Where Will Katie Lockhart Go Next? Everywhere

She's the interior designer on local creatives’ lips — and now the rest of the world is getting to know her too


Katie Lockhart. Photo / Babiche Martens

As the street heads into a busy industrial area on Auckland’s North Shore, you come to a secret hideaway.

A long driveway winds its way through expansive green parklands, where a series of jagged stone steps lead to a small Japanese-style building.

Interior designer Katie Lockhart built the studio on the property where she and cinematographer husband Darryl Ward live, and visiting is like stumbling upon a temple in the heart of a city.

There are more surprises in store up the drive. Katie pushes the door open to the couple’s renovated 1960s farmhouse and the eye is immediately entranced by the deep matte green she’s painted the walls, a dramatic shade she created for her paint range with Drikolor that echoes the grove surrounding it.

Standing against the wall like a sentry is a traditional ceiling-height tamtam slit drum from Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, and next to it, a striped Mario Botta Shogun floor lamp.

The incongruous pairing makes for an intriguing statement, like coming home to two stoic guardians. And it speaks to the interior designer’s strengths — a daring take on colour, an alluring depth, a quiet wit. “I like the contrast,” she says.

Katie Lockhart's studio. Photo / David Straight

Since she started her Auckland-based practice 17 years ago, Katie has forged a reputation for creating interior spaces that encourage a double-take. There is nothing flashy or pretentious about her work, which is better described as earthy and calming, yet delightfully surprising, much like the original piece of land she has built on — a once semi-rural property owned by the mayor of Northcote.

Her taste has been shaped by a love for both vintage and bespoke, along with Japanese, European and Pasifika craftsmanship, and her knack for pairing unlikely pieces and colours results in a distinctive aesthetic. Perhaps hardest to replicate, given the many historical and cultural layers in her work, is her sense of restraint.

“Our approach is more minimalist,” she agrees, referencing her team of four. “Then we focus on bringing texture to the spaces and the materials we put into them… I don’t want houses to feel like we just went to one particular showroom and bought everything from there. It’s more about creating a collection to be added onto by that owner for years to come.”

Her style has caught the attention of fellow artists, foodies and designers. When The Oyster Inn’s founders Andrew Glenn and Jonathan Rutherfurd Best opened the boutique hotel and eatery on Waiheke Island, they enlisted Katie to create a relaxed yet elegant Montauk vibe.

When Walters Prize-winning artist Francis Upritchard asked for assistance selecting an original colour palette to exhibit her figurines in London’s Barbican Curve Gallery, Katie complemented their quirks with strong, grounding colours.

She has created tranquil interiors for handbag designers Deadly Ponies for both their Britomart and Melbourne flagships, drawn on her love for Japanese architecture for the interior of Fabric, created an elegant private dining room at the revamped French Cafe, and designed every one of Karen Walker’s stores, including her (now closed) Department Store in Takapuna.

“Her work’s always interesting,” says Karen of her good friend and confidant. “It never ever feels like a Pinterest board or a formula. It’s always surprising and serene but with a bit of hardness that I love. She’s an original thinker.”

It’s not just commercial fit-outs where Katie has demonstrated her discerning taste. Karen also entrusted her to transform the interior of her Ponsonby home, and if anything has come out of the pandemic, it’s more work, particularly residential projects.

“People are at home a lot more,” says Katie. “They’ve had time to consider how they live and how they want to live. The other thing that’s been really unexpected is we get a lot more international inquiries. Because they’d be working with someone on Zoom anyway, even if it was locally. People have done their research.”

Whether they’ve stumbled across Katie’s New Zealand work, or the residential projects she undertook with architect Bijoy Jain in India, or through her Instagram account, where she’s amassed 11,800 followers, the designer says humbly, she has no idea.

The Franklin Road house. Photo / David Straight

But she’s not complaining, with two major international residential projects keeping her busy. She has spent the best part of a year working on a house for elephant conservationists who live in New York but who are planning to spend much of their time in Kenya.

“It’s very elegant and the clients are very elegant. The majority of the furniture we’ve purchased is vintage and a lot of it came out of Paris. So it’s not a rustic lodge, it’s way more refined. It’s definitely a very grown-up project for us.”

On the shelf next to the simple Donald Judd dining table in her studio is a series of wood samples available to use on the ground in Kenya, from olive wood to moringa and cypress.

READ: How Martina Blanchard Transformed Her Queenstown Home Into A Modern Alpine Retreat

“Moringa we’ve worked with but cypress is not really available here. That’s the thing. There’s always learning, which is great for us.”

Although Covid has mostly scuppered her travel routine to install interiors on site, she did fly to the Big Apple in November to meet with the couple, and to consult on a heritage-listed Dutch Colonial house in upstate New York.

“I didn’t want to take the job on without having felt what it was like, and met the clients and understood what it was going to be,” she says.

Meanwhile, she’s working with a young couple who have bought the top floor of a 1940s seaside apartment block in Helsinki, Finland. A project in Grey Lynn is also keeping her busy, and she continues to source vintage pieces for several jobs, calling on her network of antique dealers, relationships she’s built throughout her career.

The Franklin Road house with interiors in collaboration with Jack McKinney. Photo / David Straight

Her love of craftsmanship and quality furniture was fostered early, as her parents would drag Katie and her brother Jared, now a landscape designer, along Manukau Road, trawling for colonial pieces from the pre-1900s that they’d then restore.

Her parents also bought and sold properties — at one point, Katie and her family lived in a South Auckland house by the late Ron Sang, celebrated as New Zealand’s finest mid-century architect.

“It’s amazing, sure, but I didn’t realise it was a thing,” she says. “I remember my parents talking about the architecture but they weren’t super-nerds about it. They’ve just got an interest.”

In her final year at design school, she wrote a paper on the performance of fashion. After graduating, and still unsure of which direction to take, she wasted no time in approaching Karen Walker, a designer she admired, offering to work as her design assistant. The fashion powerhouse was about to do Sydney Fashion Week, and despite running a tight ship, asked to see Katie’s portfolio, which included a collection of head scarves.

“There was just something about the quality of the ideas in her work that told me she should be on our team which was, at that time, very small — maybe three people,” Karen recalls. “There was no role in existence or budget available but we made it happen because something in her work spoke to me strongly.”

READ: How Interior Designer Kate Gillespie Uses Art To Bring Her Home To Life

Katie recalls doing odd jobs such as ironing and running errands during the busy trade show. But it was enough to get her foot in the door.

“I just loved what Karen was doing, it was so fresh and concept-driven,” says Katie. And I was so lucky because it was the perfect time for me to be with her and Mikhail [Gherman, Karen’s husband and business partner].”

Ask Katie what she learned the most from her time with the fashion duo and she doesn’t hesitate: “Research. There was a depth to everything they did, a narrative to what they were applying to fashion.”

Her passion to learn and desire to dig out the finer details initially made her want to be a journalist. Whether from books, travel, or even flakes of paint collected for their colour from far-flung destinations, “that’s part of who I am and how I am, that’s how I live”, she says. “My husband’s really like that as well.”

After working with Karen, she took a leap and moved to Milan, Italy, with her former partner, a furniture designer, where she was determined to get her foot in the door at Casa Vogue, an interiors supplement that came with Vogue Italia. The team were relaunching the magazine Case da Abitare and “pulled me under their wing”, says Katie, who received an education on Italian style during her time there. She still contributes to the magazine.

Northcote home featuring a ‘Star of Persia’ print by Frank Stella and ‘Carimate’ chair by Vico Magistretti. Photo / David Straight

Later came jobs working in India and Japan, the latter with Allpress to set up a roastery and cafe in Tokyo. Then in 2005 she returned to New Zealand, steadily building her clientele and founding the Ponsonby Road homewares store Everyday Needs, eventually selling it to focus on her ever-growing practice.

Two years ago she completed the studio build, designed by architect Katrina Keshaw who had worked on Katie’s team years ago, and Xuan McArthur (the duo behind Keshaw McArthur).

The interior is classic Katie: sparse and soothing with that trademark twist of colour: a biscuit-coloured back wall, oak timber floors, a forest-green kitchen, and eye-grabbing shocks of red in the traditional Japanese noren curtain that hangs over the bathroom, a small painting by Oliver Perkins on the wall, and a green and purple MMF woven rug sourced by a dealer she works with in Sweden.

As we sip nettle tea, looking out to a sea of greenery, it’s not hard to be wowed by the harmony that exists in its otherwise playful colour scheme. But with as many as 15 jobs co-existing on the designer’s to-do list, she wanted a sanctuary-like space where she could focus for hours at a time.

“I’ve always been really interested in colour,” she says, a passion that led her to work with Karen Walker and later London interior designer Suzy Hoodless, both of whom are known for their bold use of colour.

READ: How David Howell Is Reconstructing New York

“It’s a really cost-effective tool for changing spaces, and can add real character. When I was starting out where the projects didn’t have much of a budget, I could still use colour and achieve a lot. And we still do. I’ve just built up a really confident palette.”

Look no further than her work on the Auckland restaurant East Street Hall, where she playfully balanced rust-red walls with lolly-pink benches and electric blue tables.

But it’s the world of crafts she ultimately returns to. Her work is a culmination of digging deep into design, culture and craft, from artisanal tiling manufacture to traditional Pasifika tivaevae, a traditional form of quilting.

A miniature Japanese-style cabinetry and glass screen sample, the life-size version of which is destined for a house in Wellington, sits on a bookshelf full of art books, alongside a set of miniature carved wooden chairs from China, sent as a gift from her “dear friend”, curiosity dealer John Perry, who recently passed away.

“All those things just feel like they’re in the mix but I’m so inspired by Pacific crafts as I am Italian craft. And when it comes into interiors, it’s more how things were done 50 years ago versus how they’re done now that I’m mostly interested in… I research, it goes deep, then I pop out and things filter into our work.”

A Herne Bay townhouse. Photo / David Straight

At the house she shares with Darryl, stepson Joe, 14, and their 8-year-old daughter Grey, each piece has been crafted either to fit the space, or chosen for its unique qualities.

Around the corner from the entranceway guardians is a Waka Waka daybed that she laughs she never gets to use, a large wooden cabinet brimming with ceramics, that the couple had made in Japan, and in the moody green bathroom, a bubblegum-pink work by Dan Arps.

Then there’s the couple’s other sanctuary on Great Barrier Island purchased last year after an extensive search. Returning to the studio after a summer there with friends, Katie says she realised it should be a priority this year for her to spend more time with the people she loves, especially after the locked-down fiasco that was 2021.

Otherwise, her next dream project?

“I’d love to do a boutique hotel,” she says. “I remember when [Studio Mumbai architect] Bijoy Jain came to New Zealand with his partner and asked if I could recommend a hotel by the sea with a spa. And I said, ‘There’s no such thing, sorry’. Then I thought, what would that be? It could be an incredible small hotel on a West Coast beach … I’d love to deliver something like that one day but there’s no rush.”

She’s also looking forward to getting back to travelling when she can; a work trip to Kenya is still on the table.

Then again, sitting in her studio, gazing at the swaying trees, with the knowledge there’s another sanctuary just up the drive, it’s a wonder she’d ever want to leave.

This article was originally published in volume seven of Viva Magazine.

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