Intimate photographs of the architects, artists and artisans behind Paramount by The Office Space.
I am standing, then sitting, then mulling around the upper ground level of Paramount House, a 1940s heritage building that was formerly the office and distribution centre of Paramount Pictures. This is a place that Sydney residents are most likely familiar with: there is a cinema downstairs and a café at the entrance level, and before the level I am standing in became home to a swathe of incredibly private serviced offices, it was a pop-up venue for fashion events.
There are dogs here. Dogs! I have counted two small and well-behaved dogs that appear to share a single leash. If all dogs were this quiet and seemingly manageable, I tell myself, perhaps everyone would have them. The discreet canines belong to someone I haven’t been formally introduced to, but I assume we are friends because his pets are so polite. The reality of Paramount by The Office Space, the newest project by power-duo Boris and Naomi Tosic, is that clients can be as private or social as they wish: their bespoke suites (lit naturally in the day and by custom Alma brass fittings in the evening) allow for either option.
What is most interesting though—much more than a speculative who’s who of tenants and their pets—is the sheer extent of contemporary art. It is everywhere, in glass rooms and boardrooms and every single office, mostly sourced from the Tosic’s formidable collection. And that is why we are here, to meet the various artists and artisans represented.
Ormandy is one half of iconic homeware and jewellery label Dinosaur Designs
The Paramount office suites feel like the right place for a Stephen Ormandy work. I refer, not only, to the abundance of smooth, curved wood and the mid-century modernist accoutrements (if they had one dollar for every visitor who draws parallels to Mad Men) but the rest of the Paramount building, which has the fizzing, effervescent buzz that Ormandy’s oil paintings and sculptures deserve to be around. Boris Tosic–who owns and directs this space–had previously commissioned a painting by the Sydney-based artist and jewellery designer. Ormandy was “pleasantly surprised” to discover he had bought more. There are three works in total here, all purchased from Ormandy’s Polychromatism exhibition. One–a biomorphic, twisting sculpture cast in black stone–sits in a communal area, atop a brass bar table.
Who has the cojones to buy a five-breasted Del Kathryn Barton goddess, executed in such enormous scale it doesn’t actually fit in the building you got it for?
The Croatian builder-come-leaser has loved the artist for many years, but the work I see today—its central, redoubtable figure with yellowing eyes and plump pink nipples, cast against bushland flora and the hyper-saturated planets of a miniature solar system—will not remain in this office. It takes up an entire wall. It’s too big, and requires, according to Tosic’s partner Naomi, a space that’s been designed around it. Instead, there will be a drawing. Barton is flat out with a major commission, and at the time of our conversation, it was not yet begun.
“I originally designed them for my own house,” says Andrew Southwood-Jones. The former architecture student—who now co-directs daast, a multidisciplinary studio that picks up most of its work in prototypes—is talking about numbers. A series of undulating sculptural numbers, made from hand-polished brass, each with an identical dip in the middle. They look like fancy doorknobs, affixed, as they are, to the entry of each office suite. You want to wrap your fingers around them, twist them to one side. “We wanted a play on the traditional, functional 2D house number. Here, you look at the number from different angles and are unable to make it out. Only when you see it from front on is it clear.” And the reason for brass? Southwood-Jones lets a chortle escape. “Ha! It was actually designed in a few different materials first: concrete, rubber, aluminium. But Boris told me it had to be brass—there’s so much brass in this fit-out! We made a custom, hand-polished number to suit his space.”
Maybe the solution to the state of covetousness small-time art collectors inspire is to simply hang around them. Take out their rubbish in the evenings. Book their dog a treatment in one of those portable dog-washing trucks, with an inbuilt hydrobath. Be ever present and indispensible, the go-to guy for arranging thank you flowers and picking up children, until their house is your house, their private collection yours to freely enjoy.
The alternative, of course, is to pursue formal employment with a collector. This is what Sammy Preston does, as curator of Paramount by The Office Space. Much of the work on rotation is drawn from Tosic’s personal collection, bought for “emotion rather than potential value or aesthetics.” It is, she says, a very diverse hanging, infused with memoiristic pleasure. There is a partial Stephen Powers series, painted especially for Tosic. There are 11 serigraphs from Corita Kent, the American Catholic nun known for her optimistic ‘Big G’—or ‘goodness’—logo. A Ben Quilty diptych guards the foyer. There are works by Brett Whiteley, Richard Larter, Dion Horstmans and Julije Knifer. Preston calls the mix compelling—“far from your standard corporate office collection.”
Boris Tosic—who, by the way, would like to buy the camel Prada coat he is dressed in right now—tells stories with the brisk enthusiasm of a circus ringmaster introducing a new act, or a charming CEO who has multiple appointments following yours. His sentences, clipped and factual, are interspersed with plenty of excited ‘and thens’—especially when detailing the acquiring of various artworks. Excepting the chairs, every object and surface on this level is handmade. For a commercial office fit-out of this size, that proved a costly exercise, but Tosic says, gesturing around, “to get a hand-feel, to get intricate corners and something that looks like this, you need to go handmade.”
The excerpted transcript below elucidates how Tosic picked up his first Julije Knifer ‘meander’ work, which hangs proudly in the building. Somewhere in the middle, one of Tosic’s artisans entered the room, also dressed in a sharp Prada jacket. “BEAUTIFUL!” Tosic shouted, beaming. “BEAUTIFUL! BEAUTIFUL! BEAUTIFUL! YES!”
“Ok, so THIS is a story. I saw this about 15 years ago. It was a German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. He was addressing the nation. I saw it on television, in a hotel or something in Europe. There was a Picasso behind him in his office, and on the other side was this painting. I loved it. It got stuck in my mind, but I never saw it again until 10 years later. My background is Croatian. I went and saw a friend in Croatia, he’s a gallerist in Zagreb. I went to his house for lunch, and one of these paintings was leaning on the floor. I thought ‘GOD, who is that?!’ He thought I’d know, as I’m Croatian and he’s a very famous Croatian painter from the 50s, 60s, 70s [right through to the] 80s. Quite prolific, you know, friends with Picasso. He began with cubism, and then proclaimed himself to be anti-painter, focusing on this single geometric. His name is Julije Knifer. He’s in the best galleries in Paris and around the world. I said to my friend: “I really want it.” He said I couldn’t have it. I didn’t know the price—it turned out to be starting from around €65,000. But I had such a journey to actually find this thing. It took me like 15 years! I went home and said I want it. Two days later, he calls me, and considering that I loved it that much, he and his wife would sell it. I bought an original. 1962.”
In spite of the allure of his editioned sculptures (bronze and angular, plated in chrome), it would appear that sculptor Morgan Shimeld’s most impressive contribution to Paramount is the enormous brass bar. Like much of the handiwork here, it was custom designed for the space, and began when Tosic paid a visit to his studio. He had seen the bar in Tom Dixon’s kitchen—a great slab of brass triangle—and wanted something that carried the same sentiment, sexy and tactile. A real centerpiece that maximised the floorspace and honoured the interior’s curves.
“None of it is welded,” Shimeld says coyly. “The brass was done by Louis Berczi, and it’s all glued together with this amazing glue. You can’t grab it to lift it, it was brought in with stretchers.”
Louis Berczi arrives right on time for his portraits. (He was elated to get a parking spot.) Yes, he’d love to sample some of the fruit platter, thank you very much. He has an iPad here with his many projects arranged into various folders: special pieces for Hotel Hotel, repaired Moroccan lights for Russell Crowe, the majority of brass detailing in Canberra’s Parliament House (light fittings, chalices for official presentations), ongoing work for Martin Cook Antiques, a kitchen fit-out for Sammy Davis Jr. In the 80s the copper and brass expert was flown to New York as an advisor on The Statue of Liberty’s restoration. He inspected her early every morning for two whole weeks, long before the throngs of tourists showed up.
Morgan Shimeld learned of Berczi’s expertise through word of mouth. This, it seems, is how everyone hears of Berczi: they have a problem that only he can solve and eventually, in the stretched-out, time-warped way that things happened before Google, his details emerge, a call is made and a meeting is arranged. The bar the pair created for Paramount is more colossal sculpture than traditional island bench. I am nervous to ask how much it weighs.
“We’ve worked to build projects with [Boris] commercially, and this was our first intimate project for him personally,” Domenic Alvaro explains, body propped against the walls of Paramount by The Office Space’s reception area. “The hardest challenge here was the geometry of the building, how we were able to fit the suites within the space. Once we nailed that basic planning idea, everything fell into place.”
Alvaro, a principal architect at Woods Bagot, partnered with the firm’s interiors leader Todd Hammond to realise Tosic’s grandiose dream. They looked to the building’s existing narrative—its curved, art deco skeleton—shadowing its gentle arcs for each suite, like one might trace a picture in lead. They sought American Cherry and oak timber. They ordered carpet made from goat hair. They kept the plaster ceiling roses and installed soft new light fittings. “We all had the same vision,” Hammond says. “It was an aspirational brief, to deliver something truly unique … This lack of definition gave us a lot of freedom with our design and enabled us to really question how a facility such as Paramount would perform and look.”