Design Eye

Suzanne Gorman on Modernising a Mid-Century Home

For our latest instalment of Design Eye, we’re tackling a subject we know is close to many of your hearts – the challenge of modernising mid century design, sensitively. On this subject, we chatted to award-winning Sydney interior designer Suzanne Gorman, whose Quarterdeck House project on Sydney’s Lower North Shore is the perfect example of an elegantly updated, character-filled mid century dream home!

For Suzanne, a successful renovation like this comes down to taking a gently, gently approach. In this project, Studio Gorman were committed to sourcing materials, fixtures and furnishings that would balance both classic style, and contemporary living.

Here, Suzanne takes us through her design choices for the Quarterdeck House, including the classic Jules sofa by heritage French furniture brand Duvivier – who specialise in timeless handcrafted leather furniture – available exclusively at DOMO.

Lucy Feagins
Supported by DOMO

The sitting room in Studio Gorman’s ‘Quarterdeck House’, featuring the sleek Jules Sofa by Duvivier, from DOMO. (right). Styling – Claire Delmar, Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

Look across the dreamy living space to the treetops beyond. To right – the tan leather Jules Sofa by Duvivier, from DOMO. Styling – Claire Delmar, Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

Studio Gorman’s approached a ‘gently gently’ design approach when renovating this mid century home on Sydney’s North Shore. Styling – Claire Delmar, Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

The Quarterdeck House by Studio Gorman. Styling – Claire Delmar, Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

Left – Suzanne Gorman of Studio Gorman. Right – the sitting room in the Quarterdeck House, featuring the Jules Sofa by Duvivier, from DOMO.  Styling – Claire Delmar, Photo – Prue Ruscoe.

The Jules Sofa by Duvivier, from DOMO.

Left – Duvivier’s Josephine Armchair, with its looped leather and exposed stitching, and the Centquatre sofa, are both contemporary handcrafted furniture pieces, with all the hallmarks of classic mid century design. Available exclusively from DOMO. Photo – Martina Gemmola.

Lucy Feagins
14th of April 2021

There’s nothing that sparks more passionate discussion on our social media feeds, than the subject of mid century architecture under threat of demolition.

But even if you love mid century design, and find yourself the lucky owner of a home of this era, there’s still the challenge of making these homes functional and comfortable for modern family life. For instance – where do you put a dishwasher in a 1950s kitchen? And – how do you furnish a family living room with walls of glass, lower ceilings and a significantly smaller footprint than most modern living spaces?

For interior designer Suzanne Gorman of Studio Gorman, it’s all about looking and listening closely to the existing site – and thinking very carefully about scale. Especially when it comes to selecting furniture!  ‘Scale of furniture is important to get right in the typically lower ceiling height and tighter spaces of mid-century architecture’ says Suzanne. Enter DOMO, whose wide range of contemporary designer furniture and lighting covers an incredible variety of classic and modern styles, for both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Studio Gorman’s Quarterdeck House project draws on the existing mid century character of the original home, incorporating whitewashed walls, oak joinery and a palette of rust, teal and ochre. These details form the perfect backdrop for a considered edit of furniture and lighting, selected in collaboration with stylist Claire Delmar – including the sleek leather Jules sofa by French furniture brand Duvivier, from DOMO.

‘These Duvivier pieces are light in visual feel, whilst the upholstery is warm and luxurious to relax in’ says Suzanne. ‘Their shapes are like minded to the building – calm and light structured.’

With a 180 year history, Duvivier draws on traditional French craftsmanship, having originally evolved from a heritage leather saddlery business! Carefully balancing classic silhouettes with contemporary style, these handcrafted furniture pieces are sleek yet robust – perfect in any space where you want comfort and longevity, without the chunk-factor! They’re available in traditional leather, or custom fabrics.

Hi Suzanne! Can you tell is a little about your background – how did you come into interior design, and how would you describe your design approach?

I came to design in my early 40s, after a fabulous decade as a Kindergarten teacher, followed by several fun and free years as a full-time mum to our three kids (now all young adults). I’ll be forever grateful to my sister who encouraged me to re-train in design, since I was always sketching and literally obsessed by everything design and architecture (still am). She showed some of my drawings to her friend Rachel Castle, who was a true support and inspiration in the early years of my new design career, finding me my first few clients. That was 12 years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

Studio Gorman specialises in creating beautiful homes where family memories are made and where childhood is nourished – we bring a deep understanding of the kind of spaces that families find comfort in, and can play out their lives.

We have a love of various aesthetics, but mostly based around a contemporary clean feel.  Our influences include art (an addiction!), fashion, architecture and travel – vicariously through print publications and blogs we devour! European and East Coast American styles inspire our work although Studio Gorman will always be essentially Australian in flavour.

Your recent work at the Quarterdeck House perfectly illustrates how to sensitively modernise a mid-century home. Tell us – how did you approach this project? What were your key goals and considerations for this home?

Looking, listening to site and to our wonderful clients brief. The serene location spoke volumes about the incredible lifestyle to be enhanced here, and the building spoke of the pure tenets of mid-century design philosophy.

The concept of form and function in mid-century architecture leads the way for a response to the interiors. Full height glass panels created a portal to the view, to the gentle beauty of the environment. Our job to was support that, in a response to our clients brief.

We were committed to keeping the original façade, preserving and respecting the streetscape where there are several other neighbouring mid-century homes. We were fortunate that the client was open to these considerations – we agreed to no broad sweeping demolition of the original features, and to taking a gently, gently approach. We carried this intention inside where we reworked the floorplan keeping original elements such as the painted brick walls, internal white-painted steel posts, and original doors and windows.

The bones of a mid-century home are important to hold onto – the architectural style will be diluted otherwise. On this basis, our design concepts and details were driven by materiality – sourcing materials and fixtures that aligned with the mid-century aesthetic was our mission! We whitewashed walls, reintroduced square format mosaic tiles, added simple white door hardware and fittings, washed oak joinery with its uniform grain sitting quietly in the form. Our use of colour took the distinctive mid-century punches of primary colour, and subtly reworked them as contemporary iterations of rust, teal and ochre.

In collaboration with stylist Claire Delmar, you selected key leather furniture pieces from Duvivier (exclusive to DOMO) to furnish Quarterdeck House – tell us why these pieces were selected / why do they work so well in this space?

Firstly, thanks for saying that! We think they work beautifully too, and love working with Claire any time we can. The living room has so much glass, it was important to bring in some comfort and softness. These Duvivier pieces are light in visual feel, whilst the upholstery is warm and luxurious to relax in. Their shapes are like minded to the building – calm and light structured, whilst providing comfort. And we love them!

What’s your advice for modernising a mid-century interior? What should homeowners consider before embarking on a renovation of a 1950s or 60’s home?

Being respectful to the philosophy of mid-century is integral – that’s got to be the starting point. It’s a great shame when people buy mid-century homes with no intention to love and nurture the unique architecture.

Our starting point would be to ask our homeowners to work out what they really love about their mid-century home, and what they might feel they are possibly missing out on with it, also. The small scale of mid-century homes can be challenging to contemporary living. Take time with the floor plan and be willing to tweak the layout to work around keeping original features. These original features convey the language of mid-century and once gone, the authentic feeling of the era and cannot be replicated.

And what about furniture selections for a mid-century home – where to start? Should mid-century homes always contain classic mid-century furniture and design? Or is there scope for combining modern pieces with classic design pieces, under one roof?

Scale of furniture is important to get right in the typically lower ceiling height and tighter spaces of mid-century architecture. Sensitivity to the internal spaces and finishes, whilst incorporating our client’s needs is where we are at.

Our approach would be to incorporate contemporary furniture to avoid a ‘museum’ feel, and to create a relaxed, luxurious and comfortable home. There is definitely scope to combine modern pieces with authentic mid-century… a lot of modern design has its roots in mid-century as a design base, so it certainly can work if curated with a light touch. Artworks and sculptures are a beautiful addition too, as it was and still is considered an important inclusion right alongside the architecture and furniture design.

What’s next for Studio Gorman?

Great question ….. we are working on a fantastic and diverse portfolio of projects this year, have enlarged our team and have moved offices to Paddington and its only March ! Small commercial projects have always been a dream and if the opportunity arose, we’d love to design boutiques or restaurants where we can showcase our love of materials, colour and art in our relaxed Australian luxe style.

For nearly 10 years, DOMO has remained Australia’s exclusive stockist of true heritage brand Duvivier. 

To celebrate Duvivier’s Timeless French style, DOMO is offering up to 40% off selected pieces during their ‘French Luxury’ Promotion, across all stores nationally between Monday 19th of April until Sunday 8th of May. (20% off full price stock, 15% off custom orders placed and up to 40% off end of line items)

DOMO‘s extensive collection of designer furniture includes key brands such as Duvivier, de Sede, Ligne Roset, Wittmann, HC28 and Sika Design to name a few. Their newest showroom is now open at 516 Church Street, Richmond!


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