Studio Visit

Interior Designer Pip McCully

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
29th of July 2011

Kitchen details from Armadale residence, designed by Melbourne design studio Wonder. Photograph - Paul Barbera.
Living / dining details from Armadale residence, designed by design studio Wonder. Photograph - Paul Barbera.
Bathroom detail from Armadale residence, designed by Wonder. Photograph - Paul Barbera.
Greenhouse' pop-up shop in Melbourne Central, designed by Wonder for local label Limedrop

I had the great pleasure of meeting the supremely clever girls from interior design studio Wonder recently.  Pip McCully and Georgina Armstrong launched their fledgling firm two years ago, and are already gaining a seriously impressive reputation for their timeless, understated work and incredible attention to detail!  Truly exquisite stuff!

Georgina and Pip both studied interior design at RMIT, finishing uni in 2003 and 2005 respectively.  (I roughly estimate this makes them 29-ish!?)  After each spending a few years each working at various respected local firms including Carr, Bar Studio and Shareen Joel, the pair fortuitously re-united at Hecker Phelan & Guthrie (as it was then known) in 2007.  Two years on, after refining their skills whilst working with the amazing team at HP&G, Georgina and Pip were offered their first independent design project, and jumped at the chance.  They formed their studio, Wonder, on September 1st 2009.

Recent projects for Wonder have included a shop at Melbourne’s GPO for fashion label LIFEwithBIRD, a fabulously quirky 'Greenhouse' pop-up shop in Melbourne Central for local label Limedrop, and an INCREDIBLE residence in Armadale - which was in fact their first commission, and the starting point of Wonder.

It is so inspiring to see two young women running their own growing design business, building a reputation from the ground up, and gaining real respect amongst their industry for such beautiful, accomplished work!  In particular I am blown away by Georgina and Pip's incredible eye for detail - the grand scale of their stunning Armadale home is so perfectly balanced by the bespoke details they have carefully sourced for this project - in particular, the custom brass doorknobs by revered Australian designer / maker Suzie Stanford.

I think we can safely say that studio Wonder is one young design studio to watch!  (You heard it here first, people. :)

Pip McCully (left) and Georgina Armstrong (right) in the kitchen of the Armadale House they recently completed.  Lovely shot by Paul Barbera.

Tell me a little about your backgrounds – what career path has led you both to what you’re doing now?

George & I both completed a Bachelor of Design (Interior Design) at RMIT.  Although studying in different years, we knew of each other and followed similar paths working for a selection of design firms in Melbourne, before meeting up again five years later at Hecker Phelan & Guthrie (as it was previously named).  Although never actually working on a project together at HP&G, it became apparent we had similar interests, aesthetics and goals.  We simply became great friends with a side conversation of wanting to work for ourselves one day, so when the opportunity arose for us to join forces on a project which was of a scale that provided two people with full time work for a few months, we jumped on board, guns blazing.  Now with nearly two years of Wonder behind us (and a series of projects to follow) we haven’t looked back.

What have been one or two favourite projects / clients in recent times?

Our two favourite projects to date are the concept store we designed for local fashion label LIFEwithBIRD at Melbourne’s GPO and a residence (which was in fact the aforementioned starting point of Wonder) in a leafy little cul-de-sac in Mindanao Court, Armadale.

LIFEwithBIRD was completed in March 2010, in time for Lóreal Fashion Week.  The store was an exciting stepping stone for us as it was our first completed project and gave us a great opportunity to translate our love of fashion into an interior project.  The philosophy and aim behind the project was to create an elegant and timeless space which would grow and transform with the LIFEwithBIRD brand.  We shared a clear vision with our client, and used the modern classic identity of their clothing to largely inspire the shapes and form of our design.

Concept store designed by Wonder for local fashion label LIFEwithBIRD, at Melbourne's GPO.

Mindanao Court presented us with a completely different scale and timeframe, and was our first large residential project.  We had an adventurous client who gave us the freedom to explore the unexpected, by playing with a myriad of eclectic materials, textures, lighting techniques and a delightful composition of individually selected new and antique furniture and fittings.  We worked with Paul Barbera to have the house photographed in his unique relaxed style, which wonderfully captures the essence of the project.

Stunning residence at Mindanao Court, Armadale by Wonder - photograph by Paul Barbera.

After spending valuable time cutting your teeth at Hecker Guthrie you went out on your own in 2009 – how did you find the shift working for an established company to setting up your own practise?  What have been the key challenges you’ve faced?

Our job as we knew it stands no longer and our roles now extend so much further than design!  What were we thinking?  Our greatest challenge has been learning how to manage our time to ensure focus can remain on our greatest strength – design.  George and I both bring the same set of skills to Wonder, so with thanks to many talented friends who have helped us establish the administration of keeping a business alive, we are quickly learning the ropes or merging art and commerce.

Can you give us a little insight into the company structure at Design of Wonder ? – ie are you at the stage of employing other staff, do you outsource any significant tasks – or do you do still do absolutely EVERYTHING yourselves!?

The core of Wonder is George and myself, and yes we still do juggle all the roles ourselves!  We are in the process of establishing an intern program which will give students and/or graduates the chance to gain experience in a design studio, as we acknowledge that the current climate is difficult for new employment.  This incentive too becomes an invaluable help to us.

Alongside, we have had some fantastic opportunities to collaborate with friends from different disciplines, such as illustrator Skye Luckins from Isle of Skye and furniture designer Dhiren Bhagwandas, which has mixed up the dynamic, process and outcomes of some of our key projects.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Timeless & eclectic.

Timeless and eclectic bathroom by Wonder!

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

Architect Vincent Van Duysen for his alluring balance of texture and form, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for his commercial creativity and photographer Tim Walker for his parallel sense of wonder………

What are your top 5 go-to resources for creative inspiration - ie 5 magazines / books / websites you regularly visit for creative inspiration…?

JJJJound blog for the precision in his selection of inspiring imagery, Elle Décor magazine for their wonderful coverage of international design trends, Dutch magazine The Gentlewoman for their motivating anecdotes of successful women, Russh magazine for a fabulous mix of fashion & fun and lastly our own Library which has scans, notes and images from our abundance of personal research.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

The biggest learning curve since establishing Wonder is giving into the fact that everyday is different.  Expect the unexpected.  From site visits and client meetings to running around in the car sourcing finishes & fittings, from office administration to hours of drawing on CAD, we just don’t have a typical day anymore.  Six months ago we moved into a fantastic little studio space in the CBD (we were previously in George’s house) which has helped greatly to regiment our schedule.  Our only constants are catching up on the night before over coffee in the morning… and a glass of wine at the end of our working day before heading off in different directions.

Georgina at Wonder HQ in Melbourne's CBD!

What would be your dream creative project?

A runway set in Paris for Chanel.  This would mean a collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld…

What are you looking forward to ?

Designing said runway in Paris...

Impeccable details by Wonder (that balustrade detail and shadowline is bending my mind - so beautiful!)

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite neighbourhood in Melbourne and why?

George loves Albert Park and I love North Fitzroy for the exact same reasons - a thriving sense of community, leafy streets, parks and cafes, with the CBD in close proximity.

Your favourite fossicking spots in Melbourne for interesting furniture / home accessories for yourselves or clients?

With bespoke stores of interest scattered throughout Richmond, Fitzroy and the CBD, our favourite fossicking spot is Prahran.  Our constructed designs are quite streamlined, so we love to balance this aesthetic with out of the ordinary fittings and furniture sourced from retailers such as Tarlo & Graham, Leonard Joel Auction House, Geoffrey Hatty and Le Contraste in Windsor.

Details from the Mindanao House - featuring Suzie Stanford custom door handles!
Suzie Stanford custom door handles!

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Short of both loving our mum’s home cooking (or perhaps a recent evening of tapas and tequila flights at Mamasita!), we must collectively agree that our last great meal was the lunchtime burger, fries and glass of rose we had on Friday from our trusty neighbours at Trunk.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

With want to give you a more wondrous answer…  the truthful response on both behalves is in bed!

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

It may not be a secret, but the garden at Abbotsford Convent is a secluded place where George and I love to escape for inspiration.

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