A large unfinished space (about 3000 square feet) including 2 balconies and a timeline from start to finish of about 6 months.
The brief was a live venue: with this we wanted to inject glamour into the music world and create a comfortable environment that welcomed everyone with a space that you could watch live-performance, local & international bands & acts. We wanted people to come as much for the music as for the interiors. This is a place to look glamorous, feel glamorous & drink cocktails. My colour inspiration came from Marion Hall Best, Australia’s first interior designer, who I was researching at the time.
The space was broken down into 4 sections:
1. Main bar & stage seating/viewing: We maintained a colour palette of shades of orange, brass & gold for the main bar: shabori stage curtains in warm tones of chocolate through to orange (dyed by a local shibori artist), oversized herringbone painted in tonal caramels, paint splattered chairs, mirrored tiles at the back of the bar, tiered seating with black & white upholstery with orange vinyl trims and columns stenciled with famous song titles.
2. Cocktail Bar: Ochre beaded silhouette chandeliers were hung from a painted fire-y orange pressed tin ceiling that continues the colour from the main bar into a largely blue & silvery grey environment. Wire fronted cabinets line one wall, full of books and Objet d’Art, with velvet & linen custom-made sofas, Ikat chairs, Shibori-dyed linen curtains & a leather DJ box in indigos in front. This maintains a resident-like feel in this area.
3. Balconies: There are two verandahs with great furniture: think white, industrial and loads & loads of pots & lanterns (over 100 potted plants & trees were used in this space!).
4. Entrance & Transitional Areas: These spaces were considered as much as the rest. I had an arrow shape in my mind. My electrician showed me a new LED neon that led to creating oversized orange neon arrows that direct people up the stairs. They not only offered a colour & visual reference (which we then incorporated into the logo) but were a solution to the problem of not being able to access the walls for wires & people bumping lights. Throughout the long corridor in the main space we had billposters made from family archives, mainly printed in black & white with some washed in day-glo orange, with the plan that additional posters from performing acts in the space would be slowly added.
Location: The Excelsior Hotel, 64 Foveaux Street , Surry Hills
Originally meant to be a pop-up bar, El Loco might just be here for good. Housed in the Excelsior in Surry Hills, we created this Mexican fit-out in just 7 days!! We ripped out the ceiling to expose the fantastic metal skeleton frame of the existing roof, adding added height & interest.
The painting of every surface commenced with a team of three signwriters as well as my trusty painters. I chose a colour palette based on my recent Mexico City trip of bright blues, grass green, yellows, oranges & reds. We made a wallpapering of skulls from stencils a plenty in sunset colours, hand-painted menus & imagery based on Day of the Dead & other Mexican signage & reference. On the higher level at the back we painted a ‘cactus’ room with grass matting and 1950’s cane club chairs shipped down from Queensland. This is where the DJ spins his tunes Thurs, Fri & Sat.
As the Excelsior had previously been a live venue, we maintained the band posters and added to them with printed Mexican posters that are continued throughout & even in the bathrooms (which were also painted & stenciled out!). Then we added checkerboard & skeleton designs, painted cactuses on the walls & plastered on pictures of Frida Kahlo, Mexican skeletons & sharks eating tacos.
We crammed the space full of Mexican oil-cloth in outrageous floral & checked prints that covered custom made high seating surrounded by colourful Tolix metal stools found at both the front bar & restaurant. A rough sawn dado was made to clad the walls & existing kitchen of the room and painted mid-tone sky blue with a darker blue trim and the bar was painted in yellow & red on the horizontal. Elbow bars were added to columns, so food or drinks could be had standing up & all surfaces were an option for customers.
For eating we employed traditional round metal trays, cutlery was picked up at op-shops (so nothing really matches), all condiments & necessities are housed in brightly coloured metal buckets and mostly bio disposable plates & cups are used.
David Bromley canvas-painted lampshades were shipped up from Melbourne and carnaval lights in white created by my handy electricians were casually strung throughout. Additional lighting was converted from old painted gasoline tins that were installed as wall lights.
We built a small bar for ordering food, magheritas & beer from old fencing, found branches & abandoned corrugated sheeting and strung it with carnaval lights & some shelving- instant bar!!!!
Outside haybales & converted milk crates with plastic covered cushions are offered as lower seating and we replaced the seating for the existing rectangular tables with benches & covered the tables with Mexican oil-cloth to match inside. The signwriting continues on the exterior & buckets of plants attached to the brick façade and the exterior bi-fold doors were painted in a base ‘Samarkand’ blue.
For greenery, cacti & corn grow from old half barrels and oversized plastic buckets & plenty of metal buckets in bright colours house chilli plants, cactus, succulents and more. The feeling of a festive cantina spills onto the street even down to the rope wrapped sign-post out front.
Location: the Grand Hotel 30 Hunter St, Sydney CBD
Located on the first floor of an old-fashioned pub, $120k was allocated for the whole conversion including transitional rooms & a light re-furb of the pool room on the second floor!
The building is lovely but over the years little has been considered of the interiors & their adjustments. I wanted to start fresh- I only kept the old metal framed windows, existing wood paneled bar & some of the existing oak joinery leading up the stairs including the handrail. These I had French polished & they came up better than expected & sit proudly as key pieces.
I wanted to create a modern-day industrial Sailor’s Haunt. I am hugely influenced by the history of sea travel. Expeditions, adventures & the time of exploration when the French, Dutch & English were in a race to conquer & civilise the world. The flags that flew & tattered through strong winds, relentless storms, high seas and all the wildness of the ocean. The sailors & buccaneers lived on these ships, known as wooden worlds, as voyages of discovery & exploration lasted years, if not a lifetime. As the years went by and these colonisers established themselves across the waters they would moor in different & unfamiliar ports & congregate in cosy & rough bars & pubs where the sailors would drink as much as whiskey & rum on land before they once again returned to their wooden worlds & piratical cragginess.
First, I chose a colour palette of dirty stormy blues, a classic battleship grey and white with a couple of drops of black. I painted the high paneled dado in a dark blue with the walls in white & ceiling in grey. On the staircase I chose a shade lighter blue and left the oak joinery detail in its natural state. My signwriter hand-painted signage & sea sayings on the walls & up the stairs as both a greeting and to give a sense of intrigue for further exploration in the space. I used my new favourite font, Shipley (aptly named) for the logo & all signwriting.
Whilst I was on a trip for NSW Tourism, I stumbled upon five fabulous grey industrial lights, which we wired to line over the bar, small old metal scroll lanterns were painted black to hang within the space and I hand-stitched burlap & an old sail as shades for the old turned wood floor lamps I picked up at auction, and stenciled the longitude & latitude on them.
For furniture, we reused existing bentwood stools and re-covered them in denim, a large communal table was added with bench seating that fits snugly between two columns and converted vintage turned wood leg tables into high seating in the lounge area with wingback sofas covered in tartan, linens & blue commercial grade wools. Old steamer trunks were added as coffee tables. A great find of 50’s style wooden armchairs were incorporated & softened with denim sewn on the selvedge foam padding, and small denim cushions with the world map stitched on them.
For the floor I designed a digital carpet of classic oversized checkerboard in grey & soft black laid on the diamond. On the existing wooden floor we continued the checkerboard & embraced the differing flooring. Simple black carpet was used for the downstairs entrance, stairs and landing. An old wooden rowing boat hangs from the roof, and a table laden with a giant dictionary, lamp & painting of a captain welcome you at the entrance.
The bar is ginormous & high, so I lowered it at the far end to allow for seating and another point of view. I discovered old brackets under the previous elbow bars & incorporated these in my bar design. I wanted the bar display to have the feeling of a library or shelving found in a captain’s quarters, so had rough sawn shelves sit on a wood paneled wall that run to the ceiling. In the middle of the shelving sits the centerpiece that anchors the enormous bar- a perfect painting.
The rough sawn was continued to the food dispensary/dummy waiter and an old side cabinet houses condiments & napkins. For the details, I wrapped columns in rope and added vintage hooks for coats and handbags, props and ship & sea-related paintings were found by scouring auction houses, markets & vintage shops for months. Old-fashioned enamel buckets and jugs I bought are used for plants & water as well as for cutlery. After accessing & creating storage under the stairs we added a peep-show as a tease! For a final bit of fun, I hung pirate ships from the ceiling. You’re guided up the stairs by an oversized tattered Vivienne Westwood Union Jack- be sure to get there before the bell is rung for last drinks.
Location: 155 Victoria St, Potts Point
A New-York inspired, industrial, uber-cool restaurant/bar converted from an existing space & sprawled over 4 floors. I worked with architect, Kelvin Ho of AkinCreative to achieve & transform this space in 6 months from concept to finish.
With Dan Hong at the helm, we knew the food would be inspired by an Asian twist. I wanted it to have a feel of my grandfathers old shed complete with pegboard & old jars screwed to shelves to house all his nuts & bolts. We used inspiration of early NY graffiti artists & had a Biggie Smalls song sprayed onto the main dining wall. We retained existing elements including the upstairs & downstairs bar but altered their heights & materials.
We choose 4 dining experiences: banquette seating, communal table, tables for 4-6 and high tables in the bar.
For the details, I sourced old Chinese enamel signage and stencils that I used throughout the space. I bought so many hooks, not just for coats & bags, but additional seating, lighting and fire buckets. The pegboards are covered with rusty tools & hardware and buckets & lighting hang from the beamed ceiling, pulleys & cleats. I had beveled mirrors made for the bathrooms & upstairs bar in the shape of my favourite shields. The lighting is a mix of old & new, all harping on the industrial age & mostly shipped in from the States & Netherlands.
Tables were all custom made from chipboard & harassed wood to fit as many in as possible. Seating ranged from fiberglass & wicket bucket chairs, vintage school & industrial chairs and stools, and folding stools from Pinch UK. I added a vintage sofa for the bar & upholstered it in old coffee sacks.
The upholstery of the banquette seating upstairs was a denim sailcloth fabric, patchworked to resemble an old sail I have stashed away. We softened the sound by adding burlap-covered panels that cover the ceiling. Walls were papered in old magazine & book pages, and stripes were painted on the existing black walls leading down to the bathroom. We kept the existing floors & only manipulated the street level floor by painting oversized checkerboard on it.
To break up the existing floor to ceiling curved glass wall we hung thick sisal rope, knotting & tying it randomly, and interspersed vintage hanging workman lighting throughout. The small neon sign on the exterior in handwriting matches inside with ‘621’ emblazoned in neon on the wall, exposing MsG’s tongue-in-cheek name.
In the exterior garden, which council denies us use, I sourced old metal boxes that we filled with herbs & plants that could be utilised in the kitchen. These boxes are also placed on the bars. The giant impressive plane tree was given more light to show off plus a bamboo screen to create intimacy from a neighbouring carpark.
The final effect is one of layering, fun & history. We encourage you to carve your name into the wall on the top floor bar and enjoy as many slushies as you like!
A combination of two of my favourite things: hardware & haberdashery. My definition of these might differ from most- often utilitarian but always beautiful. It evokes the memory of an old mixed business store, its shelves & labeled drawers (under the counter as well) filled with handmade, global treasures, honest&humble, local, green, fairtrade, unusual & just-arrived! A magical, make-believe space that transports you to a time-forgotten of merchants & traders (though they still exist in other parts of the world): Apothecary, Tinctures & Alchemy, Drapers & Mills, Smiths, Tinkers, Peddlers & Keepers, Cutlers, Sailmakers, Chandlery & Wrights. The Society inc. reflects my globetrotting adventures, beachcombing, bowerbird nature & gypsy curiosity in inspiration, collecting & treasure hunting.
We are hidden in the back streets of Paddington, a new look & revival of a traditional corner store that once-upon-a-time serviced 40 houses in the local area (however we are very global & online).
The store, with its Belgium hardware shop fittings from the late 1800s and custom-made floor to ceiling shelves with Putnam rolling ladders, is the ultimate backdrop for goods & chattels, with the likes of leather braided whips, canvas satchels, whittled handled tools, hand forged nails, toolbags & tackleboxes, moulded wire, espadrilles & Wellingtons, simple glassware shapes, letterpress, seeds & gardening paraphernalia, knots & pulleys, bristle brushes, flotsam+jetsam, stencils, enamel jugs, brass drawer pulls (my own designs), MoP buttons, sailcloth buckets, original recipe cleaning products, linen by-the-yard, vintage ribbons, dressmakers pins & scissors, rope & shackles, ideas & inspiration a-plenty tossed in with oddities & curiosities.
Sibella Court is an interior stylist & creative director: from vision & concept through to direction & creation. Her most recent spaces for private clients & the Merivale Group include El Loco, 30 Knots, Upstairs at The Beresford, MsG’s, York 75, Bistrode CBD and Private Dining at Ivy.
She returned home to Sydney to launch her brand and shop, The Society inc., after 15 years living & working in New York. Her store is home to hardware & haberdashery & treasures collected globetrotting & adventuring into terrains less trodden.
In New York she was styling in demand for retail giants Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Saks on Fifth Ave, Pottery Barn, Target and West Elm as well as publications Gourmet, Marie Claire and Vogue Living. Sibella travels between her two homes regularly for jobs & inspiration. Her projects have been vast including concept, design and styling for commercial and residential interiors, magazine & advertising shoots, catalogues and product design with a nail polish, hardware and 110-colour paint range under The Society inc.
Her wanderlust has seen her accumulate over twenty years of global inspiration from trips frequenting South East Asia, India, Europe, the Middle East, the States, Central America and Australia (and that’s just in the last year). She travels alone, with the Anthropologie inspiration team & because she is a nomad.
Sibella is a best-selling author: award-winning, ‘Etcetera etc: creating beautiful interiors with the things you love’, ‘The Stylist’s Guide to NYC’ and ‘Nomad: bringing your travels home’ due for release globally in November. She has written extensively for publications such as CountryStyle, Grazia, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Living as a feature writer & contributing editor.
A history degree allows Sibella a unique foundation on which to combine research, travel & inspiration into projects that are unique, magical & unexampled.
Sibella is always involved with a range of charities, most recently:
-Interface Uganda Providing essential surgery & training local specialists in the Uganda area
-AboutFACE The Head & Neck Cancer Support Charity
-MND Australia Motor Neurone Disease care & research in Australia