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Sonya Marish of Jatana Interiors

Studio Visit

17th May, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 17th May 2013

Antique and reproduction tiles sourced / designed by Sonya Marish of Jatana Interiors, who runs her business from Federal on the NSW North Coast.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Sonya's little showroom on her property in Federal.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Jatana Interiors tiles in situ in Sonya's little showroom on her property in Federal.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

Sonya Marish of Jatana Interiors, in her showroom. Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

WELL sadly, our week in the North Coast of NSW has come to and end... that went quick!  It has been so lovely spending this week showcasing some of the incredible creative people and places from this beautiful region... thanks so much for coming along for the ride!  (And don't worry we did shoot a few more homes in these parts which will pop up in the coming weeks...!).

I have to say, one of the things I kept noticing about the people we met in Byron Bay and the surrounding areas was an incredible warmth and generosity of spirit.  We were SO well looked after by everyone we came across, we were treated to a number of beautiful meals and the odd generous gift (!!), and given so many recommendations which were invaluable in creating the content we have run this week.  Thankyou Byron!  One of the lovely locals who really went above and beyond in her efforts to assist us was Sonya Marish.

Not having ever met in person, Sonya basically scooped me up on my first day in Byron, and took me on an enormous recce of the area - she drove me all over the region, introduced me to so many local creatives, designers, business owners and interesting creative people.  It was AMAZING!  There was I, fresh off the plane from Melbourne... and here was Sonya, like some kind of long lost friend, taking me on an exhaustive personally guided tour of everyone and anyone she thought might be good for me to see or meet!  It was so lovely.

Sonya runs an incredible design business from her home in Federal - Jatana Interiors. Sonya originally launched Jatana Interiors in 2009 in a slightly roundabout way, after struggling to find interesting tiles for her own home renovation.  In less than five years she has become a respected authority on sourcing antique tiles from all over the world.  She specialises in antique floor tiles, which she salvages from old kitchens, courtyards and buildings from Europe to the Middle East.  She also designs and manufactures reproduction tiles for use in contemporary interiors - these new tiles are handmade in the traditional way, and offer a more affordable alternative to the antique option. Designers and architects come from all over Australia to visit Sonya in her modest home studio and showroom in Federal and see her beautiful range!  (Remember those amazing tiles in the Sydney home of Jodi and Brendan York we ran last week?  They were Sonya's!).

Sonya is incredibly industrious and hands on, running her business from home with the help of a small team of casual staff.  (She also has 3 kids!).  She's always full of energy, and constantly inspired to create more new designs and ever more ambitious projects.  Make sure you pop over to Sonya's website and excellent blog for lots more pics of her tiles in situ!  We're thrilled to share her story and her beautiful designs with you today.

Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study, when did your passion for decorative tiles begin and what path led you to what you're doing now?

I suppose my love of design and colour started in my early adult years, when I began a long and rewarding adventure travelling through Asia and the Middle east. My love for the exotic led me on a path of searching for stunning one off pieces, including fabrics and other treasures that are still proudly displayed throughout my home today. This was a big turning point in my life - my conservative and safe 'middle class' upbringing had been flipped upside down, as I found myself in a world of bazaars, markets and back streets, always keeping my eyes open for that something super special!

This fascination with curious objects led me to start my first business of sorts, where I would purchase goods I found overseas and sell them at my market stall in Australia. I would save to go travelling again and again in search of new items to add to my stall after every trip. I was working in travel at the time so it was ideal. My travel experiences are my main source of inspiration.

After having children I had the desire to study Interior Design, and everything started to make sense. I loved decorating, I had a head full of exotic images from the many destinations I had travelled to, and I wanted to cohesively put all of this together.

We happened to be also renovating our home at the same time, and I desperately wanted to put my ideas into action, which was when the last piece of the puzzle was placed. I needed exotic decorative tiles - a solid version of all the beautiful fabrics and quilts in my cupboard. I wanted these on my bathroom floors, and they proved difficult to find, so this was when Jatana Interiors was born!

Sonya's home office.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
What motivated you to originally launch Jatana Interiors, and can you briefly explain the types of tiles you specialise in?

In 2009 I started sourcing antique tiles from all the corners of the world.  I sought out stunning patterned tiles that become a feature in every application, and the older they were, the more history and the more character they had. Each new tile I discovered had so much potential and was so exciting to work with because of its rich history.

Pretty soon after starting the business I felt the need to study colour and design, which I completed at ISCD. This course was very instrumental in giving me the confidence to begin designing and colour consulting for clients and for my own tile range.

Jatana Interiors offers two ranges of tiles to our clients - an antique range and reproduction range. The antique ranges are salvaged from old buildings, villas, chateaus, farm houses, courtyards and old palaces all over the world.  These tiles vary in quality depending on the design, age and care taken to remove the tiles. The tiles then have the grout removed and are cleaned thoroughly before they are ready to be packed and shipped.

I also offer reproduction tiles. These are new tiles that are a great alternative to the original. They are handmade, and the process of production is the same as the technique used to create the antique tiles. These are perfect for those looking for a new tile with an old world look. As colours can be customised clients are also able to match a tile to an existing interior.

The tiles are pieces of art so you want to love the design you choose. I am there to help in the decision making process, however I would never tell anyone which design they should or must use!  I can help with the experience I have gained, however as with choosing any piece of art, it is a very personal experience and the relationship with that piece of art will necessarily evolve with time.

Jatana Interiors tiles used at The Grounds of Alexandria restaurant in Sydney.  Photo - Michael Wee.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?

I'd describe my aesthetic as homely, warm, eclectic, rustic, Indian, layered, cluttered and clear in the right ratios - definitely nothing too sophisticated or formal. I like the casual, the changeable, and the old and charming, but everything has to be exactly right. I am very particular!

Can you briefly describe the creative and production processes employed in the creation of your reproduction tiles?

When creating a new design, it is usually inspired by a feeling or a moment when something amazing has happened. It may have been a scene in the desert in Rajasthan, India, or a design that captured my heart in Turkey, or the moment of peace in Greece or even something outside my very own front door. Something triggers, and from this the process of design takes place. It comes from a feeling.

Then it's lots of lead pencil and tracing paper (I am yet to nail Photoshop!) and a new pattern, which I will then sit on for a while.

Following this is the process of colour placement (where I use coloured pencils), and I try to visualise the tile design in different settings, and once I have them I am happy!  Where I can see the tile end up is very crucial.

The actual production of the tiles is quite incredible. Very briefly, the tiles are designed and a copper mould is made directly from the design drawings - nothing computer generated!  Samples are then made from the mould to check that the design has been achieved.

The mould dividers are then filled with liquid colour mixture including cement, marble powder and fixing additives. These are applied into the frame separating the colours. The mould is then removed, and a thin layer of sand and cement is laid on top, which absorbs water from the first layer. Following this a mix of sand and cement is laid over this second layer to create the thickness of the tile. The tiles are then pressed in a pressing machine, cured under cold water and then air dried.

They are totally hand made and there are years of training involved in the making of these patterned cement tiles!

When sourcing your gallery antique tile range what are looking for specifically? Are you often required to travel abroad to find them?

When sourcing antique tiles I always visualise where I can see them come to life. The colours have to be right and the design suitable for the Australian home, whether it be a Federation heritage or a contemporary build. There are some very intricate stunning designs I come across, however if I can't envision them working then I let them go. I have travelled and hope to continue to travel in search of more rarities. My eyes are wide open for designs, not only for my gallery but as a source of inspiration.

I have different designs from all corners of the world. I have travelled through Asia, Europe and the Middle East to find tiles in my range. I also have designs that I have sourced from South America. Many connections over the years have been made!

Antique tiles in Sonya's bathroom, sourced and salvaged by Sonya.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Jatana Interiors – how is your studio and factory structured, how many people do you employ, and do you outsource any significant tasks?

I have a little rustic showroom in the hinterland that draws in a range of amazing people from city slickers to business people, designers, architects, and eclectic and colourful individuals. This is where a lot of decision making happens with my clients – creative minds working together, creating aesthetically beautiful outcomes. This is an aspect of the job I really enjoy.

I also have a network of people working involved in the everyday running of Jatana Interiors. I could not do this alone. From my carrier that collects the tiles from the ports, to my three employees who pack the samples, stack the shelves, label the boxes, help organise the orders, then there are all of the couriers and all of the connections I have working for me in exotic destinations salvaging the antique tiles making sure they are in condition to be shipped to Federal!

I don't personally have a factory, however I have day to day dealings with many factories. So all in all there is a small network that all works together to run Jatana. I feel so fortunate to work with such amazing and real people. Everyone I have worked with to date has been so supportive and I feel so fortunate to be working with such a lovely group of people.

Jatana Interiors tiles in situ in Sonya's little showroom on her property in Federal.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
What does a typical day involve for you?

Every day is different, but my typical day starts with the usual morning routine – I wake up early and make tea (actually making tea happens all day long), check my emails, get kids ready for school, make school lunches, and do the school drop off.

Then it's off to work, where I organise samples to be sent, speak to designers, architects and individuals on the phone putting forth ideas for projects, making tile selections for those who ask and need assistance, and combining patterns in my range to suit a particular space. I speak with my suppliers, I search for designs I love, I play with colours, I have clients visit my showroom and of course try and make as much time for my family that I can.

Sonya's working from her home office. Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.
Which Australian creative people are you loving at the moment?

Australian creatives that I love are Shannon Fricke, Sibella Court, and Jai Vasicek. They are all incredibly creative and inspirational and I have a huge amount of admiration for each of them. Then of course there are my clients who put my designs to life.

Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media that you turn to when you're in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?

When I need a bolt of inspiration I look at my travel photos, and without a doubt I will find all the inspiration that I need!  I get a lot of inspiration from my children and husband who all are somewhat involved in Jatana. I really trust their opinions and they are all individually creative people.

I also find inspiration from incidentals, such as bicycle tyre marks in the hard sand on the beach, spiderwebs, old textiles (which were my first love) and design books which fill my bookcases at home. In addition to this I read couple of European design mags and of course The Design Files.

I am not huge on social media, however I do try and blog as often as I can. I also have a Pinterest and Instagram accounts.

What would be your dream creative project?

My dream creative project would be to help with the design of an Indian style Haveli full of patterned tiles, old archways, stained glass, columns, exposed beams, the perfect coloured cushions and old hundi lights. Ideally this would be a project located in Rajasthan and ideally I would be working with a team and helping source the tiles and the fabrics to suit. This would be a dream! I have the perfect tile for this job, it's called Harem!

What are you looking forward to?

I look forward to new designs, over the moon clients and more travels. When a new shipment arrives it is always so exciting to unveil the new designs, it is like opening a treasure chest!

Jatana Interiors tiles in situ in Sonya's little showroom.  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

NSW Coastal / Byron Bay Questions

Your favourite patch of the NSW coast and why?

My favourite patch of NSW coast would have to be Belongil Beach to the Pass. I love walking this beach, there are days when you could mistake it for Tahiti, the water is clean and warm, full of life and of course the people are so lovely. I am so happy to be living in this part of the world and bringing up my children in this supportive, close and creative environment.

Your favourite fossicking spots in Byron Bay for great interior wares?

There are a few really lovely fossicking spots for interior wares including Ahoy Trader, Red Ginger, Our Corner Store in Bangalow, Haveli, Heath's Old Wares, Shikara, and the local markets. (For more info on some of Sonya's favourite shops check out our North Coast NSW shopping guide – Lucy)

What and where was the last great meal you had in your local area?

The last great meal (besides my husband Anthony's famous salmon extraordinaire!) was at the Federal Doma Cafe just outside Byron Bay. Great Japanese food and a lovely environment. The seared salmon is seriously good.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Typical Saturday morning (and afternoon) currently is spent watching my beautiful son and husband play soccer!

The best kept secret in your local area?

Not telling! Although, Treehouse on Belongil is pretty good! As is Heartbreads at the local markets.

The amazing hills in Federal / Bangalow, not far from Sonya's house!  Photo - Toby Scott, production - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

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