Designer Spotlight

Sydney Architect Blainey North Has a Fascination with Light and Line

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North portrait
Trained as an architect, Australian designer Blainey North maintains studios in Sydney, London and New York. Her furniture collection is now available on 1stdibs (portrait by Troyt Coburn). Top: North used robust furnishings in several groupings to increase the intimacy of the soaring, glass-walled living and dining area of a Sydney penthouse; she complemented her collection’s Chasm table lamps and Fontaine sofa with custom pieces also of her design. All photos by Tom Ferguson unless otherwise noted

In a glamorous penthouse apartment overlooking Sydney’s glittering harbor, a rather special rug meanders its way alongside the lengthy expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows. The fact that it’s said to be the largest rug in the southern hemisphere is interesting, certainly, but for architect and interior designer Blainey North, its appeal lies elsewhere.

“I designed it as a massive artwork, and it’s quite amazing,” she says. “The lines that run through it are like water, and what you see changes throughout the day in the shifting light.” With its shimmering tones of silver, gray and white and range of textures, the rug is a dynamic part of the design. Sometimes, it’s the lines, running parallel in places and crossing in others, that draw the eye, while at other times, those lines disappear and other elements come into focus.

The living space around this rug presented a challenge because of its proportions — with a soaring ceiling and elliptical layout, it’s large enough to accommodate two seating areas and a dining one, too. “When you’re sitting there, it needs to feel as if you’re just in a nice room with friends and family, not dwarfed by this space,” North says. To achieve that effect, she created elegant groupings of furniture and lighting in low silhouettes, keeping the focus on pieces in complementary tones and on comfortable places to gather.

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Palm Beach Florida bedroom
In a bedroom in a house in the Sydney suburb of Palm Beach, North once again deployed her own custom designs and pieces from her collection, including the upholstered ottoman with leather tray and the lacquered bedside tables.

Sofas in shades of gray spanning from silver to charcoal share space with rounded consoles in rich espresso timber, while chic table lamps bring a warmth and livability to the grandeur. “In the evening, it’s as if this ceiling goes up into nothingness, and it feels vast but also cozy, because you have this experience of beautiful lighting at the level where you’re sitting,” says North.

That “experience” of a place is central to North’s design process and something she tests regularly, on-site and off. “I’ve realized over time that I can build a space in my mind — a fantasy environment in three dimensions — and I mentally walk through these spaces on a consistent basis when I’m working on a project,” she says. “It’s just part of the discipline of what I do. I’m lucky I don’t need a lot of sleep!”

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Palm Beach Florida House patio covered porch
For the covered patio of the Palm Beach residence, North designed custom waterproof black-and-white lacquer outdoor seating upholstered in all-weather fabric and adorned with tassled toss pillows. The marble coffee table and wooden tray atop it are also her custom designs.

The faculty for imagining spaces is something the perennially busy interior designer and architect seems to have been born with. It set her on a design path from an early age, even if she didn’t know it at the time. At 11, she asked her parents for the floor plan of her bedroom so she could lay out her furniture options to scale. In high school, while other art students were immersed in self-portraits, North was producing “bridge series” and “stair series.” It wasn’t until her art teacher pointed out that “everything I’d done for the past six years was buildings” that North realized she should consider architecture as a career. She began studying the subject at the University of Sydney. Before she’d even finished the six-year degree, she had her own clients — and business — at the age of 21.

Sydney Architect Blainey North Has a Fascination with Light and Line
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Sydney Architect Blainey North Has a Fascination with Light and Line
Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Sydney Harbour house exterior

Australian architect and interior designer Blainey North took inspiration from the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby when designing this grand Sydney Harbour waterfront residence. The house features a loggia-like covered porch on its ground floor. Photo by Felix Forest

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Sydney Harbour house dining room

In the dining room, custom leather dining chairs surround a custom high-gloss wood-base table with a glass top. The sculpture displayed on one of the shelves is by Dan Schneiger. Photo by Felix Forest

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Sydney Harbour house bar seating

Elsewhere in the home, a custom version of the Chasm coffee table from the Blainey North Collection is surrounded by velvet-covered sofas and chairs also of her design. Photo by Felix Forest

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Perth spa reception

For a spa project in Perth, North looked into the history of spas, particularly the bathhouses of ancient Rome. Her research led her to create a series of axes connecting circular areas. This reception area features a pair of her collection’s Adriano sofas. Photo by George Apostilidis

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Perth spa treatment room

In the treatment rooms, a watery palette of blues and whites reigns, and circular forms recur in rounded armchairs, tables, rugs and mirrors, as well as soaking tubs and light fixtures. Photo by George Apostilidis

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Perth spa

Throughout the spa, North wanted to create a feeling like that of being under water and looking up at the sun as it filters down. Photo by George Apostilidis

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Perth spa steam room

North covered the seductive curves she designed for a steam room with gold, blue and purple mosaic tiles. Photo by George Apostilidis

Twenty years later, she has offices in Sydney, London and New York and clients all over the world, with projects ranging from huge residential makeovers to fashion boutiques, five-star hotels and superyachts. What connects them all is an architectural approach in which line informs layout.

In that Sydney harbor-view penthouse, for example, a sinuous black line runs through the interiors, framing windows, stairs, mirrors, rugs and wall panels. It provides a bold geometric accent that befits the apartment’s Art Deco aesthetic, and it helps tame the home’s proportions by tying together different areas.

Blainey North Collection Sinclair side table Cohn table lamp Calero armchair
Pieces in the Blainey North Collection available on 1stdibs include, from left, the Sinclair side table, the Cohn table lamp and the Calero armchair.
Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Sydney penthouse pool cabana
Elsewhere in the Sydney penthouse, Passos swivel chairs and Mandalina side tables from North’s collection keep company with vintage panels from Paris, a custom white lacquer sofa and a circular leather and satin-finished-bronze circular coffee table.  

In another harborside residence, an impressive three-story house in the exclusive Sydney suburb of Rose Bay, the furnishings serve to frame the incredible water views. The owners wanted a cool, modern space, and North’s custom-made pieces, in strong monochromes and luxe materials, provide clean, confident lines. In the living area, a pair of large marble coffee tables establish a geometry that is echoed, in a softer way, in the cushions and bespoke rug. Marble also features in the adjacent kitchen and dining areas and, outside, around the pool.

Each surface speaks to the next — the shimmer of certain cushions is reflected in the light fittings and the brass lines that run through the polished concrete floors. The design appears simple, but the detail and thought behind it are dazzling.

It’s those intricate details that North most relishes crafting. When designing a Sydney restaurant for prominent French-born Australian chef Guillaume Brahimi, she modeled the leather banquettes on the bench-style seats of vintage Fords and Chevrolets  — “for that retro, old-school feeling.” Their inviting cornflower blue, continued in studded armchairs, contrasts with the warm tones of brass and timber used to frame the space and in accents. With burnished antique mirrors, enormous fabric lights and an overarching gridded scheme that takes its inspirations from  Cubist artists’ fascination with the Golden Section, the space evokes an intimate sense of early-20th-century Paris.

Australian architect interior designer Blainey North Sydney penthouse corner seating
White lacquer sofas and chairs from North’s collection surround custom marble coffee tables with bronze details in a corner of the penthouse whose glass walls offer seemingly endless views.  

That was not the first time North looked to the past for a contemporary solution. Her design for the spa of a luxury hotel in Perth was inspired by Roman bathhouses and their use of circular motifs. Rounded armchairs, tables, rugs and mirrors echo the shapes of soaking tubs, coffered ceilings and chandeliers, all done in an aquatic palette of blues and whites with metallic touches for drama.

North also took inspiration from a treasured sensory experience. “One of the greatest feelings you can have is when you’re under the water, looking up, and the light’s coming in. I wanted to create that feeling,” she says. “I’m fascinated with light refraction, and the light in interiors is complicated but so much fun to play with.” In the spa, lights at varying levels produce the effect of shifting depths and indistinct surfaces, resulting in a space that is almost ethereal.

Back in the Sydney penthouse, the tour winds down, and evening sets in. The rug takes on another appearance under the lamps’ soft glow, while metallic threads in the sofa cushions get “a little more glamorous,” North notes, as cocktail hour approaches and they pick up the lights of the city outside. The feeling is at once sumptuous and soothing. “Great spaces create great emotions,” says North. “And luxury is about experience, after all.”

Blainey North’s Quick Picks on 1stdibs

“We used this table, produced in a limited edition by Yves Klein’s estate, as the centerpiece of the living room in one of our recent projects. With the artist’s iconic blue pigment sitting inside a Lucite frame, the table makes a wonderful talking point and brings a bold moment of color to a room.”

“This elegant chair — part of my 2019 Man & the Machine collection, which just launched on 1stdibs — combines the sensuousness of velvet upholstery with the precision of an exposed metal frame and a base featuring carbon-fiber-like rope detail. It’s super cool and sexy.”

“I am a big fan of the Swedish duo Fredrikson Stallard, whose work is always very thoughtful.  This acrylic side table is amazing. With its iceberg-like aesthetic, it’s is as close as you will ever get to living with a piece of Antarctica.”

“Designed in layers that loop and bind, my new Strobe coffee table — also from the Man & the Machine collection — fits together in a tightly linked construction. The horizontal plane of polished stainless-steel rods sits in a deep bronze frame with a leather inlay. Reminiscent of the design of a bank vault, it speaks to the rhythm and repetition of mechanization.”

“The simple geometry of this well-balanced lamp from my Man & the Machine collection conveys a sense of equilibrium and gives the design a timeless appeal.  The tactility of its horsehair shade mitigates the smoothness of the circular base.”

“The powerful presence of Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju’s iconic waterfall paintings can transform any room. This piece is grand in scale, incredibly soothing and almost three dimensional in its layering. It’s a luxury to have a wall large enough to accommodate it.”

“Because it creates drama and mood, lighting is an integral component of any interior. When lit, this amazing piece creates dramatic, bold shadows that reflect off its futuristic faceted bronze angles.”

“Alexander McQueen has been an important inspiration in my life and work, and this original, one-of-a-kind McQueen couture top is something I am seriously coveting.”

“I love the feeling a Francis Bacon piece incites in me — a perfect combination of torment and beauty. The lithographs are still able to convey these emotions and really are worth every cent.”

“Stephen Webster is always able to create subversive jewelry. This fantastic bracelet evidences the rebelliousness of a five-star anarchist. Made of eighteen-karat white gold set with tapered baguette-cut and trilliant-cut white diamonds and black enamel, this piece is definitely on my wish list.”

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