How best to describe design world denizen Sibella Court - interior alchemist, super-stylist, author, historian, product designer?
Ask Sibella and she will tell you “part pirate, part gypsy”. It’s a description that eloquently describes both her signature eclectic and bohemian style, as well as her wondrous approach to design that reflects her love of travel, home, vintage and all things handmade.
Here Sibella talks about everything from her secret obsession and least favourite colour, to stumbling upon Empire founder and long-time dancing partner Elissa Coleman.
1. What is your approach when designing?
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.
It’s always about creating a sense of adventure through details, the movement through the space, the choices a guest or owner can make when in the space and of course the ever-important ambience of lighting.
2. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE RESTYLING HACK?
Restyling is the perfect way to revamp your favourite piece of furniture. Don’t underestimate the ability of the smallest details to shift the feel, ambience and story of an environment. What may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of a room can often trigger a thought, sense, or memory. I always carry this concept with me when it comes to working on an interiors project.A quick and accessible way to restyle furniture is to swap out hardware like drawer pulls and knobs. With a simple switch, the whole tone of the piece can be changed!
3. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST OBSESSION?
I am obsessed with sinks and don’t hesitate to buy one when it crosses my path. I recently custom made a marble and Jaisalmer stone one for a hospitality project. Its shape is based on one I have in my outdoor kitchen - a beautiful English glazed stoneware sink I found in Tasmania long before it had a place. It is shallow and fluted on the front, with 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 a party dress as it fell on his birthday as well. The first time I went looking I came home with a 19th century marble sink. It’s about 2 metres long with double oval sinks, a small shaving sink in its centre with a shelf and made 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.
4. WHAT IS SOMETHING WE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I have a history degree. My reading on a recreational level is history books. I read about everything – histories, art, exploration, anything. I particularly enjoy reading about the 1850s. It was a big time of social change, religion was being questioned, the world was being explored, and the average man was seeing things that he hadn’t seen before like The Great Exception, The Crystal Palace, and the Cabinets of Curiosity. There were all sorts of events happening – Origin of the Species, The Royal Society, new lands being discovered. It was a very interesting time.
5. FAVOURITE PASTIME?
Collecting. I have all sorts of stuff. It started with shells. I was down south for my last birthday, and there’s this one shell I’ve been obsessed with since about age two from where my grandparents live. We were down in Berrara and this shell was on the seashore, and it brought back memories of spending hours collecting them. Since I do so much product development and design, we have everything at our fingertips. I collect as much shelving, labels, boxes and drawers as much as I collect things, so everything has a place and I can remember where everything is. I’ve gotten good at cataloguing stuff. Because I’m so good at where things are from/where I bought them/who I was with, most items have a story.
6. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING TO COLLECT?
People! 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, and 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, and wood turners amongst many others!
7. WHY DO YOU ONLY WEAR CREAM AND WHITE?
It started when I was working on really big sets at Milk studios in New York. The photo assistants had a uniform of coloured t-shirts with a logo. Meanwhile I'm trying to work with all these palettes so I kept saying, “can you get off my set in your orange T-shirt!” I ended up telling them all to wear either white or black. When you're working with different palettes, it's nice to keep it neutral. I don't wear colour but I love that my world is very colourful.
8. WHAT COLOUR DON’T YOU LIKE SEEING INSIDE?
White. I prefer not to include it at all. People always ask me what colour they should paint their home’s interior, and I always tell them anything but white! Most people are naturally drawn to colour and yet they fear it when it comes time to paint their homes, and so they opt for white feeling it will solve all of their problems. It’s quite boring. God, if I see just one more white-on-white-on-white-house! There is beauty in colour - it doesn't make a room darker or smaller. I want to experiment so you won’t walk in and think, “Wow, this is a very colourful house'”, but more that it's just a beautiful backdrop no matter what you put against it.
9. WHAT COLOUR DO YOU LOVE TO SEE?
It’s called Ships in the Night from my paint range with Murobond. It’s a really deep teal. It’s a lovely colour.
10. WHY DO YOU LOVE TO TRAVEL SO MUCH?
Travel for me is my inspiration for my job. I’m not just trying to go to places where they’re already all finished. I want to go where a rock formation might give me an idea or the colour of the sand might be an inspiration for a palette for me. It might be tribal jewellery or other things that aren’t a finished product. I travel to inspire things that I do. Otherwise it’s just a replica and that has no integrity.
11. HOW DID YOU MEET EMPIRE HOMEWARES FOUNDER ELISSA COLEMAN?
Elissa and I met when she was opening her Paddington store 20 plus years ago. I walked in and she asked me if I wanted to go out dancing - instant friends!
12. WHAT MAKES A HOME FEEL SPECIAL?
It’s a feeling that makes a place special I think. The way that colour, materials, and furniture are put together 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 is what makes it special and full of soul.