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In The Studio With: TRIAS Architecture & Design Studio

22 November, 2023


Jennifer McMaster & Jonathon Donnelly


Nick Tsindos

Adam Gibson

Jen & Jonnie.

"A lot of our work is really about embracing the act of slowing down and enjoying things."

Tell us about TRIAS and what you do?

We are an architecture studio whose mantra is to design buildings that are solid, simple and beautiful. We also believe in the idea that less is better. We like to find houses and people who are focused on the quality of a space and the experience of a home rather than those who are just looking to make everything bigger and more extravagant. A lot of our work is really about embracing the act of slowing down and enjoying things.

We feel an important part of what we do is getting to know our clients really well. Our projects  are very collaborative and are as much a representation of the client as it is us. Provider House is a great example of that, it has Tara’s DNA written all over it. We were just there to help bring her vision to life and create a welcoming, inviting and immersive place.

House models.

Where or who do you draw inspiration from?

We draw a lot of inspiration from other places and cultures. We have traveled a lot and love to go to other countries, see different types of homes and observe the rituals and routines of everyday life in other parts of the world. Travel has a way of helping you reflect on your own city or country and see the little details that make your part of the world unique, too.

Our trips through Japan, Scandinavia and Mexico have had a lasting impact on our approach. These places all have a strong design culture where design is part of the everyday. Acts like having a cup of coffee or taking a bike ride are all celebrated and not simply done for convenience or efficiency.

We definitely draw a lot of inspiration from buildings we have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting in other countries. The experiences we’ve had have influenced aspects of our work; but we like putting our own Australian twist on these encounters and creating a balance of something that feels grounded and local, but also feels like it’s been inspired by another place or culture. Provider House is a great example of that; it is like ‘a little piece of Japan in Australia'. It embodies the spirit of Kyoto and gives you the feeling of being in Japan while being surrounded by the Australian bush.

Kyoto architecture.
Buildings in the streets of Tokyo.

TRIAS embraces a holistic architecture approach, what does that mean?

Holistic architecture is an approach to designing spaces that layers in all the things that make a home really comfortable, beautiful, and simple. The idea is that we are thinking of all these tiny details and elements and bringing them together to create a really impactful and immersive place. A place where nothing feels jarring, nothing feels out of place, everything feels calm and almost inevitable.

It’s the moment you open the door and you know where to put your keys; you know where to take off your shoes; you can put something down on the counter, and if it leaves a mark, that somehow makes the space more beautiful. It’s thinking about all the finer details that thread together to make something really special.

For us, that comes down to the materials you choose and the way you design spaces. It isn’t just about adding something because it looks nice; everything should have a story, a meaning, and a purpose. Every object and space in a home is an opportunity to tell a story and contribute to that place and the experience in a way that adds something rather than just being on the surface.

Holistic architecture means thinking about everything in an idiosyncratic way. Elements like sourcing materials locally or from a local maker create a space that feels grounded, not just something that was pulled out of thin air or from looking at a Pinterest board. At Provider House, the use of local Blackwood timber for the veneer and joinery and having a basin created by friend of Provider and artist Milly Dent add layers to the home that tell a really personal story.

Wood shelving.
Milly Dent sink.

"We are making homes, and homes are messy, homes are imperfect, they don’t look like they do in magazines, because life doesn’t happen like that."

Can you tell us more about the concept of 'Solid, Simple, Beautiful'?

Solid, simple, beautiful is our studio mantra. First we make it solid, then we make it simple, then we make it beautiful.

The idea of something being solid isn’t necessarily about it holding up; it's about making sure the idea is robust, clear, and timeless. We then make it simple by refining it to its absolute essence, and by doing that, it naturally becomes beautiful as a result.

A lot of people start from beauty and that is where you end up with things that look great but they’re not timeless or they fall apart. That’s not the type of designers we are, we believe in doing things once and doing them well, making them last and making sure they have integrity.

We are making homes, and homes are messy, homes are imperfect, they don’t look like they do in magazines, because life doesn’t happen like that. You have to have something that is robust enough, something that can withstand the day to day energy of life and a place that gets more beautiful as it’s lived in.


How do you approach sustainability as a company and in design?

Sustainability is very important to what we do and we think about it through a lot of different lenses. A big part of sustainability for us is doing and building as little as you can because the less we change and the more we preserve the homes we already have, the less we’re using resources to make something new.

When designing new houses, we deal with a lot of practical and technical things first to future proof the home. We always do what we can to make our homes comfortable year round without any artificial heating and cooling. We rely on the local sun, breezes and light to make a place feel really welcoming and, where possible, we make all our houses electric.

The biggest impact construction has is waste and the disposability of homes, particularly interiors, so we try to consciously go against the grain with that. We approach projects thoughtfully and carefully so every material, every decision, and every incision we make is done as purposefully as possible. We want to make sure everything is in the right place the first time round. A lot of what we do is based around ‘do it once and do it well’ which ties to sustainability because if we take the time to do things right and create a timeless design first time round, someone isn’t going to have to rip it out in five years because it’s not trendy anymore.

Designs in progress.
Sunlight at Provider House.

How did you approach the design for Provider House?

It was very much a collaborative design, there were many days spent around the table at Provider Studio mixed with some trips to the pub and a LOT of Japanese magazines. Tara was fantastic at bringing all these weird and wonderful references from years of collecting and scrapbooking, it was like an old school Pinterest board. We were always bouncing ideas off each other, no idea was off the table, we would all just throw an idea out there until we all went ‘yep that’s the one’.

Provider house feels like a unique place because there were lots of things we were looking at and talking about that weren’t what was coming up on everyone’s Instagram feeds. It was things that genuinely inspired us and spoke to us about that particular place.

For us, the joy in a project is when we are almost like the silent accomplice in the background, where the project represents who our clients are, and is a portrait of them and a part of their biography, we are simply there as the supporting act. Tara had all these good ideas and vision, and we were just there to provide a little bit of expertise to make sure it would work.

It was such a joyous experience for us because Tara had found this incredible building that just needed love, not even straightening up but just making it welcoming again. Others may have thought, well that’s not straight so we better knock it down. In the wrong hands, someone may not have seen the potential and what was already there. Buildings and places have their own stories and you have to be receptive to what they tell you, particularly when they are old and imperfect. There is nothing worse than when you find a building and, once you finish renovating, it feels worse, like it’s lost some of that charm and character.

There was a lot of care in each decision at Provider House as we wanted to make sure that everything felt like it belonged in the house. What emerged was a real patchwork of all of our ideas and aesthetics, that drew on lots of inspiration that was earmarked in those magazines and blended that with things that we came up with.

Japanese magazines.

What were the biggest challenged when working on Provider House?

The biggest challenge was not seeing the building in person. Remote projects are always challenging because you can’t be on the ground being responsive. Normally we are quite present, so with this project we had to trust the team and know that Tara was there as the eyes and ears.

Working during covid meant working remotely, so we had to have a different process - for example, we couldn’t do a measure up in person, so a friend had to go and do a quick measure up for us. Then, with the drawings, we had to identify what was important instead of dimensioning everything precisely. We instead focused more on alignments, because the most important thing was to make sure things lined up and then everything else could flow on from there. The goal was to just make it as good as possible – plus, as Tara said, ‘Nothing is going to measure up, because this house is built crooked’.

That’s what we love about Provider House, it is the antithesis of how so many people build now. So many new buildings feel plasticy and nothing is natural, they are sealed boxes where you can barely open a window to smell the air and the rain. Provider House, on the other hand, is creaky, old and charming. We wish there were more buildings like that because it’s so charming.

Provider House Blackwood Kitchen
Provider House bathroom.

What is your favourite part of the Provider House design?

The bathroom. It’s a good example of the spirit of the project, it is old meets new with simple design gestures that bring out the beauty of what already exists. Moments like the shelf between the window and mirror – where the window speaks to the original house ,and the mirror is the new, clean and simple addition, and those two elements are matched in proportion - it just feels right.

The bathroom feels like a Japanese Sauna and has the feeling of a space you have in Japan that you don’t encounter here. Bath houses are such a unique part of traveling within Japan and it’s not something we do here in Australia, but this space facilitates that in Tasmania. It’s a sensory experience, it’s tactile and warm; you are surrounded by natural textures, so as soon as you walk in there, you just relax. It’s a place where taking a bath or washing your hands becomes heightened and special. Moments like looking out the window to Mount Wellington, feeling the warmth of the underfloor heating and smelling the cedar - it all plays into that sensory experience.

The beauty of the timber, the slightly rickety spaces, the amazing kintsugi bowl and the gorgeous bathtub - our design sits in the background but that means the selections really shine.

Kintsugi sink by Milly Dent.

'Tara and I bonded over our love of ‘staycations’ at Paramount Hotel in Sydney, which we’ve done just to experience the bath there’. Similarly to Provider House, it’s the idea that not everyone has to have an amazing bath at home, but you have these special places where you can go for a holiday or an escape to reconnect with nature and the people around you. The bathroom and all the rooms in Provider House are about savouring that experience, so you can then go back to regular urban life refreshed and rejuvenated. It pays homage to those experiences in Japan, and reflects how we seek peace and tranquility when living in the city.

Bathing at Provider House.

What is your favourite room within a home and why?

We really love designing entries because it embodies the ritual of coming home. In Australia, we don’t have a culture of vestibules - places like Denmark and Scandinavia have a dedicated place to take off your shoes and your coat, letting you shed these layers before you move into the house. In Japan it’s the same –there is a place for you to take off your shoes before you enter.

It is such a special moment in the day when you come home you can let go of the day and the outside b, and transition from one part of your life and emerge into your own world. It’s something that we think about a lot when we’re designing: from the moment you open the gate, go up the path, open the door, and leave the day behind you. There is a sense of calm that overcomes you when you are home. We want to create ways to ritualise and enhance that sensibility and peacefulness when you arrive home.

When you arrive at Provider House, you walk along the deck and at the front door you take off your shoes and place them on an antique rack, hang up your coat and put on your slippers before entering the house. It’s creating layers and adding the little things that make you feel grounded and like you are at home, as soon as you arrive.

Jen & Jonnie.

Renovation or new build


Favourite place to eat?

AP Bakery (we are new parents so sugar and caffeine is life)

Best song to start the day with?

The Beatles - Here comes the sun – we sing it to our daughter every morning

Bush or coast?

Bushy coast

What are you reading or watching at the moment?

Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

Birnam Wood - Eleanor Catton (Jen’s favourite book this year)

Architect, verb - Reinier de Graaf

Where would your dream home location be


A designer or maker we need to know about?

Made by Mennt - Laura Butler

JD Lee - Furniture Maker in Byron Hinterland

Anna Karina Elias - Ceramicist and artist up in Bryon


Explore Trias Architecture & Design

Provider House exterior.

Further reading

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