House tour: step inside Carla Zampatti’s opulent Woollahra mansion

Home / House tour: step inside Carla Zampatti’s opulent Woollahra mansion

Fashion designer Carla Zampatti’s signature aesthetic — an elegant balance between refined beauty and streamlined function — is most apparent in her home in Sydney’s Woollahra, an exquisitely secluded four-bedroom Italianate-style building surrounded by a lush garden scattered with sculptures.

In the back of the house, Amalfi chaise lounge from Janus Et Cie.

Zampatti’s intuitive play on Italian romance and Australian pragmatism feels intrinsic to the award-winning designer’s world, from how she chooses to live to who she is as a person. She’s svelte, sophisticated and characteristically chic in her tinted black glasses and trademark blonde bob, but with an endearing warmth and underlying strength of character that may perhaps stem from her country upbringing and a backstory that can only be described as pioneering.

Carla Zampatti at the entrance hallway of her Sydney harbourside home. Zampatti wears black crepe jumpsuit from Carla Zampatti.

The woman sometimes referred to as ‘the Coco Chanel of Australia’ grew up on a farm in postwar Italy, and was nine when she moved with her family to a small town in Western Australia. But it was in Sydney in the 1970s where she rose to become one of the country’s most respected names in the Australian fashion industry. Here, she chats to Vogue Living about her heritage and her beloved home.

In the entrance, sculpture by Elisabeth Frink.

My love of design comes from Italy. Architecture in Italy is just magnificent — very minimalist but beautiful and solid. I love stone. I love things that are big and bold. It’s my fashion taste as well — simple, understated and strong. You can’t go wrong.

The central double-height stairwell with original windows.

If you grow up in Italy you’re surrounded by beauty. It’s part of your DNA. In Italy we lived in a beautiful old house: four storeys with stables in the basement, a first floor, bedrooms on the second floor and an attic. I always loved the space and the atmosphere of it.

The front of the house.

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My family moved to Australia for the same reasons as any other migrants at that time. My father didn’t want his children growing up in postwar Italy. He thought we wouldn’t have any opportunity there, as Italy was very poor [then]. We lived in the countryside, so we were never hungry or wanting, but my brothers were teenagers and they would not have been able to find work. I loved it [here] from day one. It was so different and unique and special.

Zampatti with her daughters, Allegra Spender (left) and Bianca Spender; Zampatti wears black crepe jumpsuit and Allegra Spender wears blush jumpsuit, both from Carla Zampatti; Bianca Spender wears silk floral, stripe and check dress from Bianca Spender; artwork by artist unknown.

I bought this house in 1975. It was after the Whitlam government came in and everything, particularly real estate, became very affordable. I heard about it through a friend who knew the lady who owned it, whose father had built it. He’d gone to a lot of trouble and did a lot of detailing, which I’m very grateful for. He was widely travelled and, interestingly enough, was in the textile industry. When he died, his daughter had a house already, so she didn’t really want to move.

In the living room, Poliform Airport sofa by Paola Navone; ash ceramic Chinese pot and Turkish Dagar pot from Water Tiger; Michael Verheyden Y vase (on table) and Tabou suede pouf from Ondene; vessels (on piano) by Dino Raccanello; plants from LuMu Interiors; Great Dane Manér Studio Arc floor light from David Jones; sculpture by Igor Mitoraj.

When I walked into the entrance hallway, I knew right away I wanted to have it. There was something about it — it was magic. The house was built around 1928 and I’ve hardly changed it. It’s in its original format except we’ve painted the floors white and we’ve changed the kitchen. But I’ve left all the bathrooms intact, [just] as they were in the late ’20s.

The whole house has a fluidity about it. It’s well thought through and has a natural flow. If you look at the floor plans, everything has a circular kind of element to it, even the garden and the drive.

In the living room, tapestry is one of a pair Zampatti found in a flea market in Italy.

I lived here with my family for over 10 years until 1987. Then we moved into my husband John [Spender]’s house. When John and I split, I moved back and it was in 2009 that I made the changes to the house. My children [son Alexander and daughters Bianca and Allegra] spent their early years here, and when I moved back they said they felt like this was their real home.

In the library/study, Pierre Jeanneret easy chair from Hacienda Ltd; Menu Troll vases from David Jones; plant from LuMu Interiors; Naga rattan basket (used as planter) from Water Tiger; artworks by Dorothy Thornhill.

To me the exterior feels Italian and the interiors are [16th-century Italian] Palladio in style. The round room in particular — what I call my winter room — with these wonderful windows and open fireplace is Palladio influenced. It’s my favourite room because it’s so intimate and cosy.

There’s nothing ultra-modern in my home. I like old furniture because it’s beautifully made. It’s heavy and it has a presence. I like traditional French or Italian designs.

Dino Raccanello is my architect. He’s a very old friend and lives between Lucca, Italy, and here in Sydney. He’s done quite a few of our retail stores and he has a lovely, clean, minimalist style. We understand each other and I trust his taste. I knew that the kitchen was too dark and dreary and we both agreed that it needed to extend outside, and now I use that outside area a lot. Whenever I go to buy something he says don’t, because you will overcrowd the space. When a space is overcrowded you don’t see the beautiful things in it.

In the kitchen, Great Dane Buch Elmotique stool and Serax Terres De Reves bowl from David Jones; artwork of Bianca Spender by Allegra Spender.

All nine of my grandchildren come over and use the pool. My oldest grandchild is 18 and the youngest is 2. On Sunday afternoons we have regular family gatherings and the main living room is their room. They tear it apart, bounce on the lounge, take off the cushions and play the piano. The adults escape to the round room or the kitchen and just let them go wild. They can’t really wreck anything because everything is so solid.

I adore my family. They are the centre of life. I’ve done some wonderful things [in my life] but having children, there’s just something magical about that. And my kids have been so good to me. In difficult times they’ve been there.

In the master bedroom with walk-in robe beyond, Society Limonta Rem quilt from Ondene.

In the original powder room, artworks by Catherine Fox.

In the original ensuite off the master bedroom; jacket from Carla Zampatti.

In the stairwell, artwork of Barry Humphries by Allegra Spender.


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