At Home with Designer Alana John

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    Perth-based interior designer Alana John welcomes est inside her home ‘Unalla’ to learn its rich Australian history, and how her passion for design ripples through each space, from the inside out.

    When Alana first set eyes on her 118-year-old Federation home, ‘Unalla’, she says she fell in love instantly. While initially planning to purchase a block and build a new home, she says she saw the potential to add new life to an iconic home; “and instinctively knew it was right”. 

    Her love-at-first-sight for the project went beyond the historic charm after Alana learned the inspiring story behind the original owner, Bessie Rischbieth, a feminist and social activist. Designed in 1903 by architect Charles Oldham in Federation Queen Anne style, Alana and her family are the third owners of ‘Unalla’ – which, as she points out, is unique given the home’s age. 

    Recognising the opportunity to bring the home into a new era and, at the same time, celebrate its significant past, Alana has instilled her own design language throughout the interiors and into the garden for her family of four.

    Alana’s home is on Western Australia’s heritage list for its historical and architectural significance. When it was first built for women and children’s advocate Bessie Rischbieth and her husband Henry Wilson Rischbeith, the designer says they hosted fundraisers and events at the home. “At times, Bessie used ‘Unalla’ to house women and children in need and was the author of a book called The March of Australian Women,” Alana says. “Both previous owners maintained the home immaculately.”

    One key move in preserving ‘Unalla’ was focusing on the cellar. “We have retained the original limestone foundations that acted as the cellars walls,” Alana says. “The limestone was hand-chiselled to reveal the stones textural quality, and plasterwork was pulled back to expose original brickwork; all of which, we have illuminated with accent lighting.” The ceiling heights, staircase and custom lead-light were also all original architectural features that Alana loved. But she says her home wasn’t designed for modern-day living, unknotting the segregated spaces in preference of an open plan kitchen, dining and family room. 

    “The home is surrounded by gorgeous greenery, and it was important to have that visual from inside the home,” Alana says. “The landscape was as important to us as the interior.” It’s why she says she ensures every room in the home looks out onto the surrounding greenery through steel and glass doors or windows. When friends or family are visiting, the designer likes to entertain outdoors, using the outdoor kitchen or alfresco spaces. “The lawn and garden at the front of our home has hosted some truly spectacular parties,” she adds. 

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    Alana’s kitchen features an Oluce Atollo table lamp. ‘Love of Diagrams’ artwork by Marita Fraser in the foreground.

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    LaCividina Accursio console and ‘The Baker Boys’ artwork by Kim Demuth.

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    Gentry sofa in Big Braid by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, Harvey swivel chairs by grazia&co, custom made Tetrahelix floor light by Joshua Web and custom coffee table designed by Alana John.

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    Pipe armchair by Sebastian Herkner for Moroso and Desiree Yori side table. Artwork by Robert Juniper.

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    Alana’s family room features the Bohemian armchair by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, De La Espada Laurel side table, Tube Chandelier by Michael Anastassiades, Dee coffee table by Paul Mathieu for Ralph Pucci and vases by Bari Ziperstein.

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    The master bedroom is a retreat for Alana, featuring an Icelandic sheepskin rug and vintage coffee table.

    The interiors express Alana’s approach to design; unafraid to make a bold statement yet intuitive to context. “I was able to take greater risks and be even more adventurous than usual,” she says. “I knew what needed to be done and trusted my instincts.” Naturally, she says you’ll often find her, her husband and two teenage sons in the kitchen, but she says her favourite space is the family room, for its afternoon light that filters through the trees. A passionate collector, ‘Unalla’ reveals Alana’s penchant for Australian artists, which she describes as distinctly Australian as her home, including Robert Juniper, Joshua Yeldman and Sidney Nolan.

    Alana’s love for 1970s design with glamorous brass accents is clear from the front door. The entrance features a 1970s Gloss Lacquer vintage sideboard by Jean Claude Mahey and a 1970s vintage circular brass table lamp. These pieces are synonymous with an eye for London designer Michael Anastassiades’ delicate lighting, including his Mobile Chandelier 3 – the centrepiece in the dining room – and sculptural motifs that surface in the kitchen design, furniture and rugs. White walls, travertine, and restored timber flooring highlight the home’s original architectural details, while Alana’s personality is reflected in moments of vivid colour and texture, such as the burnt orange velvet Gubi beetle chairs, and her own custom pieces.

    Speaking with an inherent love of her home and what’s come before, Alana’s new chapter for ‘Unalla’ captures the legacy of the women at its heart. Alana’s design intuition has translated into a glamorous home, refined and playful all at once. 

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    The Desdemone bed by Ligne Roset, Austere wall lamp by Hans Verstuyft for Trizo21, Hale Mercantile linen and the Ferm Living Pond mirror feature in Alana’s bedroom.

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    Talk Think and Tell sculptures by Anen Vrielinck in the front garden.

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    Pietro Stoneware Wok planter bowls

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    Alana John in her foyer, next to a 1970s granite and brass sculptural table by Alfredo Freda, with the Cochin vessel by Shizue Imai, Gobi Vases by Guaxs and Eyes in Chain Rug by Federico Pepe for cc-tapis. Artwork by Sidney Nolan.
  • alana john's signature style

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