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Tamsin Johnson

Studio Visit

It’s incredibly difficult to design an interior which feels ‘un-designed’ – an effortlessly layered space that has a sense of history about it, that feels almost ad-hoc, and yet is perfectly balanced and pleasing to be in. Such is the charm of an interior designed by Tamsin Johnson.

We stopped by Tamsin’s home studio in Sydney recently to learn a little more about her distinctive approach to interiors.

23rd December, 2016
Lucy Feagins
Friday 23rd December 2016

Tamsin Johnson grew up in Melbourne, originally studying fashion, before moving to London and studying interior design. She moved back to Sydney 9 years ago, with her husband Patrick Johnson (of PJohnson Tailors fame!). Tamsin’s unique aesthetic and design acumen has been central to PJohnson’s success – she has designed each of their distinctive store interiors, which now extend from Melbourne and Sydney to London and SOHO, New York. A PJohnson showroom always feels more like a living room than a shop, and it take a special design approach to create that feeling in a retail environment.

What is perhaps most striking about Tamsin’s portfolio of work is that no two interior treatments ever look the same. On closer inspection, a few of her hallmarks can often be spotted (bold original artwork, properly comfortable couches, and unexpected artisanal details), but she always starts every project very much with fresh eyes, and never creates the same look twice.

‘My intention is to create an interior of no particular time’ says Tamsin in her interview below. Indeed, there is a shunning of ‘trends’, and a distinct sense of timelessness to Tamsin’s projects. They’re also hard to place – layered with artwork and antique pieces, a Tamsin Johnson space always feels somehow ‘international’, yet comfortably familiar.

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?

My parents were art and antique dealers, so I grew up surrounded by antiques and travelled a lot with my family. I discovered quality from a very young age, and learnt that good things would always be good.

I left school and was torn between fashion and interiors, but ended up studying fashion design in Melbourne, then moved to London and worked for Stella McCartney. After a year over there in fashion and a long hard decision, I changed course to interior design at Inchbald School of Design in London. It was a very traditional way to start my education, and I adored that approach to decorating and still do. From there I moved back to Australia to Sydney, where I spent four years under Don McQualter at Meacham Nockles McQualter. The most naturally ‘cool’ guy I ever met, and by far the most talented interior designer and architect in Australia, made for a very entertaining and educational time.

When did you launch your own interior design business and how would you describe your style?

I launched my own business five years ago. I always find it hard to categorise my style, but in a few words I would say classic, comfortable and natural.

My intention is to create an interior of no particular time. I would hate for someone to look back on a space and know when it was designed.

I like to encourage my clients to collect unique pieces that stimulate happiness. I’m an avid art collector, so placement and procurement of beautiful pieces is incredibly important to me. I love a casual placement of something very formal. I love natural soft furnishings in a muted palette with accents of surprise.

You work on a great variety of projects, what have been one or two of your favourite projects in recently?

My jobs vary so much, from fashion retail spaces to hotels and residential all around the world, which I adore. Lately, I’ve loved working on Lucy Folk’s new shop in Bondi Beach called Playa. We grew up together and are great friends so it was so nice to have a chance to collaborate and create something so unique. She has such an open mind and totally trusts me, so it made for a very special project.

I’m also working on Rae’s on Wategos in Byron Bay at the moment, which will be a very exciting install in the new year.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your practice? Where are you based, how is your business structured, how many people do you employ?

I like to keep my business small and personal. I like to give my all to every single job I take on. I feel like life and business are about the little touches and details. That’s what sets us apart.

I have a string of incredible contractors that I call on for various roles depending on the job. I have fantastic engineers, surveyors, builders and various artisanal relationships which are so important, particularly in Australia. In terms of permanent staff, I just have an assistant. I plan to always be a smaller operation, I really love it that way.

Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?

My husband, Patrick Johnson. A highly creative mind who rolls to his own beat. He approaches design in a very unique way.

Steven Clark of Den-Holm. He’s just finished working on some fantastic sculptural items for Lucy Folk’s shop in Bondi Beach and is also helping me with a hotel project I’m working on.

Meacham Nockles McQualter, I will always love their work.

Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?

My most visited sources include Instagram (of course!) and Tumblr (I like to collate my ideas and inspiration.

World of Interiors and AD Spain are my two favourite magazines. I also have just discovered Cereal Magazine, which I find so beautifully curated.

Travel I also think is the most fun source one can hope for. Inspiration truly can be found in the most unexpected places.

What has been your proudest career achievement to date?

Probably working on the renovation and restoration at Warner Bros studio in LA. It was Frank Sinatra’s office and the history was profound. After Paris, LA is my favourite place to source furniture and art, so that made for an enjoyable journey. We covered bathrooms in black marble with traditional chrome fittings and clad the dimly lit boardrooms with rosewood veneer and oversized deco furniture. It was dreamy!

I also love working with my husband on all his showrooms. He’s by far my trickiest client but we always end up with something special. His aesthetic is refreshingly natural. I particularly love his NYC showroom in SOHO. Contrary to many contrived and stiff interiors that are usually associated with tailoring, it’s a very fresh and relaxing space that clients love visiting. It’s always a proud moment when people love settling into a space that you have designed.

What would be your dream creative project?

I always said a hotel but I’m doing that now! I’ve always had a very broad range of work on at any given time so if that continues, that’s all I can hope for.

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Tamarama, because we’ve just moved there and I love coastal living in a city. It’s perfection.

What and where was the best meal you recently had in Sydney?

Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi Beach. It never disappoints.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Bondi markets to buy flowers and fruit and veg. Then it’s usually beach time!

Sydney’s best kept secret?

P Johnson Tailors (ha!). I also love Fishing in the harbour! We caught flathead last week and baked it whole. And the Art Gallery of NSW is such a special place that seems easily forgotten.

This story marks the end of regular TDF programming for a short while – whilst we take a little break over the Christmas and New Year period. Next week, in place of our usual content we’ll revisit the TOP TEN AUSTRALIAN HOMES of 2016!

Tamsin and her baby Arthur at home! Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

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