Published on July 3, 2019

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It pays to be spontaneous. On a recent trip to the stone mason with a pair of clients who had purchased a four-bedroom home on the leafy streets of South Yarra in Melbourne, Australia, Sydney-based designer Tamsin Johnson went in with the intention of selecting a simple gray marble countertop for the kitchen. She came out at the eleventh hour with something completely different. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the green,” remembers Johnson. “The more we looked at it, the more we fell in love with it.” 

That “go with your gut” mentality quickly became the mantra for the entire project. While every piece of furniture was thoughtfully chosen to complement the home’s mid-century roots, a few unexpected details, like the icy green marble in the kitchen and the candy-striped banquette, push the envelope. “The clients had an incredibly open mind,” the designer continues. “They literally said yes to everything we brought to them.” 

If going with the flow doesn’t come naturally to you, never fear. Ahead, Johnson shares a few easy lessons for thinking on your toes. 

It’s Okay to Be Repetitive 

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Instead of introducing another material to the kitchen, Johnson committed to the honed green marble, dubbed Ice Green for its glacier-like composition, on every surface. “It’s strangely calming, despite how busy it is,” she says. “I wanted to add a decorative element to the design, and it seemed like the perfect solution for a forgiving backsplash.” The slight curvature of the design echoes the smooth edges of the fixtures. Johnson finished off the vignette with two cloud-like sconces on either side of the hood. 

“I wanted to add a decorative element to the design, and it seemed like the perfect solution for a forgiving backsplash.”

Let Natural Materials Drive the Color Scheme 

Instead of running wild with wallpaper and layers of vibrant fabric to inject color into each area, Johnson let natural materials—that green marble, the stone bathroom sink—do the heavy lifting. “The tones are generally monochromatic, which foster depth without overpowering the spaces,” says Johnson. 

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In the dining room, with its parquet floors, farmhouse-style dining table, and rattan chairs, warm amber tones rule. In the bathrooms, Johnson stuck with stone in cool grays and creamy whites. “It’s a modernist house, so we wanted to keep the style relaxed,” says Johnson. “The finishes are layered but never fussy.” 

“The tones are generally monochromatic, which foster depth without overpowering the spaces.”

Explore New Shapes

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There’s a non-nautical way to pull off stripes, and Johnson nails it in the kitchen. Moving away from a classic rectangular cushion, the designer chose candy-striped bolsters for the backrest of the banquette. “I wanted the curve to carry up the wall, but I also think a curve is more comfortable,” she says. 

“It’s the perfect spot to sit and read the papers in the morning.”

Rather than DIY it, Johnson left the design up to her skilled upholsterer, who was able to pull off the job using outdoor fabric. (You heard us correctly: That banquette could endure a storm and it would still look that good.) We wanted a breakfast bar for more casual dining moments,” the designer continues. “This sits under the slanted glass roof so it’s the perfect spot to sit and read the papers in the morning.”

Showers Aren’t Just for Indoors

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The only thing better than a hot shower after a long day is a hot shower outside. In addition to a small plunge pool, there’s a fully kitted-out shower in the back, complete with not just a rainfall head but the same sink that’s in the powder room and a mirror, too. 

Buy Art That Brings You Joy

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You don’t need insider know-how to build an awesome art collection. “If you stick to what you love and have a connection with it, pieces tend to complement each other,” Johnson says. For the kitchen, Johnson and her clients snagged works by local artist Bill Henson. “He’s a visionary photographer exploring the twilight zone between nature and civilization; youth and adulthood; male and female,” she shares. “Henson’s photographs are elegant and formal.” 

“If you stick to what you love and have a connection with it, pieces tend to complement each other.”

Buying strictly for investment purposes, on the other hand, could leave you with pieces that clash. “It’s also far more enjoyable to look at something you love all day long,” she points out. “We are very lucky to have such a rich contemporary art community in Australia, with some very exciting talent.” 

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