Unexpected transformations

Interior designer Tracy Lynch tells of her passion for finding the unexpected, her love for junk shops and the importance of heartfelt spaces.

Tracy Lynch’s approach to interior design is simple: “Throw the rule book out of the window. Forget about good taste. It’s not about what you should like.”

It’s with this philosophy that the Cape Town-based decorator goes to work, bringing spaces to life. She adds: “I think good taste is when somebody with passion and conviction puts something out there in the world with confidence.”

This passion, conviction and confidence with which Lynch approaches her work was also recognised recently by her peers, when she was awarded the South African Interior Decorator of the Year prize.

“The award came at an interesting time in my life,” Lynch tells me over a cup of coffee at the Freeworld Design Centre on Cape Town’s Fanwalk. She explains that  interior decorating is a recent addition to her creative portfolio and happened as something of a natural extension from the styling work that she’s been doing for various décor magazines. A fine artist by training, Lynch credits her styling experience as being instrumental in defining the way she now approaches interior spaces. “If you work as a stylist you have got to be quite clever about how you can transform without being extravagant.”

This “cleverness” is one of the key features of Lynch’s work, together with her preference for making existing objects work in a new way, and utilising that which already exists in a space. “The reuse of materials is totally a focus for me,” she says, reasoning that her ability to work with what she has at hand as one of her main creative strengths. “I think it is one of the things that I have become recognised for, the ability to make something have a visual impact both when you see it in a picture, but also when you’re actually in the space, without having to gut a space and start from scratch.”

But spaces are about more than being picture perfect. Speaking specifically about private homes, Lynch is motivated by the old “home is where the heart is” adage. She’s definitely noticed a strong trend towards that which is humble and heartfelt. “People are aching for something more real. We are exposed to so much visually and we want a place to come home to that comforts us and makes us feel protected and connected, a place to rejuvenate.” Creating these spaces of comfort and safety is what Lynch aims to achieve with each new project. In Lynch’s experience this comfortable, worn look is best achieved by combining the things that people feel really connected to in their homes. A “humble space”, she enthuses, is one where inherited pieces have been made to work alongside a contemporary piece. “It’s about how you marry them together, this is where the challenge lies but it is also where the magic is.”

Walking into a space that has been made to work is both satisfying and inspiring, says Lynch confidently. While there definitely is the place and the time for the “glass and chrome” look, these styles are often unattainable and alienating, Lynch believes. “Everybody is rethinking how they spend their money, even if they have money to spend. People want to be clever and so there is definitely this trend to not be seen as too flashy or too extravagant.”

When the extravagance is pushed out the back door, the clever use of materials is invited through the front door and it’s far more exciting because it is all about the potential that people are seeing. “This is more rewarding and it’s also far more sustainable,” Lynch asserts.

Lynch describes her own interior style as “unexpected”. “I like the sense of transformation. Combining unexpected elements is key for me.” The search for the objects that help form unexpected spaces is one of the most exciting parts of the job for Lynch.

For inspiration Lynch trawls the streets of Cape Town and enjoys nothing more than going in search of that unique something that a space needs, working from what she describes as “recycled palettes”. Objects that have been given a second life is one of the characteristics of a space designed by Lynch. “I love junk shops and I’m fascinated by what people discard. I love the idea of sifting through people’s history. I can’t help myself, it’s intoxicating!”

Finding the gems in these places start with learning to open your mind to find inspiration wherever you are, Lynch believes. “This is what is key about design. It’s not an ABC-style recipe that you follow but it’s rather about the skills that allow you to know that there is potential everywhere.” Seeing this potential happens when you are able to connect yourself to the world, Lynch believes. “You happen upon things when you connect yourself to the world outside of the office or studio, and when you move away from what Google shows you.”

It’s about finding your own style, or in Lynch’s case, going on a creative journey with people to help them find their style. “Finding that ‘decorative voice’ is really just about experimenting and moving things around, editing your space and constantly using it a form of expression.”

“Look and you shall see”, and then you might also be surprised by the unexpected, Lynch believes. “People often say things like ‘I never would have thought to use this and that together’. It’s probably because they never thought,” she quips.

Images: The barn at the Old Mac Daddy Trailer Park in Elgin outside Cape Town, designed by Lynch.