Prolific landscape architects Daniel Baffsky, and his fashion designer partner Sarah-Jane Clarke of powerhouse sass & bide share their respective design philosophies with Habitusliving.
Kirsty de Garis visited their Sydney home to find out how their creative endeavours – at opposite ends of the design spectrum – meet and flourish in their partnership.
Creative couples have been a source of fascination to us as admirers of their work, forever: the chaos that was famously the shared lives of Zelda and F. Scott Ftizgerald, for example.
But it is possible for two creative spirits to get together and spur each other to greater heights of career satisfaction.
One such energetic twosome on the Australian design scene is Sarah-Jane Clarke of sass & bide fashion powerhouse, and her husband, landscape architect Daniel Baffsky, Principal of 360o.
The pair met four years ago at a Barry Humphries show and the connection was immediate. They have since added sons Bo, 6, and Arky, 5, to their family and in 2005, bought and renovated their home overlooking Port Jackson in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
Sarah-Jane, now 37, raced to international fame in 1999 when she and business partner Heidi Middleton released sass & bide’s first line of hipster jeans – famously sporting a two-inch zip. sass & bide jeans have showcased the bodies of Sarah Jessica Parker and Kylie Minogue.
“I think we were on the tip of the wave when the hipster jean trend came through and to some extent were in the right place at the right time,” she says. “I also think we have had a little bit of magic sprinkled over us,” she adds.The heart of sass & bide is very much affiliated with London, where the idea for the business was born. “I love that city,” says Sarah-Jane. She and Heidi take annual inspiration trips, including twice-annual visits to the big fabric fairs in Paris.
sass & bide finds from the flea markets of Paris
“We’re both very drawn to old-looking fabrics, natural fibres, linens and organic-feel fabrics,” she explains. “We then embellish that old feel with mirrors and sparkles. I love to mix the old with the new.”
Current inspiration adventures for Sarah-Jane and Heidi include visits to the hills of rural Vietnam, where a tribal culture is thriving. They’re also turning their attention to Russia, but as always, with a twist. “Everyone thinks of Russia in winter so we were thinking of venturing over there during the summer; to take some of the wintry elements and translate it to summery clothes,” she says.
Australia remains the biggest market for sass & bide creations, with the UK a close second. Sales have also grown in Hong Kong, Japan, Dubai and across Europe. The list continues to grow.
Likewise, Sarah-Jane can’t pinpoint one moment in her career that she would pick as a standout: “Every year there is a highlight, whether it be a lesson learned, something that has been successful or I met someone really great,” she says.
Although the UK remains a huge part of the design philosophy of sass & bide, its designs are also hugely influenced by Australia. “Our designs are trans-seasonal,” Sarah-Jane explains. “Our collections are quite light. This reflects the Australian climate and we are very influenced by the colours, weather and lifestyle here,” she adds.
Daniel, 36, grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and has always loved the area. “The whole business I am in is closeness to nature,” he explains. “I like to connect people with spaces, take them out of the car and encourage them to take a big breath,” he says.
His work with 360o has taken him across Australia and also to projects in the Maldives and New Zealand. It’s part of Daniel’s approach when designing to build a strong relationship with both client and architect on every job. “Architecture is essentially dealing with space and the outdoors is just another space,” he explains. “For me, architecture is about combining all elements and materials. Planting is just another tool that we use in landscape architecture,” he adds.
Daniel’s work can be seen on the extensive rooftop gardens at M Central apartment complex in Pyrmont, Sydney. It’s a heritage building that was modified for residential living – something dear to Daniel’s heart. “We’ve had a string of interesting heritage projects,” he says.
One such major heritage project he has worked on recently is the Ivy entertainment complex in Sydney’s CBD – another giant undertaking of the Merivale Group, steered by Justin Hemmes. The design approach was as varied as each individual restaurant or bar within the multi-faceted building. The crown of the development is the rooftop pool and bar area and Daniel has been across the design throughout the project.
The brief was 1960s Palm Springs and the results revealed in stage one reflect the glamour of that era. A Japanese maple was planted as the centrepiece of the interior atrium and in addition to hanging baskets of Boston ferns, Daniel introduced a wild element in what he chose to plant. “A trumpet vine,” he says. “It’s Brazilian – mad, with cup-shaped trumpet flowers.”Each space has a strong aesthetic direction unique to its purpose but they also work as part of a unified whole. “There is a feeling of domesticity, familiarity,” says Daniel. It was what his client was after. “I loved working with this group [that included Nik Karalis and Dominic Alvaro of Melbourne firm Woods Bagot] as they’re all perfectionists,” he says.
Daniel relished the opportunity to harness his architectural knowledge when it came to the design of his home with Sarah-Jane and their sons.
The project was overarched by his passionate love of plants. “I do love plants and I don’t want to see them thrown away,” he says, “so our home has become filled with orphaned plants that I have rescued. I used some of them in our garden. They’re not ones I’d have necessarily used had we started from scratch.” He admits that sometimes his rescues can be a touch overwhelming for Sarah-Jane, “but she is very patient,” he says.
The design of their family home reflects both Sarah-Jane and Daniel’s love of organic forms and materials, and each of them took a large role in detailing to turn it into a space that spoke volumes about how they choose to live. “We trust each other,” says Daniel.
“I think we’re quite complementary because Daniel focuses on the details and I probably focus more on the bigger picture,” Sarah-Jane adds. When it comes to drawing on each other’s talents for inspiration in their wider lives, it’s an indirect influence, Daniel explains. “We don’t look at each other’s work and, by osmosis, think, ‘I can apply that somehow’, but it’s SJ’s magazines that I might flick through, or the places that we travel together, that become a source of inspiration.”
This travel is just as likely to be to a far-flung destination as it might be to local bric-a-brac markets in Bondi or Rozelle in Sydney of which, “We have a shared appreciation,” he says.
Daniel focused on architectural details including broad timber window frames that invite the visitor to sit on and admire the view. Sarah-Jane focused her attention on fabrics and furnishing. “Sarah-Jane likes to move, as well,” says Daniel. “So there’s a sense that this will be one of many homes we live in.”
Travel as a couple has been, and continues to be, something they love to do. The pair recently snuck away to Japan for five days. “I appreciate the Japanese dress sense and I love collecting curiosities and weird things. There were a few unusual things we came home with,” says Sarah-Jane. Adds Daniel, “We were both drawn to the Japanese way of overlaying the modern world with their ancient, traditional way of life. There are few places on earth where this contrast is more pronounced.”
Walking the streets of Tokyo together, they were able to gain a deeper appreciation of each other’s design interests. “We loved the way the trees were wrapped in hessian. I loved to walk into the shops and see how they were designed even though I have always been more interested in the natural world. It’s not deliberate, we just do our thing.”
“Having met Daniel, I now appreciate land¬scape a lot more,” says Sarah-Jane. For some reason I was a little bit oblivious but now I think about landscape and how it works – the layering of trees and shrubs and grasses. I guess everyone can appreciate a beautiful garden but I quite like to break it down and really work out why it’s beautiful,” she adds.
Inside their home, Daniel has introduced large potted indoor plants to many of the light, airy rooms. Sarah-Jane has taken care of the interior decoration and furniture. When it comes to art, there’s a rule: “We both have to like it for it to go on the wall,” she says.
Thanks to their shared aesthetic and appreciation of life, the ways in which design enters the private worlds of Sarah-Jane and Daniel has been a blessing, not a curse. “We like the mix of old and new,” says Daniel. “And we like the 1960s era in architecture. We had a similar feeling about the family home – we wanted open-plan living, we didn’t want everything to be separated because that’s not how we want to live.”
Sarah-Jane adds, “I suppose when we look at our combined approach, it is more organic. But we do like to twist it with something modern – to throw another element in there.”
Sass & Bide
Photography of Daniel Baffksy and Sarah-Jane Clarke at home – Prue Ruscoe
Stylist – Heidi Moore
Market treasures and 2012 collection from The Sass & Bide blog
Habitus 01 was warmly welcomed in Australia and internationally, carving out a new market, one for those who appreciate good design and the stories behind it, those living in design – the design hunter.
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