The home of the Armytage family for almost 100 years, the National Trust-listed Como, in South Yarra, is one of Melbourne’s architectural jewels. Framed by manicured gardens, the grand Victorian house saw nine children raised by Caroline Armytage, who travelled with her children to Europe to purchase some of the finest furniture and objet d’art of the times. Those fortunate to visit Como By Design, held between 19 and the 21 October, would have seen some of these fineries. However, the focus of this event was to showcase the work of 27 leading Melbourne interior designers, together with the work of a florist and a landscape designer.

The idea for Como By Design first took hold a year ago when a group of designers came together to amplify the voice of interior design. At the helm was interior designer Camilla Moulders and Tigger Hall, recognised for her fabrics and wallpapers. On the steering committee were interior designers Alexandra Bromlow, Lucinda Kimpton, Melissa Balzan and Sky Berman. And what better way to amplify the excitement than by inviting the renowned interior designer Nina Campbell, based in London and about to release her new book Elegance & Ease to attend

Although such an event could be held at a number of venues across Melbourne, the team had its heart set on Como from the outset. “The scale of the house, as well as the grounds, is impressive and the number of rooms and passages allowed us to include a significant number of designers,” says Moulders. Having the approval to adorn walls (with the assistance of a protective wall covering called ‘pickawall’), allowed the designers to express their ideas literally from ‘wall-to-wall. Designers also drew ‘straws’ on which room they could design, with some drawing the long straw and allocated a spacious main bedroom, while other designers were assigned trickier and more difficult nooks, such as passages or what was once used as a nanny’s room. “There wasn’t a specific theme. Many responded by layering the past with the present,” says Moulders. For Tigger Hall, Como By Design, was an opportunity to showcase the wealth of talent produced in Melbourne. “The designers started with the premise that they were working with an important design legacy that Como brings. There’s also something quite special about walking into a room rather than only seeing it in a magazine,” says Hall.

Interior design guru Nina Campbell, who flew out from London for this event, appreciated the way the designers Down Under had responded to the context of the various rooms. She also admired their ingenuity in using both precious as well as more affordable household items. “I see rooms like clothes in one’s wardrobe and bringing certain items out for different occasions. There is a strong move to look at the things you have around you and repurpose these,” says Campbell, who sees a move towards staying more at home and being comfortable.

Interior designer Jacquie Pask, director of Moss, was allocated the formal dining room at Como. This room not only faces north and has grand proportions, but was once used by Pask’s great aunt and uncle who were in the employ of the Armytage family as a cook and a gardener. Pask still recalls the story of her aunt looking into a convex mirror on the dining room wall from an adjacent room to see if it was time to clear the plates (ornate flower arrangements of the time limited views).

Pask and her colleague, Anna Lewis reinterpreted the grand flower arrangements. Also in the scheme was a contemporary overlay of furniture, art and contemporary photography, including work by artist Miranda Skoczek. Rich emerald green velvet dining chairs and a contemporary cabinet formed part of the Moss mix.

Interior designer Aaron Wong, director of Alexander Pollock, was holding a ‘short straw’ when he was allocated a slither of space behind the dining room. However, irrespective of its size, Wong punched well above the room or more correctly the passage’s weight with his 1970s inspired space. Complete with a polished stainless steel console it also included a graphic painting by artist Nicholas Sopelario, commissioned by Wong specifically for this space.

“I felt the period home was quite dark and heavy so I was keen to create a contemporary and crisp feel with this design,” says Wong. Interior designer Amy Spargo, director of Maine House Interiors, was also given the task of reinterpreting a traditional Victorian passage, although larger than Wong’s in its scale. “I wanted to bring the wonderful garden at Como inside, creating the same sense of calmness and tranquility,” says Spargo, who used Chinoiserie to adorn the entry walls, predominantly in blue and white, a signature combo of her design practice.

Other designers, such as Danielle Serpanchy, were inspired by the travels of Caroline Armytage and included padded walls and palm fronds on the ceiling. An art piece on one wall from Sri Lanka not only acknowledges the path Caroline would have taken, but also the place from which Serpanchy’s own family originated.

Camilla Moulders was delighted to reinterpret the study at Como, a modest sized room that was once used as the main bedroom (a wardrobe built in to one side of the open fire place is testimony to this. “I wanted to have some fun with this room, while still respecting its history,” says Moulders, who included teal-coloured walls, a customised teal carpet she designed, together with deep and comfortable 1930s-inspired armchairs. Even the over scaled ceramic teacup and saucer was commissioned for this space. Imbued with humour, this fit-out included a series of ‘family photos’ of Barbie and Ken dolls by artist David Parise. Ken and Barbie skiing or placed outside the Blue Stallion TV Hotel, shows a quirky side to interior design. As well as the pleasure of being an integral to this event, Moulders was delighted with the way all the designers pulled together for Como By Design. “There were certainly no deva antics,” she adds.

Interior designer Beatrix Rowe also made one of the smallest rooms ‘sing’, with her thoughtful dressing area, once used as a child’s bedroom. “As it’s next to a bathroom, I though this room would work as a dressing area: well more the concept of one, rather than lined with built-in wardrobes,” says Rowe, who worked closely with her colleague, Amanda Rea. Instead of clothing, this pint-size space showcased the work of artist Shelley Hannigan. The knitted copper dresses (with one each knitted by the Rowe Design team) created shadowy effects against the dressing room wall. Another room nearby once used as a nanny’s room was literally ablaze in colour with jewel-like Christian La Croix wallpapers and a bird cage light fitting, also sourced from Paris. Sumptuous fabrics could also be seen in the main bedroom at Como, with sheer curtains designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. One of the many highlights for this writer was seeing one of the most contemporary interventions at Como House. Designed by Anja de Spa and Richard Fleming, directors of Molecule, the duo cleverly lined the ceilings of two intersecting corridors with simple and inexpensive tin foil. Appearing to ‘float’ below the corridors’ decorative moudings, the foil had been supported by 200 red helium balloons. “We were mindful of not touching the original period detailing. But this is certainly not as simple as it looks,” says de Spa.

Interior design comes to the fore at Como House, a rarity in the design calendar. Apart from designer rooms shown at Villa Alba in Studley Park in the 1990s and at Gardens House at the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2000, there have been few offerings of this scale. “There have been so many people involved, from sponsors, to suppliers. It seems everyone has really got behind this project,” says Moulders.  Hopefully Melburnians won’t have to wait another 18 years before a similar event occurs!

Lifestyle & Design

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