Behind the scenes with the Aussie who designs for kings and tycoons
A boy who grew up in a small village on North Stradbroke Island surrounded by a community of artists leaves his mark in some of the most prestigious hotels and residences in the world.
Gold Coast’s Palazzo Versace, the ultra-exclusive resort on Laucala Island in Fiji; the home of the daughter of the King of Johor in Malaysia and the richest man in Ukraine are just a few of the properties designed by Rodney Surawski of Artnow International.
For more than three decades, he has worked quietly and tirelessly across the world to create places that feel like they have stepped straight into a fairy tale. A work that was until recently shrouded in secrets.
Growing up on North Stradbroke Island, Rodney was always surrounded by artists.
He laughs as he remembers how his mother took him to his first life drawing class when he was just seven years old. Over the years, his siblings all turned to careers in trucking and machinery, but Rodney had other ideas.
After studying fine art, he turned to the film industry and says it has had a profound influence on his work today.
“You are replicating an entire environment and atmosphere, so you have to be skilled at doing that…being able to create a bespoke finish.”
These lessons in creating a bespoke space would see him work on some of the largest and most complex designs in the world and launch his now globally respected design studio, Artnow International on the Gold Coast.
A royal break
“My biggest job came when I was asked to work with the royal family in Malaysia and then to produce artwork for the King of Bahrain.”
As the business grew, his desire to work with local artists increased, and he opened studios on the Gold Coast and in Melbourne which worked with an Italian artist to create murals.
For Versace, they painted marble and gold by hand, and in Ukraine, at Rinat Akhmetov, 30 artists worked on the property at a time.
On the island of Laucala, where Oprah and Arnold Schwarzenegger vacationed, Roger worked for two years on the fossilized walls, the water features and the spa area.
His latest work on a private home in the Gold Coast hinterland is a ten-year project, “…because they want it done right, so they’re in no rush”.
There’s ironwork from Germany, a hand-painted ceiling, hand-crafted interior pillars, and a bespoke chandelier. All dining chairs are handmade and the customer’s name is painted on each one.
go for gold
Rodney says there are now plenty of people in Australia who want this level of grandeur in their homes.
“The level of the houses is getting bigger and bigger. I think minimalism has become so big in Australia and there’s a big turning point now.
“Customers want to show their journey in their life and who they are and their collection of where they’ve been, and so when someone walks into their home it’s a story of their life.”
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