OK dear Friday morning blog readers, get ready for an epic super juicy blog post. This one may need bookmarking, saving, re-visiting later and probably forwarding on to your Mum/sister/BFF for follow up chats this weekend :). It is dense and detailed, but I just couldn't bring myself to edit too much, because this is such a fantastically generous interview with Melbourne Mum, stylist and multitasking creative Claire Larritt-Evans!
I first met Claire, somewhat surreally, on a shoot in Melbourne where she was assisting Megan Morton. It was a hot and sticky day around 3 years ago, Claire was quite pregnant, and she and MM were sourcing, amongst other things, bucketloads of tulips and insane oversized balloons for an event at this immensely grand architecturally designed mansion in South Yarra. As you know I'm prone to over-excitement, so was pretty much hyperventilating with overwhelmedness at it all (and also I was somewhat star-struck because it was the first time I had ever met the incredible Megan M). And Claire, perfect baby bump protruding from perfect simple T shirt and perfect blue jeans, was cool as a cucumber.
That's the thing about Claire - nothing ever fazes her. I think this key character trait might actually be her secret weapon. Despite juggling bub Alexander with various styling and interior design projects on any given day/week, Claire is never vague or indecisive - she's measured, modest yet quietly confident, and essentially she just gets on with the job without doubting herself, and makes great things happen! It is quite a genius and dead simple approach to any creative brief and to life in general! ie - 1) assess brief and make decision, 2) enact decision 3) DO NOT doubt decision 45 times before moving on to next task!
I am hoping to learn a few of Claire's secrets and implement some of her elegant self confidence and magical multi-tasking skillz in my own working life in 2012. Stay tuned on that!
Anyone who has ever wondered what it takes to become a freelance stylist (and successful working Mum!) totally needs to read this interview.
MASSIVE thanks to Claire for her very generous responses, wisdom and advice. We love your work!
Tell us a little about your career background - what path led to what you’re doing now?
After I finished my studies at University, I went straight overseas and lived and worked in New York, before finally settling in London for a few years. It was in London where I got my first ‘proper’ job working for a large art publishing company. When I came home I got a job working for a large design studio as an account manager. I learnt a lot about the design process and good account management, but ultimately felt frustrated as the go-between the creatives and the client.
I left my job in 2006, and using my UK contacts, I started One Thousand Words, an online art gallery. It was through this that I started dealing with stylists supplying artwork for their shoots. Whilst One Thousand Words was a successful business, I still felt like a conduit, not actually physically producing anything myself. I distinctly remember having a real ‘light bulb’ moment one day when delivering artwork on set to Glen Proebstel, thinking THIS is exactly what I want to do. So I emailed Glen to ask if I could tag along and see what it was like to be a stylist - he kindly let me into his world and I assisted him on a few shoots for Inside Out.
I was completely hooked, seeing Glen work with Sharyn Cairns I knew that this was something I really wanted to do. Glen was so supportive and encouraging and told me that he believed I could do it. I had also been in contact with Megan Morton when working on One Thousand Words – so when she was working in Melbourne and needed an assistant Glen recommended me to Megan - finally I’d found a job that made me really happy and the work flowed. I feel so lucky to have spent time with both Glen and Megan – they’re the best in the business! I worked with Megan right up until I had my son, and I’ve worked non stop since. I am truly grateful for the start that these guys gave me.
Where might we have seen your work?
I was very fortunate to be introduced to Fleur Studd at the time she was beginning to start work on Market Lane Coffee. My husband Scott and his team at Swear Words were doing the branding and graphic design, and Fleur mentioned to Scott she needed some assistance with the interior. I had only just given birth to our son Alexander, but I thought I’d meet up with Fleur and see if I could assist in some small way. We instantly connected creatively, work began and my somewhat undefined role grew and grew and grew.
Market Lane Coffee is absolutely my proudest achievement – it’s a pure representation of my own personal style, something that was able to come to life naturally with a like-minded client. It was the first time I had worked on the interior design of a new space that required planning, permits and construction so thank god for the architect Deb Lacey of DJL who took on all the technical aspects of the design and build. Creatively Deb and I clicked, so the design came about very organically.
Jason Scheltus is the head roaster and barista at Market Lane and he was involved from the beginning to ensure everything was designed to the barista’s exact needs - he was instrumental in nailing the best workflow for the staff. The success of any interior design will be determined by a proper understanding of how the people who will inhabit the space want/need to use it. It’s the same for a hospitality space or a residential design – in the end I believe relationshiops are important, you must get know your clients to be able to bring to life their ideal space.
Since then I've designed a second space for Market Lane (Therry St) at the Vic Market in the CBD. The Therry St space is much smaller with a different focus on retail and take-away coffee. It was great to collaborate again with Fleur and Jason – again my role was to complete all the interior design including seating and lighting plans, furniture design and material selections. It’s the same mix of materials – timber, tiles and metals, but used much more sparingly. As with Prahran, I’ve used recycled timbers where possible, for their history. With the Prahran store I used my old fence and repurposed it into shelving, cutlery and napkin holders! In Therry St the timber came from the old petrol station ‘round the corner from the house I grew up in – I love how materials can tell a story and give a sense of warmth to a newly constructed space.
2011 was a huge year for me - I designed and built four hospitality spaces, inlcuding Cupcake Central in Melbourne Central, The Village Fish Store in Albert Park and Microroast in Fuzhou China. It was incredible to work on Microroast, I only visited the site once for a 24hr-stay and designed and project managed the build from Melbourne. In fact the entire project was managed via very limited communciations, my client could not access skype or any other chat means so we emailed each other sending floorplans and designs back and forth. A real pinch-me moment actually!
I have been working with Grill’d Healthy Burgers for over a year now – producing VM solutions, providing a layer of detail in their stores. They are a fantastic client – committed to great design and local manufacturing.
Apart from my commercial and residential interior design and styling work, I do a bit of photographic styling. TDF readers will have already seen my work with photographer Tony Mott for Fenton & Fenton creating a series of beautiful imagery for Lucy Fenton.
So no two days are ever the same and it’s often quite hectic, this year I want to find a dream assistant who can come on board and help out with whatever the year brings. There’s an amazing restaurant on the horizon – but I can’t talk about that yet!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
One of the things about my job I love is that there is no typical day. One thing I do keep consistent (where possible) is to allow enough time with my son in the morning. He’s an early riser – so we have breakfast together, we play for awhile and I check all my emails and attend to anything that is urgent, I like to get him to creche at 9.30am. There’s a great café ‘round the corner (Servery & Spoon), so if there’s enough time I stop in and have a coffee, go over my to do list for the day and start making phone calls (I am absolute nerd when it comes to my to do list, I re-write it a few times a day and always carry it with me on my clipboard).
A typical day would include at least 1 or 2 client meetings, on site progress checks, visiting makers, scouring vintage items, making phone calls… I do a LOT of driving, sourcing all sorts of wonderful things all over Melbourne – my car has become my 2nd studio. I try to wrap things up and pick up Alexander by 5.30pm so I can get home and get his dinner on the table. Funnily enough I don’t get a lot of time during the day to focus on design, a lot of that happens at night after I get Al to sleep. Clients will often receive emails from me late at night (sorry about that!), I find it to be the most productive time of the day.
You spend your days making gorgeous interiors even more gorgeous… finding the perfect details to bring a space to life. But what about your own home - how would you describe your own personal interior decorating/styling aesthetic? Is it the perfect showcase of your skills or is it the forever neglected project!?
We just purchased our first home two months ago! In that time we’ve painted the entire house ourselves - a labour of love every night after work, often until 1 or 2am. It was exhausting but it’s made such a difference. Having said that I don’t think I’ll ever paint another house again…!
In terms of the interior design/styling it’s a real departure for me. Our previous homes have been filled to the brim with industrial furniture and vintage finds. But when we inspected our new house (for all of 5 minutes) I had a really clear vision for it. It’s I guess more ‘grown up’ than any space we’ve had before, a proper house and for the first time ever – we’ve got a lot of space. In our last house our tiny lounge room was my office, the tv room, dining area and playroom.
I still can’t believe I have a separate dining area, no more pulling out the dining table from under the kitchen bench. Our dining room is definitely my favourite room in the house, flooded in evening sun, it’s so nice to sit down as a family and eat together after a hectic day. Although he’s only 2, you wouldn’t believe some of the stories Alexander tells us at the table! It’s a place to regroup and catch up.
The rest of the house is still a work in progress in terms of furnishing, which works with my new 'less is more' approach! We’re getting by with what we have, there’s still an industrial flavour but it’s been pared back. I’ve designed us a sofa and it’s waiting to go into production later this year which I can’t wait for. It’s been really good to work on my own space, it’s helped me to understand the emotional ride that my clients go on. I renovated the bathroom at the same time we painted the house, next on the list is to tackle a cramped little laundry and toilet out the back. Oh and I just discovered a 2m fireplace behind a false wall in the kitchen, so I’ll be exposing that as soon as I get a moment.
A lot of independent creative professionals say that they love the creative side of their job, but hate the paperwork, organising, and the ‘business’ side of things. How do you manage to balance these necessities with the creative side of your job? Do you have an assistant, book keeper or other help along the way?
I’ve always done everything myself - I’ve always had to and its been quite managable until now. On my to-do list for this year is to get a bookeeper to take care of all my business needs. That said, I do have a great accountant who files it all for me, but there’s still hours of data entry to get the numbers over to him. Ideally I’d like to hand over my boxes of receipts and have someone take care of it.
For a project to run smoothly it’s important to have all the budgets in check and have a good filing system (the receipts I gather are something to behold). Those few years I worked in account management gave me a solid grounding in project management and it’s something I fall back on daily.
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving right now?
Megan Morton is a really big part of the reason why I do what I do – she took me under her wing and I am endlessly inspired by her creative output, she’s a mentor to me creatively but also a role model to me as a working mother.
I’m a big fan of Kevin Ho from Akin Creative in Sydney, his work has a pared back elegance, and he often adopts often quite basic materials.
I’m a huge advocate of local manufacturing, and I’m very lucky to have a bunch of wonderful makers around town for the various materials I use. Orio Randi who runs Arteveneta shares my passion for recycling timbers and he is fantastic to collaborate with. I’ll come in with a sketch and often over a meal or a glass of wine we sit and talk through the design. No job is ever too big or too small for them. (Arteveneta did all the timber work for both Market Lane spaces). Scott and I got married at Arteveneta five years ago – we staged a surprise wedding in their stunning workshop in Prahran, I’ve worked with them ever since.
Although not a professional creative, he’s more of a twilight tinker-er, my Dad Max is a bit of a wiz who is always on hand to make anything wood-related that I can’t do myself. He’s ever ready to head into the shed and build whatever needs to be built. He’s excellent on a lathe and creates beautiful wood works – which to date have only ever ended up in the hands of his mates, but I keep telling him he could sell his beautiful wares. Dad makes my Christmas Trees for me each year, I love his enthusiam and can-do attitude, like his Dad before him who was a hobby-inventer, he makes all sorts of contraptions using only materials found around the shed.
I know I biassed in saying this – but I truly admire the work my husband Scott does. He’s a really clever, intuitive and brilliant graphic designer who just ‘get’s it’ every time.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media you turn to when in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project?
I rely quite heavily on the internet for creative inspiration. Whilst it’s a bottomless pit of goodness, I often pine for an 8th day in the week to spend out in the ‘real world’ wandering the streets. That kind of time to meander is a serious luxury I don’t have BUT I do have a seriously big bookmark collection on my laptop and countless folders on my desktop, where I catalogue images for different applications - materials, textures, interiors, VM etc.
There are a few blogs I visit daily without exception and TDF is the first blog I check in the morning, I check in on Convoy, Home NYC quite often, then there’s the likes of Emma’s Design Blog, Styl.In, French By Design, Elle Interior. I subscribe to a lot of interiors magazines, my two favourites would have to be Inside Out and World of Interiors.
What would be your dream creative project?
To design a beach house for my family. Something that sits sympathetically amongst nature, has large open spaces for friends and family to congregate in, and a very private sleeping area for the kids to go to bed in peace and quiet while the grown ups hang out. It’s in my ten year plan. Oh, and a hotel in a faraway location.
What are you looking forward to ?
A sleep in.
You favourite fossicking spots in Melbourne for furniture and home accessories?
Where to start and where to end…? Fenton & Fenton for colourful and bold pieces, Izzi & Popo for brocante, Hub Furniture, Market Import to name but a few. Most of all I love getting out of Melbourne and fossickng through the country antique markets, I love the thrill of the hunt and finding diamonds in the rough.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
I don’t get out much these days, so it’s lucky that my husband is a seriously good cook. His fish tacos with a cold Pacifico beer are pretty amazing. The last great meal I had out was at Golden Fields.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Pushing Alexander on the swing in the front yard, watering the garden – then off to get a coffee and most likely a trip to the hardware store.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
K7 Vintage Wares – Kylie is so lovely and helpful and if on the off chance she doesn’t have what you’re looking for, she’ll endeavour to find it for you.