As founder and creative director of her eponymous furniture label, Rachel Donath knows a thing (or 10) about good interior design. What started out as a lockdown venture sourcing vintage pieces for herself and friends has now grown into a brand with global reach, seeing Donath source antiques, collaborate with artisans, and – most recently – design her own collections.

“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to produce something that other people wanted. When it came to designing my own pieces, I started with a small collection based on iconic works of mid-century designers and it sold out instantly,” Donath tells Broadsheet. “It was such a shock to me! I wasn’t expecting it.”

The brand has grown massively since it was founded just three years ago, but Donath’s ethos of small-batch production, sustainability and working closely with artisan communities has remained. Her furniture, objects and antiques can now be found in all sorts of homes from New York to Noosa. And of course they take pride of place in her own house in tranquil inner-suburban Melbourne.

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Name: Rachel Donath

Lives: In a double-fronted weatherboard house in Caulfield North

Since: 2011

With: Her husband, three sons and daughter

What made you fall in love with the house when you first saw it?
There were a few things that really stood out to me. Firstly, I’ve always loved an older house and that old style of architecture. This might sound crazy to some, but I also loved that it was very symmetrical from the front. I’m obsessed with symmetry.

When we first viewed the house, it was pretty run-down. It wasn’t dirty or anything, but it was very old. Even so, it smelt like sunlight. It just reminded me of a holiday home – it had such a good energy about it. Even though there was bright yellow carpet and paint falling off the walls, I could have comfortably stayed there that night. I felt instantly safe.

Have you made any changes since you moved in?
The house was in its original condition when we first bought it – crazy wallpaper and all. We gutted the entire place originally to make it more liveable, and last year we finished renovating it properly. The place has a heritage overlay so we’ve maintained the facade. We had to get council approval for everything, but I respect that. I get why.

I was involved in every single decision with the renovation, right down to every knob and every fitting. We put custom steel windows and doors in, so we’ve got this really gorgeous view of the backyard. We planted trees out the back – they were little babies when we put them in and now they’ve grown into massive trees. We centred the back door to the front door, so when you walk in you can see right through to the end of the house and into the garden, which is something I really wanted.

We put in a second storey, which was the biggest obstacle for us because of the heritage overlay. We had to be really creative so that it was hidden from the street front. We put the staircase in the back of the house and built into the roof space, so it looked really intentional and not like an afterthought.

What was your approach to decorating?
When it came to decorating, I was, and still am, very slow to add things. I’ve got to love them. Because once I love something, I love it forever.

Every piece of decor in my house is part of a collection of very loved pieces. I purchased the dining table even before we bought the house, and it’s huge. I didn’t have any space for it when I first bought it, but I knew that one day I’d have a big family. So I just bought it and stored it in my parents’ garage, then when we renovated the house we built the living room to fit the table. This table is not going anywhere.

And that’s the way I think about furniture. Once it’s in its place, it’s there forever. I also look for pieces that are unique to me and reflect who I am as a person. Of course, a lot of my own collection is in my home, and a lot of my collection pieces have been designed with my home in mind. Like the fireplace screen that was made to fit my fireplace. It’s all been made for me.

How would you describe the vibe of the house?
I would say it’s very calm. It’s minimal, it’s pared-back and every little detail has been carefully considered. It’s got a beautiful flow from space to space. Even though we’re not north facing, our skylights and windows make the space sunny and light. Life is so hectic, so I wanted to make this house a retreat away from it all.

What’s your favourite room?

The central area of the house is probably my favourite room. It’s often the noisiest room, though, because there are so many people around. I like to retreat to my bedroom where it’s nice and quiet. When nobody is home you’ll find me in the central area.

Have you got a favourite item in the house?
It’s so hard to choose. I love my lighting. When it came time to do our lighting plan I said to myself, “I don’t want a single downlight in this house.” We had to get downlights in areas like the kitchen, but we rarely turn them on. My grandma’s house was always lit with beautiful lamps, and I’d just instantly relax as soon as I stepped foot in the door. Lighting makes such a difference to the overall feel of the house. We’ve got the Charlesworth pendant and wall lights all over the house. They’re all so timeless.

I also love my own pieces. We’ve got these beautiful linen chairs with contrasting piping that are so comfortable to sit on. At the end of the day, at the end of the week, I just sit there and exhale.

What’s it like looking after the house with kids?
I’ve got three boys who love to kick balls around the house. My kids know that Mum cares a lot about her house, so they’re probably a little more gentle than kids who haven’t been brought up around Murano glass! They’ll tell their friends not to run around the house because I’ve got sculptures that aren’t attached to anything.

Then again, it’s a house with kids in it. It’s often much messier than I’d like it to be, and there are marks on the walls and marks on the roof. I don’t want it to be sterile – people do live here.

What’s the neighbourhood like?

We live right opposite a gorgeous park with a tennis court and three play areas. It’s got a walking track and a lake, so we spend much of our time there. The area has some really great cafes. We’re close to the city but also close to Bayside, so we get the best of both worlds. Most of the people on our street have kids, so they’ll often play cricket together at the end of the road. It’s got a lovely suburban feel.

Where’s your favourite place to source homewares and art?
I love auction houses. And antique stores and flea markets. Even before I started my business, that’s where I would go for inspiration. There’s a piece of art in my son’s room that’s one of my favourite pieces, and I found it at a flea market for $10. You can find such special pieces, especially in regional Victoria and out in the country. And the markets give you such a good feel for the community.

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

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