Influencer Interview – Karen McCartney, Temple & Webster

Influencer Interview – Karen McCartney, Temple & Webster

I am just so excited to present the second in my ‘influencers’ series, because this time I talked to a true doyenne of the design industry, Karen McCartney.

A little background on Karen . . .


Karen has spent her entire career in the worlds of art, design and publishing – starting with an Honours degree in the History of Art & English from University College London, through to her current role as Editorial Director for  online retail behemoth Temple & Webster, and via roles on publications like Art Monthly, British Elle Decoration, and The World of Interiors, editing Marie Claire Lifestyle and Inside Out  (where she held the position for 10 years)  re-launching Country Style and the body&soul website. And in the midst of this, she has also published two successful architecture books on iconic Australian houses, and has curated an exhibition on the subject for Sydney Living Museums.

MS | What drew you into interior design?

KM | I had worked as an editor in London and been a freelance fashion editor for some years before moving to Sydney. A good friend, photographer Martyn Thompson, recommended me to Jackie Frank who was launching marie claire lifestyle and I made the transition to interiors. To be honest I was never that good at the fashion side so felt I had found my niche with the shift.


MS | How did your current relationship with Temple & Webster come about?

KM | Chris Deal, Temple & Webster’s creative director and I had worked together on the body & soul website development and when he moved across to T&W he discussed me with the co-founders. We all got along and I joined three years ago as Editorial Director.

MS | Of all the events in your career, which has most influenced your personal style?

KM | For me, people that I admired shifted how I perceived objects and how they could be put together. Travel is also a great eye-opener as different cultures bring their own distinctive approach to interiors. What I have learnt is that conviction is the greatest asset in decoration.

MS | Do you have a favourite interior design era?

KM | I try not to get stuck in one and appreciate the excitement of new designs as much as the value of vintage. There is something magical about the combination of mid-century Danish and Japanese design: a Hans Wegner chair and a Noguchi light is a hard combination to beat.

MS | What are your favourite pieces to splurge on?

KM | At this stage it is art. I have a number of artists I follow waiting for the day when funds and opportunity align.

MS | Describe your overall design aesthetic?

KM | I find myself often drawn to the same things. I love ceramics, handmade timber bowls, Clement Meadmore sculptures, Wegner chairs, the work of extreme knitter Jacqui Fink and the linen bedding of Bedouin Societe, the art of Sean Scully and Rover Thomas, Noguchi lights, linen covered daybeds and heaps and heaps of books. It is a bit of melting pot strung together with a linking decorative thread that stops it short of looking like a bazaar.

MS | What influences your design style?

KM | I think creative people take on influences all the time and every day. Obviously when you travel you have a heighten sense of the stimuli around you helped by a relaxed state of mind. I am not one for going to Morocco and wanting to redo the house in that style but a great Moroccan Beni Ourian rug that works back with what you have is definitely something to consider.

MS | To you, what is more important – design or decoration – or can you not separate the two?

KM | They are such different things and carry different associations. Design is about the consideration given to the development of the functionality of an object and the place where aesthetic appeal and ease of use meet. Sometimes it is tipped more in one direction than the other but the result needs to satisfy both. Decoration has associations of superficiality but it is what most of us do in our homes in terms of choosing and arranging cushions, curtains, rugs and paint colours. A home needs both – well-designed pieces selected with care to fit into an overall decorative scheme.


MS | Your new book – ‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday’ details iconic homes from Australia and overseas – how did this concept emerge?

KM | My publisher and I were at lunch and I mentioned the term ‘superhouse’. We agreed there and then that it was a good name for a book but I did need to develop a clear definition. I wanted it to be inclusive so that a revitalised English castle dating from the 12th century could sit beside an economical pre-fab designed overnight. Each house is remarkable in its own distinctive way and each is beautifully shot by photographer Richard Powers.

MS | How difficult was it to choose the homes for the book?

KM | I did a tremendous amount of research to find houses that delivered something exceptional. It was easy to find good – less easy to find great. But again it is such a personal choice and one persons ‘superhouse’ is not that of another.

MS | Can you tell me about the style of your own home?

KM | Fifteen years ago we bought a 1967 Bruce Rickard designed house in Clontarf (The Marshall House, below). It is a very simple flat-roofed timber, brick and glass house that suits our collection of Danish chairs and ceramics. We are mindful not to create a mini-museum and have modern pieces in addition to the vintage ones – the Hella Jongerius Polder sofa and pieces by Patricia Urquiola and Konstantin Grcic.


The Marshall House


MS | And finally, what advice do you give those who want to bring some of that grand design style into their home?

KM | I don’t think it is just an ‘add on’ that you pull in. There needs to be an interest, a care factor, and then anyone can take pride in the decorative aspect of their home. It isn’t about money it is about having a real sense of your own personality and how you want to express it visually and then following it through with conviction.


‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday’ published by Penguin/Lantern is available at bookstores and online for $69.99.   An exhibition of the same name, curated by Karen McCartney, runs at the Museum of Sydney from 29th August 2015 through to the end of November.

Photo credits:
House exterior – Richard Powers
Portrait – Felix Forest for Belle.






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