Adding Warmth to Grey Interiors

Wood Bagot interior designer, Sue Fenton, shares tips on how grey need not be drabby

Issue: Dec 2010

Sue Fenton captures the charm of Melbourne’s laneways in Citadines on Bourke Melbourne

Sue Fenton’s passion is infectious in the way she shares intricate details of her project with you. Her beautiful descriptions engage one’s imagination and reflect the depth of her passionate commitment to design excellence.

With over 15 years of experience covering a vast range of projects, Fenton focuses on quality design outcomes with an aim to create engaging spaces that enhance our built environment, create a sense of place and enrich the culture of the workplace. She also has a passion for art, especially sculpture, and offers her experience in art consultancy to a number of clients.

Even though recent project locations include London, Sydney and Doha, Fenton’s love for Melbourne’s built environment keeps her there. And her love is apparent, given the life she has breathed into the design of Citadines on Bourke Melbourne.

Exterior and Skylight
Nestled in a long, narrow site, Citadines on Bourke Melbourne was designed with clear glazing at all habitable levels. It embraces natural light via an elongated skylight void to maintain connectivity to the laneway

Located in the heart of the Melbourne Central Business District, the site was historically the home of a Victorian retail arcade, long lost with lack of preservation. The unusually long, narrow site presented unique opportunities to explore the idea of interconnection, one which Fenton embraces in her design of the interiors by seamlessly incorporating the grey of the laneways into the property. The entry seemingly continues the footpath into the interior, blurring the line between public and private zones as guests step into a warm retreat from the city.

The interior of Citadines on Bourke Melbourne celebrates the Melbourne laneway phenomenon with the use of grey and white as its dominant colour theme. Fenton shares with INSIDE on how the use of greys and whites can actually add warmth to your homes, as they did to Citadines on Bourke Melbourne.

INSIDE: What is the reason behind the choice of grey at Citadines on Bourke Melbourne and what feeling does it conjure?

FENTON: Unlike many other Australian cities renowned for their use of many colours together, Melbourne's love of greys and blacks is said to come from our grey weather forecasts through the cooler seasons! So whilst the project needed to reflect Citadines, we also looked at how we could make the project be about Melbourne and give visitors an experience that is unique to this city.

The Citadines on Bourke is located between Little Collins Street and Bourke Street, connected to the side of the site with a small laneway. We designed the lobby to ensure the laneway could be revitalised and remain a north/south pedestrian connection through the site. Melbourne is celebrated for its laneways and attempts to save them from being closed from public use. Laneways have evolved into a very strong feature of Melbourne and are prized for their small hives of activity, cafes, bars and small boutique shops.

Footpaths and laneways in Melbourne typically use the locally available Victorian Bluestone pavers, a deep grey stone. We employed Bluestone to the lobby to evoke the outside street coming into the long thin entry.

Ribbon1, Ribbon 2
The design concept of Citadines on Bourke features a white ribbon element that folds back and forth until it reaches the podium level

A white ribbon which winds its way down the facade of the building is re-interpreted through the interior. The lighting pattern folds across and down the ceilings and walls, reminiscent of the shadows left behind from a previous structure, which is so common to cities and back lanes.

INSIDE: You've managed to achieve the contemporary minimalist look - sleek, cool and uncluttered - without ending up looking cold and gloomy. What were the 'must-haves' that helped to instantly add warmth to the home?

FENTON: The laneway element, treated as an exterior, is then contrasted with various lures to take people to certain destinations. At the actual hotel lobby, you step over a defined line into a much warmer residential space. It adopts warm white ceiling troughs, a moss green textured rug, Travertine floor tiles and a highly polished black marble counter. Everywhere throughout the project we have used subtle bronze and brass details or inserts both in signage and mirrors as well as the linings into the cutouts of the reception counter. This, together with the furniture selection gives the space the feeling of a hotel.

Reception and Interior
Contrasting interplay of textures and colours at the sleek interiors give a clear definition of a warm residential space

The other important finish to all these spaces is the Ironbark (a type of dark wood). This is used on the stair and linings to the void, that leads us to the convention spaces on the level above. It also becomes the timber for joinery in the business centre for visitor use and the credenzas to the meeting spaces.

INSIDE: What are the guidelines to using grey in the living room?

FENTON: In a living room it is important to select a grey that has not too much colour in it, like blue/greys or green/greys as they will read as pastels and the challenge is to find one which still has warmth. One approach I like is to layer the greys from soft greys to mid range; not necessarily on walls, but in textiles too.

INSIDE: Amidst the greys and whites, some dramatic accent colours were used; how does this create a ‘home away from home’ experience?

We started with a grey and white scheme with quite a lot of contrast to explore the concept of 'silhouette', with the aim of using black and white photography by Melbourne artists.

We started to analyse this in relation to the room being a retreat from the city and decided to soften the experience. We chose a much warmer grey for one wall and kept a natural off white to the remaining walls and ceiling. The coloured splash-back glass is yellow, with the objects in the kitchen being black and white. The artwork selected, by two emerging Melbourne artists became the feature, in a sense, and gave the rooms individuality.

Confine the grey to one wall and add subtle touches of colours like yellow to brighten up the room

The yellow re-appears in cushions and both artists’ work. We didn’t want everything to match perfectly. It was more about creating a home away from home experience, where you have a few stories going on in the various spaces not just one solution fits all.

INSIDE: Let’s talk about the use of grey in a kid's room - is that possible and how would you make it work?

FENTON: Anything is possible. I think it gets back to the hue within the grey and understanding the subtleties in colour selection. I think a deep grey would be very dense in a kid’s room but a wall of blackboard works well, so each situation should be handled as a unique project with guiding design principles. If the concept of, say, charcoal evokes a series of subtly stained grey timbers, it would not read as dense. This is potentially great in a kid’s room.

INSIDE: Overall, what accessories are important to balance the coldness of the white-grey combination?

FENTON: Sometimes a stepping of shades of grey and levels of white can reduce a cold interior. This can be done through the use of textiles - transparent and solid, textures as well as glossy contrasted by matt. The inherent warmth of natural timber is always a good offset from a cooler scheme. Lighting is best as a layered approach with a combination of lamps with up lights for the evening and general lighting can be best concealed or recessed. You can get an amazing array of colour temperature by specifying the right globe for a light.

INSIDE: What are the types of furniture that will go well with the look?

FENTON: I like furniture to be a bit eclectic and individual to the client in a residential setting. The majority of the functional furniture can be a neutral base; whilst occasional pieces can afford to be quite sculptural especially in a minimalist space. I like strong colours to occur in lighting pieces, objects, art and textiles.

I have a few of my mum's sixties Danish pieces and I love them. They are a part of my family and I. To me, spaces need to be meaningful to the inhabitants, not just a style out of a magazine.

INSIDE: Christmas is round the corner. How do we add that festive mood into the modern, minimalist home?

FENTON: Here are some thoughts -

  1. Make a large suspended light that acts as "the tree" with the family;
  2. Construct a sculpture from all your old decorations cast into a large cone;
  3. Embrace clutter and excess for the day! A minimalist home, like any other, is for living in. If you celebrate Christmas, it is a good day for generosity of spirit, feasting and family time. How the house looks is immaterial if it is filled with laughter!
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