An avid collector, the Sydney home of interior designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley is as much a gallery space as it is private residence. Taking up the entire floor of a converted Victorian stately home in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Darling Point, like any fabulous interior, the home gives a fabulous insight into its owner, his life, travels and passions.
“A home’s interior has to feel real and it has to speak of the person who lives there, like a book slowly exposing characters and stories. A successful space is an unfolding narrative with layers of meaning – motifs, art, collectables and furniture are all important. This space reflects my travels, my love of 1940s neutral palettes, my art collections, my obsession with amazing books, the pleasure of cooking and entertaining, and at the end of the day, my love of comfort,” says Alex, design director of AZBcreative. He has just launched a residential arm to his business, adding to his impressive commercial portfolio, together with offices in New York and Bali.
Filled with a vast collection of art and books, the home references classic French apartments, old Hollywood set design and there’s not a trend in sight. “There’s nothing worse than an interior that’s trendy. I wanted to retain a sense of the building’s history, without creating a museum piece. I love old French apartments that were re-decorated before WWII, mixed with the set-design colour palette of classic Hollywood city spaces – think Cary Grant’s luxe, gentleman’s apartments and spaces from Rome to Monaco,” says Alex who used soft white and grey paint to capitalise on the apartment’s natural light and highlight the collections within.
“I love masculine furniture, robust and beautifully crafted but then offset with other pieces that are light and frivolous. Combined, they create the perfect balance of light and shade, masculine and feminine, yin and yang. Everything in balance. I am a collector and it is an art to present those collections so they are as exciting to your guests as to you,” says Alex who hangs his art in Paris salon style. “It allows you to group pieces that work together and hang them above each other. It also allows you to hang more art but also give the room a grander feel,” says Alex.
And with so many pieces, gathered over a lifetime of travel, the space could so easily look cluttered. “You can imagine what it was like trying to perfectly place these elements. You need a PhD in elegant clustering to keep a sense of balance and space and not turn it into an episode of Hoarders!” says Alex who started collecting art at the age of 17.
“Every piece tells a story and recalls a memory of a great trip or a weekend combing through flea markets and auctions all over the world. I love the thrill of discovering a new artist or a new piece to add to this ever-growing collection. You have to be very disciplined but it also pays to have a massive AZB warehouse for storing my ever-evolving collections!”
One of the apartment’s standout pieces is a painting of an owl by Joshua Yeldham. “It’s one of the most prominent recent pieces I’ve bought. It is quite delicate, yet it commands your attention – I love that tension between intricate and bold. I’ve tried to maintain a balance of masculine and feminine energy in the space. It’s definitely a masculine retreat, but not too much,” says Alex.
“As for furniture, I love my two modernist Italian timber and brass armchairs, crafted in the 1970s, the massive 1840s French credenza and the new Volta Paris cantilevered coloured sculpture on my mantel piece, reminiscent of Calder and Mondrian, is the bomb!” says Alex whose passion for collecting and curating has become part of his creative offering too.
“We have just created the AZB art procurement service, as I have several international clients now. I love having them on the same trajectory as me. Sourcing and finding art for clients is a wild trip, as their budgets are infinitely more than mine! For a moment, I get to feel as if these acquisitions are part of my own collection. It’s a fantastic feeling, just for a moment!” says Alex.
Photography: Jacqui Turk