s impossible to separate the functional from the decorative in the Kerford home; rooms fold origami-like into one other. Every element serves multiple functions. The restrained palette of natural materials, tactile layers of softened white linen and wool and textured blacks makes inhabiting the house a meditative, cocoon-like experience.


Drawing on their background as filmmakers, the Whitings regard the interiors as a landscape in itself, constantly changing with light and time- requiring an extraordinary level of trust and commitment from clients.

‘We take a lot of time getting to know our clients, and design completely around their life and habits,’ says Steven Whiting. ‘We make them an integral part of the process.’ Carole Whiting laughs. ‘They have to trust us, we’re literally in their sock drawers.’

But it’s an approach that clients find satisfying and rewarding, in ways that can’t be measured in cost or construction. Whiting describes Kerford as a house that makes you stop, and think, experience and look.

‘The light frames views, sets up spaces with the way the sun hits, and creates a mood and feeling. In the longer term, the natural materials will age, weather and mellow. It’s profound and serious, but also lets you enjoy new discoveries. It’s a house that shows rather than tells.’

Published Il Tridente 2016