Natural Instincts – Tamsin Johnson

Words by Millie Thwaites
Photography by Anson Smart, Sean Fennessy, Brigette Clark, Julien Fernandez & Sharyn Cairns
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For some, the link between their youth and the path they ultimately follow is clear. This is certainly true for interior designer Tamsin Johnson, who spent her childhood accompanying her antique dealer parents on buying trips to Europe and working in their Melbourne store on weekends. It was a natural schooling in the world of design that set the course for her highly sought-after interior design practice in Sydney, renowned for residential and commercial spaces filled with eccentric vintage finds curated to a refreshing, contemporary tune.

While Tamsin’s foundations are firmly rooted in design, her future as an interior designer was never set in stone. After studying fashion at Melbourne’s RMIT University and “dabbling” in public relations, an internship with renowned fashion designer Stella McCartney took her to London. Joining her parents on a buying trip in Rome during this time instigated a shift and she left fashion for interiors. As Tamsin says, it seems like an unsurprising move upon reflection, but it was a turning point fuelled by just the right amount of insouciance. “I was travelling a lot at the time and feeling very inspired,” she says, adding, “I think the younger you are, the more naïve you are and that can work in your favour.”

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Tamsin’s affinity for design was undoubtedly influenced by her antique dealer parents. She recalls working in their store on weekends as a child, and has fond memories of the occasional buying trip to Europe.

Backed by constant support from her parents, who always encouraged Tamsin and her sister to pursue their creative interests, she undertook an interior design course at London’s Inchbald School of Design before relocating back to Sydney. “I was determined to hunt down a designer whose work I loved and get my foot in the door,” she says. “I started with Meacham Nockles McQualter two days a week, and it wasn’t long before I was sending them hand-written letters begging for more work!” A five-year stint ensued, which Tamsin fondly refers to as a time of invaluable education – both as a designer but also in how to run a business and interact with clients. “Because I didn’t have a traditional interior design or architecture degree, I wanted to create that in practice – I essentially had that experience through the workplace instead.”

Tamsin refers to instinct as central to her life and work. “It’s hard to describe because it’s a very natural thing but, for me, making decisions around staff, client fit and design are all instinctual.” This exact approach guided Tamsin in starting her own business, which is thriving a decade later. There is a growing appetite for her signature aesthetic, which blends a certain optimism with understated elegance. Influences from her Melbourne childhood, her current base in Sydney and a decidedly European charm permeate her work; the result is sometimes playful and always balanced, with precedence placed on texture, materiality and form.

While Tamsin’s foundations are firmly rooted in design, her future as an interior designer was never set in stone.

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Texture, materiality and form are all present in Tamsin’s work; she effortlessy blends vintage grandeur and a decidedly European charm with an optimistic, laid-back aesthetic.

Alongside Tamsin’s work as an interior designer, she imports a curated selection of antiques from Europe four times a year. “From the moment I started my business, I decided I would have my own resources for clients in sourcing unique pieces,” she says. “Majority of these are either custom or one-off vintage pieces from Europe, with a little bit of contemporary design in there too.” It is a fitting nod to the work of her parents and the realisation of a lifelong passion for collecting. These pieces, which span lighting, decorative objects and furniture, are sourced either specifically for clients or offered through her Paddington showroom and gallery.

Describing her aesthetic as “clean and contemporary”, Tamsin admits that her design projects are “much stricter” than her decorating work. “I always start with the structural work, then layer with the decorative things like furnishings, window treatments and landscaping.” With a portfolio spanning both residential and commercial spaces, her approach is heavily informed by an understanding of who will use a space and how. “Some projects lend themselves to having a bit more fun – the Lucy Folk store in Paddington, for example – but I try to keep my design approach slightly more pared back for residential work,” she says. “Then, it’s through layering that I like to bring in the more strange or peculiar elements, which might be a beautiful, weird light fitting, a mirror in the bathroom or artwork in the kitchen.”

Experiencing one of Tamsin’s projects is to discover something anew. In her work, there is a sense of something being created and explored for the first time, a special attribute in an age where ideas are emulated and shared at a rapid pace. Yet Tamsin’s work is inherently distinctive; it is an energising melange of vintage grandeur and modern lines, fed by her early exposure to the world of design and her lasting desire to create spaces that are truly her own.

Tamsin refers to instinct as central to her life and work.