Inside story: Ralph van Dijk

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Ralph van Dijk.

Ralph van Dijk. Image: Alana Dimou

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The living room of van Dijk's Sydney abode.

The living room of van Dijk’s Sydney abode. Image: Alana Dimou

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The Dutch ad man grew up in Christchurch and now lives in a Sydney A-frame with his wife and three teenaged children.

The Dutch ad man grew up in Christchurch and now lives in a Sydney A-frame with his wife and three teenaged children. Image: Alana Dimou

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The home features one of the first infinity pools in Australia.

The home features one of the first infinity pools in Australia. Image: Alana Dimou

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Beautiful views over to Manly.

Beautiful views over to Manly. Image: Alana Dimou

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Macaw by Darwin Sinke & van Tongeren. “Ferry van Tongeren is a good friend and his taxidermy is next level. I’m glad I got in early because British artist Damien Hirst bought up their entire first collection.”

Macaw by Darwin Sinke & van Tongeren. “Ferry van Tongeren is a good friend and his taxidermy is next level. I’m glad I got in early because British artist Damien Hirst bought up their entire first collection.” Image: Alana Dimou

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F587 chairs, Artifort. Designed by Geoffrey Harcourt in 1967. “They were a fitting birthday present since we both just turned 50. I like the scale; they make a statement but are still streamlined."

F587 chairs, Artifort. Designed by Geoffrey Harcourt in 1967. “They were a fitting birthday present since we both just turned 50. I like the scale; they make a statement but are still streamlined.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Family photo art. “I gave a pile of our children’s photos to an artist and told him to go nuts. I filled this huge parchment book with all the prints for Kate’s 40th birthday.”

Family photo art. “I gave a pile of our children’s photos to an artist and told him to go nuts. I filled this huge parchment book with all the prints for Kate’s 40th birthday.” Image: Alana Dimou

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La Pavoni coffee machine. “We bought it in Italy before we got married so it’s 23 years old and hasn’t missed a beat. There are faster ways to make coffee but this manual machine slows us down."

La Pavoni coffee machine. “We bought it in Italy before we got married so it’s 23 years old and hasn’t missed a beat. There are faster ways to make coffee but this manual machine slows us down.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Blow Away Vase. Designed by Front Design for Moooi. “It is a modern twist on traditional Dutch Delftware that’s been manipulated for when tulips flop over so they can rest on the sides.”

Blow Away Vase. Designed by Front Design for Moooi. “It is a modern twist on traditional Dutch Delftware that’s been manipulated for when tulips flop over so they can rest on the sides.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Wall unit by Kai Kristiansen for FM Møbel. “The rosewood is stunning and the simple design is incredibly functional. Different shelves for each book size, a cantilevered desk, built-in light: it makes so much sense."

Wall unit by Kai Kristiansen for FM Møbel. “The rosewood is stunning and the simple design is incredibly functional. Different shelves for each book size, a cantilevered desk, built-in light: it makes so much sense.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Fireplace. “The temperature can be in double figures but I’ll find any excuse to put the fire on. Even for half an hour, it’s instantly relaxing.”

Fireplace. “The temperature can be in double figures but I’ll find any excuse to put the fire on. Even for half an hour, it’s instantly relaxing.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Beaded curtain. “While judging some advertising awards in Las Vegas I found this 1960s’ beaded curtain in a strip of mid-century antique stores. It’s much more interesting than a boring door.”

Beaded curtain. “While judging some advertising awards in Las Vegas I found this 1960s’ beaded curtain in a strip of mid-century antique stores. It’s much more interesting than a boring door.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Thorens turntable. “I bought this when I was I asked for the cheapest version of the best make – Swiss-brand Thorens. Now the kids are jumping on the vinyl bandwagon, I’ve never gone through so many needles."

Thorens turntable. “I bought this when I was I asked for the cheapest version of the best make – Swiss-brand Thorens. Now the kids are jumping on the vinyl bandwagon, I’ve never gone through so many needles.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Dining table by Lowe. “A round dining table is convivial and works well in this square space. It’s big and inviting.”

Dining table by Lowe. “A round dining table is convivial and works well in this square space. It’s big and inviting.” Image: Alana Dimou

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Ad man, design aficionado and father of three Ralph van Dijk shows us the objects he loves.

Macaw by Darwin Sinke & van Tongeren. “Ferry van Tongeren is a good friend and his taxidermy is next level. I’m glad I got in early because British artist Damien Hirst bought up their entire first collection.” Image:  Alana Dimou

Working in advertising, Ralph van Dijk knows how to create twists on everyday ideas. And the same can also be said of Ralph’s collection of furniture, objects and artworks, which includes mid-century and contemporary classics as well as images and pieces with intriguing spins or stories.

Ralph and his wife, Kate, and their three teenaged children, Sylvie, Coco and the fast-rising music star Ruel, live in Balgowlah Heights in Sydney. Born to Dutch parents, Ralph grew up in Christchurch. He lived in London for 18 years – where he met Kate – and moved to Sydney in 2006, opening a new office of Eardrum, his advertising agency specialising in audio and radio.

The family lives in an A-frame house designed by Sydney architect Graeme Over in the late 1950s; it looks across the water to Manly, backs onto national park and is a short walk to a secluded harbour beach. But the house itself rivals the location; Graeme was inspired by Hawaiian and Tahitian architecture and believed the A-frame was well suited to the Sydney climate and location.

Dining table by Lowe. “A round dining table is convivial and works well in this square space. It’s big and inviting.” Image:  Alana Dimou

It has a north-east aspect, wraparound deck, internal gardens, one of the first infinity pools in Australia and a different view from almost every window. “I had bought the house emotionally within about 10 seconds,” says Ralph. “Graeme didn’t want to build something that was cookie-cutter and predictable. Everything has been thought through to encourage you to be curious and to make the eye work.”

This sums up Ralph’s eclectic collection too. He loves ideas and stories that spark conversation and each of his pieces has a strong concept behind it. In some cases, it’s as it was designed; in other cases, it’s how Ralph has transformed it.

He had a pair of kitsch 1970s’ tapestries tagged and defaced with needlework graffiti, and a moko painted on a replica of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. “I like these twists that are curious and playful: making something mundane more interesting. That is what I do for a living,” Ralph explains.

The painting, like many other pieces, also captures the way that Ralph’s heritage has influenced his collection, as it includes many objects and artworks from New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Thorens turntable. “I bought this when I was I asked for the cheapest version of the best make – Swiss-brand Thorens. Now the kids are jumping on the vinyl bandwagon, I’ve never gone through so many needles.” Image:  Alana Dimou

Ralph always has his eye out for furniture and objects, either for inspiration or with something in mind: hard-to-find, dark-green Eames chairs sit around the dining table (“that colour was produced only once in the 1970s”); a papier mâché ornate frame is paired with a Gauguin print found in a dusty corner of a second-hand shop in Motueka (“it’s genetic – my Mum was great at spotting hidden gems and, last week, Sylvie came home with a stunning dusty oil painting from a Bowral junk shop”); and three Moooi pendants have been rescued from a soon-to-be-demolished office (“I convinced the foreman to let me take them off his hands”).

Amongst Ralph’s unique and distinctive pieces are items that are highly functional and long-lasting, and that remind him, Kate and their children to slow down. The ceremony of making a coffee, listening to a live-concert album or lighting a fire and watching the flames are rituals that encourage them to take their time and smell the roses. Indeed, it is much like the house and location: “It makes us feel like we’re on holiday,” says Ralph.


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