The Interior Design Move That Is Both Calming And Statement-Making
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The Interior Design Move That Is Both Calming And Statement-Making

Want to give a room a wow factor in a subtle, 2022 way? Adopt a tone-on-tone approach.

By Kathryn O’Shea-Evans
Fri, May 6, 2022 3:37pmGrey Clock 2 min

YOU HAVE likely seen the design tactic of “tone on tone” before: perhaps a house whose siding has been painted steel blue and window frames navy. Design pros often bring this mostly monochromatic flourish indoors—adorning walls, upholstery and painted furniture in various shades of a single colour—but your average person rarely does.

“It can get overwhelming for people to do it on their own,” said Fariha Nasir, a Houston, Texas, designer. Hewing to a single hue might seem like the décor equivalent of letting a majority shareholder control your company. But a room scheme without visual interruptions and drastic chromatic transitions can have considerable impact.

“A tone-on-tone interior can be very strong, restful and pure at the same time,” said London designer Rose Uniacke, who recently limited herself to sands-of-time shades—oat, ecru and a tawny fawn—in a Holland Park sitting room. Certainly one could pull together a punchy bedroom of lilac walls, amethyst headboard and eggplant carpet, but most of the designers we spoke with opted for subdued colours when taking this chromatically focused route. New York designer Steven Gambrel, for example, has variously sheathed rooms in schemes of chocolate, olive and smoke—tempered palettes his clients often request. “It’s a feeling they’re asking for, something that is relatively quiet,” he said.

Dre Shapiro, founder of Dre Design in Los Angeles, similarly spurns clear, bright colours in favour of earthier options, with some kind of brown mixed in, she said, “because they’re easier on the eye.” To suss out her starting point, Charleston, S.C., designer Cortney Bishop often reaches for a Farrow & Ball paint deck; she likes that the brand’s colours are “a little bit lower in tonal value.” She may begin with the company’s dusty pink, Calamine, as a main paint choice, then pull fabric in varying shades of that colour, she said. “I don’t worry if one swatch is light pink and one is a rose.”

To find his colour muse for any particular room, Mr. Gambrel considers the pigments of Mother Nature he sees outside its windows. In a room facing a glimmering harbour, for example, he might lean toward grey blues and icy silvers. Tone on tone “really brings you in,” he said. “It’s super comforting, super warm.”

Chromatically restricted rooms also age well. The 1920s English society decorator Syrie Maugham was a progenitor of the tonal approach, said Alexis Barr, instructor of design history at the New York School of Interior Design. She often focused on snowy palettes, marrying white-as-whole-milk upholstery, thick, creamy wool carpets and panels of mirrors for a timelessly moneyed mien. A century on, Maugham’s tonal interiors “still read as chic, clean and remarkably modern,” Ms. Barr said.

Designers say it’s crucial to inject a tone-on-tone space with textural differences. For a client’s dining room in Houston, Ms. Nasir painted the wall, trim and ceiling in a rich brown, Glidden’s Sweater Weather, then hung velvet draperies in the same tint that would reflect light differently for a layered effect.

Mr. Gambrel always tosses in an element of juxtaposition, like raw metal or ebonized wood, which helps to ground the space. “A hit of dark is really critical,” he said. “Without it, your eye doesn’t know where to rest itself.”



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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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