It would be remiss of us introduce Sibella Court as anything other than family. Having stayed on the property for almost as long as it has been here, Sibella knows every pebble, leaf and pillow and has had hallmark moments in her life while here at The Atlantic. Her back story, family influences, passion for history, design, creativity and exploration are just some of the reasons her contribution to cultural and architectural storytelling is so wonderful. The Atlantic holds a special place in Sibella’s heart, and vice versa, so the following (long!) discussion was an absolute pleasure. We hope you enjoy it.
You’ve enjoyed lots of travel, what’s the first place that comes to mind quickly, and why?
I’m sitting here at The Atlantic in Byron Bay and there’s something about being in this space so i’m not sure if that’s what’s guiding my answer, there are definite cues for memory, it’s reminding me very much about Bermuda, Barbados, the Caribbean, Islamorada and Key West. I travelled a lot with my parents from an early age, my Mum was an intrepid traveller with a very niche interest in Islamic Textiles from Central Asia, she was a very curious traveller who ignited a depth of passion in me for travel. Then I did a lot of travel on my own from my early 20’s, I really never stood still for long.
With all your worldly travel and the thousands of places you’ve visited, what’s the magnetism to Byron Bay? You guys have business here, you’re working a lot when you’re in town, you’re not always relaxing when you’re here, so what do you think makes it so special?
OK, I have a couple of theories here. I think there is something very magnetic here, under the ground, in the water under the ground, it’s Mt Warning, finding north, a place to settle, it’s definitely something of nature, something to do with the earth. There’s so much to Byron Bay that is quiet and special and it’s got a lot of special places if you want to find them. Look at all the alternative medicines here, they aren’t just here because they thought it was a good spot, it’s attracting people because it’s on a different frequency. It’s not just a beachside town, there are lots of beachside towns, it’s got a very solid full time community base that’s tight. It’s really magnetic, I love coming here. I’ve been coming up since I was about 18, when I could drive and stay out past my curfew! We’d camp up and down the coast all the time, the pull of the water, being in it, on it, is a very real thing. To get my books going i’d always come up here to Byron Bay to write for a week straight. My first book was written here by hand in its entirety. There’s magic here, dolphins, fish, turtles, there are lots of cues to pull you into nature in this area.
Can you remember the first time you came to The Atlantic?
I sort of can, I was coming up a lot, publishing books, writing here, but my memory for exact moments is slightly foggy. I’d have to check that with Kimberly (Amos, Atlantic co-Founder). I remember two pretty clear moments, and I have another strong thing where I believe that you’re meant to meet people in life and I remember sitting on these steps, before the pool was even here, I was here with my friend Sheree (Commerford), I wasn’t staying here but she was here, and I remember sitting on those steps and talking to Kim. Then I remember being pregnant at one of Kim’s flea markets, talking to Kim’s mid wife Shaye, we were all talking and forming important relationships. There has been a force for the creation of important relationships here on the property since I first came.
You’ve built a well respected name for yourself as a creative person, an intrepid traveller, a gatherer and an historical story teller, would your 9 year old self be proud and appreciate the work that you’re doing?
Yes! Because when I was a kid I started collecting things from a very very early age. My earliest recollection is probably at about 3 or 4 years old, of scouring in a bikini, getting very brown as you did in the 70’s, collecting these pink kelp shells in 6 or more colour variations, and I had other collections from beach combing. I’d lay them out and glue them down and sell these cards. Mum always encouraged my to anything I was interested in, if I wanted to learn carpentry, she’d help facilitate it, paper making, whatever it happened to be, then when I was leaving school we were very much encouraged to go to university, it didn’t matter what you did, you just had to go, and we were incentivised to go by getting a car, and who didn’t want a car? So I went and studied history, I loved history and in particular Australian history, so that’s what I went and did, I didn’t know it would be a career, I didn’t know i’d be an historian, I just really loved history. It’s the essence of discovery, nostalgia, my favourite year in history is 1856. The encouragement to do something that you love, and not knowing what you’re going to do with it, on top of the layering of collecting, is exactly what I do now, so nothing has changed since I was a kid.
Do you see the same traits in your daughter now?
I do, but you have to take your kids to that space for them to see it, because things are sort of different nowadays. She loves watching Paw Patrol on her iPad, probably more than I enjoyed watching Road Runner on the TV when Mum and Dad were hungover. I think that you have to take them along for the ride, if you do, then who can’t be intrigued by nature, to feel the wind on their face and hear the rumble of a wave, I think that fuels the curiosity and overpowers the urge to spend time on something digital, that stuff isn’t tactile, it’s passing time, you’re not igniting your senses.
You’re drawn to heritage and nature, is there something common across those two that drawers you in?
I was talking about master craftsman today and that love of nostalgia. Nostalgia is very much a bridging of both of those, the nostalgia of history, the nostalgia of a childhood that I had, that I think was exceptional. I had a fabulous time, as did my brothers and sisters, a lot of nature is in the nostalgia of my childhood, the water, boats, growing up between Sydney and Smiths Lake, picking and pressing flowers with my Grandmother, engaging my sensibilities early on. The clear connection for me when it comes to heritage is again my childhood memories, of going through the city with my Dad, who was a residential builder, he’d point out everything to do with every brick stock, the brick pit it was from, the chimneys, and funnily enough these things are still coming up in my life with my interests now. Talking about the connection between nature and heritage, I did a pigment finding course in California last week and they were talking about the use of discarded building materials, old building materials, into making colour. We were on an ancient ochre trail, crushing up iron oxide and iron hydroxide and serpentines and our guide was like “don’t discard this old mining area, because that brick is made of that sand, mixed with that natural binder”, it was a real shift of my thinking when it comes to the romance of nature and the romance of modern material. I find nature and heritage both to be incredibly romantic. You’re asking them to be exactly what they are.
People like that The Atlantic hasn’t changed too much over the years, it’s grown, but remained the same, do you feel that?
The planting and the boardwalks allow for discovery and adventure within the playground of The Atlantic. Unless you know it as well as the staff do, you would not know every crevice of this property. I walked over to the Albatross building today to have a look (because Kim’s always changing things), but someone that’s staying in Little Palm that doesn’t know it’s there wouldn’t ever know unless they went and discovered it on purpose. I love that. There’s a whole other kitchen and you can hang out over there, so each time you stay you could have a different experience, have a different idea, a different outlook. That’s the philosophy I like to bring into my interior design so I really appreciate it when someone else has thought about that, it’s beautiful.
Are there any specific design elements that help deliver the feeling you get when you’re here?
It feels generous, with the oasis feel to the inner courtyards, when you enter into the property you feel like the outside world disappears, that’s very much the essence of the property. I think it’s also something about the wavy boardwalks, they’re so beautifully made and they’ve aged perfectly, I really love the way they connect the place.
The Atlantic is right in the middle of town, but you can be forgiven for forgetting that you are because of the way the property is landscaped. If you were to walk out from here after this discussion, where would you walk to?
I’d walk to Clarke’s Beach, it’s less than 5 minutes on foot, you walk through the path and see the beautiful little dune foliage, you get through the path and the whole bay opens up in front of you. I’ve always made it a thing, whether i’ve got the time or not, I have to get the sand under my feet, see Julian Rocks, see the ever present majestic lighthouse, the proximity to the sand is a big thing for me, whether i’m swimming or not. There are all these key points in setting my compass. I find it impossible not to go to Island Luxe, it’s right across the road, and the Bayleaf, it’s impossible not to go to these places… it’s just the best. Oh and Tracey at Be, a massage with Tracey hurts but it’s the absolute best! And Sparrow, this morning I woke up at 6 and walked to Sparrow with my KeepCup to have my first chai, with maca milk, it’s the best.
There’s a certain feeling that people get when they’re here at the property, retreating within the grounds, while they’re in the area, do you experience a certain feeling when you’re here?
I do, I have a feeing whenever I come to Byron, and then it’s heightened when I get to The Atlantic. The trip here is like shedding your clothes, your imagination takes off the heavy coat, the vest and thick socks, it might sound funny, but the weight of the world is removed. Even though I have to work a lot up here, there’s a slowing down of everything, I don’t know, is it being outdoors on the lawn, is it all the trees, the reserve out the back, the wildlife you can hear, regardless of why exactly, there’s a definitely relief when I get here. It’s incredibly valuable to me. Work can be demanding, there’s expectations, responsibilities, but the detail dissipates and you see the world in its larger format, it brings you back to earth, I don’t have to go to the Galapagos to get that, I can do it here, it’s a real reset for me.
OK, Let’s do some rapid fire questions, just for fun… Sun or Shade?
Sun with a hat.
Sparkling or Still?
Textured or Smooth?
Sweet or Savoury?
Savoury. Actually, that might have been a lie. I want it to be savoury, but I have a sweet tooth. I’m always trying not to have a sweet tooth, but…
Dream or Do?
Oh… I’m both, you have to dream it up to do it, to action it, i’m both.
Listen or Watch?
Digital or Analogue?
Oh, well, I love the mechanics of how things work, staplers and film, I love history, but i’m fast paced, I love digital, I love the immediacy.
Fast Food or Fast Cars?
Fast cars! Oh my gosh, I love cars! I’m a lead foot, my Dad knew the Gregory’s back to front, we were taught every single back street from a young age. I’d like an old Porsche, or a Panamera, they’re gorgeous.
Why are you here in Byron Bay this time?
I opened a shop, the Society Inc, which we share with McTavish. We paired with McTavish because we’re all family and it made total sense. We create spaces all the time and this was the easiest thing i’ve done all year, everyone played a role in bringing it to life and it’s just the most beautiful space. The building is gorgeous, so much history and an innate feeling of belonging for both brands. It’s really nice to be able to stay here and know it’s literally right around the corner, we’re really happy about it.
When are you going to be back at The Atlantic?
Next week! I’m not joking, I can’t wait to be back, and i’ve not even left yet.
To buy one of Sibella’s highly acclaimed books, or to get yourself a season of her ABC show Restoration Australia, land yourself here.