This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Miriam Fanning and Felicity Watts of Mim Design

Studio Visit

13th April, 2012
Lucy Feagins
Friday 13th April 2012

PLE Residence, Hawthorn - designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

RCG Residence designed by Mim Design, photos - Derek Swalwell

RCG Residence designed by Mim Design, photos - Derek Swalwell

RCG Residence designed by Mim Design, photos - Derek Swalwell

Joy Cupcakes - designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

Joy Cupcakes interior - designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

Last December, amidst the madness of The Design Files Open House, I had the great pleasure of meeting a gaggle of lovely ladies from boutique Melbourne interior design firm Mim Design.  A sweet, super friendly lass named Kimberley was the one who first introduced herself and the team - it was so great to meet a bunch of talented local designers who are loyal readers of TDF, and who had such kind things to say!  I must admit I was a little sleep deprived and delirious at the time, but I vowed to check out their work, and make time to profile Mim on the site.  So... fast forward 4.5 months and finally I'm getting around to it!

As you can see by the impressive variety of work pictured here, whilst they're boutique in size, and very personal in their approach, Mim Design are one serious interior design firm. Since launching in 2000, Mim has grown to a team of 14 staff, and tackles a vast range of projects from hospitality to retail, residential, events and workspaces.  Each finished project has it's own individual flourishes, but they all seem to share a sense of quiet elegance, restraint and just a touch of luxe!  Stunning results every time.  Do pop over to the Mim Design website for many more beautiful pics!

Aside from the obvious interior design eye candy(!!), it's been so inspiring pulling this post together, and learning about a Melbourne creative start-up that has grown and achieved the success of Mim Design.  Definitely something to aspire to.  Also, I really hope TDF has a beautiful office like theirs one day!

Massive thanks to Miriam and Felicity for their generous words and all the stunning pics to accompany this post.  Also big thanks to Kimberley for pulling it all together, and for that first introduction!

Miriam Fanning (left) and Felicity Watts (right) - design directors at Mim Design

Tell us a little about your career background/s What path led you to interior design originally, and eventually launch Mim Design ?

Miriam Fanning (MF): I wasn't 'gifted’ at school, but I did love art and drawing throughout my schooling years. Many weekends were spent making a mighty mess at home, while drawing on anything I could get my hands on. Initially after missing out on getting into Graphic Design at uni, I undertook an Interior Design course that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I loved the whole dimensional form of this discipline.

My first design-based job was at the Buchan Group in Melbourne, where my interests in retail were melded working within such an interesting and diverse practice. Starting as a junior and eventually leaving as an Associate Director, I was inspired by the many facets of design I had experienced while working across varied projects during my time at Buchan Group.

Having a family led me to start Mim Design in 2000. The aim was to be continually inspired; I love the ability to work on a diverse range of projects within the industry. Mim Design has organically grown from one to fourteen staff, and sometimes my kids and the dog come into work too!

Felicity Watts (FW): My entire family are very creative, however I think I developed a passion for beautiful things from my father. Dad, an antique restorer, taught me to have an eye for detail. While our tastes are vastly different, we both appreciate beautiful craftsmanship and interesting spatial forms. As a child I would regularly take all the ornaments from around the house and rearrange them on their shelves. I’ve always loved to draw, and after exploring other avenues throughout school, I finally came to the realisation that I could actually have a career in something I had previously just done for fun. I have always considered myself very lucky to have found a career in something that I am passionate about.

I started with Mim Design in 2004, when it was a small practice of two, and have never looked back! I have been able to watch Mim Design expand to a team of fourteen. I came on as a Partner and Director in 2010.

You guys work on such an incredible variety of projects – from residential to retail, hospitality, events and workspaces - what have been one or two favourite projects in recent years?

MF: One of my favourite projects was our Hawthorn PLE Residence. Our clients were amazing to work with and allowed us to completely transform their home. Their trust and respect was truly appreciated throughout the process, and knowing that the home was completely transformed in personality gave great delight to our clients and ourselves.

PLE Residence, Hawthorn - designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

PLE Residence, bedroom - designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

PLE Residence, entrance - designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

FW: Hospitality design gives you an opportunity to really express every creative bone in your body, while still working to a science about brand and practicality. We have been fortunate enough to have some fantastic projects in the last few years.

Working with The Big Group on Capital Kitchen and Mural Hall was a fantastic experience, as well as working with Bruce & Chyka Keebaugh. Both sites threw all sorts of challenges at us, which we ultimately smoothed out ensuring the finished product was true to the design intent. With Capital Kitchen in particular we were always questioning the brand and the environment we were creating, and every attention to detail was thought entirely through from the visual merchandising display zones to the hand ‘thrashed’ furniture. We will never forget bashing furniture with hammers over a late night meeting, all we needed was a glass of wine to go with it!

We are also currently working on some fantastic projects with Crown Ltd, where we have addressed interior, brand/graphics, VM and collateral as a whole; meaning that the entire space is designed in unison and holistically by Mim Design.

Capital Kitchen designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

Capital Kitchen designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

Capital Kitchen designed by Mim Design, photo - Shannon McGrath

You spend your days making Melbourne homes beautiful, but what about your own home? How would you describe your own interior decorating/styling aesthetic at home? Is it the perfect showcase of your skills or is it the forever neglected project?!

MF: Our family home is simple, a blend of Victorian with a contemporary architectural addition to the rear of the property. Our interest in art led us to a property with high ceilings and large expansive walls. Proportion and space were paramount when renovating our home, as we have two active boys it was important that all spaces worked comfortably. The ability to have versatile space was also high on the agenda i.e. our grand, gallery style hallway often becomes the ‘local bowling alley’ or ‘sock sliding straight’!

I wish I could say we have finished renovating our family home, but sadly it's some of those little things that I never get around to or keep changing my mind about on a regular basis. Luckily these things are only furniture related. Since we lived in the property throughout all of our renovations I'm glad we have now completed all building works, though the experience collectively was fun for our kids.

FW: My husband and I have actually just sold and bought a new home and are ‘not so patiently’ waiting for the settlement date. Unfortunately, at this stage in my life, the interior of our home has been somewhat neglected. We still have the remnants of hand-me-down furniture that parents and grandparents gave us when we first moved out. We are due to have our first baby at the start of August, so the only room getting any attention at the moment is the nursery. I am in my element and spending every spare minute sifting through Danish designed nursery furniture, cute little wall decals and fun fabrics.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Mim Design? Where are you based, how is your office structured, what significant tasks do you outsource, and are you each still very involved in the design process day to day?

MF: The Mim Design studio is based in Bond Street, South Yarra above a hairdresser and a recently opened Italian café (yes, how handy!). We have a terrific studio with two fabulous balconies and loads of natural daylight and an ever-expanding messy library.

Our office has three directors in place; two design-based and one financial, administrative and accounts-based. Since we cover many different types of projects it's essential that we have many systems in place to enable us to work efficiently through each type of project. In terms of office staff we have four interior designers, including a graduate designer/architect, one marketing and styling designer, one administrative P.A., two documentation architects, one librarian/administrator and one intern.

We are proud of the fact that there is not an emphasis on hierarchy in our office. We design in the form of team workshops – so everyone’s thoughts are put forward –  it's this way that we achieve the most unique and most considered design for each and every project. Within our office we find it essential that all of our talented staff have opportunities to work on varied phases throughout their projects. As Design Directors, both Felicity and myself are involved in establishing design direction and philosophy with staff members for every project. We are conscious of making sure we, as well as our staff, are available to our clients so we can establish and enjoy communicative relationships.

Mim Design HQ in South Yarra (We're looking at the back of Felicity's head and that's Kimberley across the table!)

Details from Mim Design's South Yarra studio... ahhh just look at all those designer furniture spec books!

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving right now?

Emma Davies – Loving her woven vessels.

Paul Davies – We want one of his houses!

Derek Swalwell – His Dubai shots are outstanding, plus he is amazing and fun to work with.

Katon Redgen Mathieson – Fantastic architecture with beautiful balance of shape form and environment.

Lara Merrett – We were lucky enough to use a Lara Merrett piece in one of our residential projects recently and it just transformed the space.

Ross Gardham – A clever, special man that produces crafted pieces.

Lizie and Nicci Clifton – Creative, clever, inspirational ladies from Pure Products, and also fabulous clients.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to when in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project?

MF: I regularly visit the Avenue Bookstore for design inspired books, they have an amazing selection. Travelling and engaging in new experiences often delivers a shot of inspiration. Also seeing things through my children's eyes is always fun! I also thoroughly enjoy movies with amazing cinematography and brilliant sets or concepts that portray a sense of surrealism and joy.

FW: There's so many available to us all! Obviously The Design Files is at the top of our blog list. Other favorites as are Broadsheet Melbourne, Design Milk, Contemporist, Interior Design, and We Heart. For magazines we can’t go past Frame, Elle Décor, Belle and Vogue.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

MF: A typical day for me at the moment seems to be attending meetings, running design workshops within the office and working with our clients to achieve the given required result. A typical day also involves dropping the kids off at school and juggling homework with my husband, while also deciding who should walk the dog.

FW: My day can consist of anything from design workshops, sketch design and design development and documentation to project management or selecting finishes, fabrics and furniture. Within the office we have chosen to maintain the skill of hand-illustration at the concept phase. We have adopted computer generated work for all other facets, but have found that our clients really respond to hand drawn perspectives at the earlier stage of a project. I complete the majority of hand drawing in the office, which I love and will hang on to as long as I can, along with all the other requirements of a Director; client meetings, team management etc.

Yellowglen / Treasury Wine Estate Birdcage Marquee designed by Mim Design - Photos Shannon McGrath

Yellowglen / Treasury Wine Estate Birdcage Marquee designed by Mim Design - Photos Shannon McGrath

What would be your dream creative project?

MF: My dream creative project would be to design an amazing, contemporary painting and sculpture gallery, with an accompanying restaurant, hotel and suites of creative studios, including warehouse style living all-in-one. Of course an amazing homewares store and rooftop venue would top it off. Ideally it'd be situated close to work – Prahran, perhaps?

FW: Miriam and I have been talking about how we would love to design a luxury hotel in the near future that includes a fine dining restaurant, day spa and pool, cocktail bar…the list goes on. I would love for such a hotel to be positioned somewhere scenic so that each room could include the vista of an amazing mountain scape or cliff edge – something similar to Saffire Freycinet in Tasmania or Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island.

Mural Hall designed by Mim Design - Photos Shannon McGrath

What are you looking forward to ?

MF: I am looking forward to a fantastic year with great projects, and as always, to be continually inspired.

FW: The birth of our baby in August of course! Also expanding Mim Design, and the next stage of projects coming our way.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

MF: My favourite neighbourhood is Albert and Middle Park. I love the local village feel adjacent to the bay with some great parks, stores and cafes.

FW: I love everywhere along the bay from Brighton through to Mordialloc because that is home to me.

Your favourite fossicking spots in Melbourne for furniture, finishes and home accessories?

MF: I have so many! Safari Living in Prahran is dangerously good, as Felicity always has something I want to take home. Luke Furniture in Prahran for their large range of local and international brands, and Temperature Design in Collingwood with their ever-changing collection of contemporary furniture and accessories. Grazia is a joy to work with. I also love Fenton & Fenton, truly textural and extremely vibrant. Market Import, as I’ve always been a huge Marimekko fan, and finally Leonard Joel auction house.

FW: My husband and I spend most of our weekends in Regional Victoria. We love to get away from the hustle and bustle, and so many of the little furniture places that I find are actually outside of Melbourne. There’s a great little homewares store in Red Hill called Red Hill House. You can also find some fantastic restored retro pieces at Bob’s Shed in Yarragon.

Being only slightly obsessed with baby stuff at the moment, I have found frequenting country markets great for handmade wooden toys and mobiles that are beautiful and unique accessories to any nursery. Warning: steer clear of the tie-dye stalls. However, like many people now, I tend to hunt for goodies online. I particularly love Gretel Home and searching through Etsy or various blogs for interesting new finishes and accessories.

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

MF: The last great meal I had was at Golden Fields in St Kilda, the food was delicious. I just sat at the bar and watched the delivery of amazing plates and meals by meticulous staff.

FW: I love the concept of sharing plates. All the girls in the office joke that I am known for having ‘food envy’ – so a meal where I get to sample a bit of everything is ideal. True South brewery in Black Rock offer an Argentinean menu; the empanadas are particularly good.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

MF: Typical Saturday morning for me is at the local tennis club watching my children attempt serves, smashes and lobs.

FW: At the in-laws holiday house. They have a quaint little cottage positioned on ten acres on Springsure Hill in Buln Buln East. We would be sitting having breakfast on the verandah looking out across Gippsland to Mount Baw Baw.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

MF: Melbourne's best kept secret for me is the local restaurant that you would never have thought to venture into, everyone has one and for me it Manakish in Elsternwick.

FW: Melbourne’s best kept secrets are scattered throughout our industry, found in the many talented craftspeople and suppliers, that as designers we get to deal with day-to-day. Melbourne is a design hub full of creative artists, craftsmen and builders making even our roughest sketch ideas a reality.

Mim Design studio meeting room

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email