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The young Sydney designer banishing beige

Jewel-like colours add depth and personality to this architect-designed inner city apartment

By Robyn Willis
Fri, Jul 21, 2023 9:43amGrey Clock 4 min

T here are people who enjoy living in gallery-inspired, zen-like spaces in shades of antique white and linen finished with layers of soft grey and beige materials.

And then there’s Nic Kaiko.

The young interior designer burst onto the Sydney market more than a decade ago with a thirst for colour and a love of ‘dynamic eclecticism’, a style he describes as a mix of contemporary and timeless design. Since then, he has created his own signature style based on rich colour skilfully imbued with pattern, working across residential and hotel environments.

A crimson red velvet lounge from Arpège anchors the living space. Photo: Fiona Susanto

But despite his experience in hospitality and hotel interior design, when he had the opportunity to create his own space to call home in Sydney’s Waterloo, Kaiko paused.

“Working for myself, I knew I could be a little more flexible but it’s tricky being your own client,” he said. “You can’t just pick up things you like and hope they work together. There needs to be a rationale behind your choices. You can’t have too many ideas.”

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Kaiko had wanted to buy into the Casba building in Waterloo’s Danks Street precinct since it opened almost 10 years ago. A collaboration between architects BLP and SJB, and interior designers BKH, the building is defined by its access to two parallel streets, linked by a central courtyard with a reflection pool at its heart. At street level, it is host to a suite of high end retailers, including  the new Winnings Appliances showroom, now also home to Spence & Lyda and Rogerseller, in the heart of the popular food and art precinct.

“It has beautiful public spaces and it was really activated on the ground floor,” Kaiko says. “The architecture and build was really high quality.”

Apartments were well thought out, with careful consideration given to light, ventilation and the natural flow between spaces. After securing an apartment in the building, he set to work. Because the execution of the design and build was so well done, Kaiko says there was not a lot that needed to change with the floorplan.

“The layout is perfect,” he says. “The bedrooms face east and the two bathrooms and the kitchen are really well planned. In terms of adjustments, which is tricky in apartments, it wasn’t necessary.”

The apartment in inner Sydney has a leafy aspect and enjoys abundant natural light. Image: Fiona Susanto

Taking inspiration from the silver travertine floor tiles and drawing on his experience in hotel design, Kaiko opted to paint the walls in soft grey tones, separated by a thin black line at picture rail height.

“The stripe on the walls came from when I used to do hotel work,” he says. “The bedroom particularly feels like a hotel and the layout lends itself to having that hotel feel.” 

Floor-to-ceiling semi sheer curtains in the bedroom continue the sophisticated hotel vibe, borrowing an old design technique of extending the curtains beyond the window frame to make the room feel larger.

The foundation materials were already decidedly neutral when he bought the apartment, which Kaiko decided to work with, including the flooring.

“The floors are beautiful. The travertine is cross cut and they are laid in that chateau style with big and small pieces,” Kaiko says. “They were fit for purpose and they continue from the public spaces into the bedrooms and then onto the balcony. 

“We always try to make the existing work.” 

To bring some personality into living spaces, the apartment is punctuated by rich tones of cobalt, forest green and a deep crimson, including an Arpège sofa in a colour reminiscent of the 2023 Pantone Colour of the Year, Viva Magenta.

“Cobalt is my favourite colour and I wanted to make that work. In terms of the concept, it was really more about colour blocking and keeping the background palette pretty neutral,” Kaiko says.

An abstract artwork in gradient colour by Brisbane-based artist Andy Harwood plays a central role in the living space, providing depth to the room and drawing together the equally intense shades of cobalt and deep pink. 

Nic has used an artwork by Brisbane-based artist Andy Harwood as the focal point in his living room. Image: Fiona Susanto

A veined marble coffee table from Zuster provides a visual link between the stronger crimson and the quieter neutrals while a touch of rattan in the kitchen pendant lights and the Thonet dining chairs lighten the mood. 

Pinstriped black lines ensure the look is urbane and contemporary, without being too heavy.

For Kaiko, it’s not just a design statement. As all good interiors should, the apartment reveals the personality of its owner.

“This project gives people a good indication of my loves,” he says. “Some people think colour is not high end but some of the great designers across the world use colour.

“A lot of people are afraid of using it and have a tendency to think ‘If I do everything white, it will look more high end’ but it can look incredibly pedestrian.”

No chance of that happening here.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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