As design laboratories go, Rachel Castle’s Sydney home is hard to beat. It is a place where the Australian designer can road-test her own linens, cushions, throws and textiles, as well as serving as a well-appointed gallery for her paintings and prints. Shared with her English husband Daz and their two children, the house has played an important part in the evolution of her own eponymous homeware brand.
“Everything we make spends a bit of time at home,” says Castle, who launched her business 12 years ago. “I use it as a testing ground for wear and tear, and to see how it works in a real space. If it doesn’t work in my home, then it’s not going to work for our customers.”
Castle certainly has plenty of experience in design. She started out at the Australian lifestyle giant Country Road, where she met Alex Willcock, former creative director of the Conran Group, who asked her to come to London and work for The Conran Shop. She then spent five years working next door to Sir Terence Conran’s office.
“He was amazing,” says Castle. “He was very decisive but also a really good listener and I really admired his shopkeeping, if you like. He was a retailer through and through and I learned a lot watching the way he ran The Conran Shop.”
She then joined a multidisciplinary design agency called the Nest before heading back to Australia. By that point she was married to Daz – whom she met on a skiing trip and married six weeks later – and they had two children, Cleo and Lucas.
Following a brief spell in Melbourne, the family finallyfixed upon Northbridge in Sydney. The house was built in the 1930s and it was the lush greenery of the back garden, with its pool, terrace and elegantfrangipani tree, which sealed the deal. “We wanted to be able to go in and out all the time. We look out on to this greenery and it expands thewhole space,” says Castle.
Eventually, the couple decided to extend the house to make the most of this precious indoor-outdoor relationship. After a six-month renovation, they ended up with a spacious, open-plan dining area, kitchen and family room with a bank of steel-framed windows opening up to the terrace. Along with the big windows, Castle wanted wooden herringbone floors. Walls are painted white, creating a neutral backdrop for Castle’s layers of art and textiles, which help to fulfil her need for colour, pattern and texture.
“I start with a very vanilla base,” she says. “Everything is this very soft, creamy white and then I like to surround myself with artwork and lots of colourful soft furnishings. The beauty of having white walls is that I never, ever have to think, is that going to fit, or where is that going to go? I just bring it home and make it fit. Ask my husband how annoying that is!”
In the sitting room, alongside the big garden room, the surges of colour also come from the choice of furniture, textiles and art. There’s a matching sofa and chairs in a vibrant pink from Ligne Roset arranged around a boldly patterned rug, while a large Walkman painting by Cameron Fraser introduces a burst of sunshine yellow.
“The sofa is there because it was the comfiest one we could find,” says Castle. “Sometimes I think, why couldn’t I just have chosen something beige and classic? But I just can’t. I get too excited and end up with the pink one.”
Punctuating these ever-evolving spaces, which include the sitting room positioned alongside the big garden room, are many of Castle’s own pieces. When the children were young, she began making things at home, starting with embroidery and then pillowcases and bedlinen. Castle turned into a brand and began to evolve. “It’s grown into a monster,” she says. “I never set out to build a big business, but it has just grown. I’ve only made the things that I feel compelled to make and they were the kind of things I would like at home myself. I get a visual idea and then I just want to make it, whether that’s painting, printing, embroidery… I just make it. It’s nothing more cerebral than that.”
The brand now has stockists across Australasia, while selling in the UK through Antipodream. As with the house, the common thread through Castle’s collections is a playful touch combined with a big love of colour.
“Colour is really joyful to me,” she says. “If there’s a choice between something plain and something colourful, then I will always be drawn to the colours. And if something’s also playful, then it’s my favourite. I think that’s an Aussie thing.”