Written by John Williams
It takes a special kind of relationship to form a successful design partnership – even more so when the two parties are related. We caught up Rose and Juliette Schwarz, a dynamic, mother-and-daughter design team, who have etched out an enviable reputation for creating elegant and timeless interiors.
Rose Schwarz is a quiet achiever. She chooses to fly under the radar when it comes to publicity, relying on her work to speak for itself, rather than seeking praise through the pages of magazines or on social media. “Perhaps that’s been a mistake,” she says, looking around the living area of the apartment we are sitting in. “This place has sat here for 12 years. I didn’t photograph it when we finished it and no one has seen it. Looking at it now, it was way ahead of its time and would have probably done quite well at the design awards all those years ago. But you’re always onto the next project,” she says.
Asked by the owner to come back in and ‘refresh’ her home, Rose, now with daughter Juliette at her side, has spent the past few months carefully going through the living spaces and bedrooms, updating, but not moving too far from the original essence of the design.
Back in 2008, Rose had worked with her client and her client’s architect on what was then a brand new apartment, designing the kitchen and the bathrooms, as well all the internal furnishings and finishes. Walking back into the home today, Rose says that the bones are still good and could go another 20 years.
The only ‘structural’ change Rose has chosen to make is to add a cantilevered plinth extending from underneath the fireplace, along the entire back wall of the living area, and into the dining space where it forms a low bench. Above this architect Leo Van Veenendall from VRLA Architects has inserted a high clerestory window that allows the afternoon light to flood into the space.
When asked about where her ideas come from, Rose says that, over and above practical considerations of circulation and storage, they literally just appear in her head.
“When I walk into a space, I can feel it – the light, the shade, the warmth, even the smell. The ideas can stay in my head for quite a while. It gets very busy up there, and this is where having Juliette has been really good, because I get to talk everything out.”
It’s been four years since Juliette joined forces with her mother. It was something that had always been at the back of her mind but, she says, when you’re young and straight out of university, the thought of earning money in a corporate career was a more attractive path to take. However, after 10 ‘amazing’ years working in the luxury beauty industry as a training and promotions manager, she’d reached a ceiling creatively and wanted a new challenge.
Juliette’s degree in visual arts has given her a broad education in all aspects of creativity and the freedom to see beyond what she would have learnt had she chosen to take one of the more vocational courses, like interior or spatial design. “If you look at the most famous make-up artists around the world, they all did visual arts degrees… and the same is true for many of the more well-known interior designers in New Zealand. It gave me a less restrained education, rather than being bound by a construct.”
Education is all well and good, but Rose firmly believes that to be successful in design, you have to have an innate talent or vision. It’s a sentiment that’s certainly borne out in her own story. Starting out as a teacher, Rose’s career changed direction in the mid 1980s, when a surplus of teachers saw her find a job in the furnishing department of Ballantynes department store in Christchurch. Here, Rose found her calling. Within six months she was out consulting on home décor for the store. Her ideas back then came mainly from magazines, but they would only spark more thoughts and spiral out others. Before long she was being asked to take on private work, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rose and Juliette have quite a different dynamic to most design partnerships – not only in finding a balance between each other’s creativity, but also maintaining the mother-daughter relationship.
“I think we have a good line between our business and our personal relationship, but it’s not always planned… like we’ll turn up for work one morning and spend time talking about nothing to do with work; then other times we’ll go out to dinner and promise not to mention work, and spend the whole night talking about a project we’re working on. But it all balances out,” says Juliette.
They both live in Ponsonby – Rose in a villa, Juliette in an apartment. While they have quite different aesthetics, neither likes living in clutter and fuss. “I like to go home and not have stuff happening around me,” says Rose. “Our houses are quite different, but they’re both very simple,” adds Juliette. “Rose’s house is white, fresh and quiet, and is styled with just a few carefully chosen pieces of furniture. Everything original has been beautifully restored, because that’s what you want to stand out in one of those houses – you don’t want to hide good pieces among clutter and colour.”
“I’m in an apartment and I’m a bit more retro,” says Juliette. “I’m about sustainability and re-using things. I designed our sofa, for example. It’s a long-term investment piece, finished off with beautiful, tapered feet that I’ve stained to match our Danish sideboards, which we bought from Mr Bigglesworthy after waiting five months for the perfect one to come along.”
Both are decisive people with strong opinions. Most of the time they agree, says Juliette. “If we don’t, we park it, move on, and come back to it later in the process when a decision has to be made – by which time everything else has come together. At that point it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong any more, it’s… what looks better.”
“We also bring different strengths to the table,” adds Rose. “Juliette’s got all that younger generation thing happening – like social media and new technology and different ways of doing things. So it’s good to be reminded that you’re not always right and there’s another view or option,” she says.
When they embark on a new project, Rose and Juliette visit the home together, but it’s usually Rose who starts the whole process off by drawing out the plans for the kitchen and the bathroom (if needed) and all the functional aspects of the job. When it comes to room layouts and hard and soft furnishings, it’s more of a collaborative process, with Juliette completing the accessory details and styling.
“It works in a natural, organic way,” says Juliette. “Rose draws up all the big items, then I come in with the materials and the textures, and go out to all the design houses looking for inspiration for the furnishings. We also have a catalogue of our own furniture designs that we can pull out and, wherever we can, we like to use these to make everything bespoke.”
“We also like to support local designers, artists and artisans – and in return they all give us fantastic service and put up with our creative whims,” adds Rose. In this home, for example, Rose went to local furniture designer Simon James for the couch and the chairs in the living area, because their slim lines fitted with the minimal Japanese aesthetic. The fabric was their choice, giving the bought pieces the bespoke edge they were looking for. “We are not against using known design classics, but it’s about mixing it up, rather than picking everything from one store,” she says.
Where appropriate, Juliette says they always try to be sustainable by re-using or re-finishing their clients’ existing furniture. Here, the six dining chairs, which originally had a natural oak finish, were professionally repainted in black, and the occasional table in the entrance hall was given a new black stone top, complementing the plinth in the living area. “Both the chairs and the table are design classics, and you’d just be buying something similar, so why not try to re-use them?” she says.
Patterns and textures are predominantly achieved through nature, like wood grain or stone, rather than contrasting brights or applied patterns, says Rose. “And with colour, we find artwork is the best way to get colour into a room without it being permanent… or with less pricey items that can be easily swapped out as your tastes change or time goes on,” adds Juliette.
Unlike many designers, Rose and Juliette never take their clients ‘shopping’ – it confuses them, says Rose. “They trust us, and we bring everything to them,” adds Juliette. “A lot of research and a lot of time goes into getting things right. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
Rose and Juliette offer a full, turn-key service with all their interior design projects, right down to the finest details, even offering to set up a cleaning and care and maintenance schedule for their clients.
“We do the art, the books, the flowers and all the styling,” says Juliette. “These clients don’t like cut flowers, as they travel a lot and are often out and about, so they needed arrangements that are low maintenance – hence the dried flowers, the Bonsai on the living room table, and the orchid on the plinth – which all go with the underlying oriental theme of the space.”
The bespoke dried arrangement by the fireplace is by local artist Mark Antonia. All the leaves on all the branches have been hand-glued and arranged perfectly – even the height of the arrangement is customised to go with the proportions of the fireplace. It’s a piece of art in itself, says Juliette.
Small collections of curiosities are dotted around the home, each carefully curated by Juliette – some have been introduced, but many of the objects are the homeowners’ own. “The clients have collected beautiful objects and accessories and they want them to be displayed rather than stored in a cupboard.”
“Every job we do is completely different,” says Rose. “For example, we’ve just been given a brief for a house in Parnell, which is going to be in a retro French-apartment style. And they chose us because they’d looked at our website and were impressed that no two of our jobs looked the same, and we’d obviously captured the complete brief of each one.”
Rose and Juliette are currently working on a wide variety of residential projects including high-rise apartments, coastal retreats and country lodges, restoring heritage and character-filled homes, bespoke residences and new developments – each with its own challenge and budget. “Our clients employ us to be inventive,” says Juliette. “And constraints, such as budgets, are not always a negative… in fact they make you more creative and you actually end up working harder for the client.”