Meet The Designer: Amanda Talbot, Merivale Magic Maker

Merivale. The inimitable force of the Sydney hospitality scene is riding high on a wave of successful venue openings, each and every time landing squarely in the sweet spot with their mix of food, styling, music and location. It’s a proven formula that from the outside, looks easy enough to replicate (as many have attempted to do) – but it goes so far beyond what you initially see when you arrive for a cocktail. So just what does it take to create that perfect venue for a memorable social experience – and how does Merivale manage to get it so perfectly right, every single time? It’s all in the details.

Ahead of next Monday night’s design panel with the Merivale creative team, we sat down with one part of the trusted inner circle to get a glimpse into the Merivale formula, and a look inside the brain of the incredibly talented Amanda Talbot.

With a mind-blowing resume (Elle Decoration UK, WGSN, IKEA and Channel Nine’s Top Design) and having helmed the styling for Coogee Pavilion, The Paddington and the soon to be opened The Newport – Amanda has endless enthusiasm for her work and the team she works with. It was completely gratifying to hear firsthand how passionate and embedded in the process the whole team is, right down to the absolute minutiae.

“From the choice of floor tiles, to the cushions, to the height of the tables – we decide everything together… even sharing in the demolition process. We’re a real family from start to finish. A lot of people don’t realize the design skills of Justin and Bettina (Hemmes) - their aesthetic is incredible.” The team is complete with Amanda, Justin, Bettina and the architectural duo from Akin Creative, Kelvin Ho and Emilie Delalande.

It’s hard to fathom tackling such huge blank canvases like Coogee Pavilion or the soon to be opened The Newport – but Amanda has a unique approach. “I like to create a character. That person becomes the basis for the whole story to take place. It makes all the decisions from that point so much easier as you have this simple test of “would Mr Wiley like it?”.

It sounds kooky – but if you think about it, it really makes perfect sense. It’s a brief without rigid boundaries, something that drives forward that sense of ease and escapism that Merivale venues always inspire and ensures that things stay unpredictable.

Mr Wiley, by the way, was Amanda’s inspiration for building the story for Coogee Pavilion. Moving onto the next big project, The Newport, Amanda's muse is an Italian man, hailing from 1930’s Positano - a lover of good food, friends, family and generosity; a man who is passionate about gardening and his American socialite wife. And so the story plays out in the various vignettes throughout the space, which draws wider coastal influences from The Hamptons, Montauk and the Mediterranean.

“If I feel like I’m going off brief – I just have to ask myself – would he like this lamp?” It really helps keep me on track. There’s nothing worse than a really themey space, so I create this character as my client and it’s about staying true to an environment that HE would really enjoy.”

It’s this thoughtfulness and story telling ability that sets Amanda apart. Never focusing solely about the aesthetic of a space – she is much more focused on the experience of being in a space. Amanda’s checklist revolves around feeling, function and the social and emotional impact you can create which goes far beyond the styling. “My main drive is to make a people feel comfortable in a space. For me there’s nothing worse than not being able to touch something.”

This approach carries right through her design work with Merivale, from the armchair choices “we avoid really big, oversized pieces as they cause people to sit back and slump – it’s not conducive to making conversation” right down to the materials used on light shades and the light bulbs themselves.

So what about our homes Amanda?

This same thinking is evident when we quizzed her on the ‘non-negotiables’ of small space living… “Fashion has led us to opt for these huge sofas – so we can watch the TV, and you know, a tiny little breakfast nook as a dining space. It’s completely antisocial and really should be the other way around. If you have a small round table for two, no one is coming around. Get a good size dining table so you can entertain, have dinner parties. To me that’s a really big thing.”

“And lighting is everything. Opt for daylight where possible or yellow dimmable light, you want to control your light. And absolutely no blue light, it’s really bad for your brain and scientifically, it can cause depression.”

Amanda’s other key tip for creating living spaces at home? Find a way to mix high-end with low. “Spend your money on flooring and lighting. Work out your colour palette. You probably don’t have to go as far as creating a character, but give yourself a strong brief in your look so it isn’t easy to drift away from. That’s where people make mistakes. Oh – and don’t go too designer-y, unless you’re a design hoe! You don’t want someone to come in and know where every single item came from. If you have a designer piece, it should sit alongside something handmade or vintage. That’s how you’ll create a killer space, you need a balance of high and low.”

Be sure not to miss Amanda and the rest of the Merivale design team (Justin and Bettina Hemmes, Kelvin Ho and Emilie Delalande) as they discuss Merivale’s road to design nirvana at next week’s event. Hosted by Neil Whittaker and presented by Vogue Living, Monday evenings ‘Style me Merivale’ event is open to the public and will be a vibrant discussion of design and architecture.

Jump online to buy tickets or if you’re quick – enter our Instagram competition because thanks to our friends at Merivale, we have two double-passes to give away! See you there.

Kaz & Steph x