Kate Walker is an Australian designer who takes her cue from the vibrant and elemental colors, forms, and patterns of the natural world. Her commitment to well made materials and a lovingly designed space means that every project is just stand out gorgeous. Through a process of curated selections of unusual textures and fine hard surface materials, Kate beautifully combines historic detail with contemporary design to make livable and bright spaces.
It was super fun to interview Kate and learn about her process and dedication to craft and well made things the home. Enjoy Kate’s story, the beautiful pictures of her various projects, and learn about her very special approach.
Kate Walker by Brent Lukey Photography
You grew up in a family that lived, worked and breathed design and artistry. Tell me about some of your favourite memories of this special upbringing.
My mum created an amazing home. With seven children, home was always really busy. We lived in very old 1900s Victorian house. It was a big original Homestead in Geelong called Chesterfield. So whilst my brother was climbing the Norfolk Pines at the front of our property, and mum was busy trying to make sure he didn’t fall and kill himself, she would leave my sisters and I alone. We would redesign our whole bedroom, and it would take us all day. We’d move our antique iron beds, change doona covers, swap furniture around and hang things on the walls. Sometimes the layouts worked and sometimes they didn’t but mum just let us do it. I think she enjoyed the quiet.
So she’s still one of your main inspirations?
The pieces my mum has in her home all remind me of my childhood. There’s such a difference between a house and a home, and that’s what mum gets. Inspiration came from my mum and our family. What she did enable us to do was to put looks together, often on a shoestring. As little kids we would be given jobs to keep the house tidy, but anyone could walk into our house at any time and it would always look beautiful. And I have kept that tradition in my own home.
In the 1980s when three colored cornicing was in, mum would have painted them green, pink and blue and then she would decide it wasn’t quite right and we’d come home and she would have changed it to shades of pink or shades of blue.
Even if mum didn’t have a lot of money to spend, she would spend what she could on making our home beautiful. Her house was on the cover of House and Garden years ago when stenciling was in.
A view of the designer’s home …beautiful blues..via Instagram
And she was one of the first people I knew to use the color blue in her interiors. Blue is my favorite interiors color now too. I don’t know how she did it with so many kids but she always kept an amazingly beautiful home. We were always told to go and play outside, so I developed a love for our garden.
Kate’s garden….via Instagram
Do you have a favorite historic designer or architect?
The Australian architect Marcus Martin without a doubt, 1930s architecture. His windows, his proportions, his staircases, and the entry ways. Really, Marcus Martin for me is heaven, so it’s no surprise that I bought a 1930s home.
Martin Marcus, a renovated home by Toorak Home Renovation
Let’s talk texture, great contemporary design often has a way of combining unexpected textures, and many of your projects exhibit this sensibility, there is such care and precision in the pairings. Tell me a bit about this process, how it’s determined by the design vision, the client and some of your inspirations?
A lot of people are afraid to use color, so texture is a great way to bring interest into a beige color scheme. We’ll often use tonal colors to create a lot of interest and depth. I have become very adept at using texture because clients haven’t been adventurous.
I will always encourage clients to use natural materials where possible, because natural materials don’t date. Anything natural adds charm which modern finishes just don’t have.
You can’t really clash natural materials. You can put a beige travertine with a grey Carrara and it works. Mother Nature just works. On my Instagram feed you’ll find lots of landscapes and seascapes because I see so much beauty in nature. It might be a photo of lichen on a granite rock, with greys next to the electric green and I’ll be inspired to use grey and green as a colour palette. Browns, greys and greens work so well together.
The Wright Project – this historic front with a modern back exterior is such a gem, I love the entire house, and wondered why we are seeing this kind of “renovation” more and more. It’s wonderful and reminds me so much of the best of the classic American mid-century homes, those who look out to greenery from the rear of the house. I grieve the demolition of these houses here, and celebrate the way this tradition is expanded in places like your Wright Project.
In Australia there are lots of regulations to maintain the heritage of properties, but heritage doesn’t come with livability. Today we need open plan living, and we need light. Many of the old houses have small windows because there was no cooling or heating, so windows were kept small to minimise the loss of heat or keep in the cool. Houses were generally dark and they weren’t designed for orientation, whereas today we always try to orient toward the north to make the most of natural light and get the best solar ratings.
The Wright House
As a result we are seeing a juxtaposition of historical meeting modern to pay homage to the property’s origins whilst maximizing livability. Residential land sizes in the city are so small that the best way to bring the outside in is by building a glass block on the back.
Whether I agree with such a stark juxtaposition or not, my job is to blend the old and the new internally by creating a seamless flow. It may be having the same flooring throughout or connecting the look by using modern brass fittings in the extension to reflect the old brass fittings in the original house. Trying to use as many natural materials as possible is important to pay homage to the building’s origins, be it using old bluestone or reclaimed timber flooring or Shaker style kitchen doors to make it more traditional. I am always advising clients to keep the historical elements of their home.
Mathoura, absolutely gorgeous -tell me more about this palatial looking building!
Mathoura holds a special place in my heart because my family actually lived in the classic Victorian house that was originally on that land. We moved out and the property was sold to a developer (Kokoda Property Group who I have worked a lot with over the years) who built these amazing apartments.
They engaged Stuart Rattle to do the interiors. He is a very well-known interior designer who was tragically murdered shortly after completing the build so it was a privilege for me to work with him on one of his last projects. He did all of the internal finishes and it was my job to source the incredible natural stone which we imported from Turkey specifically for this project for all the bathrooms. And we sourced the bluestone for the paving. I felt honored to be able to work with such an incredibly talented designer.
My favorite project changes all the time. My current is an incredible, eclectic property where the brief is ‘Regency on Safari.’ The property is in Brighton (Melbourne) and is owned by a South African family. The owner is an artist and she is amazing, and so enthusiastic about using color and texture. I’ve never had a client who is so excited about all the different elements we have featured in the design. We have a peacock-blue kitchen with chartreuse velvet banquette seating and animal print wallpaper with black and white marble flooring.
There’s multi-green scalloped handmade wall tiles and wallpaper with mountain-scapes by Pierre Frey. And we’re also featuring Cole & Son wallpapers. We’re using the most incredible quartzite bench tops which will be backlit. We have Scandinavian timbers and brass grills in the kitchen and a handmade brass and stainless steel range hood with Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances. There’s fluted glass in the bathrooms with slab marble and brass taps. The timber flooring is representative of zebra skin. For the outdoor loggia she has allowed us to use stone we are importing from Egypt. We’re doing cobblestones. Every single thing that I love in design is going into this home.
Image courtesy of Brent Lukey Photography