Decus Interiors Interview | Yellowtrace

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 

I always knew Alex was going to do great things. We met over a decade ago while working at a leading architecture practice, and I distinctly remember her helping me pull together a concept finishes scheme for a large workplace project I was working on. She took one look at my pile of materials and said – “It needs something else” – and proceeded to pull out a bunch of exotic velvets in exquisitely luscious colours and patterns. “But Al, this is a commercial project, my client doesn’t have the budget for this $hit”, I said. But she was adamant the scheme needed it. Part of me wanted to punch her in the face, and the other part – a much bigger part knew she was 100% right.

Apart from her impeccable taste and an innate sense of style, Alex is just bloody lovely. And rather hilarious. More importantly, her razor-sharp instincts, insatiable curiosity and an all-important ability to not take herself too seriously has enabled her to build an in-demand interior design practice that merges the beautiful with the original and unexpected. The exceptional portfolio of high-end residential projects her and her team regularly produce balances the exquisite with provocative, whimsical and classic, austere and colourful. Each Decus project is much more than the sum of beautiful detailing and refined curation. Al understands the power of unusual combinations, balance and tension, having forged a design language that feels entirely her own.

In other words, she’s a bloody legend, and I couldn’t be prouder to welcome her to Yellowtrace.

Take it away, girl! x

 



Decus Interiors Studio | Yellowtrace
Delicious details from Decus Interiors Studio in Woollahra. Photo by Nick Cubbin.

Alexandra Donohoe of Decus Interiors. Photo by Nick Cubbin | Yellowtrace
Alexandra Donohoe Church in the Decus Interiors studio. Photo by Nick Cubbin.

 

+ Hey Alex, welcome to Yellowtrace! Could you please give us a quick introduction? When did you first decide you wanted to become an interior designer? And when did you decide it was time to start your business?

I initially began my degree studying landscape architecture at UNSW (lasted a whole year), but kept falling snoozing in soil science class. I think I had an epiphany that it wasn’t for me when I woke up full face down on my desk. It was then I realised that interiors was what really got me excited and I switched to Interior Architecture.

I worked for a series of firms ranging from hospitality to commercial (and one of which with you Mama Yellowtrace), landing in residential where I cemented my love affair. The rest is history. The business began in 2009 in inauspicious circumstances. I was recently retrenched and the GFC had hit – so I figured at that point there was nothing to lose, it was now or never!

 

Woollahra House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Woollahra House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Woollahra House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Woollahra House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Woollahra House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Woollahra House (2017). Photography by Felix Forest.

 

+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

Ultimately our desire to bring joy to the client is our fundamental priority. There’s no greater feeling when they move in to their considered, beautifully detailed home and they’re blown away by how it comes together. And on a personal level the priority is to enjoy the process – we really do want to have fun, get excited and amped about the what we’re doing (even though in the midst of an excel spreadsheet marathon it can sometimes feel like anything but).

 

Tamarama Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Tamarama Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Tamarama Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Tamarama Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Tamarama Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Tamarama Home (2017). Photography by Felix Forest.

 

+ How is your studio structured? i.e. How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

Our studio covers a full scope – interior design, decoration and styling. We also have a registered architect for a handful of architecture projects, and we handle all procurement in house. It’s all hands on deck when it comes to an installation as we operate a turn-key service (our last install in Western Australia was a 10 day exercise for a team of 6).

Whilst I oversee the creative direction for each project, the projects are managed day to day by a team of Senior Designers and Project Designers, supported by Assistant Designers, Junior Designer and Procurement Manager.

The studio seems to currently be in a baby-making phase (5 bubs in the last 10 months), which means our numbers vary between 8-11! Low volume, high quality is our MO.

 

Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Killcare House (2018). Photography by Anson Smart.

 

+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day-to-day?

A very strong Negroni.

In all honesty, having recently had a baby, I don’t know that I do manage it all that well. But I’d probably say this is the most challenging aspect of life at the moment, so my answer is that I’m still working on it.

On a practical level we have recently started implementing Todoist to help us project manage ourselves!

 


Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Killcare House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Killcare House (2018). Photography by Anson Smart.

 

+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being a designer today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Pinterest.

It can be a double edged sword which is proving to be quite a challenge. Whilst it can be a great tool to help clients convey to us what they like, when they can’t necessarily articulate it with clarity, if you’re not careful it can be a creativity vampire. A design exercise can become a copy and paste exercise instead and you wonder why clients don’t just engage a draftsperson. We really have to quietly rage against that. This is a challenge when we all have so many time constraints as it’s the easiest library of images to go to, but it is definitely not the way to produce the best design.

 

North Bondi Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

North Bondi Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

North Bondi Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
North Bondi Home (2017). Photography by Felix Forest.

 

+ What are some of your methods to stay motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly – i.e. books, magazines, websites/ blogs etc?

Travel is 100% the best way to stay motivated and expressive. Getting out of the Australian bubble is without doubt the best source of inspiration. At the risk of ending up divorced, my husband gets dragged to multiple showrooms a week wherever we are in the world – be that LA or Copenhagen or Cote d’Azure – it all proves there are just so many endless possibilities to explore.

I regularly reference Elle Décor Italia – If I’m being honest it’s because deep down I’d like to think I’m Italian. AD France – there’s a fearlessness to what I see in the pages of AD France. It seems quite joyful and not overly concerned with what everyone else is doing. T Magazine – New York Times’ design magazine.

 

North Bondi Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

North Bondi Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

North Bondi Home by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Coastal House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
North Bondi Home (2017). Photography by Felix Forest.

 

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

I’m a bit obsessed with Frenchmen whose names begin with Pierre: Pierre Yovanovitch and Pierre Paulin.

+ What advice would you give to emerging designers who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practices?

Genuine quality takes time. Be prepared to shed blood, sweat and tears for a while, because building a solid business isn’t an overnight exercise; and learning your craft takes time. Inevitably, there will be a lot of “eeek, maybe wouldn’t do that again next time” learning along the way.

 

Coastal House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Coastal House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace

Coastal House by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Coastal House (2018). Photography by Anson Smart.

Coastal House Sketch by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Coastal House Master Study Sketch.

Coastal House Sketch by Decus Interiors | Yellowtrace
Coastal House Powder Room Concept.

 

+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals (and some of your current projects)?

For the right client and the right brief we would go anywhere and do (almost) anything. For us, a client’s attitude is key. It’s about the adventurousness that a client has and the willingness to experiment.

Our current projects include a beachfront property in the Margaret River; a couple of incredibly-sited projects in New Zealand; a beautiful Sydney harbour-side collaboration with Luigi Rosselli Architects and a couple of beautiful beach houses in the works.

 

Decus Interiors Studio | Yellowtrace
Decus Interiors team hard at work. Or hardly working? Whatever, not that important right now. Photography by Nick Cubbin.

Decus Interiors Studio | Yellowtrace

Decus Interiors Studio | Yellowtrace
Details from Decus Interiors Studio in Woollahra. Photography by Nick Cubbin.

 

Let’s Get Real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Not quitting.

The first 3 years were extremely tough, it was post GFC, I had no industry connections, I was working solo, and I was young and female; I encountered my share of misogyny. I was also working with some really smart people whose opinions would take precedence, I would give way to them when they told me what they thought; I hadn’t yet got to a point of trusting my own judgement. After about 6 years that changed…

+ What rules do you live by?

Trust your gut, because your head can talk you in or out of anything.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

Truly it’s my family – not that they’re my belongings, but they are the most treasured things in this world to me… followed closely by my trusty pair of Chanel espadrilles which I wear at every site!

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

I can do the splits… and before I had my baby I could do a backward bend like nobody’s business.

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

Poldark and any English period drama going.

 

Decus Interiors Studio | Yellowtrace
Details from Decus Interiors Studio in Woollahra. Photo by Nick Cubbin.

 

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 


[Images courtesy of Decus Interiors. Photography credits as noted.]

 

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor
Google+

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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