OK we know you all loved last week's beautiful little Carlton apartment, built within the footprint of a double garage. So we figured it seemed only fair today to profile Sarah Trotter, the clever young interior architect responsible for that inspired renovation. From Melbourne's School House Studios (also profiled last week), Sarah Trotter runs her busy little interior architecture practice, HEARTH, taking on a variety of small residential and local hospitality design projects. Amongst others, her clients include Market Lane Coffee and Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.
Since launching her business in 2012, Sarah has built an impressive portfolio of work which really showcases an innate ability to think outside the box. She tackles each project, big or small, with enthusiasm and a really personal level of care. She's interested in creating 'honest places', and working in a very collaborative way with her clients. Remember how Sarah's client and friend Alex Kennedy recalled trailing country op shops and suburban demolition yards with Sarah, hunting out the perfect second hand fittings?
Sarah also has great love of cooking, and has run a popular food blog, Trotski and Ash, with friend Romy Ash for many years. The pair now contribute fortnightly recipes to The Guardian! With a passion for food, Sarah is always interested in creating places to eat and to cook, hence the name of her business, HEARTH - 'the kitchen is the modern hearth of the home' she says.
Sarah is also the director of local design collective GROUPWORK - a collective of artists, designers and makers who re-evaluate and design everyday objects. After craving a more bespoke option for many of the fixtures and fitting she specifies in her residential projects, Sarah approached a number of local creatives to participate in GROUPWORK, and the group have since created 3 collections of innovative, handcrafted products such as door hardware, wall hooks, and a range of beautiful brass and timber bathroom fixtures which will soon be in production. Last year GROUPWORK exhibited their work at Milan International design week!
We caught up with Sarah recently to learn a little more about her design practice and various impressive side projects!
I went straight from school to studying architecture at the University of Queensland in 2000. We were the last group to go through architecture without looking at a computer. All our work was hand drawn, with layers and layers of paper and a clutch pencil. I feel so lucky to have had that start with such incredible teachers in the tropics.
I moved to Melbourne in 2003 after falling in love with the city after a field trip. I studied at RMIT in the architecture program, and worked in a few wonderful Melbourne practices. In 2007 I had reached a point where I was craving a different kind of creative satisfaction, as architecture can be long and slow from start to finish, so I spent some time travelling and doing lots of different creative things: production design in some short films, food styling, fashion styling, catering and cooking. I like to call that period my ‘years of yes’ as I did just about everything I had dreamt of doing and got it out of my system.
I realised after that period that architecture is what I enjoy most and what I am good at. At one point I had some personal interiors projects that ran alongside my working in an architecture firm, and I realised I had to make the step to go out on my own. It was scary, but I am so lucky to make spaces for lovely people, I have such amazing projects and clients.
It is really interesting working on a variety of things. Residential architecture can be quite intimate as you learn so much about peoples routines and rituals. Working for a brand or an idea is different all together. A favourite project would have to be Market Lane Coffee in the Queen Victoria Market Dairy Hall. It was an incredible privilege to work in the market buildings which are so grand and lively and are such an important community space.
Doing work like that alongside work like Alex Kennedy’s lovely little small space apartment is such a good balance. Alex’s house was an amazing challenge and I had some freedom with that project to think about new ways of living and testing new ideas for small space architecture which was so rewarding.
I see myself as a translator sometimes, this is less a ‘style’ and more of a process. As a designer you really are translating your clients' requirements, dreams and desires and turning them into a workable solution. This is the most satisfying time. When a client says 'that’s a good idea!' it is such a lovely moment. I certainly have materials I like to use that might appear across a range of projects, but sometimes when I look at the work I do materiality and texture are the only things they have in common!
I live with my boyfriend Jason Scheltus. We live in an art deco apartment, and it came with its own style and character. There’s a ginormous 80-year-old olive tree that has grown bigger than our small apartment building in our backyard, no-one has ever trimmed it. We have a lot of family furniture and things I have collected over time in Melbourne, mostly second hand, with a few special pieces from friends who are makers and artists in amongst there too. There is a beautiful sense of calm to the apartment with views to the trees in the neighbouring park and lots of light and sky.
Having grown up in Sydney and Brisbane, Melbourne seemed so flat when I first moved here, which was disorienting, living on the first floor now and seeing beyond street level is like being on our own tiny hill. I think this is something I am conscious of when making spaces for other people. I like to think about where you might be looking when you first wake up in the morning, for instance.
Groupwork really came from a frustration back in 2011 with the boring fixtures and fittings I specify every day as a designer. There’s been such a large shift in design since then. I collected together friends and artists I admire, and posed some design problems to them. We collaborated on handles and hooks and all sorts of things to make our first collection for a show at Mr Kitly, 001 Something To Hold Onto. The latest project 003 Simplify was selected for The Other Hemisphere exhibition in Milan! It was a blessed project from the very beginning, an incredible collaboration with Murray Barker and Esther Stewart. We had such an amazing and perfectly balanced energy! I’m so proud of this work, I really love it, we will have these in production and ready to take orders in late September. They’ll be made in Melbourne which is really important to us. It has been a long time coming as we started designing the fittings almost a year ago now. Groupwork works well running along side my design practice, its easy to slot into my day to day.
I started Trotski & Ash five and a half years ago now with one of my dear friends, writer Romy Ash. We were living together and cooking together and decided we wanted to share that with the world. It was more like a cookbook for ourselves really, and I still refer to the website like a cookbook to check the details of Romy’s family curries or healthy treats. I love food styling, it is real trickery to be able to suspend that moment just before you would usually sit down to eat, for long enough to take a photo that will make people’s mouths water. Trotski & Ash is more a hobby and a love for me now though, and something we do together with our good friend, photographer Lauren Bamford. We also shoot monthly for a fortnightly column for The Guardian which is so much fun. We’ll often shoot on a weekend and turn it into a long lunch chatting and catching up. I’m passionate about food, sustainability and place.
I generally wake up early and am on a construction site or in the studio before 8.00am. If I’m in the studio, Raph and Caroline at Tiggy are there to greet me first thing with their delicious treats. It’s always a bit like being at home, being looked after when you are still a bit bleary eyed, sitting at the counter and chatting. We mainly talk about ingredients or techniques for cooking this or that.
Then I’ll head back to my computer and am generally on the phone and emailing all morning responding to requests and sourcing products and finishes, sometimes quite obscure things. At the moment I am deliriously trying to find just the 'right' '80s Italian chandelier! I’ll usually have lunch from Tiggy too, but at my desk, and then draw in the afternoon and prepare for meetings. If I’m lucky it’s a yoga day and I’ll get to the Schoolhouse Yoga Club. I'll head off to meetings in the evening or head home to cook, which I love doing at the end of the day, I find it really relaxing and meditative.
Sarah K is an inspiration. Every time I speak with her I find out some other amazing thing she has done or designed or seen. She’s a powerhouse and the recent exhibition at Mr Kitly which was a retrospective of her gallery, Gallery Oh was incredible.
Oscar Perry is my favourite painter in Australia. The humour and the narrative in his work always has me reeling.
I share my studio space with two inspiring friends Murray Barker (architect) and Abigail Varney (photographer). Abi’s work is so wonderful, she captures moments and people in a way that I’m not sure anyone else could. Standing in front of her camera is so easy and she has the capacity to make you feel comfortable and forget what you are doing momentarily.
Murray is one of my closest friends, we studied together in Queensland and we work together on large projects. Murray inspires me to think about things in a broad way when I get caught up in details. We test each other and push each other. I trust him completely and when I ask him if something is right or wrong he’ll tell me if it needs more work or thought.
Sometimes you just have to stand up from your desk and read when you are having a tough design conundrum. Looking at print makes you realise that even the best architects and designers had these problems – sifting through the layers and layers of sketches of Carlos Scarpa proves that.
We have a large collection of '80s Domus magazines in the studio and I love them, with works from greats such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass. The advertising is good for a laugh too. Murray has a beautiful collection of monographs from some of my favourite modernists and Japanese architects. I love the work of Carlos Scarpa, Atelier Bow Wow and SANAA. A look through Leslie Williamsons Handmade Modern or a book on Japanese Joinery details helps me realise that beautiful things can be made uniquely, you just have to find the right builder.
I would love to collaborate with a great chef / restaurateur like Ben Shewry. It would be amazing to realise a space for someone creating beautiful food in our landscape with ingredients from our landscape. Making a place to eat that acknowledges that connection would be a dream for me.
In my work I am looking forward to realising a very special house, a renovation to one of the first houses ever built in Northcote for clients who are landscape architects. It's a dream job.
I'm looking forward to seeing our project (with Murray Barker) for Melbourne Spring Fashion Week come together next week! It's been a whirlwind and very fun working on such a big public event.
I have two hospitality projects approaching construction, one in Sandringham and another in Brisbane. I’m really looking forward to seeing those clients realise their spaces, they are wonderful people and excellent hosts!
I love the branches of lemons, apricots, figs and plums that reach over the back alley fences of North Carlton and Brunswick near where I live.
I love Porters Paints in Melbourne for paint finishes. I often visit restorers barns, tip shops and auction houses as I try to encourage the use of second hand fixtures and fittings – places like Leonard Joel and The Junk Company are amazing resources.
The last great meal I had was breakfast at the Queen Victoria Market this morning! I ate an almond croissant and had a filter coffee before setting off to buy as much as I could carry on the tram for the week.
If I’m at home I’ll be eating scrambled eggs and then doing a spot of second hand shopping somewhere in Melbourne.
At least once a month we are up at a family property in Spring Hill. Last Saturday I was fencing the peonies we planted this year so the Kangaroos don’t stomp on them, which is pretty damn exciting!
Prickly pears in April. I’ve walked past these weeds so many times for so many years and it was only this year that I ate one. They are incredible. Next year pick one (carefully with gloved hands) from the side of the train tracks and make some prickly pear sorbet.