Colour is the core of Sonia van de Haar’s practice. A painter and architectural colour specialist, her unique cross-disciplinary approach to colour is sought out by architects, designers and private clients who want to inject colour into their spaces.
Sonia recently relocated to Canberra and fitted out her new apartment with our salvaged Adelaide gym floor. It turns out timber is in her blood, and we thought we would take this opportunity to introduce you!
Tell us what you love about timber
I grew up with timber. My grandfather was a Dutch master carpenter who immigrated to Australia in the 1950s. In fact, he had a contract with the Australian Government to bring his prefabricated house designs to Canberra.
When that didn’t eventuate he set up his timber and joinery business near Wollongong. As a child I played in the factory with my siblings and cousins: hide and seek in the timber stacks, making nests in the huge piles of curly sawdust, stealing putty from the glazing shed.
What I love about timber today is the colour and warmth it brings to buildings. It’s a material that humans enjoy and respond to positively. Grain patterns and colour variations across the surface of timber are both stimulating and soothing in a way that uniform and bland surfaces are not.
A room lined with plywood is qualitatively very different (and better) to one lined with plasterboard.
What are you most proud of making?
Winning the 2017 Dulux Colour Awards GRAND PRIX, for a public dunny block was definitely a career highlight. I am extremely proud of this collaboration with Sam Crawford Architects on the North Bondi Public Amenities building. Five years on from designing it we still get wonderful feedback from the public. Designing a really good, user friendly, public toilet is one of the most difficult design briefs for an architect. The colour and material palette I created for the building are an essential part of its success.
Rustic or Clean Dressed? (Timber of course)
When I was 9 years old, I went with my grandfather to buy a Christmas tree. After we got it home he proceeded to trim off some branches and then drill new holes in the trunk to reposition them in a more symmetrical arrangement. I said, “Opa! What are you doing? It’s supposed to be like that, it’s fine as it is!” He looked at me as if I was an idiot and said, “Nature can be improved”.
I don’t see things through quite the same lens, but I now agree that the interaction between people and the natural environment is full of potential – we can and must keep getting better at collaborating with nature. So, clean dressed.
If you had to work with just one material…
Pigment. As the basis of all paint colours, pigments have fascinating origins and histories. Colours have the ability to connect and transform spaces and places.
Downtime is best spent…
When you work for yourself, as a maker or designer, the concept of work and play are quite fluid. Wherever I go, I am looking at colour. But to get back to the theme of timber – I do love camping when I can sit around the campfire and whittle with green wood. I take my small Hultafors axe and carving knives and I try to make a spoon or something functional. It is incredibly satisfying.
Recommend your best source of inspiration.
Nature provides the most beautiful and most surprising colour combinations. When I have a new project, I generally start by collecting colours from the local environment, from the flora and geology in particular. This is one of the ways I develop my colour palettes for buildings – I believe building colour and materiality should be ‘of their place’, and sit harmoniously in their contexts. Colour has the power to create harmony between seemingly disparate entities.
What do you love about your job?
I love that every project is different. On public or commercial projects I have the opportunity to work on a large scale and to influence the quality of public spaces. In residential projects I enjoy working with clients on a more intimate scale and helping to make homes that are uniquely beautiful and delightful to the owners. It’s really rewarding to see the pleasure and enjoyment people experience from colour and artworks in buildings. So many people are afraid of making mistakes with colour. When it is done well it feels like a kind of magic, and people appreciate the care that’s evident in colour done well.