Fresh off the back of big wins during the recent design awards season, we caught up with the directors of SJB recently, Kirsten Stanisich and Jonathan Richards. Not only were the talented duo awarded the ‘Interior Designer of the Year’ and the ‘Best Hospitality Interior’ awards at the 2017 Belle Coco Republic Interior Design Awards but they also won the ‘Residential Decoration Award’ and received two commendations at the 2017 Australian Interior Design Awards too.
After studying interior design at the University of Technology Sydney, Jonathan pursued exhibition and museum design – a path that saw him cross paths with some architectural greats. “The first exhibition I designed was at the State Library of NSW about sketchbooks of famous architects. I had the pleasure of working with architects like Harry Seidler and Glen Murcutt on displaying some of their wonderful sketches,” says Jonathan who worked in museums and galleries in Sydney Melbourne and London before joining SJB. “At that time, SJB was still new to Sydney and I loved the hospitality work they were producing – to me it seemed a natural progression from the theatre of gallery design,” says Jonathan.
Kirsten’s career began after studying architecture at the University of Melbourne, when she worked for SJB in Melbourne. “After about 18 months I was seconded to the interiors team and it was then I realised that interior design gave me more opportunity for experimentation with new materials and a greater understanding of detailing for human scale. So not long after long after I took a permanent role with the interiors division and then relocated to help establish the practice in Sydney,” says Kirsten.
“Given I was new to SJB and Kirsten was relatively new to Sydney, we both had a sense of new beginnings. We had enormous fun working on fabulous hospitality projects in the early 2000’s and we learnt a lot very quickly. It was fun and it was also stressful and we realised we were a well-balanced partnership,” says Jonathan of the early days. And it’s a partnership that has continued to flourish, as illustrated by the pair’s recent win at the Belle Coco Republic Interior Design Awards where they took out the ‘Best Hospitality Interior’ award for their 12-Micron project.
With a nuanced approach to their design practice, the pair prefer to add to the existing elements of a space rather than start afresh. “Even if those elements might seem unfashionable. We think of our interiors as another layer in the ongoing history of a building rather than a totally new space. This can be more of a challenge when we are given a new open building shell as sometimes there can be very little to draw from, which is often why we also look at the wider context such as where the project is located and how we can evoke a recognition of that place or the people who will be occupying the space,” says Kirsten who cites natural materials, unique small details and recognition of past design periods as their design signatures.
As for more general inspiration, Kirsten and Jonathan often seek it outside of the world of design. “Nature is always an incredible inspiration with its random patterns, textures, shapes and colours. Sometimes it can even be a song or music that evokes something in us or incredible fashion designers like Raf Simons or interior designers like Andree Putman and Patricia Urquiola,” says Jonathan.
As for a favourite project, Kirsten cites ‘A Private Residence’ which was recently bestowed the ‘Residential Decoration Award’ at the 2017 Australian Interior Design Awards, in addition to a commendation for the firm’s ‘Redfern Terrace.’ “The client is very anti fashion and she helped to push me to develop a design which was luxurious and expressive,” says Kirsten.
For Jonathan, it’s a couple of Bondi Beach projects that he has most enjoyed. “I have been working on a few magnificent residences in Bondi Beach over the last four years. Three different clients that all live near one another but the outcomes have been very different. It’s been a pleasure working on them to achieve a wonderful design – but more than anything the satisfaction of the project relies on the mutual enjoyment you have with the clients. When the clients are willing to embrace wonderful design, it brings me enormous joy creating something special,” says Jonathan.
Photography: Katie Kaars, Felix Forest & Anson Smart