One of Australia’s leading interior designers reflects on how rural life has influenced her.
Words Victoria Carey. Photography Lisa Cohen. Styling Tess Newman-Morris. With thanks to Adelaide Bragg.
Adelaide Bragg is hard to catch. She’s installed three major projects the week we speak, and the pace is simply picking up. It comes with the territory when you are one of Australia’s leading interior designers. We joke about how, when work gets busy, you can feel like you are living out of a car with a spare pair of heels stashed permanently in the boot. “I think I’m much better at putting my makeup on in the car these days, than I am in front of a vanity,” she says wryly.
Today, Adelaide lives in a leafy Melbourne suburb with her husband Tim and their three sons – Oliver, who has just turned 18, Kip, 16, and Rupert, 15. Two boisterous Jack Russell terriers Flossy and Scarlett are also in residence behind the raspberry red front door of the Victorian villa the couple bought in 2007. (She loves a “gutsy colour” in the mix and counsels clients to hold their judgement until a project is installed. And of course they listen to her — you’d be crazy not to – and end up loving it.)
But the place Adelaide truly calls home is where she grew up: Rossgole, a property perched high up on a plateau overlooking the Hunter Valley and Wybong.
“I grew up on that mountain and we had a very country childhood. It was pups and ponies, rather than toys and dolls,” she says. “I loved every minute of it.”
The Bragg children – Adelaide has two brothers, her twin and a younger sibling – lived a very full life growing up.
“We always had a pony, a labrador and a terrier,” she says. One of them, a sweet brown Welsh mountain mare called Tabitha, particularly stands out. “I absolutely adored her. I remember how much she loved KitKats.”
Located in the heart of prime sheep and cattle country, Rossgole was a busy working station. Adelaide’s mother worked alongside her father, out in the paddocks. “We were put on a horse in a basket and taken mustering as little children,” says Adelaide. “When I look back, there was a lot of hard work, but it was also so much fun. And I’m sure that country upbringing made me very practical.”
It also instilled a quiet confidence that has stood her in good stead since she picked up her swatch book professionally, initially in partnership with her cousin Gretel Packer in 1989 as Barham and Bragg. Weren’t you terrified doing your first job after starting the business when you were only 21? “No, not at all,” she says calmly. “It was all very exciting.” (And it worked out very well, with the Woollahra worker’s cottage making the cover of Belle magazine. It turned out to be the first of many.)
But this impressive debut wasn’t a huge surprise to the design set who frequented nearby Queen Street. Colefax and Fowler’s Martine Burns, famed for her great eye, had landed in Sydney in the late eighties, tasked with setting up the Australian office of the esteemed English design house. Adelaide, who was back at Rossgole considering what to do next after working at Laura Ashley, heard Martine needed a design assistant and went for an interview. “She was a wonderful woman and I learnt so much from her. I still use Colefax in my projects to this day,” she says. “The quality is so good.”
With more than three decades in the business, Adelaide Bragg & Associates is known for comfortable, classic interiors. As Adelaide often says: “We don’t do trends or themes. It’s a home, not a stage set.”
Naturally enough, she’s right at home working on interiors for country clients.
“The thing with country houses is, they need to be practical and not precious. I did a proper working station a few years ago where the client didn’t just want “pretty”. It had to be so that they could come in at the end of the day with filthy jeans on and just sit,” she explains.
Today, Bragg’s three boys also love to go mustering, like their mother once did, although the horses have been swapped for bikes and three-wheelers. The family even spent eight months during lockdown in the “very simple house” they built four years ago, just down the road from Bragg’s parents.
“It was a gamechanger. The two dogs, the three children… we all just absolutely loved it,” she says. “The boys like a country life.”
The pandemic has made the couple revaluate their lives. “We will live in the country once the kids have finished their education. I always wanted to, but I never dreamed that I would be able to. Covid changed that.”
But what is the internet like? “Good enough for me!” she says with a laugh.
To see more of Adelaide’s work, visit www.adelaidebragg.com.au
Our editorial director and Adelaide share a great love of Jack Russell terriers, horses and fabrics so they found it hard to stop talking. "We also share a desire to live in the country again, so I'm inspired by Adelaide's plans to do that eventually," she says.