One of Intermain’s latest projects is a collaboration with SJB Interiors. The project involved the restoration of the basement of one of Sydney’s oldest bank buildings and the design of new offices, a buyers’ area and pearl detailing room for the Paspaley Pearling Company. The National Heritage Board provided the framework for the project and the brief for all new works that include a complex series of joinery elements carefully ‘placed’, not fixed, within the heritage space.

To take a closer look at the role between builder and designer, Intermain commissioned this short film to explore the creative relationship through the building’s design transformation. The film includes a conversation between designer Georgia Hickey, SJB, and project manager Jason Sultana, Intermain, that reveals the behind-the-scenes story and the good, sometimes surprising, things that happen when design collaborations work.

In conversation – Georgia Hickey, SJB x Jason Sultana, Intermain

Georgia Hickey: The first time I walked down into this space I could not believe my eyes. I walked in and I just saw these vaulted ceilings, these tiled walls, these steel rooms and I just couldn’t believe that I was going to be able to work in a space like that.

Jason Sultana: The bones of this building are unbelievable. The initial site visit you could see that the space was beautiful but it had been neglected for so long.

GH: We are standing in an original bank vault that was the Bank of Australasia and it was built in about 1901 to 1904. The approach for the joinery and detailing and the whole project in general, especially the office spaces, was trying to pick up on the fact that a lot of the spaces originally felt like shipping containers. What we wanted to do was turn that around from a shipping container and make it into a luxury yacht. So that meant we had to bring in rich materails: leathers, fine detailing,leather panelling, slatted timber, there is plush carpets and upholstery. I think we were lucky with the client we have that we were able to use high-end finishes and a joiner who’s very capable of achieving very high-end details. We had to get services down here that didn’t exist and we had to get them through layers of construction that we weren’t familiar with. The joinery component was the biggest part of this project because we were dealing with the existing bones of a building and we didn’t really change much of that, we had to insert the new office within that existing space.

I think what was a little unconventional with documenting the joinery was the parameters of the building. SJB didn’t detail and document the joinery in the way we normally would. We did a lot of sketches and that’s where Intermain came in. They measured up the site parameters and went away and documented the drawings and prepared their shop drawings and detailed them up. Intermain is a very capable joinery shop so it ended up being absolutely beautiful.

JS: This job became a bit of a D&C early on due to a layout change. Instead of getting SJB to redesign the whole thing we thought, “We have a joinery shop here, we have the programers, how about we work through this together.” So basically we ran through the original details we had, we had sketches and we had sessions with Georgia to resolve the joinery details. By the time we were at the manufacturing stage we knew the details inside out and the task of making the joinery was quite a simple one. I think that was the most time we spent collaborating getting those details right.  During that whole investigation process we came up with a couple of good alternatives.

GH: I love particularly the vaulted ceilings in the main space. They are these beautiful glazed bricks with steel plates between them. It’s construction that you just don’t have these days so that was something we really wanted to highlight and celebrate. We used concealed lighting to emphasise that as you walk down the stairs its one of the first thing you now see. Then you walk into the office spaces and that’s where the luxury yachts light up and they become jewellery boxes which was also part of our concept.

JS: I think the key elements are definitely the vaults and using the existing vault doors. We have all the safe doors operating, We used all the steel grate doors. The ceiling pretty much hasn’t been touched, we have just cleaned it, along with the majority of the tiled walls that haven’t been damaged. As far as selecting materials to do this restoration I wouldn’t say there were any  that were easy to source. Pretty much every aspect was a challenge.

GH: The heritage tiles that line almost all of the walls in the common areas are probably one of my favourite things as well, you just don’t see tiling done like that way these days. We tried for almost the entire length of the project to find tiles that would suit and it was almost impossible.

JS: There really was no simple task on this project was there.

GH: The other thing that is important to talk about is the fixing methods that we had to use because of the fact that it’s a heritage building we couldn’t just screw things to the wall like you normally would. We had to work closely with Intermain to come up with ideas. We ended up using structural velcro because that has the least heritage impact on the space. You can’t tell this either but nothing is actually fixed to the wall. It is a free standing unit at the back of the room and that was Intermain’s idea of how to physically have the shelves self-supported.

JS: We had to appreciate the building and how old it was. The gates, the safe doors, the generator in the back of house. We have made a feature out of that. Utilising this lift. This lift hasn’t really been touched all we have done is just restored it and it looks amazing. I think they are the areas that I really like. The areas that haven’t really been touched but brought to how they were when I’m sure the project was handed over back in the early 1900s.

It was a big challenge to get this space to where it is but every aspect of it has been exciting, from start to finish. Every time I walk in here now I try to think back to how it was and I think what a transformation it’s unbelievable.

GH: I am just so happy we have succeeded and gone beyond my expectations of celebrating the things I saw when I first walked down here, and respectfully as well.

Georgia Hickey, SJB, and Jason Sultana, Intermain, were interviewed by Heidi Dokulil onsite at the Paspaley Pearling Company’s HQ, Martin Place, Sydney. Intermain would like to thank the Paspaley Pearling Company and SJB for their partnership on this project.