Aussie designer reveals ‘bizarre’ love affair with nature, plus more

Blainey North gets her kicks from tailoring interiors for homeowners rather than prescribing to one theme or look

Blainey North was a mere teenager when she realised that the design bug had bitten. “My art teacher asked me if I had considered architecture as a profession,” recalls the Australian. “She said that I had only ever drawn buildings and had never portrayed an actual person.” Since then, North has used her talent to head-up one of Sydney’s most sought-after architecture practices, Blainey North & Associates, and earlier this year was featured by Property Report magazine as one of the world’s most innovative interior designers.

She currently leads a global team of 16 talented design professionals. In addition to building design, her firm also creates custom-design furniture and specialty lighting that she uses in her projects.

Eye for detail is everything in design and North professes her admiration for the work of celebrated Italian architect Carlo Scarpa for his use of detail and material. She also usually gathers new design ideas from “bizarre aspects” of the environment that surrounds her. “I can be inspired by anything, but I find forms and systems in nature especially interesting,” she says. “Nature is so amazing.”

Although the bulk of her company’s work so far has been interiors at five-star hotels, the firm has also designed a select number of high-end residences for special clients. Keeping her busy currently is the interior design of one of the tallest commercial towers in Sydney.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the design industry?

Whilst I was studying architecture I started my business, and it grew in an organic way. I always wanted to create a design studio where design concept and detailing was incredibly rigorous and intellectual – I wanted to build a place where new ideas are formulated and where every project is a unique journey for the client and also for us as designers. Now I’m able to develop new concepts and ideas for every project, which is creatively very satisfying. Some of these ideas then become inspiration for my company’s larger work.

Do you have a signature design?

My team strives to ensure that every project is treated like a couture garment, with a rigour and repetition in the detail that is able to elevate and challenge ideas of what is possible. Most importantly we want our work to be beautiful, unique and feel like it has been there forever. It should reveal itself over time. As a company we strive to ensure that we retain that passion and energy in the process of design as well as the outcome.

Describe your design practice in three words.

Intelligent, conceptual and emotive.

How do you handle different design projects?

In a similar way to hotels, apartments and condominiums need to be clever about space and how it is utilised. Views also play an incredibly important role in the interior as windows are often only on one side of a room, rather on many sides, like in a house. We often spend a large amount of time working out how to ensure a consistent level of light is across the whole apartment, making it feel larger and not just focused on the view.

I also like to incorporate a range of different products that we scour the globe for. Furniture and lighting is so important in the way you experience a project, and needs to reflect the homeowner’s particular requirements. 

We love the interiors of this Bennelong Apartment unit in Sydney and how it incorporates the harbour into the design. Can you explain the thought process behind the project?

I wanted to bring the line of the harbour into the apartment, almost as if the water’s edge came up into the building. We created a low datum of timber panelling that connected all the spaces in the apartment visually and also made the walls feel taller. The different white fabrics created an entirely different feeling in each room, whilst maintaining a consistent look throughout. My favourite element of this project is definitely the James Bond-style secret door leading into the master suite, which will allow the owners to disappear whenever they like when they are entertaining.

What are your biggest design challenges at the moment?

My challenges are always the same: delivering something magical for the client. It’s an incredibly important part of our process. We love disseminating the client’s story and threading it through the concept as part of the unique narrative of a project. My team and I work hard to maintain a high standard of quality.

I have a number of studios around the world that are of a small size, to ensure that the attention to detail is able to be carried across all aspects of the project. That way, I’m able to work across the design of all the projects, which also ensures that the quality is what the client expects.

Do you have a dream project?

It would be to design a new concept hotel chain for a client that wanted to create an entirely new style of hotel. I won’t say too much, but let’s just say, I already have some ideas!