Interview with nune founder Sheena Murphy

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    We catch up with Sheena Murphy, founder of nune (formerly sheep + stone) about a recent rebrand, opening a London studio and her proudest design moments.

    Choosing interior design over HR is an unlikely career change. But for Sheena Murphy, who made this decision after moving continents, that’s exactly where her interest in visual arts led her. 

    Sheena garnered experience in a number New York interior design firms, making a name for herself with a horde of commercial projects. Soon after it was time to start her own thing; to demonstrate her British eye for refinement, with a New York City zest. In Sheena’s words, her design preferences are based on a sensory experience, negated by the elements that make us feel safe, calm and happy. This unique mix quickly had her residential projects gracing our screens at est and extremely envious of the New Yorkers who get to live there

    We took the pleasure of connecting with Sheena, who recently returned to live in London, to learn more about her pathway into design and what’s next for this global studio. Thanks to some stellar design leadership, this small team has a big and bright future ahead. 

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    Tor Sauder (left) Sheena Murphy (right)

    In 2008 you moved from Britain to the US and it was here that you realised your passion for design. Why did you decide on this career path and eventually go out on your own?

    Sheena Murphy: I moved to Seattle from London (via India) and after years of practicing employment law within Human Resources for various larger organizations including LVMH + Xerox. When I moved to a new country with a different legal structure, my professional knowledge was no longer relevant. I always enjoyed HR but not enough to go back to university in the US for it. So, I spent a lot of time thinking and trialing. I had a keen interest in the visual arts from my teenage years and was a professional dancer for 10 years.

    When in Seattle I worked for the Gates Foundation during the day and began an online program in interior design. I started working for a local Seattle designer at night and on weekends to dip my toe in and see how it felt. After a few months of doing this, I decided to go back to school. We moved to New York so I could study at Parsons and I worked part-time for a number of interior designers throughout my time there. I then got hired as one of two interior designers at Incorporated Architecture + Design. After two years there doing condo, museum and hotel work (1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge) I started sheep + stone. It’s always a challenge to find a designer/architect you’re wholly aligned with on both principles and aesthetics and that was one of the reasons I wanted to start my own thing.

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    Charles St Apartment by nune
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    Charles St Apartment by nune

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    Charles St Apartment by nune
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    8th street townhouse by nune

    Could you please tell us a bit about your studio rebrand from ‘sheep + stone’ to ‘nune’?

    Sheena Murphy: Originally, the business was to be formed with two founding partners but that plan fell through and I ultimately ended up solo. The two parts were intended to reflect the two partners and we wanted a name that represented both the architectural and furnishings side of the business (soft + hard/sheep + stone).

    We recently rebranded in line with our launch in London. The name was starting to feel a little dated and I had wanted to change it almost from the moment we became incorporated, but I waited it out, for better or for worse! We are now nune, which feels ambiguous and that’s how I like it. There really is no logic behind the name beyond that it’s a word that feels like who we are and what we do.

    What do you think has the largest influence on your work?

    Sheena Murphy: I think my own personal life journey is what influences my work and what has seen it evolve. Rather than trends or travel, which do of course influence us all, I have seen a shift in my design preferences based on what’s going on in my life. Life is many things, and one thing it most certainly is, is a sensory journey. Regardless of where we grow up, we are all impacted by our surroundings both consciously and subconsciously and those experiences inform the elements in life that make us feel safe, calm and happy.

    I think it’s important to play to those things and for me, the busier and more full my life has become, the more I have been drawn to neutral palettes and simple, modernist forms. If you can believe it, our bedroom in Seattle was covered in black and gold damask wallpaper, a bright purple rug and baroque case pieces. I think this was a subconscious representation of my need for more stimulation in life at that time. Introduce running a business, living in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and having a baby,  I saw my needs and preferences change.

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    Tribeca Loft by nune

    You’re a New York-based studio and have just opened a second studio in London. Why did you decide to launch a new studio there and how did this come to be? 

    Sheena Murphy: I am a native Brit and although my husband is American, we always imagined returning back to London at some point. We had our daughter Matilda three years ago and while raising her in New York was an incredible prospect with it’s culture, diversity and openness, I’ve always been close to my family and when my grandfather fell ill, it was time to go back.

    We left in May 2018 but New York remains a home to us; we still have a house there and my business, along with so many incredible friends and an unbelievably supportive design community. I am very fortunate to be able to call both places home and go back and forth. London is a brand new market for us and while I think the way people use designers and the general aesthetic is different, it’s also similar to New York in a lot of ways and I am excited to embrace both the similarities and differences.

    What project are you most proud of to date and why?

    Sheena Murphy: I really am proud of every project we have worked on, for different reasons. However, our Charles Street project was one where we worked on and managed every single aspect of the design, including all interior architecture.

    Often clients will default to using an architect for superficial renovations, but in this case our amazing clients trusted us to manage it all and we were so happy with how things turned out. We reconfigured the main living space, renovated the kitchen and master bathroom and designed a bunch of custom millwork. We then fully furnished the home. It felt like a very complete project.

    What do you like best about designing in New York? 

    Sheena Murphy: New Yorkers. Never in my life have I experienced such a welcoming, open city. The people of New York have one another’s back. They are fierce, hardworking, smart, liberal + creative. I love the energy of New York and it’s people and sometimes I can’t believe the luck I have had to work with such interesting and wonderful clients, brilliant designers and artists, and amazing architects and contractors.

    Is there something in particular you hope people will experience through your work?

    Sheena Murphy: At a very basic level, I hope people experience something that makes them feel good. Considered design doesn’t have to blow the bank (though we desperately wish we could make it more accessible than it is) but it does have to perform a function. I am a strong believer that space impacts human experience considerably, and that your home should be a place that ultimately makes you feel safe, calm and happy – whatever that means to you.

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    Gramercy Park Apartment by nune
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    Gramercy Park Apartment by nune

    Looking to the future, what do we have to look forward to from nune?

    Sheena Murphy: In parallel with our move to London and launch of the new studio, I appointed a partner in New York. Her name is Tor and she’s been with the company for a couple of years. She’s a force; technically apt, creatively brilliant and such a dream to work and grow with. In all honesty, I think my New York clients whose projects she leads feel like they got an upgrade!

    I am excited for our future as we continue to work across the US and UK. We are currently working on a commercial space in London which is due for completion by the end of the year, as well as a period home in Connecticut, two brownstone renovations in Brooklyn and a loft in Tribeca. Just enough for our small team!

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    Charles St Apartment by nune
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    Charles St Project by nune

    Insider’s Guide:

    Favourite local designers or studios?

    Sheena Murphy: We love the interior design work of Arent Pyke, Chan + Eayrs, Decus Interiors, Studio DB and Workstead.

    Favourite design stores? 

    Sheena Murphy: In New York City, The Primary Essentials, Porter James, Oroboro, Laserow Antiques. In London, Another Country and Momosan.

    Favourite galleries and spaces?

    Sheena Murphy: In London, Francis Gallery, Beton Brut, The New Craftsmen and Conservatory Archives. In New York, Apparatus StudioR& Company, Egg Collective and Double Knot.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Sheena Murphy: Outside of my favourite stores and galleries, I find great design everywhere; my grandparents chintzy Victorian style décor inspires me, the streets of New York, the work of other architects and designers, the diversity and history of European architecture, the fashion sense of my friends and neighbours. It all feeds me and helps me grow creatively.

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    Hudson Valley House by nune

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