Living With Art: Creating Comfort

INTERIOR DESIGNER KATE BELL CHATS TO HELEN MCKENZIE ABOUT BRINGING LIFE AND PERSONALITY INTO A HOME. PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK DE LORENZO.

Interior designer Kate Bell knows that comfort is key when designing a house.

“A house has got to be comforting.” This is a philosophy that interior designer Kate Bell is somehow managing to apply to her own home despite the upper floor being under renovation. Upstairs may be a “bomb site”, as she puts it, but downstairs is warm and welcoming with a colour palatte and selection of surfaces and fabrics that the visitor wants to take in with both the eyes and the fingertips. “I like texture, linen fabric, jute rugs, Carrara marble, raw concrete, Moroccan tiles and pops of colour,” says Kate.

Two of Kate’s essential comforting elements that she brings to her homes are lamplight and art. She says, “Danish designers are big on lamp light. I really hate down-lights and like to have lamps in most corners. As soon as I get home I rush around and switch them all on.”  There is a definite Danish feel to Kate’s work. Pale timber flooring, top quality joinery, clean lines plus a clear understanding of scale, relating to how humans can optimise the space they have, in order to live well.

Art is important to Kate. “I hang art the day I move in. I cannot stand having bare walls. Once the art is on the walls I feel grounded and that I am well on my way to creating a home.” The walls of the home she shares with husband Doug, three daughters and two dogs in one of Sydney’s beachside suburbs, are filled with art. An etching of a whale by Arthur Boyd was one of her first purchases. There are works by Kerrie Lester, David Band, Katherine Hattam, Guy Gilmore, Vanessa Stockard, a Brett Whiteley lithograph and an assemblage of plates by Tory Burke.

There is a story behind most of Bell’s acquisitions, such as the birthday gift friend Jason Benjamin presented to her, rolled up with a piece of string, a portrait of her beloved mother at the seaside with her dogs, painted by her sister-in-law, and a painting by Imogen Farfor, that once presided over her grandparents’ fireplace.

A corner of the sitting room is devoted to dogs; a work by Eliza Gosse, a snouts etching by Deborah Williams and a portrait of her dearly departed pooch, Rex, by Anita Tesoriero. “Okay, I’m a dog obsessive, it makes me happy,” laughs Kate, as naughty new puppy Leo makes off across the room with a boot in his mouth.

Kate offers her clients advice on purchasing art when necessary but insists that rule number one is to never attempt to match your art with your sofa and rule number two is that a big price tag work can happily reside alongside work by a lesser known artist. To prove her point there is an imposing large beach scene by esteemed Nicholas Harding, beside a small abstract painted on timber by emerging artist Marnie Ross in her dining room.

“My clients generally have tight budgets, most are young, it’s often their first build; they have chosen to stay put and spend money on an extension – improving rather than moving,” says Kate. It is an attitude that fits well with this clever interior designer whose work reflects a true understanding of quality, beautiful finishes and comfort.

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