Lucy Montgomery grew up in a publican family and has many happy memories of spending time in the pubs owned by her parents. One that comes to mind was a historic 1860’s Italianate government office building that her parents converted into a beautiful hotel. As a young girl, she would spend countless hours there before and after school and watch as the space was transformed...
It ignited a love of interiors and she went on to study interior architecture at university, before landing her first job at House & Garden magazine, and later, as interior design editor at Belle. She has since set up her own business working with private clients and, most recently, her own namesake homewares collection. The debut collection features bold linen cushions printed with generous stripes and finished with fringing all around the edges. They’re the kind of pillows that puff perfectly, and look outstanding in any room. And then there are her much-coveted plaster lamps, which are crafted locally in Sydney and inspired by Mediterranean hotels such as Le Sirenuse and also the design work of sculptors including Alberto Giacometti.
“The lamp bases are handmade with plaster, which has a beautiful, chalky patina. It’s a wonderfully nuanced material that simultaneously exudes gravitas and grace, especially given the silhouettes of the bases, which hark back to Mediterranean earthenware from antiquity but still feel modern,” says Montgomery.
Here we visit the mother to one-year-old Grace to find out more about the launch of her debut collection and what is was like launching a business with a baby in tow.
Take me back to when you were a child – what role did interior design play in your life? Did you grow up in a creative household?
I grew up with my family in pubs. One was a historic 1860’s Italianate government office building that my parents’ converted into a beautiful hotel. As a young girl, I spent countless hours there before and after school and I remember being in awe of the transformation – I loved how the aesthetic, spatial and material choices can shape an experience of a space.
Talk me through your career path and how you landed at Belle?
Studies in Interior Architecture at UNSW led me to my first job at House & Garden magazine and I eventually crossed the hall to work as interior design editor at Belle. I loved collaborating with interior designers and translating their work into beautiful, dynamic imagery. I have since set up my own business working with private clients and my own collection and I am a regular contributor with Belle.
How has interior design changed in the last decade?
I think the value of beautifully designed spaces has become more universally accepted in Australia during the last decade. The number of talented and successful design practices working in Australia today is a testament to this. And as Australians have embraced design, it’s created more space for experimentation at the industry’s cutting edge. There is now a desire now for original, artistic and idiosyncratic interiors that are layered with unexpected objects, bespoke finishes and references to obscure or eclectic styles from different cultural traditions and moments in history.
What’s the secret to timeless interiors which won’t date?
My rule of thumb when working with clients is to invest in pieces that you love and want around for a long time. I am always drawn to artistic, layered interiors that express the interests and idiosyncrasies of their occupants, bringing together beautiful objects of mixed provenance in a way that feels effortless and unexpected.
When starting work on a home, where do you begin?
I like to begin by defining the living zones within a space – especially if it is open-plan – with a beautiful rug. Within the space delineated by the rug, a hero sofa with neutral upholstery should be positioned in dialogue with stylish armchairs (even where there is a television present, the setting should promote conversation) and there should always be a side or coffee table within reach, as well as lamps for practicality and ambience. This creates a timeless and liveable setting onto which artworks, sculptures, books, blankets, cushions, objets d’art and other collected treasures can be introduced over time or as the season dictates. There should always be an element that throws the look off or plays with scale.
How do lamps and soft furnishings enhance a home and what’s your advice when choosing these items?
Replace unflattering overhead lighting with ambient lamps that double as sculpture. A statement lamp can be a functional work of art, adding personality and character to a simple sideboard, desk or bedside table. Softer elements such as cushions and window treatments offer an easy refresh, finishing a space and making it feel liveable.
What are your favourite colour palettes right now?
At the moment I love earthy colours such as terracotta, olive green and ochre but pair these with crisp white to give them a fresh, contemporary look.
What colour palette will never date?
I could never tire of blue and white. It’s a timeless colour combo that complements virtually any decor.
Where do you like to source furniture from? What are some favourites?
I do the Potts Point and Double Bay circuit when sourcing for clients and shoots, 1stdibs for vintage treasures, The Vault Sydney and Tamsin Johnson for revamped antiques. I also love sourcing textiles and working with local artisans to create custom, one-off bespoke upholstered pieces.
How has COVID-19 changed the way people approach interior design?
We are obviously spending more time at home and I think people have become more selective with their things. I love the idea of design pieces that have been crafted using traditional techniques and natural materials, taking a functional object and making it beautiful, sculptural and arresting. When things work well and also look beautiful, they elevate the everyday.
To shop, go to lucymontgomery.com
Your debut collection has been handcrafted in Sydney using local artisans and trades – talk me through the process behind your pieces?
I started with a series of inspiration mood boards and rough sketches and took these to the artisans to begin prototyping. As the collection is all locally made, we were able to work closely with our makers and monitor the prototyping process and the quality of our product. This also meant we were fortunate enough to not experience delays in production due to Covid.
What are the greatest inspirations behind your homewares brand?
My ongoing mood boards consistently feature landmark Mediterranean hotels such as Le Sirenuse and also the design work of sculptors including Alberto Giacometti. The lamp bases are handmade with plaster, which has a beautiful, chalky patina. It’s a wonderfully nuanced material that simultaneously exudes gravitas and grace, especially given the silhouettes of the bases, which hark back to Mediterranean earthenware from antiquity but still feel modern.
You’ve launched it with your family – tell me about working with your family and how you all inspire one another?
We all have different industry strengths which complement each other – finance, marketing and creative. My family does a regular Sunday lunch at my parents’ home and that’s usually when we all get a bit excited and brainstorm ideas and a plan-of-attack for the week ahead.
What is your advice to new mothers?
Initially, I thought I wouldn’t benefit much from joining a local mothers’ group because I have friends and family with babies, but I soon realised you can never have too many support networks when you’re a new mum!
Launching a new business is quite daunting for many people. What are some tips for women who would like to launch their own business – where should they begin?
If it’s something you’re passionate about, find a way to start testing it on a small scale. We had cushion and lamp prototypes made up and scattered them around my parents newly renovated apartment to see them in situ and get an insight into the reactions of visitors.
Can you share your journey to motherhood...
I am very close to my sister, Anna, and have admired the way she juggles her career in marketing with two young children. That gave me the confidence that I could manage having a baby while launching my business. During the prototyping stages of the collection, Grace came with me almost everywhere – I had to master breastfeeding on the go! My husband Sam also took a month’s primary carers leave so that allowed me to launch the collection and also put time aside each day for sourcing, shoots and client meetings. I am also very fortunate that my parents’ live around the corner from us!
And what do you wish you knew before you launched your brand?
Things take double the time you anticipate!
The launch of your product line signals a creative shift for you. Is this something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
I was constantly sourcing accessories for Belle photoshoots as well as private clients and would always seek out beautiful table lamps and cushions to complete a residential scheme and make it feel liveable as well as layered and interesting. The collection grew out of the challenges I often encountered when sourcing these elements and my desire to create elegant, original pieces that would complement the incredible art, furniture and interiors that I was working with as a stylist.
Can you list some of your favourite, most treasured interior items?
Thonet dining chairs I ended up with after my parents sold their pub. A Den Holm sculpture. A custom upholstered wool boucle bench seat. My collection of design books.