Sydney-based editor, writer and curator Penny Craswell has built a career doing what she loves: showcasing exceptional Australian architecture and interiors and writing about why they really matter. Now, Penny has released her first book, Design Lives Here, a compelling look at the connection between spaces and objects that puts the spotlight on local makers. We spoke to Penny about the inspiration behind the book, her favourite project featured, and her predictions for the future of Australian contemporary design.
Where did your love for design, architecture and interiors stem from?
It all started in Amsterdam, where I had originally planned to do an internship for a photography magazine (my first degree was Art History and Curatorship).The photography magazine didn’t have enough desks, so I went to Frame magazine, which happens to be the world’s biggest (and best) design magazine. I fell in love with design there, and when I moved back to Australia, I decided to pursue a career in design magazines and writing.
How does this translate into your blog, The Design Writer?
My blog features amazing design happening in Australia – from architectural and interiors projects like houses, restaurants and retail, to the best design objects, furniture and lighting. I also promote ethical design – design that is doing good for the environment and society.
Design Lives Here goes a step further by paying homage to local designers and makers who have crafted bespoke pieces of furniture and lighting for stunning Australian residential architecture and interiors. What led you to this project and how did it take shape?
I have a real love of interiors stemming from my time as Deputy Editor of Indesign magazine and Editor of Artichoke magazine. Far more than just colours and patterns, it is an incredible skill of understanding how spaces are used and how they should be proportioned – a too-large room is just as badly designed as a too-small room. But I also love design objects – my masters thesis was about objects and products, and how people attach stories to them – how they are made, how they are used. This book combines the two – it’s about the stories attached to both interior and object.
The idea for the book was to show the beauty of Australian design – I wanted to pair each house or apartment with one piece of Australian furniture or lighting design. In some cases, I found the pairing through the architect or interior designer and in some cases I found it through the furniture or lighting designer.
For those who haven’t read Design Lives Here, can you tell us a bit more about the importance of spaces and objects being connected by the design process?
Every designer, whether they’re an architect, interior designer, object designer or fashion designer, starts with an idea and then works this through various iterations – sketching by hand or on a computer or both – and then works with materials to make that idea come to life. Through exploring how something was made, we can peel back the layers and truly understand its meaning and value.
Is there a takeaway for our readers on how they can bring this ethos into their own homes?
I would say that the first solution is not necessarily the best solution – sometimes you need to go through a process to find the right answer. Obviously, professional designers are the experts, so hire them if you can to help you, especially on larger projects. I would recommend that everyone consider buying Australian design – the quality and originality of the design is there, often without the huge price tag.
Do you have a favourite project from Design Lives Here?
I tried to choose a range of projects – large and small, urban to remote, for small families and large. But for me, my favourite has to be Indigo Slam by Smart Design Studio – it is a truly monumental house that is also intimate in places, and the furniture, designed and made by Khai Liew in Adelaide, is exquisite.
What would you say is the most unique object featured, and is there more to its story than revealed in the book?
I really love the Black Sambuca Chandelier by Ruth Allen – she is a glass artist and she recycles used Black Sambuca bottles – those long elegant glass shapes – into pendant lights. I didn’t mention it in the book, but Ruth told me that black glass is quite rare so working this way offers the designer/maker the chance to recycle something that would otherwise be post-consumer waste, while also working with a rare material.
In the book, you say that ‘the Australian dream of owning a quarter-acre block with a picket fence and a garage is no longer relevant – or at least no longer so simple.’ Can you explain why this is?
It is partly because property prices are so high these days that many young people can’t afford a mortgage on one salary the way our parents could – and sometimes they can’t afford it with two salaries. These days, we may not need a garage as many people prefer bicycles and/or public transport. Also, for financial reasons, apartments are becoming more popular in Australia, as is inter-generational living.
Where do you think Australian contemporary design is headed?
All signs show that Australian design is continuing to grow. I think we need to work on educating the general public about the value of design – there is a burgeoning design industry in Australia and people need to know they can choose to buy Australian design. As long as this continues to happen, the future looks bright for designers, makers, manufacturers and brands looking to grow their business.
What other projects are you working on, and what’s next for you?
I’m working on my blog right now and doing some preliminary research for my next book!
April 21, 2020