Collette Dinnigan and other celebrity interior designers are on a mission to banish boring from apartment developments.
It used to be all about the “starchitects”. In their quest to lure buyers to off-the-plan apartment projects, developers would enlist acclaimed architects to design the buildings, name-dropping their talented collaborators in marketing materials and roping them into glittering launches.
Now architects are finding themselves sharing the spotlight with another group: celebrity interior designers.
Fashion designer turned interiors doyenne Collette Dinnigan is the latest in a string of high-profile designers and decorators appointed to multi-residential projects.
Alex Perry was another fashion designer who gave his signature style to a hotel and apartment complex in Brisbane that opened last year.
The South African-born Dinnigan has been making a name for herself in the world of interiors since stepping back from her main fashion label in 2013. With credits including Bannisters by the Sea at Mollymook and Milton Surf & Stables, as well as a soon-to-be-launched wallpaper range for Porter’s Paints, she has proved her designer skill-set is eminently transferable.
But it is Golf House, a luxe development of 46 apartments on the old Sharpie’s Golf House site in Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, that has been occupying much of her time lately.
Joining the project late last year after the external architectural plans had been drawn up, Dinnigan set to work with Peter Israel, of PTI Architecture, devising internal layouts and finishes designed to be easy to live with – and beautiful to behold.
“What comes to me very naturally is space and proportion and colour and light,” says Dinnigan, who was in Sydney this month for a quick visit before returning to Rome, where she is on a sabbatical year with her family.
“It feels like a lot of developments these days get a very generic look. I didn’t want that. I spent a lot of time doing the flow of the residences and making sure when you walked through the door you felt like you were walking into a space that was welcoming.”
Buyers will even be offered the opportunity – for a price – to have Dinnigan help select their furnishings.
Other big-name designers on a mission to banish boring from apartment developments include Koichi Takada (Pacific Bondi Beach, One Central Park), Burley Katon Halliday (Cleveland & Co) and William Smart (Connor at Central Park, Maxwell Place at Harold Park and the Alexander at Barangaroo).
Smart says his practice embraces a “design from the inside out” philosophy, making interiors a major factor from the earliest planning stages. He is not surprised by the increased focus on apartment interiors, saying today’s buyers are sophisticated and savvy.
“They buy magazines, they read newspapers, they know what is in the market,” Smart says. “Most purchasers nowadays will walk into a space and have a good understanding of how to furnish it. They will look at the finishes and the details and see where the quality exists.”
Ged Rockliff is head of residential projects at Savills, which is marketing Golf House. He says while there’s no doubt the involvement of a celebrated interior designer can add value, the precise amount is impossible to quantify.
What’s easier to gauge, he says, is the rate of sales. Rockliff estimates a high-profile designer could help the sales rate rise 20 per cent or more, potentially saving big money if a developer can secure finance sooner.
Rockliff predicts developers will increasingly turn to big-name collaborators.
“It’s that Darwinian theory. To stay ahead of the curve you’ve got to offer a point of difference to the purchasers.”
As for Dinnigan, she is well aware of the power of her personal brand. “It’s a huge selling point because you know that the same eye for detail and colours and quality is going to be applied to the project,” she says. “In this day and age when everything is so visual … it’s not about calculations and a black and white floorplan and a promise.”
Fashion for your home
To the untrained eye, an apartment doesn’t have all that much in common with a pretty dress. To Collette Dinnigan, who has designed some of the most stunning gowns in Australian fashion history, there is more than meets the eye.
“Sometimes the simplest of satin bias-cut dresses looks amazing because we do an undergarment,” Dinnigan says. “There are always layers, good foundations.”
And so it is with interior architecture and design.
In Golf House, for example, she insisted on insulation below the polished reclaimed timber floorboards so residents wouldn’t hear footsteps above.
“It may be a very different process but it’s a similar aesthetic … Textiles are very important to me, so are the curtains and prints and colour. That’s what creates a very homely environment.”