‘We are all so easily seduced by great visuals but sight is just the tip of the sensory iceberg.  Photogenicity is a fast way to make a judgement, but the weight and smoothness of the door handle in your hand, the quality of the air when you walk in a room, the soft comfort of a sofa or sturdiness of a chair –  they matter too’.
– Sonia Simpfendorfer

SONIA SIMPFENDORFERSonia Simpfendorfer is Creative Director of award-winning and iconic Melbourne-based studio Nexus Designs, which specialises in Interior Design, Graphic Design and Product Development.

Sonia determines the creative direction of each project, leading her award winning team of designers to deliver interiors that are highly personal, distinctive and enduring. Sonia’s knowledge of design, history, technology, art and architecture combines with her extensive professional experience to ensure that Nexus Designs delivers excellent, bespoke contemporary design. A co-author of the highly acclaimed interior design reference book Living, she has been a director since 2005.

Sonia will be taking part in the 2016 International Seminar Series at Decor + Design in Melbourne, 21 – 24 July. We sat down with Sonia in the lead up to the show to talk design.

Sonia, how did you originally come into the design world? Was it always a clear direction for you?

I was in early high school the first time I read about houses designed to respond to climate and how it could completely change the relationship between buildings, people and nature for the better. From then on I began to recognise the power of thoughtful design. Until then I’d been interested in fashion illustration or law.

When I happened upon the description of UniSA’s BA Interior Design, with subjects in construction, design, drawing, and the history of art & architecture a few years later it was a simple choice. Until then I hadn’t known about the profession of Interior Design, but it’s been a perfect fit.

Nexus Designs was one of the first interior design practices in Australia. Can you tell us more about the design approach established by Janne Faulkner, which has made it synonymous with Australian style? How would you describe the aesthetic?

Janne’s earliest work was with Merchant Builders, a group of visionary architects and landscape designers who changed the way Australians think about houses and their connection to the landscape, letting in air and light and creating indoor/outdoor connections – things we take for granted today. Her interiors were a continuation of that philosophy and were breathtakingly strong and simple: confident colour, no heavy curtains or matching lounge-suites, Scandanavian and Italian furniture with Australian artworks, antiques alongside modern pieces.


Nexus Designs Tribeca Loft. Photography: Jonny Valiant

We start with an understanding of context and landscape. We also prefer to use a small number of materials and finishes, preferably natural. We finely detail our joinery and use colour to delight and surprise.

Our interiors look deceptively simple. They are very fresh and contemporary, and use the best of what is available, with a design foundation that outlasts fashion. It is personal, enduring and distinctive.

You will be taking part in a panel at the 2016 show on ‘harnessing the senses for interior design’. We live in quite a de-sensitised digital world at present. Why is it important to employ the sensory when approaching interior design? And how does one go about it?

It’s never been more important. We are all so easily seduced by great visuals but sight is just the tip of the sensory iceberg.  Photogenicity is a fast way to make a judgement, but the weight and smoothness of the door handle in your hand, the quality of the air when you walk in a room, the soft comfort of a sofa or sturdiness of a chair –  they matter too.

The massive amount of visual information about interiors and products, and in so many forms, creates the real danger that we start to judge the merits of a space purely on its visual impact and smart styling.  But a good-looking house that doesn’t actually work really hard for the people who live in it and make their lives easier is such a missed opportunity.


Nexus Designs Pony Tale. Photography: James Geer

By taking time to think how things make us, and our clients feel – whether it’s spatial planning, a fabric texture, or the quality of light – we keep the sensory experience at the forefront of our design process.

We’ve had quite a few debates at Decor + Design as to whether Australia has a quantifiable ‘design style’, immediately identifiable when contrasted (for example) with the Italians or the Scandinavians. What are your thoughts?

I think there is, but it is still gathering strength. When I flip through an international magazine or book the Australian projects can leap out because of their simplicity and absence of too much stuff. I think it’s more about what we don’t do than what we do – Australian style is not a replica of English or American style – as lovely as they can be, and it’s not over-matched or over-accessorised. There’s room for light and air and easy connection to the outdoors. Liveability and simplicity are key.


Nexus Designs Pony Tale. Photography: James Geer

We also have the significant difference of our architecture which holds our interiors. Our apartments are not glorious old buildings in Paris, our farmhouses aren’t upstate, clap-board Cape Cod buildings. So we are starting from a completely different built form and landscape.

Are there any projects on the horizon for Nexus Designs in 2016 that you are particularly excited about?

Last year was a year of many firsts – our first boat interior, first chapel, first house in the Hamptons, in addition to our core high-end residential projects. This year we’ve added more retail and commercial work to our folio, alongside a stone barn conversion, and houses in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne that are all so different, but share the underlying principles of our design philosophy.

Sonia will be taking part in a panel at 4pm on Friday 22 July on ‘Harnessing the senses for interior design’. It will be moderated by Lisa Green of Australian House & Garden and also feature Jane Caught of Sibling Nation and Carole Whiting, Whiting Architects. Don’t miss Australia’s No.1 Interiors event – Register now.