Tamsin Johnson is living proof that a clean home and international travel can coexist when a baby comes along. The interior designer and mother to one-year-old Arthur (with another baby on the way) has a life motto that revolves around “keeping it simple”, a basic yet powerful statement that relates to less is more when it comes to life with a baby, work and home...
“We travelled for two months when Arthur was nine weeks old. It was so easy and it helped to make me a much more relaxed parent. We kept it very simple – just the essentials. Arthur, my husband, myself and a few nappies. He absolutely adored it and it was such a lovely bonding time for the three of us. Once at home we made a conscious effort not to fill our house with anything unnecessary.” A powerful sentiment given Tamsin’s stylish eye for killer interiors, having designed for iconic clients such as Rae’s On Wategos in Byron Bay and Lucy Folk in Bondi.
We recently quizzed Tamsin on everything from how she juggles her days with work and a baby to how her Melbourne-based childhood growing up with art and antique dealer parents have shaped her love of interiors today. Read on for more…
Tamsin wears: Cartier Amulette De Cartier Bracelet in Yellow Gold with Lapis Lazuli Diamond, $3,150; Cartier Love Diamond Bracelet, SM, in yellow gold, $34,900; Cartier Love 4 Diamonds Bracelet, in Yellow Gold, $14,200; her own vintage engagement ring and Cartier Trinity De Cartier ring (worn throughout); Proenza Schouler dress, $1,395, from Parlour X
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
Keep it simple and travel when they’re babies. We travelled for two months when Arthur was nine weeks old. It was so easy and it helped to make me a much more relaxed parent. We kept it very simple – just the essentials. Arthur, my husband, myself and a few nappies. He absolutely adored it and it was such a lovely bonding time for the three of us. Once at home we made a conscious effort not to fill our house with anything unnecessary. One day I took him to a swimming lesson and realised he’d taken a coat hanger from home to play with in the car. This made me realise it was probably time to get a few more toys! But honestly, they don’t need much. It’s amazing where they’ll find entertainment. That plastic coat hanger is still a favourite toy.
What does every mother need to get through some of the more trying stages of motherhood?
A sister or a good friend. It is very comforting the connection you have with the women you go through motherhood with. The newborn stage can be very isolating and a little daunting, so it is essential that you build your own support network. I went from being in an environment in my professional life where I was confident and competent and then you are responsible for this little creature and you have no idea what to do. I would call my sister about 16 times a day for advice. You’re generally doing it right, but the power of reassurance is not to be underestimated.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in Armadale in Melbourne. It was a leafy suburb full of antique shops, bridal boutiques and beautiful houses. It’s a bit more green juice, Bugaboos and activewear these days, but still as beautiful and village like. My sister is two years older than me and we have always been very close. We grew up in an old bakery, which my parents converted into a residence and gallery. My parents worked from the space as art and antique dealers so there were always interesting people dropping in and often staying for dinner. We were very lucky to have parents who we were forever having parties and entertaining and exposed us to all these characters and helped us to appreciate good conversation. With so much communication (too much) happening via technology the ability to engage in meaningful conversation is becoming a lost art. My husband and I are very conscious of this and are determined that our children grow up in a similar environment. We had a blast! Mum and Dad were very disciplined, but also very loving and open.
Where did you spend your summer holidays?
There really is no place like Australia in summer. Our summer holidays were spent down at Lorne on the Great Ocean Road. We would stay at the beach all day with an esky full of food and drinks and then get up to mischief at night. One of our favourite pastimes was breaking into the Lorne trampolines and underage shenanigans on the foreshore. All of our friends were around the beach for the summer, so there was always something to do.
SHOP: Cartier Amulette De Cartier Bracelet in Yellow Gold with Lapis Lazuli Diamond, $3,150; Cartier Juste Un Clou Diamond Bracelet in Pink Gold, $16,600; Cartier Juste Un Clou Diamond Necklace in Pink Gold, $5,350; Sacai dress, $1,125, from Parlour X
Where did your love of interiors begin?
My love for interiors was inherent. My earliest memories were watching 15 guys in our driveway unpacking containers of antiques, art and chandeliers from Europe. My sister and I loved it. Bubble wrap, straw and crates full of treasures that were then polished, shined and repaired before meticulous and imaginative placement… and then sold. Never to be seen again.
What do you remember about your time spent living in London?
It was a little daunting at first because it was the first time that I was away from my family. I remember walking around thinking, nobody knows where I am right now. But then it helped me to grow up a bit and meet some fascinating people. I had so much fun, getting well acquainted with the city and Europe. I then met my husband at a pub in Notting Hill and moved in with him after about a week. I think I truly became an adult that first year in London.
How would you describe your unique approach to interiors?
I approach every interior differently. It’s important to see how a client lives, their habits and routine. And then I work with the space to bring out its best features, not to force it to be something it isn’t. I look to curate characterful, authentic spaces that are comfortable and natural. I think it’s important for an interior to look as though it has evolved over time, juxtaposing the old and the new, the obvious and the obscure. I don’t like spaces that look ‘designed’, instead they should look as if they belong and have always been that way. So it’s about authenticity I guess.
Do you think interior design is innate – do you walk into a space and know instantly how you’ll transform it?
When I see a space for the first time, I have a fairly good idea of the direction I think it should take but then I like to leave, think long and hard about the job and then I set it aside and let my subconscious do some work. I then start designing.
SHOP: Cartier Juste Un Clou Diamond Bracelet in Pink Gold, $16,600; Cartier Juste Un Clou Diamond Necklace in Pink Gold, $5,350; Cartier Juste Un Clou Diamond Ring in Pink Gold, $5,300; Fendi dress, $3,185, from Parlour X
What do you recall about launching your interior design business? What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
I remember when I first launched my business, someone completely unrelated to interiors said to me, ‘keep it simple’. It really stayed with me. So many new businesses aspire to a big fleet of staff but I only ever wanted a little team and a very personal approach to each client. I am across every little detail of each job and this is vital for the way I design. I would much rather take on less but make every job perfect, rather than have a huge operation and lots of staff where you have to take on jobs that you don’t believe in just to pay the staff. Also keep travelling, educate your eyes and stay curious.
What about working on the Warner Bros studio in LA – tell us about that job?
This was a dream job. LA, alongside Paris, has the best furniture in the world for sourcing so that, coupled with stripping and re-fitting Frank Sinatra’s old office in the middle of Warner Bros Studio was a pretty magical process. We clad the walls with rosewood veneer, the bathrooms with black marble and filled the rooms with oversized deco furniture. I really embraced old world Hollywood glamour ensuring the integrity of the building was maintained. It also helped that the client had very good taste.
What’s it like working with your husband – do you have similar taste in interiors?
I feel our taste has morphed into one over the years.
Tell us about your recent work with Rae’s – how long did the project take and what was your vision?
My philosophy to design is that of authenticity and timelessness. I really believe that something should look as relevant today as it does in fifty years. Good interiors age well. The client gave me quite an open brief, with total creative licence, but they were involved in the process and gave very helpful feedback. They are good people to work with as they are curious and very passionate, but also pragmatic.
Many of the Rae’s clientele have incredible memories of the place so it was important not to change the overall feel too much. The building is beautiful with lovely bones. With only seven rooms, I wanted them all to be very different much like that of a private residence. I wanted to enhance the patina of the hotel while freshening the place up. The previous interior was very tired and not really appropriate for the type of building. So it was really about giving the hotel the interior it deserved.
What are your time management tips – how do you juggle it all? Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
Organisation is the key. I really do use every minute of the day. In fact, I have no idea how to do nothing, which helps. I have a nanny Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and then I work when Arthur sleeps on Wednesday and Friday. Any overflow of work, I will do on the weekend or in the evening. Since having Arthur, work doesn’t overwhelm me. The balance of being a mum and also a professional life is so important to me and so far it has all been fairly easy but you have to just be disciplined in sticking to your routine but then also be flexible when required if that makes sense. And again keep it simple and enjoy it.
What keeps you sane?
Yoga. I went every single day of my pregnancy with Arthur and I honestly think that’s why he’s so chilled out. This time round I’m aiming for 4-5 times a week but I really need it to escape, relax and reset.
What are your tips for home organisation with children? How do you keep your home organised?
Never go to bed if the house isn’t tidy. It is as simple as that really. Washing takes on a new dimension with children. You really need to keep on top of that. And then make sure you have time on the weekend to get set for the week. My husband and I will usually set aside a few hours either Saturday or Sunday afternoon to cook Arthur’s meals for the week and freeze them so that is one less thing to worry about.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I’ve always loved healthy food so it comes pretty naturally to eat well. But I have this thing with chocolate croissants when pregnant. I just can’t shake them. Otherwise, I keep it pretty clean. I do love a good pasta, wine and chocolate but also love greens, exercise, yoga and walking. I am passionate about food and spend my life planning my next meal so dieting is not an option. It’s all about balance really.
What makes you feel stressed?
Not much rattles me.
What’s your approach to fashion?
I like to keep it pretty simple but I focus on quality. I’m generally in pants, a shirt and blazer or coat and then a dress and sandals in summer. I don’t buy a lot of clothes but when I do it is usually from a handful of designers (The Row, Stella McCartney, Loewe, Marni, Lemaire) and for basics, like Scanlan Theodore.
What about jewellery – what pieces do you wear daily and why are they special?
I love jewellery. I will look at antique pieces, something unique or then a handful of jewellers like Cartier (mostly vintage), Lucy Folk (always doing something interesting) and I am also liking Alice Cicolini rings at the moment.
I wear lots of rings… verging on gypsy according to my husband. I wear my engagement ring next to my Cartier trinity wedding band. A Lucy Folk diamond signet ring, a littler stack of antique cameo rings found in Italy and a very big Repossi ring alone on my right hand my best friend gave me. Then my other jewels I never take off, simple earrings, an ‘I love you’ necklace from Lucy Folk that Patch gave me when I was pregnant with Arthur and some fine gold bangles that also don’t come off and my watch. I try and buy nice occasional jewellery but never wear it. Simple is best… as always.
Tamsin's little list of loves:
My growing belly. My second pregnancy is flying by so I’m trying to enjoy what’s left of it.
Being at home.
A girls’ trip to LA in September 2018 – leaving my husband in charge of the two babies and going with three girlfriends. He doesn’t know this yet, but it’s all booked and I think about it daily.
My Smythson diary. My Christmas present from my husband each year.
Vodka martinis and late nights.