Ceramicist Sophie Nolan's Home Is a Lesson In Refined Coastal Styling
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to the home of ceramicist Sophie Nolan.
Ceramicist Sophie Nolan hand-builds one-of-a-kind works of art that somehow seem to dance without moving. Using stoneware clay as her medium, Sophie’s curved sculptural vessels pay homage to the imperfect beauty and unique artistry of the human form.
After studying Visual Communications at university and enjoying a lengthy and successful career as a graphic designer, Sophie became enamoured with clay after a chance lesson from a friend. Soon, what was once a pinch pot hobby blossomed into a full-time passion.
Her serene and subtly sophisticated home in Bilgola on Sydney’s Northern Beaches reflects a similar stark softness seen in her work. The 1960s rectangular kit home, which sits on a north-facing corner block surrounded by luscious greenery, is a masterclass in modern classic décor, and the perfect place to create.
Here, stark white walls meet stark white floors, while black and grey accents bring depth and contrast to the space. A minimal palette extends throughout each room, as Sophie’s fluid forms adorn surfaces and shelves. Monochrome artworks hang from the walls, whilst in the bedroom, a stunning bone inlay chest of drawers steals the show. From the ceiling, sheer white curtains form a canopy around her bed, as natural light floods through the windows.
Clean, refined, and effortlessly stylish, Sophie’s house is the perfect reflection of the fervent creative who calls it home.
Hi Sophie! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I hand build sensual ceramic vases that celebrate the human form, focusing on the beauty of our unique imperfections, curves, and individualism. I aim to give fluidity and personality to a functional object. Some have a subtle soft elegant essence, a lightness, a fragility. Others are more flamboyant, sassy, strong, or cute, quirky and fun.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I have always been a visual person. I studied visual communications at uni and have spent many years working as a graphic designer. Thus, I have always been interested in visually engaging the viewer and communicating a feeling, energy or message through beautiful shapes and form. I guess it is part of my make up; a need to create something that expresses an idea or impression. I think there is something quite magical about making something from nothing that has the potential to spread beauty and joy.
When did you start creating ceramics and sculpture?
After having my third daughter (who is now five), I was looking for a relaxing creative outlet. I tried painting classes but just ended up with multiple unfinished works, having no time to complete them. A lovely friend introduced me to clay. We would hang out with our little ones, chatting and drinking tea while making pinch pots. I loved it! In contrast to graphic design, I was seduced by the messiness and tactile quality of clay.
What inspired you to go down this route in your career?
What began as a sideline hobby quickly became my main focus. I love nothing more than being immersed in the piece I am creating. It’s my ‘mindfulness’ amongst the chaotic fun of family life. I feel so blessed to have discovered this passion and to have found a way to turn it into a career. I still love graphic design, but after many years of bringing client’s visions to life, it was time to explore what it felt like to create from my own brief. Ceramics has become an avenue to freely express myself creatively.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
I begin with a desired shape, emotion, or characteristic in mind, sketch out the shape unique in angles and curves, then slowly mould the desired form using slab building and coiling techniques, allowing the shape to emerge. The forms are then bisque fired, glazed, and fired again.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your creative business?
The impact of social media on the art, design and craft scene has had a far-reaching effect, especially for emerging artists. Instagram has become an amazing marketing tool for my work. It allows someone from one small part of the world to be instantly discovered by people all around the world. In the past, I have shied away from ‘putting myself out there’, but I knew I would have to do the exact opposite in order to bring attention to my ceramics. So, taking a leap out of my comfort zone, I made some attempts to gain exposure. This basically has since become my strategy—keep taking leaps: ask the question, take the opportunity, be brave creatively.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt since you started your business?
To have patience. That I can’t do everything. I have three busy young daughters, so my time to create and run my business is somewhat limited. I have so much I want to do, so many ideas, but I have to find patience and do what I can in the time I have. As one of my beautiful friends often reminds me: ‘You can do anything but not everything!’
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
Exhibiting my work has been the most exhilarating thing to happen to me since starting my business. I have always loved attending art shows and have looked upon exhibiting artists with such awe. It is such an honour to be recognised in that space and to directly observe people’s response to my work. Amber Creswell-Bell is an amazing curator for emerging artists. Amber curated my first exhibition last year and has just launched Michael Reid CLAY, a fantastic platform for ceramic artists and lovers of ceramic art.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self/ someone looking to start their own business?
To go for it! Take the plunge and put yourself out there. It can feel daunting with such amazing competition out there, but you are unique, so you will always have something unique to offer.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
We bought our 1960s rectangular kit home almost 11 years ago in its original condition. Seven layers of wallpaper on the bedroom walls, pink shagpile carpet in the bathroom and an apple green kitchen. Nothing worked and everything leaked, but we loved the overall design and the view! About five years ago we did a massive renovation, and last year we added another bedroom for our eldest daughter.
How did you initially know this was the space for you?
This house ticked a lot of boxes for us. We loved the outlook: being a corner block, we are surrounded by trees and not hemmed in by houses. It faces north so we get incredible light all day long and gorgeous sunsets to the left against the silhouette of trees. The original 60s kit homes already had a great layout and we loved the boxy rectangular style which reminded us of a Harry Seidler design.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
The house was a deceased estate. Nothing had been done on the maintenance for a very long time. We initially ripped up the carpets, stained the timber floors black Japan and painted the walls white. After living in the space for a few years and having a second child, we started designing and renovating. We still have a few things to do, like the landscaping and carport.
Shop Sophie's look with the Fog Bedding Set and White Sheet Set.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
I have worked in graphic design and colour for many years and have always had a colourful interior style. However, after the reno when we painted the exterior black and the interior walls and floors white, it felt natural to continue the serene feeling of this minimal palette throughout the furnishings. I have added lots of greenery, textures and artworks to soften the starkness. With a busy family-of-five’s layer of ‘mess’ added, the backdrop of black and white helps maintain a sense of calm. That’s the intention, anyway!
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I love my bone inlay chest of drawers. It is in our bedroom and I constantly marvel at the craftsmanship and attention to detail from the maker. I also love our white 2-seater couch that was given to us from my parents. It was the first piece of furniture that they bought together and was always kept in the ‘good room’ in the house where I grew up, only used when guests came over. It has a lot of happy memories associated with it.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
Always more art. I’d love one of Kathryn Dolby or Ash Holmes’ paintings adorning my walls.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
That’s hard. I love my bedroom, main bathroom, and living room. Our living room is probably the fav, because it’s bright no matter the weather. Even on a rainy, cloudy day, it is full of light and has a beautiful outlook over Pittwater. I love getting cosy on the sofa with a book and cup of tea or just hanging out with my family and friends, rosé, cheese and crackers nearby.
Shop Sophie's look with the Fog Bedding Set and White Sheet Set.
Tell us about your bedroom.
I also love our bedroom for similar reasons; the light and the view. I love our ‘princess’ bed—It is king size with a mosquito net canopy. It is in all shades of pale grey and white, which creates a serene feeling of calm. My idea of luxury!
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
I like to keep things uncluttered as I rather dislike mess and tidying. I favour a style that echoes the journey and essence of those who live in it. Not too prescribed or perfect. Rather, a collection of things gathered along the way that tell a little story about the family that dwells inside it.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
I have my first solo exhibition at Michael Reid CLAY during the month of August. If everything has settled down by then, there will be an opening. However, either way, it will be online. I am planning on producing around 20 pieces, which will be my largest collection to date. Apart from that, I am always working on commissions.
For more from Sophie, follow her @sophie_ceramics
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Discover more of Australia's most beautiful homes in our series, The Makers.