Designers to Watch

This Sydney Designer Loves a Good Rom-Com Interior

Portrait of Kate Nixon, founder of Studio Kate
Sydney interior designer Kate Nixon finds joy in creating “comfortable, inviting rooms that you just want to live in.” Top: Old meets new in the office of rare book dealer Hordern House, where Nixon paired a contemporary Walter Knoll Tobu dining table with a vintage Persian rug from the client’s collection. Photos throughout by Maree Homer

Whether she’s taking into account the textures you’ll touch, the music you’ll hear or the food you’ll cook, Kate Nixon, founder of the Sydney design firm Studio Kate, creates interiors that are about so much more than just the visual. 

That well-rounded approach is not surprising given her career path, which, like her aesthetic, is wonderfully layered. The daughter of furniture designers, Nixon started on her own road to design with a sales and marketing job at a gourmet cookie company that eventually led to food styling. Interiors styling followed, and soon she found herself working as an interior designer. Along the way, she also became the interiors editor of Australian House & Garden magazine, a position she still holds. 

Nixon says it was a trip to Italy in 2006 that truly set her up for the business she runs today. “When I was still working as a stylist, my husband and I discovered this beautiful Italian fabric brand called Busatti in a stunning little village in Tuscany called Anghiari,” she recalls. Hearing that no one represented the brand in Australia, Nixon expressed interest but learned that she could do so only if she had a retail presence. She promptly opened a Busatti fabric store that also sold home goods — a “sweet little shop in Double Bay, which is a lovely area of Sydney.” 

Before long, Nixon realized that customers weren’t interested in just a yard or two of fabric. So she pivoted. “We quickly added a made-to-measure service,” she explains. “It evolved very organically into interiors, because we would do someone’s headboard and their curtains. And then, they would ask us about the bedside tables and the lamps and the floor rugs — and ‘By the way, we need to do the bathroom and the kitchen!’ ” 

With both the design and retail ends of her business flourishing, Nixon formally established Studio Kate in 2018. At the end of 2019, she purchased a property in Rushcutters Bay, another Sydney suburb, to house both the design studio and her home furnishings store, reinvented with a serene and sophisticated vibe and dubbed CASA. 

Asked about her aesthetic, Nixon says, “When we talk about ‘a look,’ we say things like ‘polished and practical’ and ‘classic and comfortable.’ We use an earthy palette of what we call ‘non-colors’: It’s not bright red, it’s rust. We like the spaces to feel equally at ease with elegant entertaining and everyday family life.”

Introspective spoke with Nixon about her furniture go-tos, her affinity for California style and what she calls her “healthy obsession” with Nancy Meyers movies. 

In the living room of Nixon’s own residence, a custom CASA by Kate Nixon ottoman in Busatti wool sits in front of two Oly Studio Anders chairs. A Living Divani Des Mario Galileo mirror, a CTO Lighting Array lamp and DK3 Butterfly shelves decorate the wall. To celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, the designer and her husband commissioned artist Mike Chavez to create the mixed media work that hangs over the fireplace. Nixon likes to call her home’s style “urban farmhouse.”

Where do you find inspiration?

I have a deep-seated, lifelong love for magazines. If I can sit down with a big stack of magazines, that’s like heaven. People will look at a page in a magazine and imagine themselves in that space. I think that’s how we like to leave our projects. People really feel like they can live in them, but they have that aspirational quality.

I’m also inspired by a lot of the people we work with — tradespeople who are true artisans. I’m always so amazed by builders and tilers and painters and what they know. We couldn’t do our jobs without them. 

And of course, I love 1stDibs! Seriously, it’s my favorite online resource for design inspiration.

Who are your favorite furniture designers? 

We use American brands Arteriors and Palecek a lot in our work. They have beautiful texture and materiality but are very comfortable and easy to use across different aesthetics. Thomas O’Brien is another favorite for his “new antiques.” We also love Jacques Adnet for his cool, modernist leather designs and Pierre Jeanneret for his fabulous chairs. 

Speaking of chairs, I’m a fan of the Superleggera by Gio Ponti and the Petra armchair from &Tradition by Viggo Boesen. I think Boesen named that chair after his mother-in-law, which I thought was really sweet. There’s also an Italian brand called Flexform that has some wonderful contemporary pieces, and their craftsmanship is beautiful. 

For lighting, I like Allied Maker, which we feature at CASA. We love how they use brass, alabaster, timber and glass. 

As far as interior designers, I love Steven Gambrel, Thomas O’Brien and Nate Berkus. I think they have beautiful layered, calm interiors. I also love Atelier AM for their attention to detail and their textures, patinas, stucco and antique timbers.

What’s your favorite design period?

I know this is an aesthetic, not an era, but I love the interiors of Nancy Meyers films! I like the idea of these comfortable, inviting rooms that you just want to live in. I think those interiors are great examples of the everyday joy we aim for in our work. Everyone wants that beach house or that Californian bungalow! We’ve won some awards, and that’s been great, but if I can create spaces people love to live in like that, then that’s everyday joy for me.

The entryway of a home on Sydney's North Shore designed by Studio Kate
Ralph Lauren‘s Desert Modern woven end table, a Senufo wooden stool and an antique Spanish upholstered stool surround the client’s existing late Regency mahogany table in the entryway of a Spanish Mission–style home on Sydney’s North Shore. Kelly Wearstler‘s Phoebe table lamp provides a sculptural accent as well as lighting.

What are your favorite design styles?

One is California’s Spanish Mission style. I appreciate the sprawling scale and the comfort. The Americans do that so beautifully! I love California outdoor living, which we embrace here, and the big windows letting the light in. 

Another is Mediterranean interiors: arches, curves, exposed beams, stone flagging, stucco render, reclaimed timber, natural linen, hand-glazed tiles, forged iron and woven details. 

I’m also partial to the European farmhouse look. I call my own home “urban farmhouse.” I think that contemporary country kind of look is beautiful, and I’m always drawn to it.

Who is your personal style icon?

Amal Clooney is very stylish. She’s so elegant and classic and timeless — very polished! I’m also a fan of fabulous fashion designer Ulla Johnson. Her look and her pieces are effortless, feminine, tailored, detailed and unique.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

I feel pretty lucky to live in Australia and to live here in Sydney, but it would be nice to have a few stints overseas, perhaps in California or on the East Coast of the U.S. I’ve never done the East Coast — that was on my list for 2020. I have great expectations for Boston and Martha’s Vineyard! That said, Tuscany forever has a place in my heart. It’s like my second home.

Bedroom of a country house in Mount Wilson, Australia designed by Studio Kate
Nixon outfitted the bedroom of a country house in Mount Wilson, Australia, with a custom headboard and linens made from Busatti fabrics. They’re complemented by an Asplund Nati Tati table and a Wendelbo Tip Toe bench.

What do you think is the most underappreciated design idea

Great door hardware. There’s so much horrible door hardware out there, which is terrible, because you touch it every day. Also, where it’s positioned is very important. We like ours nice and low, not too high!

Ambient lighting is underappreciated as well. Having appropriate task lighting and mood lighting — that’s really important! When you purchase a home, you don’t immediately think about it, but when you live with it every day, it really has an impact. 

I also think music is such a big thing. It really sets the mood, and it’s so easy now with Sonos or Spotify.

What’s one thing you’ve done that shouldn’t have worked in a project but did?

That happens all the time — we call them happy accidents. With renovations, there are always things you can’t anticipate. We have a project we’ve been working on, and for plumbing reasons, the ceiling had to be dropped in the great room. We ended up creating these coffers so we didn’t lose the height, and it added this layer of grandeur to the room. It’s something we wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the issue with the plumbing. 

What would your dream project be?

I’d love to design a boutique hotel with a day spa. There’s a hotel in Ibiza called Hacienda Na Xamena. It’s this incredible property perched on the edge of the island, and you can see these amazing cliffs. We want to create something like that eventually. We also want to do a little bakery inspired by Meryl Streep’s bakery in It’s Complicated.

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