The French have many splendid words, some best discussed over a good Bordeaux. One of them is dérive. It means “to drift” – to take a spontaneous journey where the traveller leaves their life behind for a time to let the spirit of the landscape and architecture attract and move them. Travel is an essential alloy of inspiration and particularly so for those in the design world.
Sydney interior stylist Sibella Court knows a thing or two about what it means to dérive. Her personal wanderlust has translated into huge professional success. As one of Australia’s top interior stylists and founder of The Society Inc, her commercial hospitality projects include the Hotel Palisades bar, The Courthouse, Port Douglas, Old Joe’s, The Pines, Palings, Mr Wong, Palmer & Co, El Loco, 30 Knots, Upstairs at The Beresford and Ms G’s. She has accumulated over twenty years of global travel inspiration from trips frequenting South East Asia, India, Europe, the Middle East, the States, Central America and Australia.
When asked which travel location she uses the most for inspiration, Sibella says that although she would love to pick a whimsically romantic locale like Egypt or Transylvania, she finds herself referencing New York over and over again.
‘It’s such an energetic, exciting, driven place. People challenge themselves and they’re doing things that are different and get mimicked a lot. There’s something that is so gritty and sophisticated about New York that you cannot resist’.
One of Sibella’s many projects includes translating the scent of places in product ranges, such as soap and candles. This originally sprang from her interest in scent and soundscapes, which capture the essence of travel beyond the usual visual snapshot. Keeping a diary has been an integral part of her creative career, and is indispensable in creating a fragrance from scratch.
‘In Transylvania, the coal burners would be in the forest, where they live for the season. So the place is pervaded by an underlying smokiness, combined with the onset of spring and the small orchids and fresh springiness of green underfoot. You have to write it all down immediately, otherwise you forget’.
Her diaries, notes and photographs from her journeys are a framework for evoking her travels back home. She doesn’t take photographs of people but landscapes or small details which catch her attention, such as the food market in Laos. Those colours might later be picked out in a restaurant interior; inspiration is hiding in the details.
Sibella also loves India as the ultimate destination to explore craft and colour. One of her favourite childhood memories is her mother – who was a renowned entertainer – having a tent from Gujrat in India in her backyard for dinner parties. Sibella has obviously inherited her mother’s adventurous spirit.
Sibella is also renowned for a ‘lo fi’ approach to style. Lo fi is about being clever rather than spending the GDP of a small country on creating a rustic look. It might mean upcycling a piece of furniture to have a new function – giving it a lick of paint and transforming it through simple changes into something special and different. It doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Simplicity is chic.
Another trademark is ‘slow style’, the idea of which germinated in the slow food movement.
‘People started to understand where things are from; wanting to know the origin. This has filtered down into a lot of products. Consumers are discovering how much knowing the provenance of a piece of furniture or a product can affect how they feel about it’.
Sibella uses Australian products but also sources furniture makers from all over the world, building a relationship with them. She has gathered an incredible ‘little black book’ of artisans and makers, including blacksmiths, a shipwright, a dyer, a weaver, artists and sign writers. They make things that will last a life time, that are considered and thoughtful.
With a degree in history and a love for bygone eras and storytelling, characters come out of the past and nest in Sibella’s interiors. The history of a building becomes part of the story. ‘We are just the next chapter. You need to respect what happened before.’
Catch up on Sibella’s backstage interview at the 2016 Decor + Design International Seminar Series and subscribe to stay in the loop of what’s happening in the world of interior design.