Interview: Sarah-Jane Pyke

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    If good residential design is about distilling the inhabitants’ personality and lifestyle in physical spaces, then great design takes those elements to bring the inhabitants on a journey, reflecting not just who they are, but what they could be. It takes skill, vision and a degree of creative confidence to create those type of spaces – but those are the spaces (in our humble opinion) that define the work of Sydney design studio Arent & Pyke. Beloved for their residential projects, the studio has built a diverse portfolio of fiercely-individual homes, each stamped with that distinct tactile, elegant touch we’ve come to associate with founders Juliette Arent and Sarah-Jane Pyke and their growing team.

    In fact the team is continuing to go from strength to strength, celebrating their ten year anniversary in 2017. What better a time than to take a moment out with half of the dynamic duo, Sarah-Jane Pyke, to reflect on the studio’s founding, design approach and defining projects from the past decade.

    PHOTOGRAPHY: Julie Adams, Tom Ferguson, Felix Forest, Anson Smart

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    You and Juliette originally met working together. When did you first see the glimmers of what would become your practice now?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: It was actually quite early on in our working relationship. Prior to meeting Juliette I had my own little practice for a short time, and I guess I knew that I would always go back out to having my own practice again. Juliette and I really enjoyed working today and worked very closely together at that practice, and we created a really nice synergy – fairly quickly, we could just say that we had a really nice balance.

    When the time came for me to move on again, the conversation came up about doing something together with Juliette. It was a really exciting time for us; I think it was a really good age to take on the world, and we didn’t have anything holding us back – we didn’t have children or mortgages or any of those things going on – and we felt like we could really offer something new and do something different from what we were seeing in the marketplace.

    One of the big drivers for both of us was that we loved interiors and we loved a lot of what we were seeing on the Australian scene, but we didn’t feel personally very connected to those sorts of interiors – I think things were a little bit minimal, a bit abstract for us. So we both kind of approached it in a very personal point of view of asking “what kind of climate would I like to live in, and how would I like to create that for other people?”

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    What was the first project that you worked on together?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: The very first project that we worked on together was a house that was under construction when we met the client – a family with three young boys at the time, who now are three young men. It had recently been renovated and we came through and did all the features, decoration and furnishing for that job, and we did it in a really quick timeframe to get them in for their first Christmas which was really fun. We still get me a Christmas card every year – it’s been a really nice relationship we built with them.

    How has the practice developed since then? When did you first hire someone else into the business, and how has it developed from there?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: It was the two of us for about two years, then we had our first employee. He was a new graduate at the time and stayed with us for three years. So the first five years of the practice, it was mostly Juliet and I, and one other part-timer. Then I went on a maternity leave, so we hired our first full-time designer to come in and help Juliette while I was on leave – and then Juliette went on a maternity leave, by then we had six people. By the time she came back from maternity leave we had eight people – so it was quite a quick expansion over those few years. For the last two years, we’ve been sitting around this kind of 10 to 12 mark, which is a size we’re pretty comfortable at because it enables Juliette and I to be personally involved in every single project, and now we’ve had some of our senior staff here for quite a while they’re really part of the current outfit of the practice and play a big part as well.

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    Do you and Juliette have similar individual kind of tastes and styles? And how do you bring that into the business – does it shape what projects you work on?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: Definitely. I always find it’s a funny question to answer, because we’re very different people, but we have really similar values and really similar ideals. We always have had a very strong, cohesive vision for the business and what we wanted to be together. So while we’re quite different, we’ve got a very singular vision, which I think shows through the work and what we’ve been able to achieve as a team in this business.

    In terms of the projects we take on, we both we really love residential work and it’s been a focus for us from the start. And it still has our real hearts because we know what we want to create is a life for people and a life for ourselves – that’s why we started the business. We had these visions of our own lives unfolding ahead of us, and we just wanted to create that as much as the work. So, creating this business and the way it operates and the people that we’ve brought into it is as much a part of what we’re doing as the work that we’re doing.

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    Do you think Arent & Pyke has a distinct style, or is it more a distinct process?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: It is a distinct process and that’s because we have a very responsive practice and we really work closely with our clients. The main collaboration in our practice is with clients, and so every outcome will be different. I think sometimes we underplay the aesthetic because it’s innate and because it’s just so much a part of what we do is to make things beautiful, visually beautiful and finding the beauty in function and in things being easy and joyful. So I think we talk more about that other aspect, but actually of course aesthetically, there is a style in it and a layer that we’re adding to things.

    But aesthetically of course there’s a common string. I think it’s classic, and it’s definitely about true, robust materials and celebrating the beauty in natural materials. I think it’s a clever use of colour and a confident use of colour, which is not always overt. It could just be in terms of shades.

    So what does your design process look like?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: The process is very holistic. We start with broad concepts, ideas about moving and how you want to live your life, and creating a life for you, your family, your dreams, your hopes, your future, because that’s what people are really here for. A big part of that is getting a really functional kitchen and a really pretty bedroom, but really we’re creating a space that you’re gonna live your life in and create your memories in – that’s really important to us.

    So the process of getting to know people and then really being responsive to those desires that we hear from them is the starting point, and then always pushing that further as a concept. Really drawing that idea out and extending it and trying to push the work for us personally and for them, and to get a new result every time through the process.

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    What makes a house a home to you?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: For me, the concept of home is really about connection and what makes it a home is who you spend time with there and how you spend your time there. So, creating spaces that people can come together or be alone or take solace – all those things are part of being in a home, but it has to be a part of your personal journey too. So, we always talk about people having objects, artefacts, artwork, things that surround them that feel personal, tell their story rather than a generic design story, and have this continuing journey with them through life. That’s not a materialistic thing necessarily, but our objects are part of our lives and they’re things that we touch and see daily, so we give them some importance and some value in the home. I think that is part of what makes it a home.

    Are there any particular projects that you feel most proud of from the past ten years of Arent & Pyke? 

    Sarah-Jane Pyke: The Alex Hotel was a really defining one for us in terms of our public perception. It was a public space, which was interesting for us to explore how the ideas that we create for individuals and in homes for individuals for very personal clients and particular people can be translated to this kind of generic space which is going to reference the values of different people moving through it, and whether you could still say that we’ve created a home-like environment in a hotel – I think we successfully did. Three years later, it still feels like a big milestone moment in the business.

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    Something that we think Arent & Pyke do interestingly and differently is your spirit of collaboration. Can you tell us a bit about what that means to you in your practice?

    Sarah-Jane Pyke:  Look, I think, again, innately, it was in us. Starting the practice together means that we’ve experienced collaboration from the start – it’s always been more than one person’s point of view, and more than one person’s aesthetic or style, and more than one person’s output. However it’s something that’s taken greater importance in the second half of the business because we recognised that we love working with other people, both of us. We’ve brought people into the practice here we really admire and who have diverse, different skills and different aesthetics and different ways of working, which can be challenging in practice when you’re trying to bring everyone together. But, we think it’s brought incredible diversity to the work, and this great kind of tension.

    We often used to talk about it just between the two of us. Ideas need to be tested. They need somebody to kind of pull and poke at them and say, “Not sure about that.” And when you challenge ideas, I think that you instantly, you definitely make it better. So, we like that tension in the practice, the creative kind of energy of that, the dynamic of that, working with people. And I think our clients really enjoy seeing that as well.

    We both also really love being part of the design community. I find the design community in Australia really supportive and really kind of family- friendly, and we have some really, really great friends that we’ve met in the last 10 years in this business from all around the country.

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    And now for some local questions…

    Where do you live in Sydney and what do you love most about it? Randwick. It’s a very special spot, surrounded by Centennial and Queens Parks, and only minutes to my favourite beaches, Coogee and Bronte. I live in a small block of apartments with a shared backyard, and I love the daily interaction we have with our neighbours – the best of community living!

    Favourite places to eat: I’m a creature of habit and always return to Potts Point favourite, Apollo for dinner.

    Favourite place to drink: My morning stop is Surry Hills café, Four Ate Five for coffee (and a spelt berry scone before they sell out!) 

    Favourite places to shop: I’ve finally become an online shopper! So most of my shopping happens on my phone. If I’m out and about I head to Double Bay, where a mix of my favourites makes me happy: Scanlan & Theodore, Marni, Ondene, Mecca and lunch at Indigo.

    5. Weekly local rituals: Most weekends we head to the kid’s bike track at Centennial Park so my 6-year-old son Franklin can tear up the track on his scooter. If only the coffee queue was shorter!

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