Celebrating 15 years in practice is just one of interior and furniture designer Julie Pieda’s many recent achievements. The founder of Koush Design is not only responsible for some of Adelaide’s most elegant residential and commercial fit outs, but her bespoke furniture is also in high demand. It’s reassuring to discover that her design philosophy during this time hasn’t changed, remaining as refreshingly uncomplicated today as it was back then. “To me, design is integral to everything,” she says. “So we might as well do it well.”
Pieda hasn’t always worked as a designer and this may account for her practically minded approach. She’s also a qualified design teacher and in the early nineties, prior to establishing her studio in Adelaide, she moved to Renmark to take up a position at the local high school. “I taught for four years in the country and loved it,” she reflects. “But talking about design all the time just made me want to design, so I started making furniture in my backyard.” With the help of her technical studies colleagues, Pieda managed to learn the craft, developing a distinct, signature style.
It wasn’t until she applied to the JamFactory Associate Training Program in 1996, however, that Pieda decided to leave high school teaching behind. Being accepted into the two-year program was a turning point and she moved back to Adelaide to study under Donald Fortescue and Peter Walker in the JamFactory’s Furniture Design Studio. She began exhibiting her furniture in group exhibitions while still an Associate and also undertook a small number of commissions, which included freestanding tables and seating as well as built-in joinery.
Although such commissions dominated the first five years of Pieda’s practice, she soon expanded her portfolio to include interior design work. Having originally studied multiple design disciplines, including interior design, within her Bachelor of Education (Design) degree at the University of South Australia, the expansion was a logical one. “You don’t ever have an interior where the furniture isn’t a considered part of that anyway,” she says. “I see the furniture and interior as completely intertwined; they are obviously interlinked.” While each client’s brief is different, Pieda strives to create spaces with distinct atmospheres and interiors that find cohesion with her furniture design.
Her aesthetic is clean and bold, with splashes of colour and texture that gives a sense of warmth and lushness to otherwise restrained material palettes. Pieda may not be a minimalist, but she steers clear of excessive embellishment in favour of well-considered details and classic form. As she explains, “I don’t tend to make things that ‘disappear’, although my designs aren’t necessarily screaming at you, they still have a strength to them”. A case in point is her box-shaped Plateau Chair, which appeals because of its striking geometric form and unexpected floating backrest.
Another piece that carries Pieda’s distinct signature style is the Cranberry Jam sofa; with its decidedly Danish silhouette it has a robust yet understated appearance. Button chair is similarly well defined in form, but its quirky detailing reveals a playfulness that compliments its vivid colour palette. This sense of fun is also convincingly displayed in her Promenade sideboard, which features delicate handles in the shape of people; depending on where the light shines they cast shadows as if walking along a promenade.
Two interiors for which Pieda is most widely recognised are the Wellness and Lifestyle Centre in Norwood and the St Peter’s Precinct redevelopment, incorporating the council library, heritage centre and community function centre. The prior is a neat conversion of a warehouse into a relaxed, light-filled office that effectively reflects the brand it represents. Pieda’s custom designed striped carpets differentiate each zone within the fit out and her glass enclosed meeting rooms centre the open plan. Colour is used strategically throughout, whether in the joinery or in the meeting rooms’ lighting, and these accents cleverly compliment the exposed steel structural beams.
Working in collaboration with Phillips Pilkington and Flightpath Architects on the multi-awarded St Peters Precinct redevelopment, Pieda was responsible for the interior design and furniture and joinery within the public spaces. Once again, her design concept finds its most resounding expression in her colour palette, which is informed by the interior’s bluestone walls and spines of the library’s books. She has obviously been mindful of the project’s heritage listing and deliberately worked to produce a respectful balance between the architecture and the interior’s details and finishes.
Not surprisingly, Pieda draws inspiration from multiple sources and has a particular interest in texture and colour. “I also take a lot of my own photos and put them up on Pinterest,” she says. “It’s become a really useful tool for helping clients get their head around what they want.” Creating these ‘mood boards’ is an integral part of her process, which also begins with a conversation about atmosphere and how this determines the project’s direction. She hopes to distil the mood a client is after in the early planning stages, making for a heightened user experience in the design outcome.
During the past 15 years Pieda has seen significant changes in the way design is regarded within Adelaide. “People are much more educated about it now, due in part to all the new shows about design on TV,” she says. “They’re starting to understand that you don’t just have to have what’s given to you, which is basically cheap landfill. Instead, they’re saving up for a beautiful designer product that they’ll have for twenty years and can pass on to their grandkids.” The realisation that design is also part of an individual’s self expression is what makes her bespoke furniture so appealing to clients.
Currently working on four residential extensions, including one in Leabrook and another in Fullarton, Pieda is also designing a number of retail fit outs for the Flinders University student hub. She has also recently completed the foyer of the Migration Museum and will be entering this project in upcoming national design awards. With only one full time staff member and one part time staff member, Pieda may need to increase this number in the near future, especially if commissions keep arising at this pace. For the time being her work is focused within South Australia, but that’s not to say she’s ruled out undertaking work either interstate or internationally. Pieda faces the same challenges any other small-scale design studio faces, but Koush Design’s market presence continues to be strong.
First published in SA Homes and Interiors, November 2014