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Chelsea Hing of CHDC Studio

Studio Visit

21st September, 2012
Lucy Feagins
Friday 21st September 2012

Binnie Street house, interior design Chelsea Hing, architect Richard Kerr.

Binnie Street house, interior design Chelsea Hing, architect Richard Kerr.  Amazing sunken lounge!

Penthouse fitout, East Melbourne by Chelsea Hing.

The country home of Vanessa Partridge, interior design by Chelsea Hing.

The Kyneton home of Vanessa Partridge, designed by Chelsea Hing.  Photo – Nik Epifanidis

I am often asked to recommend interior designers or interior stylists who can assist with home renovations... which is very tricky, because so many of the amazing and revered design studios we have featured here over the past few years are bigger firms who don't necessarily take on small residential projects.  I'm always thinking I should be on the look out for more 'approachable' interior designers, and smaller firms who can take on a great variety of projects, from ground up builds to more modest re-furbs - and excecute every project, no matter how tiny, with the same level of finesse and enthusiasm!  That's why I am super excited to feature Melbourne interior designer Chelsea Hing today!

Having cut her teeth at respected firms Nexus Designs and Bates Smart, Chelsea 'sort of accidentally' launched her own practice, Chelsea Hing Design Consultants in 2007.  Since then she has relished the opportunity to drive her own projects, and to create a body of work she is proud of.

Chelsea's passion is residential interiors.  Amongst her recent projects, Chelsea was responsible for the renovation of Vanessa Partridge's Kyneton home, which I know won many hearts when we featured it a few months ago!  This particular project is testament to the diversity in Chelsea's work - it's so lovely to see a sensitive, understated renovation of a Victorian country home amongst CHDC's portfolio of contemporary and larger scale projects, such as the award winning Binnie House.

Massive thanks to Chelsea for sharing her beautiful work with us today - one to bookmark for your future dream renovation project!

Chelsea Hing in her St. Kilda studio. Photo - Nik Epifanidis 
Tell us a little about your career background – what path led to interior design originally, and to launching your own firm?

I was fairly studious as a kid and reasonably good at both arty things, which I always did off my own bat, and the more conventional academic subjects like English and legal studies. When it came to getting into Uni, my year the points shot up for law and I missed out. So I went to Monash Uni to do an Arts Degree with the plan to changeover after the first year. Within months I decided a career in the law wasn't for me, but stayed on to finish my arts degree with a double major in politics and serious philosophy. I thought, if I was going to have to stay there I might as well make it interesting.

During that time I was always doing creative projects on the side to feed my (unacknowledged at the time) need to create. I think every creative person needs this outlet and it bugs them until they finally do something about it. So after a trip overseas I came back to another four years of design school at RMIT. That was it for me, I knew I was on the right path from day one. And I have loved being a designer ever since.

My first job out was with Nexus Designs where I learned every tool of the trade imaginable under the experienced eyes of Janne Faulkner, Harley Anstee and Sonia Simpfendorfer, who expected a lot but equally were incredibly generous with their knowledge. All up I spent seven years there before leaving to get a taste of the big league at Bates Smart – a 140 strong team (at the time) of some of Australia’s best designers and architects.

A year later I launched my own practice in 2007. It was kind of accidental and something I just fell into. It's been a steep learning curve but the opportunity to create your own world the way you want and a body of work to be proud of keeps fuelling my fire.

What have been one or two favourite residential projects in recent years?

Hands down the project I've enjoyed working on the most has been Binnie House, which has been shortlisted for quite a few awards. It's an exciting house in that it combines strong architectural concepts but remains really liveable, and it has a very cool circular sunken lounge. Admittedly this seemed an outlandish idea on the plans but ended up being one of the most successful elements of the design. I formed a fantastic working relationship with the architect Richard Kerr and enjoyed such a great rapport with our clients they are now friends. So I actually get to spend time at the house, which is just so lovely. I wish Australia had more clients like this who understand they are in effect patrons of the 'arts' who take the leap of faith required to trust their designers and allow us to push them.

The other project I've enjoyed has been doing my own place. Not having to satisfy anyone else (other than my partner!) has been great fun and has allowed me to be really gutsy with colour and some of the more quirky things some clients wouldn't necessarily go for.

Binnie House bathroom, interior design by Chelsea Hing.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of CHDC? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, are you each still very involved in the design process day to day, and what significant tasks do you outsource?

We're a small practice and always have been, based in the most amazing building in St Kilda called The White House. We're surrounded by lots of other interesting businesses from Dumbo Feather and Tom Organic (organic tampons) to other designers, environmental consultants and socially responsible businesses such as Small Giants. We have a beautiful garden where we can pick herbs for the night’s dinner and lunch on the sun-drenched porch. It's a fantastically creative hub and I feel privileged to be apart of it.

In my business I'm the chief designer and handle every project in the office supported by a fantastic studio manager who helps out with all the admin and PR requirements. In the past when I've had designers on staff I've always been heavily involved in every aspect of each project. Interior design is all about getting the details right, which requires hundreds of decisions and lots of experience. So there's lots of discussion and definitely not a quiet studio!

A couple of years back I made a decision to take on residential work exclusively so I have a handful of designers, architects and draftsman who I work with more regularly and can bring into projects as I need to. At any one time I can have up to eight to ten projects all bubbling away at different stages, with about five to six requiring intense attention in any given week. I outsource all the AutoCAD documentation when it makes sense to do so. So there's lots of juggling and the need for great support in an office like mine is critical.

Terrace renovation, East Brunswick.  Interior design by Chelsea Hing.
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving right now?

Nik Epifanidis our photographer and also the photographer of these beautiful images you see here today, and who also happens to be my partner. Miranda Skoczcek whose paintings I love and who is also my friend and a fellow mother of a young rowdy boy. Also what Berry Liberman is doing at Dumbo Feather is inspirational. And finally, Anne-Claire Petre who's an up and coming furniture designer who launched Anaca Studio this year. She's got some great functional pieces already going into my jobs. Her new floor cushions are a winner. Look out for her she's one to watch.

The Kyneton home of Vanessa Partridge, designed by Chelsea Hing.  Photo – Nik Epifanidis
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (i.e. particular websites, magazines, blogs or books) you turn to when in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project?

I've just started on Pinterest and am loving creating my own boards. Every designer has an image library they draw from when putting together the right mood inspiration for a new project and I'm in the process of putting mine onto Pinterest from iPhoto.

Blogs I read daily are The Design Files, Yellowtrace and Daily Imprint, plus Abigail Ahern, Kelly Wearstler, Dezeen, My Paradissi and Table Tonic. I do cull these every six months or so to keep fresh (but TDF remains a constant!).

Books, books and more books. I love design books and love to collect them. Marking the pages for reference is a big part of starting work on a new concept. I find myself going back to the same well worn books time after time.

Magazines I read are Elle Decoration UK, Elle Decor Italia, Cote Sud, plus the local ones intermittently.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

My little boy wakes at 5.30am and we doze for about an hour before I get him up and fed. A couple of days a week I'm in the office between 7 to 8am for some precious quiet time before the phone starts to ring. I often do my more intensive design thinking during this time. At 9.30 I have a weekly work in progress meeting with my studio manager and we go through everything that needs to be done from project work to magazine PR and blogging.

I divide my day into AM and PM blocks, and I see suppliers in the middle of the day so I can get as much done in my working blocks as possible. A typical day is spent flicking between my logical and creative brains, talking to clients, trades and suppliers, followed by design work, answering publicity info, writing the blog when I can squeeze it in, then a site visit or client meeting. I finish around 6pm and rush home to my little one. Most nights we eat dinner together and the day doesn't stop until he's in bed around 7.30. I do this four days a week so I can spend a day at home with him. I couldn’t do it without the incredible support from both sets of grandparents and my partner who all keep it going in the background.

What would be your dream creative project?

A collaboration with Achille Castiglioni or Paola Navone on anything

What are you looking forward to?

A holiday somewhere warm.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

My local hood Carlisle Street has the best of an old school shopping strip mixed with cool boutiques and great coffee spots. Everything is within walking distance, which is a major stress reliever and a great change of pace on days off.

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

I source from over the place really. For affordable works on paper I go to Signed & Numbered in Prahran and The Australian Print Workshop in Fitzroy. For eclectic things for the home I go to Nyary 604 in Prahran and I regularly go in just to look its all so good. Market Import hidden away in Armadale is amazing for colourful handmade things from Mexico that are hard to find elsewhere. And also like to visit Trove on High St Armadale.

For antiques or rare pieces I go to Nicholas & Alistair for their enviable collection of furniture and lighting – so well sourced & edited. For vintage and mid century modern I go to The Bitch is Back in St Kilda, it's still good all these years on.
Also Chapel St Bazaar and Le Contraste in Windsor. Finally Tarlo & Graham and Fenton & Fenton are always good for things like deer heads and antlers.

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

The lobster roll at Golden Fields. Sitting at the bar watching the chefs prepare it is great fun.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Depending on mood either at cycle class, having breakfast at home or down the road at my local cafe Wall 280 catching up with a girlfriend

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

That there is so much creative talent buzzing away in thousands of small businesses. You just have to dig a little to find us!

The Kyneton home of Vanessa Partridge, designed by Chelsea Hing.  Photo – Nik Epifanidis

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