A modern interior designer from Down Under that embodies the natural and cool tones of an emerging Mediterranean movement
Bondi Beach may be a long way from the Mediterranean, but designer Sarah Ellison captures a southern European influence and expresses it in an unquestionably Australian way.
It would be an understatement to say that designer Sarah Ellison has spent a lot of time looking at furniture. She spent 10 years as an interior stylist in the fast-paced world of glossy magazines. For every photoshoot she developed, sourced, and styled for leading interiors magazine Real Living, the next one was always waiting. This type of work has its benefits: a Rolodex of industry contacts and an encyclopedic knowledge of the furniture market and how people respond to it.
But it also comes with its disadvantages. At times, Ellison admits the breakneck speed at which magazines operate felt unsustainable. “I think I really yearned for a sense of permanence in my work,” she says. “After 10 years I was asking myself the question, ‘What’s next?’”
After sourcing and styling furniture, the next logical step is to design it. “From my knowledge of the Australian interior landscape, I felt there was a lack of brands offering original design with a high-end feeling for the average consumer.” Having identified this as her niche in the market, Ellison launched Sarah Ellison Studio in 2017—today the mood she’s created is a decidedly coastal Australian one, all salty air, and city-side beaches, articulated through rattan and soft linen, terracotta tiles, and travertine tables.
With no formal training in furniture design, Ellison let intuition lead the way. “I know what I like and I know how I want things to look and feel,” she says. But beyond knowing what she wants, she also knows her customer. “They have an eye for design but still want functional and practical furniture.” The studio is a team of two, but growing fast with an imminent expansion to America and then Europe soon to follow.
Three collections in, her body of work spans cozy armchairs to angular, 1970s-inspired vases, sandy-colored cushions to rattan consoles. “Wearing my stylist hat, I’m often thinking about the whole room first,” she continues. “The world I want to create and the pieces I need to help create that mood.”
Her premiere collection, The New Wave, is bathed in a mustardy palette of the sun setting over a blue-gray sea. “My first collection needed to be true to me, who I am, and how I live as a coast-loving Australian,” she says. “Fabrics like flax linen sit next to velvets, and stones like marble are mixed with brass, bringing the raw and the refined together, a bit like the coast and the city sitting side by side.”
As a former resident of Bondi Beach, a stylish Sydney suburb that brings together the city and the beach, Ellison is never far from the sea. And in turn, a coastal Australian sensibility is never far from her work.
“My aim is to craft a uniquely Australian aesthetic with an international influence.” To Ellison, this is expressing her influences—which span from Italian living rooms to Moroccan walls—in a distinctly Australian way. Sometimes that means using a specific color or fabric, elsewhere this lies in the choice of materials. Defining quality for Australian interiors, she says, is about natural light. “We have a beautiful moderate climate, so a lot of design is centered around the weather.”
Her collection for Australian tile maker Teranova expresses these influences in yet another celebration of sand and sun. The six tile designs evoke the beach both in their names— Corfu, Cinque Terre, Scallop—and in their graphic patterns. The Cinque Terre designs are especially inspired by their namesake, with half circles and rectangles referencing the buildings and umbrellas of Monterosso in Liguria. The geometric shapes are softened by a characteristically Australian color palette and are made from encaustic cement with a matt finish that reminds Ellison of the patina of well-worn Italian floors. “The Mediterranean is so full of inspiring and unexpected tile moments,” she says. “I remember one year after a trip to the Amalfi Coast, all the photos I brought back were of tiled floors.”
Her most recent collection is Golden, a series of tables, seating, and a mirror crafted from rattan. “I knew I wanted to work with rattan as it reminded me of furniture my mother had in our home as a child.” She’s given the straw-colored pieces an elevated edge with brass detailing and chunky proportions. The collection plays with a handmade feel and an afterglow of summer holidays. Tucked away in the southern hemisphere, it’s hard not to envy Australian beachside living where days seem to be punctuated by surf breaks and avocado toast. But even if Sydney-side living might not be in the cards for all of us, Sarah Ellison’s pieces tell a nostalgic story of a gentle life by the sea. It might just be the next best thing.