Jules Meacham and Don McQualter first met in the 80s and she later joined up with Bruce Nockles when they both worked at Burley Katon Halliday. Those were design’s high glamour years. Surfaces were glossy, edges sharp, compromises negligible. Meacham and Nockles’s partnership was not based on simply a similarity in each other’s design aesthetics; they also shared a deeper simpatico that led them to becoming life partners. The three designers eventually formed the tongue twisting business partnership of Meacham Nockles McQualter.
Describing how they work is not easy, as they leave a project looking as if it hasn’t been ‘done’ at all. Well, at least to the untrained eye. They achieve this by using a wide assortment of metal and timber finishes, often aged, always deliberately casual in effect. And yet there is no sense of randomness to their choices – each element is important in supporting the whole. Their interiors look lived-in from the moment they’re complete.
They also like to find new solutions, avoiding the cookie-cutter look of many modern interiors. Not just because each job comes with its own challenges and problems, but also to keep life interesting. “How dull to just apply the same solution no matter what the problem,” Jules Meacham says with a smile. “Life’s more interesting if you search for new ways.”
Here, we look at three projects that carry Meacham Nockles McQualter’s inimitable design signature.
Boutique – Scanlan & Theodore
Very few local fashion houses live long enough to celebrate their 25th birthday, but this label will do so next year, due at least in part to their ability to combine creativity with commercial nous.
Their recently opened Armadale flagship store in Melbourne has followed a succession of stores throughout the country. The Paddington shop in Sydney’s Oxford Street was created by MNM a decade ago within the walls of what was for many years the Country Trader, a well-loved antique source for the eastern suburbs.
These days, this end of Oxford Street is wall-to-wall fashion so there’s plenty of competition. Even though the fit-out is 10 years old, the design DNA is unmistakable. There is the familiar mixture of timber and metals – the high-gloss finishes sitting comfortably with the low-tech, handmade feel of the details. For instance, the changing rooms are constructed from curved, sand-blasted mirror but have suede-lined leather concertina curtains on a bronzed track. The floor is polished concrete, but inlaid with a pattern reminiscent of a parquet floor. The simple timber ceiling is hung with oversized track lights in both black and silver. Semi-circular, freestanding clothes racks fashioned from tubular bronzed steel look as handmade as the floaty, feminine, summery confections hanging from them.
There’s a spiral staircase painted gloss white like something from the Guggenheim Museum, but laid with polished timber steps. Every point has its counterpoint, resulting in an unusual balance between luxury and louche. The beach-house furniture is as casual as it gets, but the steel beams, inlaid with mirrors are the height of downtown warehouse chic. Ultimately this is work that is impossible to classify, but adds up to something much more than the sum of its parts.
Scanlan & Theodore
122 Oxford Street, Paddington
(02) 9380 9388
Cafe – Bourke Street Bakery
The Sydney bakery wars are hotting up. Quite recently, the hallowed Surry Hills breadmaker Bourke Street Bakery opened their fourth outlet in Potts Point. They began way back in 2004, back when bread was either brown or white. Now you need a postgraduate degree to buy the stuff. But we’re not complaining, just easting too many carbs.
Owners Paul Allam and David McGuinness’ original concept was for a place that was small, homey and rustic, and their Surry Hills store exemplified those objectives. They had always avoided marketing and PR, preferring to let the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the artisan do the talking. But the move to Potts Point called for a little outside advice as to how to translate the feel from Surry Hills hipster to Potts Point glamster, and they chose MNM to make that transition.
The result is a remarkably clean and simple interior with a high-quality industrial edge – might we call it rustic industrial? Timber, steel, brass, zinc and concrete are the finishes. The stools have large comfortable seats with tempered steel ‘star-dropper’ legs. The zinc bars and benches look as if they are 50 years rather than just months old. The spacious interior is on the lower ground floor with the only windows at the front, so the danger was always that the space would turn cave-like. But the designers have avoided this by supplying a succession of details for the gaze to fall upon. It’s a place you want to linger.
Bourke Street Bakery already looks well settled here and so the question now is: will their next expansion be to the other side of the harbour, or is that a bridge too far?
Private Residence – Bellevue Hill, Sydney
The money in Bellevue Hill is as old as it gets in Sydney, so one expects a certain level of conservatism in the real estate. Think neoclassical columns, faux Georgian facades, clipped parterre follies. Well, not this particular house, which was redesigned by MNM two years ago.
From the front, it presents itself as one of the thousands of typical 40s brick bungalows which once dotted the hills in this harbour-side suburb. Walk through the front door and everything changes. The open expanse of kitchen, dining and living has a spaciousness that belies the facade. The end wall of black steel-framed glass opens to an exotic green jungle of succulents and creepers. The ceiling of white painted trusses and floor of pale cream linoleum keeps this southern-oriented space light, helped along by a room-length glass skylight along the southern wall.
Here is a comfortable, friendly space full of the evidence of a family life lived in the midst of good design without the constraints this often implies. Minimalist it isn’t and yet there is nothing superfluous. Two bedrooms house the family’s children and a white marble bathroom separates back and front. This room is a shorthand summary of MNM’s aesthetic. Walls of white marble, brass Vola taps, galvanised steel-framed windows and chrome details all combine to form a curated space, which still retains a casual atmosphere.
Back off the kitchen, a huge pantry houses a characteristically eccentric centrepiece – a strong, black, steel curve of circular stairs leading up to the master bedroom and home office/sitting room. Up here more light spills through the eastern windows, which reveal a potentially chaotic rooftop garden defined by a formal, moody wall of massive cypress that looms behind. There is even a tiny balcony off the bedroom to catch the morning sun.
Like its inhabitants, this home has the normal imperfections of age with which we all must live. It never seeks to deny our humanity and in that sense it is designed for living.
Meacham Nockles McQualter
3/94 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 9361 3029