Sibella Court is one of Sydney’s best known and most adored interior designers. The creator behind her own retail project The Society Inc. and author behind her latest book Imaginarium is sought after for her highly curatorial eye and innately inimitable style. Through a one-on-one, Sibella details what her creative process is developed, and how she continues to be inspired and expired by her work. We're in awe.
Tell us about your formal background.
I fortuitously landed in the most perfect industry for me from the age of 20. I was finishing my degree in history, largely Australian, at Sydney University. One of my closest friends, Edwina McCann called me into the Vogue office. I quickly came to understand fashion was not for me but over on the other side of the floor, Vogue Entertaining & Travel and Vogue Living resided and that most definitely was for me! Fast forward, after 16 years of freelance styling for interior and food magazines, catalogues and advertising agencies all over the globe and living in New York for 10 years, I made a switch in homeland and moved from styling photo shoots and sets to designing permanent spaces in the world of hospitality and residential. I am celebrating my 25th year in the industry this year.
You are known for intersecting layers of textures, details in creating rich interior spaces. How did you cultivate and harness the mood of a new space? What is your creative process?
When designing an interior, an idea begins with a story or particular sensibility, process or material that the building history prompts. It’s as much as or even more of a process of storytelling and uncovering a history than simply choosing a particular aesthetic or working from a sketch; it’s letting an experience, sense of nostalgia or understanding of craftsmanship inform and direct the design decisions. I like to give leave to the story and histories, both real and imagined, to take flight first, the form emerges later. I am forever collecting people who practice old trades and master crafts. I hone my relationship with them and then when developing an interior, I write them in to the design, consult and dream with them to create layered, bespoke handcrafted interiors. These trades range from tinkers, weavers, printers, vintage dealers, blacksmiths, sign writers, metal forgers, dyers, makers, artists, ship wrights, wood turners amongst many others! It’s always about creating a sense of adventure through details, the movement through the space, the choices a guest/owner can make when in the space and of course the ever-important ambience of lighting.
How would you describe your interior aesthetic in three words?
Layered Engaging Ambient
We have read that you love sinks. What is your favourite room of a space?
Whichever one has a sink! I do love sinks and buy them whenever an outstanding one crosses my path. I recently custom made a marble and Jaisalmer stone one for a hospitality project, their shape is based on one I have in my outdoor kitchen. I bought it long before it had a place, a beautiful English glazed stoneware sink found in Tasmania. It is shallow and fluted on the front, a couple of life’s bumps and the perfect shallow depth for cutting fresh flowers which I buy on a Saturday for the house. My husband threw me a surprise wedding last year. He encouraged me to buy party dress, as it fell on his birthday as well. The first time I went looking I came home with an 19th century marble sink. Its approx. 2m long, double oval sinks with a small shaving sink in its centre with a shelf, all in the most beautiful marble. Just magical. It is yet to find it final resting place. I daresay it will dictate the look and feel of our next home.
What makes an interior space special?
I like to think that’s it’s a feeling that makes a place special. The way that colour, materials, furniture are paired with a family’s life souvenirs that prompt memories of holidays, shared history, celebrations, good times then layered over the top with a scent and soundscape that only belongs to that particular space makes it special and full of soul.
I love designing hotels and anything with some history and an incredible setting is always a plus. To begin a concept from the size and shape of the room down to the very last detail and lend a hand in elevating the experience a guest may have. Recently I finished a guest wing of 12 rooms at Bullo River Station, a very remote cattle station in the Northern Territory. After all the finishes and furniture are chosen, to so carefully consider all the details for the ultimate experience from how the bed is layered, what the hairdryer will live in, handmade coat hangers and tissue boxes from raw leather that will patina, what books will be available, where your toothbrush will go, what the key number looks like, what flowers and foliage will be in the vases is such a pleasure.
What are you career highlights?
So many, I have had a lovely career so far. I do have a terrible memory though, so it’s usually the most recent ones that spring to mind. The launch of a book is always exciting, IMAGINARIUM | A Compendium of Inspiration celebrates my 25 years in the world of interiors. My constant travel for inspiration, for my interior projects I have all over Australia and my product range is always a highlight. To have the diversity within my job description to design hospitality and residential spaces and products, create books, have my own newspaper, a shop – it’s all very fun stuff and makes everyday a bit of a highlight. Oh, I did love hosting a TV series on the ABC, Restoration Australia, that celebrates all the things I love: Australian history, heritage trades, historic houses and the people that choose to work and live in them. It is on Netflix. I have been chosen to participate in the triennial NGV Rigg Design Prize with 9 other Australian design luminaries. It is an incredible honour to have been invited and I can’t wait to reveal my take on the theme of domestic living from early October 2018 at the NGV.
What have been the challenges you’ve faced?
Having the systems in place and back up to make everything work successfully and at a professional standard with strong fluid lines of communication for clients, manufacturers and The Society Inc. team. We are constantly fine tuning!
Have you had any mentors along the way?
I have had plenty of supporters on the way but strangely lacking in mentors.
What advice could you offer someone wishing to emulate your footsteps or start in your industry.
Love what you do, work hard, be humble and eat your greens.
Tell us about your St Peters headquarters, The Society Inc.
My design studio and shop are housed in a 300 metre square warehouse built in the early 1900s (they last resided in an 1860’s corner shop in Paddington) with its overflowing arched bookshelves that tickle the ceiling, labelled and numbered drawers once shop fitting pieces, art lines the walls, desks are old dressmakers tables and the like, a ceramic slop sink transported from the US with ‘F*ck Everything Become a Pirate’ sign written above, a mix of painted tiles and seagrass on the floor. No consideration for period or sameness, just the hallmark of what I like with an emotion that you can’t see but you can most definitely delve into that embraces my past travels, loves, homes, projects and ideas. It encapsulates the timeless essence of a Cabinet of Curiosity where you are encouraged to pick up, admire, comment, marvel and wonder at the objects that brim and spill from the many drawers, shelves, boxes, compartments – a place to show and tell. The shop sells our very own decorative hardware range from drawer pulls, door knockers, buckets, scissors, door handles, brackets, house numbers as well as vintage furniture I source from across the globe, my own house paint range and wares from wonderful makers.
You are also an author of a new book IMAGINARIUM | A Compendium of Inspiration, tell us about this.
My new book is 300 pages, a large format picture book. In some ways I have been working on this book since I first started in the industry 25 years ago. My love of still-life in all art forms and interiors is the foundation to all I do. Over the many years of traveling my content library grew and grew which is a constant resource and inspiration for my interiors projects in residential and hospitality. The book, although it has no chapters, is anchored by photographs of my interior design projects as the pagination moves through threads of colour palettes that give it a beautiful rhythm. This book is a journey through my image library of objects, travel, colour and interiors, a place where storytelling requires no words.
What inspires you and how do you remain inspired?
Inspiration is everywhere. I believe it’s impossible not to be inspired throughout the day wherever you are. Nature, books, movies, podcasts, friends, objects, magazines, travel, art, restaurants, my daughter Silver, research, dreams, fairs, ocean, parties.
What excites you about the future.
I love what I do, and I love that it constantly shifts and changes, ebbs and flows and that I get to be swept along with it in all its forms. Take me there! You can find Sibella on Instagram @sibellacourt