European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

Pack away the pineapple themed homewares. Now. European chic interiors are sophisticated, stylish and perfect for both the ladies and gents. Here’s your guide to create a masculine space the neighbours will be jealous of …

Interior Designer, taste-maker, visualist, and outspoken creative director of his own company, AZBcreative, Alex Zabotto-Bentley has spent the last couple of decades making a name for himself as a respected asset to the Australian design, fashion, media and hospitality industries. And he’s the go-too man for wow interior design.

Alex says the key to creating a European chic masculine space is all about balance. “Too often, people think that a masculine space means something dark, heavy and industrial,” explains Alex. “But in all things, balance is crucial. A man’s space should reflect the interests and passions of the owner, but appeal to both sexes. A successful interior needs both masculine and feminine elements – a little yin to the yang.”

Alex suggests looking for strong shapes and bold textures to express gentlemanly style. “Bold art choices, strong materials and textures that mix smooth and rough,” he says. “Think glass, lucite and marble meets mohair, tweed and concrete. It’s not about looking ‘blokey’, but about being confident in your choices.”

Here, Alex shares his best advice to create a masculine space …

Tell your story

“Part of what makes an interior authentic, is the story it tells about the owner,” explains Alex. “What story do you want to tell? If you have a collection or interest that can add personality to a space – it could be model cars, equestrian-themed items, art, books, sporting memorabilia… show it. But don’t just throw it in a corner. When we designed Kittyhawk, collections were crucial to tell the story. We created cabinets of curiosities filled with authentic wartime memorabilia and military ephemera. We also softened the space with leafy maiden hair plants… balance, always.”

Go to film school

“When looking for inspiration, think passion, not trends,” Alex advises. “Turn to the best film directors: like a movie, an interior tells a story. As visual storyteller Stanley Kubrik said of 2001: A Space Odyssey, ‘the film is a nonverbal experience.’ The interiors offer vital clues to the story and the characters’ state of mind. Luchino Visconti’s classic The Leopard depicts a crumbling aristocratic family, dwelling in faded splendour, but the interior colours really tell the story, from dark woods and warm brown, almost suede walls at the grand ball, to cool greys and weathered finishes of the abandoned Palazzo. Contemporary Italian film maker Luca Guadagnino’s film interiors spill into his own life. His rooms mix grand and simple, perfect and imperfect: think modern, minimalist furniture against Baroque mouldings and doors. As he recently told the New York Times, ‘Environment is essential. I like anything that has to do with form and space, but I am also a humanist [with] a very strong love and attraction for character. That’s the mixture.’ Use colour, texture and scale to create emotion and tell your own story.”

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

Alex’s global travels have allowed him to obtain invaluable inspiration, design references and unique collectables. Photography by Carlotta Moye.

Stay neutral

“Stick with a strong, neutral palette; this is not the time to channel your favourite footy team colours,” warns Alex. “Grey, greige and black are good starters to add a sense of European elegance and simplicity to your home. A simple palette pulls everything together visually, and gives your unique possessions a chance to shine and tell your story.”

Let there be light

“Another secret to a successful interior is to add lightness and air,” suggests Alex. “Ideally, you’d have huge windows to flood the space with light, like a Venetian Palazzo or a Parisian apartment. Lighter rooms look brighter and more inviting so use colour like off-white and beige through paint and objects to bring in the light and open up a space. A dark feature wall will immediately close down a space, so be cautious. Cutting back on clutter will also add light and air to a space, so invest in decent storage. Bring the outside in, with bold potted plants and outdoor touches, like an indoor conservatory or distinctive tiling.”

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

Alex blends rich textures with unique pieces and a garden view. Photography Carlotta Moye.

Learn to balance

“Everything in nature exists in balance; it’s yin and yang, soft and hard, light and dark,” explains Alex. “We are naturally drawn to harmony. As Jacques Grange, who designed homes for Yves Saint Laurent and chef Alain Ducasse said, ‘I don’t like anything too shiny, too gold-y, too bling-bling. I love the balance between the very simple and the very sophisticated.’ There is a balance of masculine and feminine elements in every interior project I work on, and I love the interplay between the elements. When we approached the design of the Kittyhawk space, of course it’s a masculine concept: a WWII-themed bar, with dark, masculine textures and materials. So I off-set that with more feminine elements like the curved brass frames around the bar and softer, pastel colours. Without them, the dramatic 13 metre bar of hand carved and panelled French oak with navy leather stools, would have felt too heavy.  Likewise, when we created the banquettes in hand-dyed military leather and oak surrounds, we lightened the mood with lighter-hued posters from the 1940s, hung gallery style.”

Buy real art

“There is nothing worse than a bare white wall, but please burn that Reservoir Dogs poster you’ve had since high school,” says Alex. “Generic art designed to blend in with the interior is also yawn-worthy. We commissioned some saucy pieces by Sarah Bahbah for Butter, which are real conversation starters. Consider an original photograph, or sketch, collect pieces when you travel – photos, fabric samples, ethnic embroideries – and hang them gallery style as we did at Kittyhawk, for a Parisian effect. Pro tip: frame everything in the same colour, so that you notice the art, not the frames.”

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

Alex has a priceless collection of stylish and artistic pieces from around the world. Photography by Carlotta Moye.

Keep it clean

“There’s a temptation to grab everything you like – stripes, checks, paisley, tribal patterns – and throw it all in; nothing dates faster,” warns Alex. “Seriously, paint effects? Busy wallpapers…? No. Instead, layer tones and textures for a sophisticated look – slate grey linen, textured sisal, dark chocolate bamboo and tarnished bronze all add depth and interest, without shouting.”

Be natural

“If you have a vinyl modular lounge, or anything that comes with a fire hazard label, I can call a skip for you right now,” laughs Alex. “Natural materials are comfortable and allow you and your interior to breathe. Look for heavy drill cottons, sisal, rough-woven linens and natural leathers. Natural doesn’t have to be boring: at Kittyhawk, we used hand-dyed leathers to add subtle texture and tone. The cockpit VIP booth has dark chocolate brown leather banquettes and mercury treated mirrors on the walls and ceiling. It’s sexy, like a lion’s den.”

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

Alex combines the great ancients with contemporary sculpture and exotic lighting beautifully. Photography Carlotta Moye.

Go green

“Everybody loves a gardener,” says Alex. “Inspired by recent menswear campaigns for Gucci and Burberry, you could create a greenhouse effect, with oversized potted plants. Look for sculptural, hardy plants like monstera deliciosa, ginger lily and potted palms. Hide the plastic pots from the nursery with shapely planters in antique brass or cream-glazed ceramic. We often add green elements to our interiors, to bring the outdoors in.”

Make it so

“I’m not suggesting you go all Martha Stewart with a glue gun,” says Alex. “Look for handmade elements to add a layer of meaning and warmth to your space. Collect pieces when you travel or seek out artisans to add to your story. Woven rugs, hand crochet throws, woven cushions, maybe a custom coffee table… all these pieces say ‘this is my unique space’.”

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

To canter or decanter? Religion, floral artworks, books … Alex’s favourite things on display. Photography by Carlotta Moye.

Be yourself

“You are not a samurai in Japan, so put away the futon and the paper screen,” says Alex. “Likewise, ‘shabby chic’ is just shabby. And just because you loved Mad Men, you don’t need to go all ‘60s modular with fake Eames chairs. In fact, don’t decorate your home in a ‘theme’. You grew out of costume parties in your early 20s, so it’s time to let your interiors grow up too. Be authentic and confident and claim your own style.”

European Chic Interiors: How To Create A Masculine Space

Master of chic, Alex Zabotto-Bentley

ABOUT: Alex Zabotto-Bentley is an Interior Designer and founder and Creative Director of AZBcreative. His impressive career highlights include Men’s Fashion Director for Vogue, before moving on to his acclaimed career in interiors, styling and design. His work as a stylist and brand advisor has seen him appear as on-air stylist and presenter on Network 10’s Search for a Supermodel, host of the “Makeover Challenge” on Arena’s StyleByte and as a “style purveyor” on Australia’s Next Top Model. He has also worked as style director for major stars like Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Sugar Babes and Prince. 

Having worked within the industry for many years and recognising that there was a need for a company that designs curated interiors, brand alignment and live experiences, Alex’s next venture into events was a natural progression, allowing him to produce memorable occasions that capture the true aesthetics of a brand. It was with this new business scope that Alex started his own creative agency, AZBcreative. Alex specialises in all aspects of design from installations to interior designing and decorating to brand communication, with his work forming the foundations for what many brands are built on. Renowned for creating noise and fanfare around a multitude of launches, events and activations, his work has seen him sought after by companies from all over the world. 

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