Siblings Wilhelmina McCarroll and Fleur Sibbel continue a five-generation legacy of producing exquisite, refined furniture under their aptly named business Zuster (meaning ‘sister’ in Dutch). Drawing on their forefather’s hand-crafting expertise, Zuster produces high-quality, enduring pieces crafted with heirloom appeal.
Spanning five generations of Dutch heritage, what began in Amsterdam as a multidisciplinary building and furniture business by Hermanus Sibbel, has evolved today as Zuster. More than 130 years later, sisters Wilhelmina McCarroll and Fleur Sibbel continue the brand’s original legacy of quality craftsmanship.
Designed and handcrafted in Melbourne since 1994, every Zuster piece is precision-made in one of five Victorian manufacturing establishments. Fleur and Wilhelmina’s signature approach focuses on beauty and refinement, making pieces from the highest quality materials available –designed to be passed down through the generations.
To celebrate the launch of their Cloud collection with its rolling curves, rounded edges, and feminine feel, we sit down with Wilhelmina and Fleur to discuss career highlights, sustainability, their bespoke interior design approach, and why equestrian has influenced their designs.
Congratulations on a vast family legacy across five generations of Dutch heritage. Could you elaborate as to why you both decided to enter the family business?
Wilhelmina McCarroll: I have always loved design and interiors growing up, naturally drawn to furniture design. I remember watching the movie ‘Wall Street’ in the 1980s featuring Darien Taylor (played by Daryl Hannah) and decided then that was my career!
Fleur Sibbel: We grew up immersed in dad’s building business. I was always so proud of his work and the brand he formed. Visiting his building sites and completed projects, I loved listening as he explained his design philosophy. He always took so much care in his processes. I also took a significant interest in the commercial side of the business, both the numbers and how he expanded the brand. To this day, I still have original ‘Sibbel’ marketing brochures from our grandfather.
Wilhelmina (Willy) started designing furniture at about 14 years old, which my father had made in his factory (where frames, kitchens and wardrobes were produced). I loved the process and would sell our existing furniture via Trading Post advertisements to make way for the new items that Willy had designed. I loved the retail process, making appointments for buyers to visit our home and view household furniture items for sale. More often, to my parent’s surprise!
Why is being 100 per cent Australian designed and made important to you?
Fleur Sibbel: We are so proud to be an Australian brand and enjoy the benefits of flexibility and the ability to move at a fast pace across design, construction, and communication while maintaining the highest quality. As a local brand, we can create our own unique style, essentially the building blocks of the brand. We can manage the entire supply chain – from sourcing sustainable raw materials to design, manufacturing, wholesale, trade and finally, retail. Each item can be tracked from beginning to end, allowing our clients to follow their orders through a live online tracking system.
Being 100 per cent Australian made affords us the ability to introduce new designs regularly, as well as one-off designs. Over the past 27 years, Willy has designed more than 35 collections, equating to well over 200 items. This ensures we maintain a wide collection of residential and commercial furniture, including upholstery and bathroom furniture.
How has the style of your furniture evolved over the years? Do you take design cues from the original work of Hermanus Sibbel?
Wilhelmina McCarroll: We started out with a look, inspired by the clean lines of Scandinavian design and the Sibbel-built homes. I incorporated some of the ‘butterfly handle’ details as inspiration to create the Hero and Pearl collections. Since the launch of Halo in 2015, I have evolved as a designer and developed my style. I work with layering materials and have refined every detail – always considering new ideas to finesse the collections. Creating balance is fundamental; not too much, not too little.
An artisan delicately placing the final touches on a Zuster furniture piece
What inspired the iconic style notes your consumers have come to know and love. ie. the signature beading and scalloped detailing, the rounded furniture handles and more recently the Cloud fur upholstery? Are there any unique inspirations behind these design details?
Wilhelmina McCarroll: For inspiration, I generally look toward fashion, inspired by attributes used in tailoring, texture, colour, pattern and layering. As the name suggests, with our latest collection Cloud, I was inspired by soft shapes to achieve a more delicate finish. Rounded corners, edge details and the scalloping of upholstery for the Cloud bedhead. I also love the repetition of patterns and the ongoing beading detail across the Cloud bedside table.
Understanding Zuster reuses or recycles 90% of waste, could you tell us more about your sustainability strategy?
Fleur Sibbel: Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with the integrity of our business and our beautiful, enduring products. As manufacturers, we can source the best, most ethically produced materials and are committed to designing pieces made to the highest of environmental standards – and intrinsically, built to last. We are compelled to respect the natural environment, which is the very source of our beautiful and enduring designs.
Just as your brand has become part of your family history, we love that your pieces are designed to become part of the client’s family history. Why is this important to create timeless creations that can be passed down through generations?
Fleur Sibbel: We are proud of our family history and the longevity of the products and homes our family has produced across five generations. Quality craftsmanship and design are the key elements that connect the eras and guarantee the continued legacy of our products. We have an extensive prototype process. We dedicate an extensive amount of time to evaluating the finish and longevity of every product. We know our customers will cherish and celebrate the furniture items in their homes for generations to come. So take enormous pride and care to ensure each new product released continues to exceed expectations on design, innovation, craftsmanship and quality.
Could you elaborate on your interior design service? Is this a significant part of your business?
Fleur Sibbel: We have a talented team of interior designers at Zuster who assist with in-house design consultations. Willy oversees design concepts and customisation. It’s an area of our business growing significantly, particularly over the past two years. Our interior designers and stylists assist clients through the entire design process – from concept to delivery and styling.
Could you tell us more about the most exciting/memorable client/project you have worked on – and why?
Fleur Sibbel: We have been lucky enough to work on some incredible projects and have so many amazing repeat clients worldwide. Working on the Jackalope Hotel in the Mornington Peninsula with owner Louis Li and the architectural team from Carr was an incredible process from beginning to end. As was collaborating with the Little Group on the Melbourne Jet base designed by Cox. Finally, our collaboration with Reece which commenced in 2016, has been an exciting addition to our business. The introduction of bathroom furniture available exclusively through Reece with displays of our pieces in 170 stores nationally.
Could you tell us how equestrian has informed some of your designs, in particular with the Zuster accessories collection?
Wilhelmina McCarroll: I ride dressage horses almost every day. To me, it’s a beautiful combination between sport, art and clothing. There are many exquisite details in equestrian equipment, from clothing to saddlery. Growing up on five acres, Willy and I rode horses from a young age – competing at show events every weekend, including the annual Royal Melbourne Show competitions. Being involved with the sport from a young age taught us discipline, presentation and goal setting. Reflecting back, it was very hard work for such young girls. I continued my love of horses into adulthood on our 40-acre property in the Yarra Valley. I enjoy having a hobby that allows me to tune out from the world and live in the moment, riding every stride. It allows life balance – to be creative in my work life, yet still have the freedom to switch off in my personal time.
What is the most popular item in the Zuster collection today?
Is there anything you would like to share about the future plans for Zuster?
Fleur Sibbel: Both Willy and I have so much in the pipeline, working on some exciting collaborations. We have some large international projects we are looking forward to sharing with you in the future. Watch this space!