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Bank Street by Penman Brown

A beautiful home is not just about how it looks, but how it makes you feel. It’s a sentiment deeply held by Megan Brown, principal of the Sydney-based design practice Penman Brown – and one accomplished to great effect in this coastal family home. Simple and spacious yet embedded with a worldly, artful elegance, the site now sits in harmony with its pristine natural surroundings.

Styling by Claire Delmar
Photography by Pablo Veiga

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you fall into the world of interiors?

After more than a decade in creative director roles for high-profile media organizations and global luxury brands in Australia and overseas, I wanted to explore a pathway I hadn’t taken at an earlier crossroads in my life. Training as an interior designer mid-career allowed me to build upon and combine my undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and postgraduate studies in Marketing and Commerce. I undertook my first project while completing studies in interior design, with a young child and a new baby in tow. This project went on to appear on the cover of Australian House & Garden, an indication that I was onto something worth exploring further.

How would you describe your design philosophy?

Our philosophy is to infuse the spaces we create with heart and soul, and to inspire joy in all its expressions. As a designer, I find residential design the most fulfilling. Our home is the primary place of connection and nurturing for our families; it is both the backdrop and the ‘heartland’ of our most defining life memories.

Our key focus with any project is natural light, providing access to blue sky and any natural environments wherever possible. We then explore the most sophisticated and practical ways to create a sense of spaciousness. These are the first luxuries we aim to achieve for our clients, irrespective of the location and existing dwelling. From that point, we develop a materials palette to construct a desired feeling or mood.

I would describe our studio as passionate, authentic, creative and reliable – we are very good listeners. We are holding people’s dreams in our hands. They are entrusting us with one of the largest sums they’ll spend on their home, after the purchase itself. We take that responsibility seriously.

Tell us a bit about your brief for Bank Street.

The interior felt heavy and claustrophobic, with a rabbit warren of small, dimly lit and disconnected rooms. Lacking function or light, it was incapable of supporting contemporary living. With views to the garden at the back and the ocean at the front obstructed, you had no sense you were in this incredible location. Working closely with the client to realize the potential of this ‘ugly duckling’, the importance of connecting the northern ocean views at the entry to functional living spaces accessing outdoor living in the rear become the primary focus.

"This project was about creating playfulness but also serenity in the space."

How did you tackle these challenges?

This project was about creating playfulness but also serenity in the space so that as soon as you enter you feel relaxed and nurtured; a grounded, energizing feeling that inspires you to be and do the things that you love with the people you love. Individual spaces expand from there to provide different experiences for different times of the day for different people in the moments of their life, small or large, both together and alone.

We reorganized a complicated network of closed rooms and added a skillion roofed pavilion to the south. Shallow but with a generous width, frameless glass windows were added wrapping east to west above oversized doors to harness light on all sides. The combined space is entirely openable to a raised external deck that reduces levels between terraced lawn and pool, enhancing a connection to outdoor living and provide access to southern blue skies.

The existing ground floor rooms were converted to a library, media room and office/guest room, convening around a liberal throughfare running front to back, ensuring ocean and garden were visually always connected.

You can’t fault the location. In what ways did you highlight the stunning coastal aspect?

The family hadn’t lived with water views before and didn’t realize what a peaceful and restorative experience it could be. I wanted to connect that experience to wherever they were in their home, so that even if they were in the backyard or the outdoor entertaining area, they could look through the house and see that rugged ocean vista.

We strove to capture the fun and effervescence of living by the beach. All finishes were explicitly selected for their ability to contribute to a gentle rhythm and tempo, each having an innate organic form or handle. The materiality and colour palette complement the experience of light-filled spaciousness, supporting the seamless continuity of a functional floorplan, and enhancing a lifestyle consistent with a coastal location and family connectedness.

This residence balances beautiful simplicity with interesting detail. Where did you choose to pare back and where did you find opportunity to show some flair?

The gentle curves in the custom joinery and a restrained palette of oak, bold quartzite and soft gray set a serene tone throughout, the perfect antidote to the family’s hectic life. Moments of texture were added, such as the zellige-tiled kitchen splashback and ribbed wall panelling, to bring in warmth and an organic feel.

The careful application of large slabs of Faustina quartzite to both horizontal and vertical planes in the kitchen and butler’s pantry add interest and drama in a restrained way. The impact comes from its scale and the format of the oversized pattern within it. Enormous Articolo pendant lights wrapped in their soft natural paper cord hover over the bench to provide a focus to the space and define the kitchen island as a gathering place.

Your clients are a young family of five. What were their main lifestyle needs? Have they given you any feedback on what it’s been like living in the finished space?

The clients both had busy jobs, so the time they spend with their children was precious. My focus was on creating an environment where the family can come together naturally, without it feeling contrived or scheduled, while providing breakaway spaces where they can enjoy time apart.

The thoughtful redesign is everything that the clients were hoping for, and more – a generous, flexible and light-filled dwelling that resonates with both its natural surrounds and the spirit of its inhabitants. A place of warmth and light for this joyful young family, that nurtures possibility.

We’re honored that our Eden rug in Granada made its way into the main living area. As a designer, what considerations are front of mind when selecting a rug to work back with a room?

Rugs can have a transformative effect on a space – when employed thoughtfully, they contribute significantly to aesthetics, mood and the physical experience of a space. Correct sizing is always a primary consideration – the larger, the better. Color and texture follow closely behind and are dictated by other elements in the space, both architectural and decorative. Function always defines the final selection; appropriate degrees of refinement, character and robustness need to be combined in the right measures. Providence is also essential to choices that perform with longevity.

We noticed some beautiful art scattered around the house. With your art background, how do you approach the curation of a statement-making vignette?

We create moments of pleasure and spontaneity wherever possible. A vignette is simply a fleeting visual experience of a space, be it large or very small, that demands pause and contemplation. We always strive for an eclectic selection of finishes, furniture, lighting, and objects from around the world, employing these with a curatorial approach that is anchored in a deep understanding of spatial manipulation and emotive resonance. At every turn, craftsmanship is celebrated, beauty revered, and longevity prized.

Finally, interiors or otherwise, what has been inspiring you lately?

Other than our ongoing obsession with the classic doyens of global design, it would be anybody doing their own thing with original thought. There’s so much media to take inspiration from, this is increasingly harder to achieve.

In terms of places, Italy is inspiring the studio at present, with recent visits to Milan, the Italian lakes, the Amalfi Coast and Sardinia. The French coastline, including Corsica and the refined and playful French Riviera, is also on our radar. Tokyo, and Japan in general, inspires with the way simplicity in materiality is employed to create a depth of quietude we sometimes struggle to achieve in the West. Locally, there are interesting things happening in the places where we have projects underway – Tasmania, the Noosa hinterland, Central Coast and the Southern Highlands. Their natural environments and communities provide so much inspiration.

Fundamentally, I believe understanding personal expressions of home and individual ‘place’, through exploration and immersion in alternate countries and cultures, gives context and meaning to our own immediate surrounds and what makes them so special. This informs our work – guiding us in what needs to be captured and translated in our design to create authenticity and deeply resonating experiences that are timeless but also intriguing and unique.