We had the opportunity and pleasure to speak with Tania Handelsmann and Gillian Khaw, the duo behind Sydney interior design studio Handelsmann + Khaw.
Both Tania and Gillian have a love for interior design going back many years, and they both also appreciate a sense of timelessness when they’re working with clients. They may avoid some of the trendier elements of interior design floating around, in favour of instead maintaining an aesthetic that will withstand time and always feel as beautiful as it initially did.
Along with seamlessly uniting contemporary and timeless designs, both Tania and Gillian studied elements of design and architecture formally. Tania graduated with honours from the UNSW Architecture Program, while Gillian studied at the Design Centre Enmore. Tania served as vice president of BKH and was instrumental in setting up the New York officebefore she pursued her dream of creating an interior design firm. Gillian’s style is heavily influencedby her time spent in Europe,and in particular London and Paris. Gillian may also look familiar as she serves as the host of “I Own Australia’s Best Home” on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.
1. When did you first decide to become an interior designer and stylist and how did you get started with your design business?
Tania: I recently found my autobiography written as a school assignment when I was 12 where I wrote that I wanted to be an interior designer when I grew up so I guess that was almost 30 years ago! I studied architecture at university but it was really only once I worked for BKH in my 20s that my passion for interiors was ignited.
Gillian: I worked in banking but the interest in interior design was always there and it took several years to decide to take the risk of pursuing my passion.
We both always wanted to start our own business, which we did, but both missed the collaborative aspect of working with peers so a few years later we joined forces to create Handelsmann + Khaw. We've now grown to become a small practice of 4 which suits us perfectly. Being small allows us to offer a very personal service and for us to be across the finer details of every project. It also means that most of our day is still spent on the design work we love rather than simply managing aspects of the business.
2. What is the most challenging part of your job?We feel the challenge for interior designers these days is to give the client a home that feels fresh and personal and unique in a market that is full of the 'noise' of trends and new products. What looks fresh on Instagram today will most certainly not tomorrow so it is an exercise in saying no to some things for the sake of timelessness.
3. Is there an interior design style you favour and do you have your own design aesthetic?
We favour different styles in different contexts, but historical references are a constant across all our projects. These references may appear in the form of vintage furniture, the patina of materials or the shape of a custom contemporary piece.
4. Who are the other interior designers you admire?
Rose Uniacke, Pierre Yovanovich, Axel Vervoordt, Vincent van Duysen, Jacques Grange and Joseph Dirand for the way they use historical references to create their own beautiful and unique aesthetics.
5. What inspires you?
We're currently inspired by mid-century French design, especially the work of Jean Royere, Serge Roche, Guillerme et Chambron, Marc du Plantier and Audoux Minet. Their designs still look fresh and relevant in today's interiors.
2. What do you think is the most essential piece of furniture we should all have in our bedroom?It's not furniture but a 'vide-poche', a container on the bedside table for small items. It could be a leather one from Smythson or an antique bowl you've picked up on a trip overseas.
7. What key element do we all need for a chic living room?
8. Do you have a favourite project or story behind a project?
One of our favourite projects was the Hunters Hill house which was completed in 2016. The client was engaged, enthusiastic and our aesthetics were aligned which made the entire process a pleasure.
Let's get personal ......
1. What else are you passionate about besides your work?
2. What is your most treasured belonging?
Tania: Jewellery I wear every day that my husband bought me to celebrate the special milestones in my life. At home it is my rope sconce from Audoux-Minet that was a gift from my friends for my 40th birthday.
Gillian: Letters from friends and family. I store them in nice boxes.
3. What's one thing people may not know about you?
Tania: I loathe exercise.
Gillian: I like exercise.
4. In 10 years we'd like to be ....
Celebrating the 12 year anniversary of Handelsmann + Khaw, preferably in an office with a separate meeting room.
5. What can't you live without?
Frequent travel with family to places we've never been before
It was great to be able to learn more about the process, and some of the favouriteprojects of the team behind Handelsmann + Khaw. That’s particularly true as their work has been featuredin international publications including Architectural Digest, Vogue Living, and Elle Décor.