This airy art deco apartment in Double Bay is the home of two supremely talented self-employed creatives, in very different but complementary fields. Benja Harney is a paper engineer (the original and the best!), whilst his partner Andrew Waller is an interior architect. Andrew runs a boutique design practice that specialises in residential design and commercial fit-outs, whilst Benja explores the possibilities of paper through his design studio ‘Paperform’, and has been dedicated to engineering bespoke paper constructions professionally for the past decade, for clients including Hermès, Adidas, Samsung and many more.
Benja and Andrew moved into their Double Bay apartment around five years ago. ‘At the time, Double Bay was kind of daggy and going through a bit of a bleak patch, but it has a fantastic proximity to the city and to both our studios in Surry Hills’ Benja explains. The pair fell in love with the grand proportions of the home, and its beautiful original features – period detailing within cornice and door joinery, and a functional brick fireplace in the main lounge.
‘We wanted a home which already had a relaxed warmth within the space, that could form a backdrop to all our amassed collectibles’ says Benja. And what a collection is it! Though Andrew’s style tends toward the ‘pared back’, Benja’s nick-nack obsession is ‘verging on the positively Victorian’ he confesses. ‘We are always trying to strike a harmonious balance between these two – lots of texture and visual interest but keeping clutter minimal’ Benja elaborates.
This space is dominated by Benja’s work, in particular a fine art series entitled ’New Plantonic’ he created for a solo exhibitions in 2012, which are essentially woven geometric paper tapestries encased in perspex. Another obsession over the years has been collecting transparent objects. Ex chemistry glasses and large chunks of perspex, crystals and bell jars are amassed on various surfaces. Andrew and Benja have each travelled extensively in their careers, and many cherished souvenirs collected during adventures in Asia and Europe are also on display. One of the couple’s more intriguing pieces is a rechargeable solar Sphelar lantern found in Tokyo.
Aside from these decorative pieces, Andrew and Benja have also amassed a collection of ‘too many’ antique chairs that seem to keep on multiplying! Some of the the oldest examples are family pieces from the late 19th century, with turned spindles and caned seats, whilst other early 20th century bentwoods are by the obscure Estonian manufacturer Luterma. Benja’s Grandfather was an antiques dealer in Balmain for 30 years, with a vast hoard of furniture and objects collected during his lifetime, many of which Benja has inherited.
There is a lot Benja and Andrew love about their apartment. Its circular layout was a key drawcard from the outset – ‘you can walk through the space from room to room via a central hallway’ explains Benja. ’It is a flexible design with a sense of fluidity’. A favourite escape is the ‘man den’ – a separate lounge room at the front of the apartment, which looks onto an exposed internal rock face – quite different in mood to the lounge and dining room, with its elevated view and big skies. This moody room is a retreat of sorts – Andrew and Benja like to chill here, watching movies in the colder months. With a north facing aspect, the man den is also the perfect spot for growing plants – ‘the orchids and palms love it in here and tending them is a favourite way to relax. We’re always trying to grow something different, and have become obsessed with carnivorous pitcher plants and venus fly traps!’ says Benja.
As is the case with so many creative people, for Benja and Andrew, home is more than a place to rest and recharge. The look, feel and functionality of their home is also central to their respective creative practices. ‘Our home is constantly evolving with the latest pieces sourced, and project samples we are working on’ explains Benja. ‘We both are both passionate about our creations, home is where we ‘live with’ our work to test-out our ideas’.