This morning we chat with interior designer Dominique Brammah, who has found her dream job as Senior Designer at Arent&Pyke, and also Head Curator of content for the interior design firms’ excellent blog, In/Out.
Equal parts pragmatic and jovial, Dominique chats about doing the hard yards, mastering the productive commute (she travels two hours round trip each day from her Austinmer home to the Surry Hills studio), and celebrating her five-year work-iversary!
Interior Design represents a dream career for many. We’ve met so many amazing local interior designers – there is simply so much local talent in this category, we can hardly keep up!
One such talent is the inimitable Dominique Brammah – Senior Designer at Arent&Pyke, and also the Head Curator of Arent&Pyke’s wonderful blog In/Out. Dominique is just about to celebrate five years working for the award-winning business, headquartered in Surry Hills, Sydney.
We recently chatted to the 32-year-old about maximising her morning commute, Big Sky Dreaming, and falling off the ‘textbook’ path. This is truly one of the most inspiring conversations we’ve had – thank you Dom for the wise words and authentic, encouraging advice!
The most important verb in the get-your-dream-job lexicon is…
… bring the passion, and be prepared for the hard-yakka!
This job really is hard. It’s incredibly detail-focused and very demanding. It requires persistence, patience, the ability to think (and act) quickly on your feet, a great memory, and a bit of foresight. If people think it’s all cushion fluffing and arranging vignettes on sideboards they’ve got another thing coming!
It also requires collaborating with many many people to achieve the finished product, so it is also really about relationships, and managing expectations around tight deadlines.
I landed this job by….
… doing my time. I had spent six years studying, and another six years working in the industry before I landed this job.
In year 10, I did work experience for a week with Durbach Block Jaggers, and they taught me how to make a model of my Mum’s house, which was designed by the late Bruce Rickard. It was an incredibly vibrant office. The love for design certainly blossomed way back in my teenage years. I later studied a Masters of Architecture at the University of Sydney. I was also working as a Graduate Architect at Connor & Solomon Architects in Pyrmont for six years (both part-time when I was still at uni, and post graduation).
When I reflect on my career development, I think I had a great foundation through my architectural background. I had a solid technical skills set which included detailed documentation skills and great experience with jobs on site. I think this helped compensate for all the skills I was lacking as an interior design newbie five years ago!
A typical day for me involves…
My day starts with a cuppa in bed, a mental dash up to the train station, and a long commute for reading, laptop-ing and make-up-ing my face. The hour-long ride is an absolute luxury to get my head right and ready for the day ahead.
When I get to work I have a good-morning-chinwag with my wonderful workmates, a good read of blogs and a scroll through Pinterest for some cheap thrills. Usually I get stuck into my emails for about an hour to address the critical ones. And I eat my frogs – any difficult phone calls or emails are done first cab off the rank.
I have a mid morning cuppa or someone does a coffee run and then I get stuck into client work. Usually our work is generally classified as either a ‘Decoration’ or a ‘Design Job’ (or often a combination of the two) but the work pattern is similar. It starts with establishing a concept direction or two – I call this the ‘Big Sky Dreaming’ stage of the project where we talk a lot (internally), listen a lot (to the client), dream big, and then describe with words and images what we think the project is all about. Then it’s head-down gathering reference imagery, developing concepts, and collecting material samples, before pulling it all together for a design session with one of our principal designers to further refine in preparation for presentation to our clients.
We wear many hats over the course of the day, which as well as designing includes admin (a lot), site visits, showroom visits, meetings with suppliers, catch-ups with our studio manager, long chats with our joiner Eddie, quick one sentence fire-off-texts/emails/chats with builder Danny, and countless mini-workshopping sessions.
There is a constant bountiful, endless library of knowledge in all the brains of my colleagues that really never ceases to amaze and inspire.
I try and have a good chunk of time, usually in the afternoon, where I get in the zone. Then I catch the train home, where I catch up on some emails missed and then get blissfully back into my book. The unwind really is wonderful, and by the time I get home I’m calm and content for a relaxed evening with my partner Ash, catching up on the day, cooking dinner, watching an episode of something on Netflix, and then getting plenty of shut-eye.
The most rewarding part of my job is…
It sounds obvious, but it’s the completion of a project. The moment where the tradies have just left, and you’ve gone from trudging through the site fence onto a building site, to being invited in by the clients at their freshly painted front door. It’s always an almost ceremonial moment where shoes are removed (usually to protect the new floor!) and everyone marvels in each other’s brilliance, then drinks champagne. My old boss at Connor & Solomon used to call it the ‘Visit Royale’ – a time for both client, designer, builder/key trades to show their pride in the finished product and to appreciate what each has brought to the process.
On the other hand, the most challenging aspect is…
… The ADMIN! I feel like I’m constantly swimming in it. I also think that the sitting-at-the-desk-for-most-of-the-day thing is kind of challenging on mind and body – we have to shake this up as an ongoing workplace issue.
The culture of my workplace is…
Really well balanced. We are all very conscientious and work really really hard, but we mostly leave at 5:30pm. This is really encouraged and supported by Sarah-Jane and Juliette. It’s refreshing and endlessly appreciated.
I’m always saying…
Honestly my colleagues would probably say that I can go on a bit of a verbal rampage – it could be a good and loud winge, a tssssk about mess, an audible cleaning frenzy or just a general know-it-all motor-mouth about something I think I know about. I’m really not a great listener, which is a terrible flaw to have.
My idea of the perfect work space is…
… a neat desk with a bottomless cup of hot, milky, sugary tea. My desk is neat, but the desktop of my computer is chaos, that probably says a lot!
Plus: afternoon sunshine; an abundance of natural light so that you can really see the true colour of colours; a bountiful library of materials and samples organised meticulously; a great playlist of songs to whistle to; amd a never-ending supply of Black Artline pens that NEVER get knicked.
On Job Day at school, I dressed up as…
… an architect! Think black skivvy with my hair tucked in to make a bob, thick tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, t-square in hand…. you get my drift.
The best piece of advice…
It’s hardly career advice, but Mum always told me that: “Life’s too short to dance with ugly men”. Beyond the superficial lesson (which I love, ta Mum), to me it says something more along the lines of: “Don’t give anything that isn’t truly worth it any time or attention.”
I’ve had many people ask me how to break into the industry, which is super tough and highly competitive. My answer is always that it’s a long slog, so be prepared to do the years it takes to learn the craft, but don’t work for free. Don’t be too star-struck, just get stuck in wherever you can under the mentorship of someone who will foster your growth – you never know where it will take you. And then have a side project that shows people how much you truly love design.
Over the years, our industry has shifted in the following ways…
I think the vigour of image sharing platforms has made us know too much about what each other is doing. I wish there was a bit more mystique.
I feel like an original thought is hard to have, so designing feels sometime less authentic or less honest because you know, and have catalogued, all of your reference points. Looking at images of other interiors for inspiration is a cheap thrill, so I think it is important to expand your reference points into other disciplines.
With regards to my role at Arent&Pyke, Sarah-Jane and Juliette are always working on their business development. It’s a holistic big-picture vision, which includes better ways of working, redefining roles, managing the career progression of their staff, juggling budgets, and marketing strategies. It means that they are never muddling along; they are always redefining what they want Arent&Pyke to look like. It means our roles continue to evolve and it is as if we are shaping it with them rather than it coming just from the top or from a model or a spreadsheet.
In the next five years I’d like to…
I haven’t been much of a goal-setter, but the next five years feels like a time to just ride it out. I pushed hard in my career from a young age and by pushing too hard you get to a point where you don’t know where else to go, or you lose your steam. This time last year, I fell off the edge of the textbook path to where I wanted to be, and the fall really hurt. I lost my confidence, suffered some pretty crippling bouts of anxiety and questioned everything about myself both personally and professionally. The pick-up/dust-off required, with the help of those around me, was empowering in a way I never expected. I am far more robust and far more committed to just chugging along, however that may look.
If I was to think about the direction for the next five years it is more personally motivated: travel for a decent chunk of time; buy a little house; volunteer; read more; love bigger those around me who mean so much; learn a new skill set; find and then engage my core; get out into the wilderness… But I suppose one day I do see a little creative biz venture of my own, perhaps!