Living with Art: In The Blood

There’s a story behind every artwork in the Balmain home of collector and creative Sophie Trippe-Smith. She talks to Rose of Sharon Leake over a cup of peppermint tea. Photography by Nick De Lorenzo.

For Sophie Trippe-Smith, the art in her home is like a really good friend. “My art is hanging out with me everyday, so we have to get on well. I can just sit with it and be.” When I arrive at Sophie’s east Balmain home, greeted zealously by Pepper, a German Shorthaired Pointer, I can feel that I’m stepping into a place built on generosity of spirit and connection.

Art adorns every wall, and where wall space is scarce, paintings are lent up against skirting boards and fireplaces, their ad hoc arrangements giving them a comfortable presence in the home. The entirety of Sophie’s home, where she lives with husband Adam and children Tatum, 9, and Emerson, 13, is like a cabinet of curiosities.

Her mother’s 60-year-old sewing machine sits under the custom build Koskela hallway table beside a pair of old-school roller skates (which Sophie uses, rolling down her hallways or along her street at least 10 minutes every day), while a purpose-built, glass fronted display cabinet houses hundreds of her mother’s most precious trinkets. In the kitchen, small artworks by Rosie Gilligan and Alix Hunter are propped up behind the stovetop and above the sink, while coloured glass sculptures line floor to ceiling display boxes in the sitting room.

In the family rumpus room sits Sophie’s most sentimental art pieces: her mother’s etching of a women holding a cat by artist Robert Dickerson; a portrait of her father fastening a bow tie by Geoff Todd; a portrait of herself in a red dress by Vanessa Stockart; and an old painting of London which belonged to her grandmother. While this arrangement of precious objects and artworks might make one feel like a bull in a china shop, Sophie has managed to settle each piece into its homely surrounds so that she and her family live with them, not around them.

Since buying the property in 2012, Sophie and Adam have done a few alterations, with the most recent kitchen renovation being completed through the COVID-19 lockdowns. “I’m all about feelings,” Sophie tells me. “I’ve lived in Balmain my whole life and I used to walk this particular street when I was younger with my Mum and remember fondly wishing one day I could live on this street. [The house] has a good energy about it, plus you can almost see where we got married from the rooftop, so that’s always nice to say when we are having dinner or drinks up there.”

For Sophie, it’s the little details that make her house feel like a home. Behind the water glasses in the kitchen cabinet is a beautiful floral Gucci wallpaper; the splashback tiles behind the stove are flecked with tiny stones in pink, tying in with the custom terracotta pink of the Koskela dining set; while in the lush green courtyard your eye catches on almost hidden terracotta coloured tiles at foot level. Art is hidden in every nook and cranny in an unexpected but delightful way.

“For me, art is number one,” she says. “When we first moved to this house, there was lots of bare walls. I didn’t want to rush out and buy art just for the sake of it to fill up wall space. I think it’s important to connect with the painting or piece of art you buy.”

While her passion is geometric abstract art, any work that evokes emotion draws her in. “I’d been following Esther Stewart for a long time and knew I wanted one of her works. I waited about a year until I was able to buy a piece I fell in love with. I just kept in touch with [Sarah Cottier Gallery] and they let me preview Esther’s work before it went on show officially. I met Esther that day too. I love having a connection with the artist.” Ether’s work now hangs front and centre in the main living space, surrounded by an abstract work by Bec Smith, a small Helen Eager piece from her Prism collection and many other pieces by artists she has connected with on Instagram. “These days I view a lot of art online. I instantly just know if I love it or not, even if it’s not in the flesh…In fact, looking around I think half of my collection of smaller works I’ve bought online, mostly through Instagram!”

Coming from 20 years in the fashion world running retail operations for Australian designers Collette Dinnigan and Lee Mathews, Sophie has a deep affinity for strong minded female creatives, herself being one. Her most recent project, Works by Her, which is in the midst of being launched, is a somewhat organic progression of her love of art. “Female art is a passion of mine and I want to devote my time to championing women emerging artists of all ages. The more female art out there the better!”

With a percentage of the sales going to a women’s charity and the artists, Sophie’s latest entrepreneurship is guided by generosity. “Giving back is very important to me. I come from a long line of very strong women – so it’s in my blood.”

Connection to family and friends drives Sophie and the art in her home. The story behind each piece does not end once hung but continues to be told. Warm and thriving, Sophie’s home is filled with people lost but not forgotten, distant but held close.