Rigg Design Prize 2018


2018’s inspiring Rigg Design Prize celebrates 10 of the best Australian interior design practices


Interiors gets their hour in the sun at the 2018 Rigg Design Prize exhibition at Melbourne’s NGV Australia, which runs until 24 February 2019. Celebrating different contemporary design disciplines, the triennial prize focused on interior design and decoration for the first time in 2018, shortlisting 10 leading Australian practices. Each was tasked with creating a bespoke, purpose-built room in the gallery, responding to the theme of ‘Domestic Living’. The results are inspiring, suggesting fresh ways of inhabiting our homes, new trends and creative solutions to modern pressures. Even if you can’t get to Melbourne, check out our round up the 10 designs below…

Melbourne design practice Hecker Guthrie (aka Paul Hecker and Hamish Guthrie) bagged the AU$30,000 triennial prize for their graphic yet tactile installation ‘The table is the base’ (above). Riffing on the idea of the humble table, and its charismatic central role in domestic living spaces, the custom-made room plays with clean lines, form and scale. It explores the table as surface, support and enclosure. Judge Shashi Caan said, ‘Using only two elements – the simple form of the ‘Parsons’ table and terracotta as material – the project demonstrates the power of design restraint and curiosity at play.’


New York-based Australian photographer and designer Martyn Thompson’s space celebrates the ‘Atelier’, channelling the modern blurring of work and home life as an opportunity for creative expression. Bathed in light and shadow, his moody space features many of his own designs – including upholstery textiles, rugs, ottomans, wall treatments, ceramics, art and photos shown alongside collaborative, vintage, found and hand-crafted pieces. Even Thompson’s records, shoes and fleamarket finds make the cut. Clothes are hung like artworks and ambient music generates emotion. Flexible and ever-evolving, this is the home as heartland, layered, textural and deeply personal.


Like a chic spaceship or cool club, Danielle Brustman’s installation ‘Inner-Terior’ is somewhere we’d like to hang out. It helps that it stars a contemporary update of a cocooning, conversation pit and a futuristic record player (shown above right). A set designer before founding her Melbourne studio, Brustman drew on theatrical aesthetics for this curvy white space, edged with vibrant colour, glossy metallics and eye-catching illuminations. A lounge room that borrows from stage and spectacle, it takes its cues from Art Deco bandshells, European retro-futurist designs from the 60s, 80s movie Xanadu, rollerskating rinks and amusement rides. We reckon it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey gone domestic.


Stylist and author Sibella Court, of Sydney interiors store The Society Inc, has always had a love affair with global curios, vintage finds, old tools, pirates and gypsies. For her Rigg Prize entry, dubbed the ‘Imaginarium’, she envisaged a space to ‘wonder, imagine, interact, research and create’. An entire home distilled into a single room, it feels darkly magical, with a rich mix of materials from pressed metal to wood and fabric. Layers of textures and colours, old and new, and real and imagined offer a modern take on a 16th-century ‘cabinet of curiosities’. The space celebrates craft, with displayed objects, including a striking feature wall, acting as a catalyst for memory and imagination. From an alchemy workshop to a ship’s crow’s nest, a bar, dress-up cupboard and pot-belly stove, it’s a mini world of wonders.


Texture rules in the mesmerising tone-on-tone sculptural installation crafted by Richards Stanisich, titled ‘Our natural needs in a digital world’. The Sydney practice, established in 2018 by former SJB talents Jonathan Richards and Kirsten Stanisich, addresses our fundamental need for shelter, sanctuary, hygiene and intimacy and how it has been transformed by integrated technology and the Internet of Things. A central ochre living, sleeping and kitchen space champions the handmade, simple and earthy, with natural fabrics, ceramics and tiles. By contrast, it’s surrounded by black gloss tiles edged with blue light, representing the digital realm.


Melbourne interior architecture firm Flack Studio has a way with vibrant colour, bold pattern and unexpected details, as seen in their striking portfolio of residential spaces, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. For the Rigg Prize, David Flack and his team ‘Flackify’ their living/dining space with saturated gold hues, luxe textures and quirky art and ornaments. ‘We’ve boundless plains to share’ references diversity and inclusion, creating an emotionally charged room for a golden age in Australia, encouraging collaboration and community.


Elegance and beauty are at the heart of ‘Home: feast, bathe, rest’ by Sydney interior design studio Arent&Pyke (Juliette Arent and Sarah-Jane Pyke). The smartly zoned space combines areas for dining, washing and retreating, offering ideas for respite and emotional and physical wellbeing in a stressful world. Each area includes a contemporary Australian artwork and a bespoke piece of furniture, blending inspiring design-art with comforting, restorative simplicity.


Sydney interior design and landscape practice Amber Road’s seductive space ‘Take it outside’ is full of burnt colours, floaty textiles and dreamy desert and starlit views, centred around an inviting lounger. It celebrates the verandah or porch as a key transitional zone for relaxing and chatting together, especially in Australian homes. Principal designers and sisters Yasmine Ghoniem and Katy Svalbe spent time in the Middle East, as well as on their family farms in Australia, capturing this heritage in a beautifully crafted indoor-outdoor room.


Have homes become inner sanctums, fortresses or vessels for consumerist ideals? Melbourne- and LA-based David Hicks studio presents ‘Panic room’, combining Hicks’ trademark eye for luxe detail with lighting strung on chunky chains and threatening screens. It’s a slick satire on our panicked, media-saturated times, suggesting a life on stage, voyeuristic and yet paranoid about threats from outside. Has the aspirational ideal of a perfect life morphed into homes as psychological retreats and cocoons for self-protection?


A sequence of six rooms forms ‘Wunderkammer’, an installation by Sydney-based Scott Weston Architecture Design which takes its cue from the renovation of Weston’s own Victorian Italianate terrace house, Villa Carmelina. Each contains a cabinet, or wunderkammer, featuring prized ‘jewels’, miniature artworks by favourite makers. An abstract representation of the house, it makes use of monochrome dioramas with coloured highlights and wallpaper vignettes or ornaments and collectibles.

Catch the Rigg Design Prize 2018 at Level 3, NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne until Sunday 24 February 2019 (10am-5pm) or see the gallery’s website for a virtual tour and online interviews with the designers


A new exhibition in Sydney looks at the world’s ultimate residential spaces. We’d happily move into any of the properties in ‘Superhouse’…


What’s your idea of the perfect house? A glassy modernist cube cantilevering over a river? A sculptural concrete sanctuary in the countryside? Or a rough-luxe castle guaranteed to leave guests’ jaws dropping? Whatever your fantasy home, we’re pretty sure you’ll find it at new exhibition ‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday’. 

Just opened at the Museum of Sydney, this thought-provoking show was curated by interiors magazine editor-turned-author Karen McCartney, and drawn from her October 2014 book of the same name, with expanded themes and fresh local examples. Celebrating standout contemporary architecture, the showcase features imagery by renowned British interiors photographer Richard Powers, with properties drawn from around the world. 'Each house has a different way of prompting thought about how we live or could possibly live,' says McCartney. 'For some people one place would be a delight whereas to others it would be inconceivable. It makes us question the norms.'

So what makes a house super? ‘A superhouse delivers a 360-degree completeness of form, its exterior and interior have a seamless execution and, above all else, it is awe-inspiring,’ explains McCartney. ‘This quality can be elicited from the perfection of its natural setting, a remarkable use of materials, an exceptional level of craft, groundbreaking innovation or a use of space that lifts the spirit. The exhibition demonstrates how architectural experimentation and daring can challenge notions of how we should live.'

ABOVE: River view of The Goulding Summerhouse, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, Scott Tallon Walker Architects, 1971-73 (restored 2002).
ABOVE RIGHT: Solo House, Cretas, Spain, Pezo von Ellrichshausen architects, 2009-2012. 
BELOW FROM LEFT: Astley Castle (dining room), Warwickshire, England, Witherford Watson Mann architects; Solo House, Spain, Pezo von Ellrichshausen architects, 2009-2012.    

Superhouses were selected from as far afield as Italy, the USA, Ireland, Brazil and Australia, spanning a revamped castle, a converted cement factory, a futuristic seaside escape and an intimate prefab. Just 15 houses made the cut, grouped under five key themes: Re-make, Finding Form, Small Spaces, Roof Tops & Skylines and The Land. Size is irrelevant to McCartney’s idea of the superhouse, instead they must demonstrate 'a strong connection with nature', mindfulness, and design that goes well beyond the everyday. Some explore the reinvention of existing structures, such as Sydney's Skylight House in Balmain. Others – such as modernist marvel The Goulding Summerhouse in Ireland by Scott Tallon Walker Architects, with its Mies van der Rohe-esque cantilevering pavilion – prove that small spaces can still pack an architectural punch, creating a contemporary statement in the countryside.

ABOVE: The Pierre house, San Juan Islands near Seattle, Washington, USA, Olson Kundig architects, 2013. 

Nature is a huge influence, as seen in Olson Kundig architects' The Pierre house, built into a rocky outcrop in the San Juan Islands near Seattle, responding specifically to its location. The UK's Astley Castle, a 12th-century ruin, was reimagined with a contemporary interior by Witherford Watson Mann architects, without falling into the trap of imitating the past (you can hire the space via Landmark Trust). By contrast, The Solo House is ultra-modern, its radical form flanked by view-blessed verandas with a swimming pool at its core. The Flinders House in Victoria, by Australian Wood Marsh Architecture, shows how both interior and exterior can be resolved spectacularly within a landscape. Even a humble prefab gets a look-in, care of the Almere House in the Netherlands; conceived as a temporary dwelling it became home to architect Jan Benthem's family. Audio and video interviews, immersive furniture and interior details, a members' curator tour and a talks series help bring the buildings to life.

BELOW: Almere House, Almere, The Netherlands, Benthem Crouwel Architekten, 1982-1984; Concrete House, view over Lake Maggiore, Sant' Abbondio, Switzerland, Wespi de Meuron Romeo Architetti, 2012; The Flinders House, Victoria, Australia, Wood Marsh Architecture, 2012.

What will characterise the superhouse of the future, say in 2055? ‘It is so hard to say,’ admits McCartney. ‘Our house [The Marshall House by Bruce Rickard in Clontarf, Sydney] was built in 1967 and aspects of it, such as the marriage of indoor and outdoor space, are still considered contemporary. Things move slowly. I would hope that houses are smaller, more efficient, more sustainable, that buildings are repurposed in a clever way and that nature finds a place.’

McCartney has just collaborated on a new book called White Rooms with photographer Richard Powers and her husband design journalist David Harrison, published by Penguin imprint Lantern on 26 August. ‘I also have another book project in the pipeline called Perfect Imperfect looking at the role of accident, serendipity, collections and patina in design, architecture and interiors. It will be published by Allen & Unwin's Murdoch Books division in April 2016.’  From superhouses to embracing imperfection? Expect the inspiration to keep on coming...

'Superhouse: architecture & interiors beyond the everyday’ is at the Museum of Sydney, corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets, until 29 November 2015. The eponymous book is published by Penguin/Lantern ($69.99). All photos © Richard Powers.