Tinseltown Downunder

Perth is unique across Australia for daringly reinterpreting its own history. Design house James Said is making everything old new again in the most ultra-luxe way.

In 1928, a fledgling flapper’s deshabille was projected larger-than-life on the big screen. It’s a shame that this film ‘ Our Dancing Daughters (dir., Harry Beaumont) ‘ is largely remembered for that because, really, the lasting impression should be its grand deco jet and glass spiral staircases, sweeping marble and velvet vistas, or its modern-minimalist-Rococo styling. But no, everyone remembers Joan Crawford with pantyhose around her ankles.

But we need dread not. The spirit of extravagant unbalance that is so characteristic of that time is currently, it seems, enjoying something of a passionate resurgence. With recent Art Deco retrospectives, estate auctions of Hollywood’s grandes dames, and film revivals and adaptations tempting record-breaking crowds, everything old truly is new again. And in more ways than one, Perth’s design scene is proving itself to be something of a nucleus for this feisty romp that couples a desire for design that is sleek and modern in its aesthetic with an attitude that is bob-flickingly carefree, fun and always glamorous.

Recently, developers have descended upon Perth’s early twentieth-century buildings and streetscapes in an attempt to preserve and celebrate the city’s unique heritage. Perth stands out amongst Australia’s major cities for a willingness to bring its past into its present with an almost happy-go-lucky abandon. The redevelopment of COMO The Treasury and the Sage Hotel are perfect examples of Perth’s history repurposed in a manner that looks forward to tomorrow with a confident grin.

With its strong, clean lines, its characteristically bold colour scheme, admixture of stone and glass, and its reverberating deco and federation leitmotifs across the centuries, Perth is swiftly becoming the southern California of the Southern Hemisphere.

One woman who truly understands this is Bethany James-Best, the founder and curator ofJames Said ‘ specifier of design products and furnishings that maintain emphasis on the emotional side of aesthetic living: the charming, the glamorous, the nostalgic and the bold.

When asked “old or new?” Bethany James-Best responds with resolute confidence: “Both. My entire business is based on selling modern products that pay a design nod and tribute to the past. On a personal level I love to mix the two. I love modern design that when mixed with something old can bring a touch of elegance.”

James Said | ContemporaryAU

And that touch of elegance is certainly what she has brought to Perth with the opening of her new showroom in Nedlands. High ceilinged, the showroom is airy and open, with light flowing from large front windows, filtering delicately through a staggered series of diaphanous curtains and glass interior walls. The overall effect is one of high drama that certainly gives any Old Hollywood set designer a run for their money.

As the living representative of Bethany James’ love for Hollywood Regency design, everything from the fitout of the showroom to the pieces featured conveys that bold aesthetic style. Exploiting strong chromatic contrasts peppered with metallic and glass accents, the use of black and white glass throughout is offset by luxurious soft furnishings. You’d be surprised, though, that this paragon of sophisticated luxury was once a scruffy shell with uneven concrete floors, sagging ceilings, defunct strip lighting and old exposed brick.

James Said | ContemporaryAU

With the construction assistance of Ben Oliver and glass fittings supplied by local WA GlassKote, the final result is an impressive feat of absolute transformation. Every detail is intended to convey luxury, with the cheeky suggestion that design is for us ‘ so let’s look good in it! Visitors embrace this new concept store where they can relax, drink coffee or sip champagne while browsing the online catalogue at the Mac bar. Beyond, a cleverly concealing floating wall houses fabric samples, rug swatches and prototypes “that can communicate the look and feel of elegance” otherwise unattainable via the web.

Perhaps when Norma Desmond said, “the stars are ageless, aren’t they?” she wasn’t too far off the mark. After all, taste is timeless.

You can visit the new James Said showroom at 2/158 Stirling Hwy, Nedlands, WA.

James Said

Words by David Congram.

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