Luxurious EaseTamsin Johnson Interiors
"Terracotta urns, raised high on plinths above plush arm chairs, bask warmly in the light of the wide window, while further inside are glimpses of terrazzo and rattan."
Among the neat, narrow terraces of Paddington’s William Street, a simple shopfront reveals a trove of covetable European antiques. It may be unusual to pair words such as “fresh” and “approachable” with “antique store”, but the Sydney showroom of interior designer Tamsin Johnson is just that. Terracotta urns, raised high on plinths above plush arm chairs, bask warmly in the light of the wide window, while further inside are glimpses of terrazzo and rattan. Johnson’s desk sits comfortably in the centre of the bright, airy space, facing the street, below a mirror-panelled ceiling. She sees me and greets me warmly before I have even crossed the threshold.
In a trade which requires, by definition, an eye for historical value, Johnson’s inventory of objects has ample contemporary appeal. Everything feels relevant and persuasive, as if even the most formal of objects could sit comfortably by your bedside. The showroom, which opened in December 2018, is the perfect complement to Johnson’s interior design studio and a valuable resource for her clients, who look to her with unwavering trust, and enjoy the immediacy of choosing from items she has sourced directly from collections in Italy and France.
There are very few antique furniture stores left in Australia, and Johnson has seized the opportunity to redefine this kind of space: “A lot of the traditional antique dealers in Australia created stores that were so beautiful and sophisticated, people would often feel too intimidated to enter,” she observes. “I wanted to create an interactive space that clients, customers and friends would feel welcome to explore. I want to offer a one-of-a-kind experience, a bricks and mortar destination for Sydney that is accessible and exciting.”
Johnson grew up in a family of antique dealers in the leafy suburb of Armadale in south-east Melbourne. “I literally grew up in an antique store,” she says heartily. “It was above an old bakery that had been transformed into a gallery, with a dwelling attached.” Having cut her teeth in London with a design and fashion education, Tamsin returned to Australia to establish her own career in interior design, starting out with Sydney studio Meacham Nockles McQualter, with whom she worked for four years. Since launching her eponymous studio, Tamsin has taken one to two sourcing trips to Europe each year. Her husband, Patrick Johnson of P. Johnson Tailors, has a workshop in Tuscany, so she aligns her travel schedule with his; their trips are now bookended by family holidays with their two young children, Arthur and Bunny.
For Johnson, these trips to Italy and France have always been her greatest source of joy in the job. “The first time I travelled with my dad on a sourcing trip I remember telling him, ‘I can see how you do this, it’s addictive,’” she says. Now that Johnson is established in her own career, she and her father still occasionally accompany each other in their search for antiques: “We have very different styles, but over the years it feels as though they have slowly converged, to the point where we can get a little competitive – which is fun. Naturally, I learned from the years I spent watching him work as a child; now, I think he would say that he is learning from me too.”
From hotels to high end residential and retail projects around the world, Johnson’s signature is her ability to combine pieces from across decades and continents in ways that feel understated and natural. She favours elements of surprise in her work and is adamant that no two spaces she creates should be alike. “There is nothing less inspiring to me than the idea of replicating a space,” she says. Above all, Johnson stands for spaces which celebrate comfort, character, and uncomplicated, user-friendly design. “I think the best interior design must marry beauty and functionality, and also display a close attention to detail that imbues it with timeless style, effortlessly,” she says. It’s a design philosophy that is tangible in her showroom, where a veneration of European heritage is balanced with characteristics of modern, coastal Australia. Under Johnson’s artful eye, traditional pieces become unexpectedly lighter, and a sense of luxurious ease pervades.