Welcome to The Makers. Each month, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans, and crafters of all stripes, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces to find out exactly how the magic happens. For this instalment, we headed over to the Kings Cross home of Phoebe Nicol, interior architect and co-founder of The Vault Sydney, a lauded antique and art business she runs alongside her partner Jeremy Bowker. Nicol’s double-storey terrace is a study in expert curation. The envy-inducing space strikes a perfect balance between restrained and ornate, with fresh white walls showcasing Nicol’s many special pieces in a way that feels thoroughly modern. On our shoot day, it was hard to choose a favourite element, from a vintage starburst mirror that adorns the living room wall to her sculptural bespoke striped bedhead, so we captured them all. Keep reading for our Q&A.
When it comes to interior design, minimalist styling gets a lot of clicks on Instagram. But while a spartan aesthetic has its place, creating a space with intelligence, flair, and personality is arguably far harder to achieve. A lifelong design obsessive, Phoebe Nicol lives and breathes the latter. An in-depth understanding of how to marry classic European antiques, striking artworks and collectibles, and a completely modern “feel” practically run through her veins. (“I’ve been interested in interior design since I was around ten-years-old—when I was young I would spend hours re-arranging furniture, banging IKEA shelves together and decorating my room to within an inch of its life.”) The best advertisement for her skills? Her stunning home. Nicol’s knack for sourcing the perfect thing to complete a room has been honed through her practice as an interior architect and through the antique business she co-owns. We sat down together (with pup Harvey Nicol) to chat about her obsession with art, favourite décor, and why every home needs at least one antique.
Bed Threads: Hi Phoebe! This series is called The Makers. What is it you make?
Phoebe Nicol: I make unique spaces.
BT: How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
PN: I love finding special pieces for my clients to help make their space feel like home.
BT: How would you describe what you do for a living?
PN: I seek to create spaces led by emotion rather than by any one style. Houses should be timeless yet current. It is also important that each project be appropriate for the client. All of my interiors have an underlying structure and order that is basically modern, then it’s simply a matter of overlaying it with custom furniture and furnishings.
BT: Now the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
PN: It’s been two years.
BT: How did you initially know this was the space for you?
PN: It appealed to me because it was a terrace—narrow, but still a terrace. Everything else on the market I could afford at the time was an apartment. I loved the fact that I had a front door and that5 I could just walk out onto the street, that won me over. This particular row of terraces has such appeal, they are all original workers cottages. Plus I love the area!
BT: Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
PN: Not a lot really, we painted the garden area and planted trees.
BT: How would you describe your home in a sentence?
PN: Cosy and curated living.
BT: How does your home reflect you as a person?
PN: I’m a collector I guess—it reflects that side of me. I love interesting things from all periods in time.
BT: What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
PN: Our house is very small. (And full!) We have a lot of beautiful furniture pieces and art. I guess my palette has been quite restricted to enable that. Because the space is so small I have gone with white on white. The voice is in the furniture, furnishings and the art—they speak for themselves.
BT: What are your favourite pieces in your home?
PN: Choosing my favourite item in the house is almost impossible! Honestly, I don’t think I can. The artworks and decorative objects are my true loves. The furniture comes and goes.
BT: You have an incredible art collection, where did your appreciation begin?
PN: I’ve been interested in art and interior design since I was around ten. I was aware of design from very early on. I grew up with an expressive and extremely creative mother, who is an interior designer. So decorating and collecting is kind of in my blood. I’ve been exposed to fabulous objects and artworks from a young age, so I’ve always had a passion.
BT: Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
PN: Always. I’m constantly moving things around, bringing new pieces in and subbing old ones out. But mostly my collection just grows!
BT: Which is your favourite room in the house?
PN: I’d have to say the living room as visually it’s the most exciting. The design of the living room is also constantly changing.
BT: Which are your favourite objects in your bedroom?
PN: I love my bedhead and bedside lamps, I feel they complete the space.
BT: Tell me about The Vault Sydney.
PN: We started The Vault because we both share a passion for antiques. There is a huge gap in the market, too. We’re hardly seeing any antique dealers anymore which is heartbreaking. It’s wonderful having both my own interior architecture practice and The Vault—often the two go hand in hand! I love what we’re doing and I love being able to source the perfect pieces for my clients.
BT: Why should every home have an antique piece?
PN: I think it adds soul to a home. People setting up a home for the first time don’t want to fill it with Ikea, they’re looking for originality.
BT: Finally, tell me about the projects you’ve most enjoyed working on.
PN: I recently completed my first commercial project, a hair salon in Bondi, which I am really proud of. I worked hard to deliver a space that is atypical of the standard hair salon. Stepping inside, clients enter a place of serenity with expertly crafted fixtures and furnishings and a minimalist aesthetic tempered by unique artworks and pottery. There is a strong European influence evident in the hand-rendered finishes, which, married with the raw finish of the floor and steel elements, showcase beautiful craftsmanship.