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Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson


Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson is a home that elevates the classical to the cultural through a curation of antipodean design influences.

Like its vibrant surrounds, Potts Point is a home that harbours a coalescence of rooms and creative leanings. With its crisp white facade, slate roof tiles and established palms, the 19th-century Victorian terrace alludes to the charm of Chateau Marmont mellowed by its distinctly urban pied-à-terre simplicity. 

When designer Tamsin Johnson first went to see the site, the interventions required to bring this home once again into rhythm with contemporary living patterns quickly unfolded. “I wanted to reinstate the bones of what would have originally been there while not recreating the past,” she says of the “contemporary twist” that the home has embraced. 

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Stainless steel cabinetry finds an unlikely accord with honed Rosso Alpi marble splashback, shelving, and benchtops in the kitchen. Artwork by Esther Eckley and Colleen Ahern from Neon Parc.

While the original structure of Potts Point was largely intact when owners Maurice and Jess Violani purchased the home in 2019, rooms appeared to be caught, bound and walled off. The doors to the terrace and balcony spaces were small, doglegs and l-shapes throughout the interior held back natural light and hampered fluid navigation, and in the kitchen, a u-shaped bench cut right into the usable space. The resurrection of the home quickly defined itself as a negotiation between old and new, a simple analogy interpreted differently across the architectural, interior design and styling elements to shape a sense of cohesion that is both seamless and beguiling.

The collection of rooms that once provided for city living in the 1800s has been revisited with the creation of a new guest bedroom, powder room, media room and cellar. The latter was excavated from the depths of the small site, with the home embracing spatial generosity through the accumulation of its three floors. 

Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

The living room is defined by a border of Calacatta Viola marble beyond which a Polar Bear sofa by Jean Royere and artwork by Dale Frank from Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery take centre stage.

Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

Determined to not compromise on finishes despite this being a family home, a Calacatta marble staircase reinstates the historic grandeur of the home while tilting it towards contemporary relevance.

Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

Artwork by Tomislav Nikolic

Tamsin’s work is defined by its capacity to reinstate modernity as a reflection of the zeitgeist, using design as an equaliser between styles and eras. Her work draws together objects that pull from history’s many many pages. Using the Italian design metier as a touchstone, Potts Point perfectly articulates this philosophy with its stately air of gilded resilience, which now cushions the impact of a young family.

Cornices and architraves have been recreated, gesturing what would have once been while introducing linear precision and symmetry to insert a contemporary elegance. Traditional wall panelling plays with notions of grandeur and timelessness, with mirrored sections in the living room laying a jewel-like resonance. At the same time, the remainder feels restrained, by contrast, providing a backdrop to living through continuity and the crisp white carried from the facade right throughout the home. The home has become awash with natural light, offset by the midnight accent of black steel French doors leading out to the terrace and an arched expanse of glazed panes in the stairwell.

Integral to the design language at Potts Point is the use of stonework. Referencing that Italian narrative, stone has been leveraged for both graphic expressions and the softly sedate ambience it bestows. For example, framing the threshold between the kitchen and dining area is a border of Calacatta Viola marble. Carried through to the stairway and fireplace as well, the rich artistry of the stone is balanced by a surrounding aesthetic clarity. A similar curation of the traditional and innovative rest side by side with Rosso Alpi marble benchtops and stainless steel cabinetry atop Versailles parquetry flooring in the kitchen.

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Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

The bathroom is an aesthetic detour that finds cohesion with the rest of the home through a dedication to the Italian design metier and the continuation of stonework. A Verde marble vanity is reflected in a mirror from Fontana Arte and tempered by antique Italian floor tiles from Sicily, Italy.

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Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

Artwork by Erin Lawlor from Fox Jenson Gallery Paddington

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Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

Just as stonework is a thread that binds rooms, so too is lighting which Tamsin describes as a “tour of Italy through the periods.” Murano is a mainstay with its ornate petal-shaped glasswork, while a table lamp by Tobia Scarpi bridges the gap between the 1930s and 1950s, setting a trajectory that makes a 1970’s chrome design feel right at home in the study. 

If modernism is indeed a metric on the current state of things, then Potts Point is a home that paints a beautiful picture. Rich in character yet quiet in disposition, the atmosphere has emerged by layering the home’s past story with a joyful, fresh spirit.  

Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson
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Potts Point by Tamsin Johnson

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In Conversation | Interior Designer Tamsin Johnson


In the spirit of launching her first book, we catch up with Sydney-based interior designer and collector Tamsin Johnson to reflect on how her cultivated and curious approach to design has made way for a unique portfolio of projects. 

You’re sure to know if you’ve ever experienced a space designed by interior designer Tamsin Johnson. Purveyor of the eclectic and unexpected, Tamsin’s definitive approach to interiors surfaces through every material, finish and object, and how they’re layered to achieve what the designer calls ‘tactful disharmony’. Making way for interiors defined by unpretentious sophistication, Tamsin inherited her magpie eye from her parents’ legacy of antique dealing, instilled with the belief that good design can last through many lifetimes, just like a quality piece. 

Tamsin creates spaces to be lived in – to be used and loved – where everything should feel like it’s always been there. It’s this sentiment that’s captured in Tamsin’s first book, Spaces for Living. Featuring 13 of her favourite projects spanning continent and mirroring her design evolution, the book explores Tamsin’s career as both an eminent interior designer and antique dealer. To celebrate, we spoke with Tamsin on honing her signature aesthetic, fundamental influences and her most notable projects to date – including the opportunity to design abroad. 

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Hideaway by Tamsin Johnson | Photography by Anson Smart

Congratulations on your publication Spaces for Living. Could you please talk about the collection of projects in the book and how they capture your career to date as both an eminent antique dealer and interior designer?

Tamsin Johnson: Thank you! The book features some of my favourite projects, and they span quite a few places and stages of my life and career. Some projects are reflections of my path, such as a New York apartment that I lived in years ago with my husband, Patrick, when we were there to set up a showroom for his tailoring business in SoHo, which I also designed. I designed a local showroom for the P. Johnson brand features in the book – located in a Melbourne townhouse. It feels like a trunk show, gallery space and home all at once.

And of course, there is our previous house in Tamarama, where we lived with our two children. This is joined by some other beachside projects, from a Bondi bungalow to a grand home in Palm Beach and the iconic Raes on Wategos hotel in Byron Bay. There are also some beautiful older city houses in Sydney and Melbourne and a Paris apartment in a gorgeous 17th-century building.

I guess you can see that whether I’m designing for a beachside home or an older city residence, my approach is always to create beautiful spaces that are not too overworked and that have a sense of timelessness. Things feel as if they have always been there, and the homes are liveable above all – where every space can be used and loved.

In terms of collecting, many of the projects showcase my interests in mid-century furniture, the textural appeal of cane and rattan, the beauty of Daum and Murano glassware, the style of Edgar Brandt, and of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. 

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Sanctuary by Tamsin Johnson | Photography by Sean Fennessy

Your parents were antique dealers. How has this background and your learnings informed your magpie eye for sourcing antiques – and how do the antiques inform your interiors?

Tamsin Johnson: I’ve learnt that a good quality piece will always remain so, and that good design can last through many lifetimes. I particularly love antiques because they can defy the decades and enjoy different life cycles in different settings. They bring something unique to an interior, even a little mystery all of their own, and they work beautifully with contemporary and custom pieces.

As an interior designer, who or what has been most influential to your approach to design?

Tamsin Johnson: My former boss, interior designer Don McQualter, who took me under his wing, showed me that there is no one way of doing things, and taught me to trust my instincts and have the courage and confidence to do something new.

Many places inspire me, from the hotel Le Sirenuse in Positano to our own Sydney Opera House, but I would say that trips to India with my parents when I was young really informed a lot of my interior memories, particular those spectacular palaces that are so complex and layered, and I think even more beautiful as they age.

There are many designers whose style I love but here are some:

Federico Forquet, who turned a hugely successful career in fashion into designing beautiful homes and gardens.
Bunny Mellon, a trailblazer of taste in both interiors and landscapes. I was actually reading a book about her when pregnant and named our daughter after her.

Georges Geffroy – what he did for Christian Dior was so rich and layered.

Axel Vervoordt, a dealer and designer after my own heart, with the most exceptional taste and refined eye. To me, he epitomises the practice of restraint.

David Nightingale Hicks – I love his black high-gloss walls, and obviously his prints made him famous. I’m generally drawn to designers who have their own distinct aesthetic.

Jacques Grange – he layered so beautifully and in such a considered way. I especially love the spaces he designed for Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent.

Luis Barragán – the way he used light, shadow, form and texture was so thoughtful.

“I like to establish a dialogue between old and new, the dynamic and the calm, the polished and the textural, the ordered and the delightfully dishevelled – what I like to call ‘tactful disharmony’.”

 

– Tamsin Johnson

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Townhouse by Tamsin Johnson | Photography by Sean Fennessy

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Townhouse by Tamsin Johnson | Photography by Sean Fennessy

How would you define your aesthetic – and how is ‘Spaces for Living’ reflective of this?

Tamsin Johnson: I’d say my aesthetic is refined yet relaxed, where spaces are beautiful but also functional, livable and full of life. I like to establish a dialogue between old and new, the dynamic and the calm, the polished and the textural, the ordered and the delightfully dishevelled – what I like to call ‘tactful disharmony’. I strive to create spaces that show respect for materials and craft alongside a sense of adventure and play. I’d like to think that the book reflects this through the beautiful photos of the projects and its insight into my approach to the different spaces. I have always loved that quote of Diana Vreeland’s, ‘The eye has to travel’, and I think an interior designer – and certainly a book about one – has the potential to offer that wonderful journey of discovery.

What is the most memorable project you’ve worked on to date?

Tamsin Johnson: Probably the boutique hotel Raes on Wategos in Byron Bay. When they engaged me to do the job, I spent a week there, with a night in each different room, to experience the place and understand what worked and what didn’t. I was with my husband, Patrick, and our son, Arthur, who was only six weeks old. Months later, I returned with my son and my mum, who’d come to help me, and we spent a week installing all the new pieces. Again, we stayed in a different room each night, on what was literally a building site. I’ll never forget it! Raes was a beautiful project to create, and we all still feel like we’re part of the family whenever we visit.

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Temple by Tamsin Johnson | Photography by Sean Fennessy

As an Australian designer, what’s it like to design homes internationally; namely, in Paris and New York?

Tamsin Johnson: It’s certainly more challenging, but in the most rewarding way – you have access to a whole new array of resources, shops and artisans. I’m lucky to have amazing international contractors who I can call on, and I also often seek help from local interior designers. Some of the most fun pieces I’ve discovered overseas have come from simply pounding the pavement – such as a Jean Royère-style wrought-iron screen I found in an antique centre in New York’s Flatiron district, and a pair of zinc vessels that Patrick and I discovered in an antique store in Hudson. In Paris, I found a fabulous mustard-coloured sofa when I was walking by a store window, and I lugged a pair of bistro chairs home through the streets of sticky-hot Paris in summer with my friend fashion and jewellery designer Lucy Folk, for whom I was furnishing an apartment.

What’s next for Tamsin Johnson?

Tamsin Johnson: The most exciting venture is a new showroom in Paddington, which is due to open in November. The business has outgrown the William Street premises, and this new larger space in a 1930s warehouse building will be more accessible for the public, not just our clients. From there, we’ll be selling antiques sourced through Europe and America and some custom pieces. I can’t wait!

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Tree House by Tamsin Johnson | Photography by Sean Fennessy

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