• Interview // DesignOffice.


    Posted on 16th October, by Dana Tomić Hughes in architecture, interior design, interviews. No Comments


    The interlocking ceiling structure at the Marcs store in Canberra.
    Photography by Dianna Snape.

     

    Please welcome our clever friends from Melbourne based interior and architectural design studio, DesignOffice. Joint creative directors Damien Mulvihill and Mark Simpson are joining us to share a bit about their practice and what gets them excited.

    Between them, they have produced a stunning collection of work, fuelled by a very evident passion for design. By the sounds of things, I think these two have been designing since they could get their baby fingers gripping a pen.

    As you read through, you’ll also discover that they’re a also pair of charmers. Thanks for joining us Mark & Damien!

    -Ella.

     

    Mark (left) and Damien (right).
    Image courtesy of DesignOffice.

     

    + How did you two meet and when did you first decide to start your practice?

    We became friends over 10 years ago when we were both working in London. Not long after we met we ended up working together as senior designers for London’s Universal Design Studio. A few global relocations later and we spoke to Edward and Jay, the founders of Universal and BarberOsgerby, about opening a second studio here in Melbourne. We started Universal’s Australian office in 2008 and last year this evolved into DesignOffice. I don’t think there was a defining moment but it happened somewhere between a drunken dinner in Sydney and sitting on Wombat Hill in Daylesford 6 months later. 4 years later and we’re very excited to finally have a studio we actually fit into! A big warehouse in Collingwood where we work with the rest of the team.

     

    Design Office’s retail fitout for James Cameron “explores themes of repetition, pattern and both physical and emotional tension.”
    Photography by Scottie Cameron.

     

    + What are you seeking to portray in your work? Is there something which is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

    The crux of what we try and do as a studio is ensure that all works are authentically lucid responses to individual client personalities and briefs. We place a lot of importance on the early stages of any project; talking to clients and working with them to create a robust brief; both creative and functional.

    The aim of this is to make sure that all projects have their own personality and identity. That said, there are definitely constant threads that interest us and tie all of the work together. We’ve been told we have something of a ‘graphic’ sensibility and its fair to say we are obsessed with colour, tone and proportion. There’s also undoubtedly an emphasis on exploring material properties with an interest in craft – we love getting down to the 1:1 detail of everything.

    Model-making is the other obsession which underpins a lot of the studio process. Not so much as a device for communicating completed designs but more as a tool for testing, experimenting and refining. We think it comes from the time we spent working in London in the same studio as BarberOsgerby. As a furniture and product design practice they were constantly working with full size models. Now we finally have enough space to make as much mess with cardboard as we’d like to!

     

    The studio space where it all happens. Model making and canine companions seem like a trusty recipe for a happy workplace to me.
    Photography by Scottie Cameron.

     

    + What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your business? Do you have advice for others who wish to follow in your footsteps?

    Where do we start!? Its fair to say that the world of running a business is one of the steepest learning curves encountered. That said, we wouldn’t change it. Lessons and advice? Don’t try and a run a business on your own – we can’t imagine doing this without the other one as a constant sounding board; both in terms of design and business. Employ people you like and who are the most talented you can find. Outsource everything you’re not good at to people who get it – in our case; primarily tax and accounts! Stay true to your own moral compass – our aim is to do the best work we can for and with people we like and respect.

    + What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused, and expressive?

    Have a studio with enough space in it! Its easy for the day-to-day business running to get in the way so we try to make sure that design work always stays the first priority. That’s our passion and we’re pretty lucky to be able to spend most of our days doing something we love. We also started taking some time away from the studio together to focus purely on design work. Wye River last year, Tokyo this year.
    We’re thinking of making it an annual event for a bit of recalibration.

     

    Two Bob cafe fitout in Clifton Hill, Melbourne.
    Photography by Scottie Cameron.

     

    + Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists, designers, peers and creatives in general do you admire?

    So many things, people and places its difficult to know where to start. We both travel as much as we can and find that one of the most rewarding things. There is something about unplanned time and just wandering around other countries and cities that frees up the brain to absorb things you might normally miss.

    Mark // Other influences and people I admire that come to mind: definitely something about the work of some product designers; the likes of Dieter Rams and Jasper Morrison; mid-century greats: Arne Jacobsen, Robin Boyd, Marcel Breuer; contemporary designers: Go Hasegawa, Sauerbruch Hutton, David Chipperfield; artists and photographers like Thomas Demand, Larry Bell, Friederike von Rauch, Vincent Fournier. Across different disciplines these people’s work all has a purity and clarity but also an edge and some kind of tension or unexpected element.

    Damien // Its an obvious one, but the Eames studio, not just their projects and products but particularly the creative environment they managed to foster in their own studio. We spend a lot of time doing colour studies in the studio and there many artists who influence my approach. I love the mid century greats Donald Judd and Dan Flavin and the work of Sydney artists Suzie Idiens (see interview on yellowtrace) and Louise Tuckwell who’s work I love for their wonderful approach to form and colour.

    + What has been your favourite project so far?

    I think its fair to say we’d both choose the staircase we designed for Corporate Culture’s Melbourne showroom. It’s not very often that a brief as pure, simple as that one comes along. Functionally, it required a response that would showcase as much product as possible and provide an intuitive and almost subconscious narrative of vertical circulation for clients across 3 floors. Creatively, the brief was for a striking sculptural intervention. We worked with amazing craftspeople and contractors who made it all possible – the models of the developed concept are almost identical to what was built. Everyone was on the top floor at the opening party and we knew the circulation strategy had worked.

     

    The immaculately detailed staircase at Corporate Culture.
    Photography by  Dianna Snape and Scottie Cameron.

     

    + Is there something professionally you would like to try that you haven’t done yet? What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

    We seem to be working through them at the moment so we should be careful what we wish for. We kept talking about wanting to design a cinema and now we have one on site in Canberra for Palace Cinemas which is looking very exciting. We’re also just about to complete our first international project with a store in New York for our friends at Mud Australia.

    What other design briefs do we dream about? There’s definitely something about libraries and bookshops, airline lounges, civic and institutional spaces and we’re always interested in new typologies or hybrid visions, particularly for retail and hospitality. As well as working with some of Australia’s best graphic design studios and photographers, we’ve been fortunate to be able to work with some clients who have really clear and focused creative vision and this inevitably leads to the best projects – anything that has an original, authentic, interesting and passionate brief is always appealing.

    + What’s next – can you share with us your vision and some of your goals?

    Its fair to say that future planning is not really something we spend a lot of time talking about – we’re not exactly ‘10 year plan’ people! So long we we’re enjoying it we just want to keep doing what we’re doing, seeing where it leads to and keep striving to create the best work we can, working with people we like, for inspiring clients we respect.

     

    Nishi Display Suite in Canberra.
    Photography by Scottie Cameron.

     

    Let’s Get Personal:


    + What are the qualities you most like about yourself?

    Mark // I’m a blindly naive optimist. I’m sure maintaining a slightly cautious viewpoint on life can be healthy sometimes but I always think it must be so exhausting to be a pessimist.

    Damien // An attention to detail and the ability and mindfulness to see beauty in everything.

    + Apart from your work, what other interests or hobbies do you have?

    Mark // The boundaries are all so blurred its difficult to define what is work and what is not – the joy of doing something you love for a living. Travel, design, art and photography all seem to cross over in every aspect of life. Food is probably the biggest non-design related passion. My partner and I have just moved up to the Goldfields this year so we finally have a kitchen that I can spend some serious time in – I’m also hoping that landscaping is about to become a new hobby as the area around the house is ready for some love – I keep hoping that some spring sunshine will kick-start things.

    Damien // I accepted years ago that design is my hobby. I love what I do and I don’t really ever stop doing it. Even on holiday I’ll end up drawing a floor plan of some made up project or future home. And I swim. I only need two things to make me happy, sunshine and a vast amount of water.

     

    Mark and his partner’s new home in the Goldfields.
    Photography by Scottie Cameron.

     

    + Your most treasured belonging?

    Mark // My health.

    Damien // My old BMW. He’s timeless, classically handsome and has the most beautiful analogue clock I’ve even seen.

    + What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

    Mark // I once spent a summer working in Scotland dressed as a giant dunagree-clad yeti called Bertha in a kids theme park. There are photos and I’m not sharing!

    Damien // As a child I wanted to be a car designer. By 12 I’d designed my own range of vehicles which I only ever drew in elevation and section. I couldn’t verbalise it at the time but I remember getting very frustrated that I could never perfect the proportions
    of my convertibles.

    + It’s not very cool, but I really like…

    Mark // This could be a long list. The first that come to mind; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Diana Ross and lolly bags – preferably all in the same evening.

    Damien // Oh, very uncool, the powdered barley drink Ecco. Alice our Studio Manager brought it into the studio and I’ve become quite hooked on it over winter. Despite tasting absolutely nothing like actual coffee (unless you include the powdered variety of my suburban Australian childhood) it’s helped me keep my proper coffee intake down to two a day.

    + In ten years I’d like to be…

    Mark // 45 years old and still loving what I’m doing.

    Damien // Getting more sleep.


    [Images courtesy of DesignOffice. Photography by Dianna Snape and Scottie Cameron.]







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