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The Sophisticated Sydney Apartment Of Two Furniture Designers

Homes

The home of Alexandra Owen and James Whitta is an amalgamation of the pair’s lives; from growing up in New Zealand, to living in Melbourne, Sweden and finally landing in Sydney, where they work as product designers for furniture and home brand Koala

The couple have built on the calming, sophisticated palette of their apartment, designed by SJB, with a distinctly Australian aesthetic, whilst also including treasured design pieces sourced from their travels all over the world.

12th October, 2022

Koala Getaway sofa. Koala Shear Bliss Rug. Cushions are mix of Koala Kick Back Cushions, Hay, and Chhatwal & Jonsson. Fogia Bollo Armchair. Eliasson coffee table. Akari lamp. Framed art print bought in Poland. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

James Whitta, VP product and design at Koala, and Alexandra Owen, director of product design at Koala in their Alexandria home. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Heart print from Le Bon Marché in Paris. ‘Mickey to Tiki Tu Meke’ print Dick Frizzell. Bird painting by Louise Leggat. Black and white sketch print bought from Stilleben in Copenhagen. Marimekko cushion. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Fogia Bollo chair; ‘This was the chair we snapped up as a showroom model and we couldn’t believe our luck!’ Absolute design classic,’ says Alexandra. Ikea/Sonos Symfonisk lamp. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Marimekko throw. Koala Getaway Sofa. Ikea vase designed by Ilse Crawford (Alexandra used to work in the accessories department at Ikea where all of these projects were conceived). ‘Randig Banana’ print in hallway from the Ikea Museum; (This is a print Alexandra’s old mentor at Ikea had to fight for to get in the range and later became one of Ikea’s most iconic prints ever. ‘She taught me that you need to fight for what you believe in and to create meaningful change,’ says Alexandra). Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Statement marble surfaces feature throughout the apartment designed by SJB. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Balcony doors open up to the living room to become the one indoor-outdoor space. Hay outdoor table and chairs. Fogia Bollo chair. Koala Getaway Sofa. Menu table. Thonet chairs. Koala Shear Bliss Rug. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

‘This is one of our favourite areas due to the incredible shelves here — a decorator’s dream! We’ve had so much fun filling them with items we have found from all our travels,’ says Alexandra. Menu table. Thonet chairs. Mixed cushions left to right: Hay, Koala Sand Dune Cushion, and Marimekko. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Main bedroom painted in Porter’s Paints Frozen. Koala Le Linen Coverlet. Koala Switcharoo Throw. Koala Le Linen Sheet Set. Hay boucle cushion. Ikea lamp. Bolia side table. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Main bedroom painted in Porter’s Paints Frozen. Koala Le Linen Coverlet. Koala Switcharoo Throw. Koala Le Linen Sheet Set. Marimekko flower cushion. Hay lamp. Hay boucle cushion. Koala Paddington Bed Base. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

&Tradition Flowerpot lamp. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Alexandra’s favourite nook. ‘The fluted glass makes it private and gives a soft glow to the light. The marble just feels like pampering!,’ she says. Thonet chair. Isle Crawford for Ikea vase. Photography – Alisha Gore for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Tess Thyregod

Lucy Feagins
Wednesday 12th October 2022

‘We really love apartment living and learned that you can happily exist in these spaces if they are well designed with humans in mind.’ – Alexandra Owen

After years of apartment living overseas, Koala product designers Alexandra Owen and James Whitta were seeking a well-designed apartment to settle in Sydney. They came across a medium-density development in Alexandria in 2021 that was nearing completion, and quickly scooped up one of the remaining residences. 

‘There are so many compromised and poorly put together apartment complexes in Sydney, and this build is definitely an antidote to the soulless high-rise trend,’ says Alexandra. ‘After living in Europe, we really love apartment living and learned that you can happily exist in these spaces if they are well designed with humans in mind.’

The building contains 18 apartments, and was designed by SJB to offer attention to detail, indoor-outdoor living, and generous proportions. ‘I like to say they are house-like sizes that celebrate apartment living—showing you don’t need a giant piece of land to live spaciously with a great outdoor area,’ says Alexandra. 

Full-height doors disappear into the wall cavity to reveal the outdoor space off the living room, with terrazzo floors underneath that seamlessly extend from the interiors. 

Alexandra and James put their own stamp on the apartment by painting the living spaces in Porter’s Paint Rubble, and the main bedroom in Porter’s Paints Frozen, which mirror the apartment’s statement marble accents. In addition to the kitchen island bench and bathroom vanity, this marble features in a small nook area where Alexandra starts each morning. ‘With fluted glass and natural light, it’s the perfect place to get ready in the morning while having a coffee,’ she says.

The couple’s furniture and decor has been sourced from all over the world—from Denmark, to Poland, France, and China—to reflect the various stages of their working and personal lives. An Ikea ‘Randig Banana’ print (designed in the ‘80s by  Alexandra’s former mentor) reminds the pair of their time working for Ikea in Sweden; pieces by New Zealand artists reference their heritage; the Akari Noguchi lamps were purchased from the original showroom in Tokyo while travelling; and the couple’s first Koala designs—the Getaway Sofa and the Shear Bliss Rug— are proudly on display. These latter pieces represent the deliberately ‘Australian’ aesthetic and approach the pair have worked to establish at Koala over the past two years.

Alexandra explains, ‘We were always frustrated in the past working for Australian companies that revered European/international culture more than our own. A decade ago, Australians were a little embarrassed of their culture and design, and I could never understand why no one would embrace how beautiful Australia’s landscape, lifestyle and people were.’

Both at work and home, Alexandra and James have embraced Australia’s uniqueness in their selection of colours, materials and finishes. ‘This has definitely shown up in our apartment with the Australian palette: sun-kissed tones, earthy naturals, and bright colour pops,’ says Alexandra. 

Altogether, the apartment is a sophisticated, personalised home in the heart of Alexandria. ‘I love sitting on the sofa in the living room with the doors open and music on,’ James says. ‘It is definitely my happy place.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net