Customisation is the the new Opulence
Luxury is no longer defined by vast stretches of marble and gold. Sure, ritzy pads like Versailles or the Winter Palace were great in their day but you wouldn't really want to come home to them after a hard day at the office.
The "new" luxury that people aspire to is much more personal. It's about having a beautiful place to call home, an apartment that has been customised especially for you, or a house that offers a unique experience when you step through the front door.
To some, luxury is space or the number of bathrooms but increasingly, it's a more considered concept.
"Luxury is about people realising their dreams," says Annette Condello, author of The Architecture of Luxury.
Condello, a West Australian academic, says the concept of luxury is changing, with a return to artisan goods and well-crafted spaces. She believes we should also think of luxury in terms of sustainability.
Luxury is how you use space, too. There's not much point in having something that looks unbelievable but doesn't engage the owner.
Well-known Melbourne designer David Hicks, who spends his days creating beautiful interiors at the top end of town, believes the term is overused.
"The expectation of luxury has changed and it now involves other experiences than just the expensive," Hicks says.
The new luxury is more about integrity, rareness and quality. Space, light and unique materials are important. "The industry has seen an important return to craftsmanship," Hicks says.
A truly luxurious home will have considered spaces and streamlined planning to suit the people who live there.
Architect Anthony Pie is excited that clients now want to create interesting spaces. "People want something that has been touched by an artisan," he says.
"Luxury is how you use space, too. There's not much point in having something that looks unbelievable but doesn't engage the owner."
It should be solidly constructed with a minimal palette of quality finishes such as solid timber, natural stone and hard plaster.
Custom joinery, quality tapware, appliances and lighting add to the overall result. A decorative layering of interesting finishes such as wallpaper, upholstered walls or inlaid stone flooring can also add uniqueness to an interior, Hicks says.
The "new" luxury that people aspire to is much more personal.
Glamour is out
For William Smart, director of Sydney's Smart Design Studio, detail and quality are everything. The architect, who won numerous awards for designing philanthropist Judith Neilson's Indigo Slam home and gallery, says his clients expect classic quality materials, integrated technology and a feeling of sanctuary.
"The very opulent, glamorous style of interiors is out of fashion," Smart says. "What's in is much more relaxed and layered. The luxury we see now is more about the textures and materials that people put into an interior space than the glamour and glitz of 10 years ago."
Combining very polished materials with rough or authentic materials creates unexpected interiors, he says. Materials such as marble, linen, leather and silk are timeless and enduring, and while he admits a big budget helps, he doesn't think "a luxurious home needs to have everything luxurious either".
Luxury: it's now about craftsmanship, experience, creating a sanctuary, materials, detail and quality.
Luxury as experience
The planned Muse apartments on Melbourne's St Kilda Road is to be crowned by a A$40 million-plus, two-storey penthouse. Interior designer Charlotte Henderson of Bruce Henderson Architects believes the details of the project will be key to its success.
"For my parents' generation, luxury meant owning something that represented prestige or symbolised opulence," Henderson says.
"The current perception of luxury is much more than that – it's an experience of how one feels within a space."
People expect their homes to be unique and tailored to the way they live. Creating space that is evenly balanced between practicality and aesthetics is important, she says.
"For me, luxury means creating something individual with beautiful materials."
For Pie, true luxury is also about catering for passions, whether it's a basement for vintage cars, a cellar for wine or space to display an art collection.
Sense of sanctuary
Carr Design Group, which has scooped up numerous design awards for Jackalope Hotel on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria in Australia, certainly has its finger on the pulse.
Principal Sue Carr says she is seeing a shift towards more varied, complex, individualised and meaningful forms of luxury. "Luxury and, therefore, status has become less about 'what I have' and much more about 'who I am'," she says. And while it used to be synonymous with excessive expense, people now value the emotional experience over physical "things", she believes.
Quality is not necessarily the most expensive, it's more about story and provenance.
"This is the new luxury – the luxury of space, light, volume, quality, ease, simplicity and convenience – design that provides sanctuary, creates a sense of calm and elevates quality of life."