Living with Art: Personality At Every Turn

The art collection of designer and stylist Zoe Murphy is guided by playful exuberance, character and a dog called Hairy Harry. Briony Downes writes. Photography by Elke Meitzel. 

Zoe Murphy’s enthusiasm for art is infectious. Currently a designer, stylist, and the owner of Melbourne-based interior design business My Creative Office, Murphy initially started out as a painter and has retained a love for art ever since. Known for her striking styling across everything from corporate boardrooms to heritage homes, Murphy exudes a sense of playfulness and joy which effortlessly filters through to her design practice and the art she collects. 

Describing her home near Melbourne as “two houses in one”, Murphy embraced the original Victorian-era frontage and mid-century renovations to create an interior space with dual moods. “We kept the traditional front of the house where there are beautiful details like ceiling roses and architraves,” she explains. “It was already a dark space, so I just went super moody with the colours. The renovation at the back of the house was cool but small. I retained the mid-century vibe but opened the space right up with high ceilings and an extension upstairs. As you move through the house you go from dark and traditional to new and bright. I like the contrast of new and old, both ends of the house are very different.”  

Bringing art into the mix was an essential part of the design process, and it is something Murphy also encourages in her clients. “When you want to create a home for yourself, the first thing you should start with is art. Art personalises a space and shows who you are. You’ve got to go with what makes your heart sing, and what makes you happy when you see it. Only then will a house start to reflect the client, rather than a furniture showroom or a Pinterest page.” With art featured on nearly every wall and tucked into every nook, Murphy has a solid group of artists she consistently collects. Mostly Australian artists, among them are Howard Arkley, Nabilah Nordin and McLean Edwards. “I like to call them my team of artists. They must have a sense of humour and be playful because that’s my personality. When people come in the house they always say, ‘it’s so you!’. That’s because it’s filled with art that reflects my personality.” 

A recent acquisition is a stout two-headed terracotta figure by Sri Lankan-born, Sydney-based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran. “I was really lucky to get this one,” Murphy admits. “I love Ramesh’s work.” Presiding over the dining room is a tasselated taxidermy animal sculpture by Troy Emery, which has quickly become a solid family favourite. “My kids have always wanted a dog, but I don’t want the furniture to get damaged, so Troy’s sculpture has now become our pet. It’s not the artwork’s official title but we call him Hairy Harry. My kids hug him all the time. Harry is popular with friends too, everyone who sees him just gets the biggest smile on their face. If I could have 5,000 of them, I would!” 

An artist Murphy has followed for several years is Queensland-based painter Stefan Dunlop. Creating expansive, vibrantly coloured paintings referencing moments in fine art and world history, Dunlop’s work features prominently in one of Murphy’s front rooms. “I purchased this painting because it had all the elements I love – references to statues by American artist KAWS, shapes and colours – he just mashes everything up. It’s a big work and changes the whole space. It’s one of those high energy pieces I get a lot from.” In the living room is a painting by Paul Ryan, an artist who works with oil paint to blend visuals from pop culture, colonial history, and botany. “Paul has this quirky sense of humour, and he is passionate about uncovering the forgotten histories of colonialism,” Murphy says. Ryan’s work is deliciously textured with multiple layers of thick buttery paint smoothed across the surface. “His style is really amazing; you can always spot a Paul Ryan painting.” 

A sanctuary for Murphy and her family, their home is both a place for quiet contemplation and creative inspiration, brought to life by a team of artists whose fresh visions add personality at every turn. Keen to continue her collecting journey, Murphy already has a hit list of artists she’s hoping to acquire in the future – Reko Rennie, Esther Stewart, Dane Lovett, Tom Polo and Jonny Niesche. “Art is epic,” she says. “It pulls at the heartstrings. A chair serves a purpose, but art is like the next level. Every piece I have, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to look after it forever.”

Featured image: Zoe Murphy in her home with the Vitra Wiggle Side Chair from Living Edge. Courtesy: Zoe Murphy

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Living with Art: A Courtship Collection

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Living with Art: Paula Mills

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Living with Art: Greg Natale

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Living with Art: A Story Without Filler

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Living with Art: Singing the Tale of Home

With hues of gold, textures of burl wood and an art collection that sings of life’s little moments, the Hampstead apartment of Tatjana von Stein and Gayle Noonan – partners in life and work – hums with the glow of a cherished home. Rose of Sharon Leake writes.

Living with Art: In Great Company

In the house of sculptor Anna-Wili Highfield, the more you look, the more you find. Briony Downes writes. Photography by Nick De Lorenzo.