The fine art of home display

Sydney interior design guru Sibella Court shares her eclectic sensibilities.

Sibella Court. Photo / Chris Court
Sibella Court. Photo / Chris Court

When it comes to showcasing your most favourite objects and filling your home with personality, Sydney interior stylist Sibella Court is the master. She travels extensively around the world, seeking out the unexpected and brings home her finds to display in a way that is elegantly unassuming, yet irresistible. Her collections work to pique your curiosity and each has an intriguing story.

Court's career has seen her work as a stylist in retail and the magazine world, in Australia and New York. She has her own hardware range, colour range and has written numerous books. Her latest is Bowerbird. Beautifully shot, it is bound to inspire. Here Court shares 10 key factors to consider when decorating your home.

1. Embrace your collections: I believe all objects have a memory or a story attached to them. It might be a memento of people, places, past times and experiences. Having these out in your home inspires a smile or a tale to tell guests, and reflect your life and loves as a 3D timeline.

2. Necessities: A friend asked me once, where do you hide all of your ugly stuff? Nothing needs to be ugly. I love to see my brown bottled detergents and sprays, loofahs and sponges and beautiful vintage hardware. Be selective and have a keen eye when you are buying the necessities of life, and you will find that they can be just as lovely as the things I buy for aesthetics only, without function.

3. Display: Don't think that you have to hide the utilitarian tools and tackle that make your displays possible. They make it all the more beautiful: exposed hand-forged nails to hang pictures, different sized glass jars, domes and vessels, coloured tapes (my favourite is brown) sticking paper ephemera straight on to the wall, string to hold it all together and sharpened lead pencils.

4. Storage: If you don't have the space to have all your things out at once, you need to get creative with storage spaces. I have floor-to-ceiling open shelves in my shop and office, which means I can still see all my collections that I constantly use for inspiration when designing. Open shelving units are great, or a solid chest of drawers labelled so you can organise your things the way you like, giving them all a place to live. Keep an eye out for old shop, museum or library furniture and then label them yourself. Mine include: tins; pegs and clips; tape; pins and tacks; and paper ephemera.

5. 10-colour palette: This is how I create colour palettes for my interiors, home, studio, product ranges, shoots and everything in between. By creating a 10-colour palette you define boundaries and have the ability to choose any number of combinations within the palette, whether it is two, six or all of the colours.

6. Paint: Anything can be painted. Paint can give old furniture a new lease on life or satisfy the change you're looking for in a room. I'm not one for preparation when it comes to painting, I see the charm in one lick of paint over whatever is already there. I like to see the history of colours in the layers. You should see the front door of my shop!

7. Paint choice: If you're not ready to commit yourself to painting an entire room, I have two easy tips. Paint huge swatches of the colours you're choosing between and tape them to the walls so you can see how they look throughout the day and in different light. Or, my personal fave, paint a dado. It's not as overwhelming as the whole room, takes 20 minutes and you can change it at a whim.

8. Styling: Rearrange your furniture, display your collections, take a moment to consider, arrange and rearrange, edit and subtract; this is all about creating a space that reflects the personality of the person who spends time in it. It should be evolving and changing as time goes on. A life is not permanent or stagnant, and neither are interiors.

9. 3D: I love a three-dimensional space. Things should be coming from the ceiling, out from the walls and up from the floor. There is nothing more boring than furniture glued to the walls and flat art. Hang puppets from the ceiling, create mini-worlds under a dome, lean art on the floor or let it drop at different heights.

10. No rules: The smallest room in my house is painted black! I think you should put more time into thinking about what sort of interior you want to spend time in, the finishes, textures, furniture, art arrangement and colours you like, than worrying about things like how to maximise space (sometimes it's best to embrace it) or follow any supposed rules.

Strange little paintings

I visited the isolated Nukus Museum of Art, Uzbekistan, with my mum. All these amazing Russian avant-garde artists whose works were banned by Stalin are on show in this incredible museum. Outside, there was a small exhibition of local children's art. I bought a drawing of a blackbird. On a recent trip to Amsterdam, while visiting Moooi's HQ, I picked up a discarded portrait with a green background and strapped it to the back of my bicycle. It now sits comfortably in my annexe with other such finds.

I like picking up flat things when travelling, and paintings fit this requirement, especially when small. Although you randomly collect paintings without a specific subject matter, it's more about the place and trip for me; you could pick a theme and run with it, for example, portraits, landscapes or trees.

I often like to use what's available - a hook not quite in the right place is perfect for these paintings. Don't worry about them not matching in subject, height or colour, here anything goes.


A loose grouping of related objects - leaf ceramics, a medicinal bottle filled with giant seeds, a box of porcelain leaves, leaf specimens and a sprig of faux fir - makes for an interesting and very unscientific mantel display.

Moustachioed men

My dad has had a moustache forever. Maybe that's where my fascination with them came from, or was it the next-door neighbour, the conductor, who had a white ringmaster one that needed to be waxed? When I travel I look for moustached men in photographs and paintings, plus I recently started stocking mugs with moustaches and even named one of my paints "Moustache".


It appears I just cannot get enough of skew-whiff, handmade, often hand-thrown plates, bowls, cups and other vessels in natural colours. On return from my travels, my luggage always contains at least one new vessel. It is more often than not made by a local artist, in an indigenous material: wood, bone, clay, stone, wire, vine, glass, shell. They're for everyday use.

Old-fashioned souvenirs

I think the word "souvenir" gets a really bad rap. I want to conjure up all the romance of travel and the idea of coming into the port of a place that was so foreign, the desire to take a piece as a memento was too strong to deny. Souvenirs were often made by local artisans for tourists (also a word that gets a hard time).

Things like shell cameos from the Amalfi Coast, Native American beaded purses from the Niagara Falls, pincushions made of conch shells from the Bahamas. A little kitsch, maybe, but the set of bamboo-handled knives and forks with 'Surfers Paradise' hand-painted on each handle that my great friends Donna and Will gave me many years ago have long been treasured and many times used.

I love a mad mantel. Play with scale, colour palette, texture and materials. If anything, make people smile. Here souvenirs are the theme: temple sticks from Laos, a paper grass parrot by Anna-Wili and a geranium (one of my favourite old-fashioned flowers) sitting on cardboard discs, scarps from my shop, green pompoms and some sea-tossed pebbles from a faraway shore. A 3D reflection of my travels and me!

VIP Viva

We are delighted to have five copies of Bowerbird to giveaway.

To enter, go to and enter the keyword Bowerbird on the VIP Viva page along with details. Entries close at 11.59pm on Sunday September 30, 2012. For terms and conditions see the website.

* Bowerbird by Sibella Court. On sale now ($59.99: Murdoch Books). Distributed in New Zealand by Allen & Unwin.

- NZ Herald

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