Studio Visit

Paul Hecker of Hecker Guthrie

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
3rd of May 2013
Armadale residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Marcel Aucar.
Park Street residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
Bathroom details from Toorak residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Armelle Habib.
David's restaurant in Prahran designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
David's restaurant in Prahran designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
The dashing Mr Paul Hecker, photographed at Hecker Guthrie's Cremorne headquarters  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
There is no shortage of amazing interior design firms in Melbourne (or Australia for that matter), and I must admit I have many, many favourites.  But Hecker Guthrie have always been right at the top of the list! They create the most truly breathtaking interiors across a great variety of projects – from residential to retail, hospitality and commercial. A brief perusal of their impressive website pretty much says it all – Hecker Guthrie really are the best of the best. After starting out in 1999 as Hecker Phelan & Guthrie, in partnership with Kerry Phelan, Paul Hecker and business partner Hamish Guthrie launched Hecker Guthrie in 2010. They are known for their meticulous attention to detail, and for injecting a pinch of eclecticism and fun into even their grandest projects! Clearly, many of the projects HG take on do sit at the slightly higher end of the budget scale (!!) – yet even their most modest styling / decoration projects are completed with the utmost consideration and genuine enthusiasm. A large part of this approach comes from founding director Paul Hecker – what a character! Paul Hecker is a well known and revered figure and spokesperson in the Australian design industry, and after 20+ years in the industry he still has the most infectious enthusiasm for his craft. He's supremely talented (clearly!), opinionated, hilariously entertaining, and seemingly full of energy at all times! As his bio accurately states - 'humour and curiosity are key ingredients in Paul's design approach, resulting in a body of work that carefully balances considered spatial planning with a sprinkling of whimsy and craft'. Paul's approach to design is really about telling a story. When embarking on a new project, he asks not what the client wants the space to look like, but how they want it to make them feel. The results, of course, are rich, considered interiors that never feel contrived or cookie-cutter in their approach. Hecker Guthrie employs a small team, based out of their Cremorne headquarters, and offers a variety of services including Interior Design, Building Design, Industrial Design, Furniture Design, Styling & Decoration. (You might recall Simone Haag, whose beautiful Ringwood home we recently featured, heads up HG's Styling & Decoration department, whilst also handling all their marketing). Hecker Guthrie work on projects both locally and abroad – but they're particularly prolific in Melbourne. SO MANY of the most beautiful homes and interior spaces in this city started life on the Hecker Guthrie drawing board! MASSIVE thanks to Paul for his generous and very entertaining responses below! I particularly loved reading about his 'typical day'...priceless!
Tell us a little bit about your background – what path initially led you to interior design, and to eventually launch your own interior design practice over 10 years ago?
Ever since I can remember I have always noticed nice spaces. Creating a good environment for myself has always been important, so it seemed a natural progression to study design. I never set out to have my own firm, however a set of serendipitous events led me down that path. Hamish and I worked together in the '80s – he was the print boy and I was a junior designer – so our history goes way back to skivvy wearing days. Hecker Phelan & Guthrie launched in 1999 and after a decade of practicing as a trio, we launched Hecker Guthrie in 2010.
You work on an incredible variety of projects, from residential to retail, hospitality and large scale developments. What have been one or two of your favourite projects in recent years and why?
All projects have the potential to be a favourite, so often it is the relationship with the client that makes the difference. Despite popular belief, it is not necessarily the project with the biggest budget or the highest profile that become distinctive, rather the ones where you have the scope to explore interesting ideas and projects where at the end of the day, the big ideas can still be recognised and celebrated. Having said that, if I were to identify a recent project of note – it would be Carlton residence. This project was an example of a process whereby the client had complete faith in Hecker Guthrie and the design journey we took them on, and the results speak to that enthusiastic and trusting partnership between designer and client.
Carlton residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
Carlton residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
Your role is to realise other peoples' dream homes and spaces, but what about your own home? How would you describe your own personal aesthetic at home and how in sync is this with the aesthetic you bring to your clients’ homes?
I built my home 13 years ago, and my approach at the time was to create a simple, dark interior that created a neutral backdrop to showcase an interesting collection of furniture. I have toyed with the idea of change… (and kept an eye out for properties on Toorak Road, Toorak) but the home has served me in good stead, so instead I will embark on a renovation. This of course has nothing to do with the fact that my business partner Hamish is renovating – and I can’t stand the fact his home will be more beautiful! So this time around I will create a simple, light interior and do exactly the same things – showcase interesting pieces of furniture. Over the years I have realised the importance of creating warmer, cozier interiors that absolutely reflect the personality of the occupants. I place much more importance on representing the eccentric aspects of personality so the hunt for the right art, furniture and objects has become much more challenging but also rewarding in the spaces we create.
Park Street residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
Park Street residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Hecker Guthrie? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, are you still very personally involved in every project, and what significant tasks do you outsource?
Our studio is based somewhere between the Yarra River, The Botanical Gardens and Church St, Richmond in a creative hub in the suburb of Cremorne. We have a team of eight Interior Designers and Interior Architects – a high proportion of which are from New Zealand. Hecker Guthrie has an in-house furniture, décor and styling department led by Simone Haag who hunts / gathers for many of our client projects, as well as looking after our Marketing and Communications. We also employ a Finance Manager and General Manager to keep the cogs turning. There are also two dogs that frequent the studio (Bergie and Tank) – both are oversized and I love the fact we are the office with the larger than life dogs! Hamish and I are highly involved in the projects within the office, throughout all stages from concept, design development, documentation, right to the very end where styling and photography takes place (and then beyond). We would like to think that if we were to walk back into the spaces that we have designed, that our clients have taken our design and molded it into their own space by adding elements that are personal and relevant. I wouldn’t say that we outsource, but I would say that we collaborate, I would hate to think that the spaces we create are limited by our own pool of ideas and skills. We also see these partnerships as a way of tapping into the specialised skill set of others, celebrating their knowledge, exploring ideas and ultimately learning something new in the process, for which as designers we can only benefit.
Hecker Guthrie's Cremorne headquarters (That's Simone Haag at her desk on level 2!) Photo - Sean Fennessy.
View to the Nylex clock from Hecker Guthrie's Cremorne headquarters.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Detail - Hecker Guthrie's Cremorne headquarters.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Thankfully there is no such thing as a typical day – the diverse nature of our projects makes every day interesting and unique – but here was my day yesterday: • 2am wakeup call with a touch of the insomnias, with three hours of TV to follow. • Gym first thing in the morning where my trainer Joey tells me my diet is s**t. • Coffee at Baby, then arrive at work (late). • Glare at everyone so I don’t get in trouble for being late! • Design reviews with the team, client meetings, sketches and concepts on the drawing board, visit some supplier showrooms, as well as tend to the more pragmatic side of the business such as resourcing and potential projects. • Distract everyone with the latest YouTube video – most recently PSY with 'Gentleman' (you know, the 'Gangnam Style' guy). Note – I have the mental maturity of an 8-year-old. • Try my hand at an Instagram post (@heckerguthrie). • Gym at lunch (where Joey tells me my diet is s**t again). • Afternoon follows morning. • Lean cuisine and TV, then to bed.
Bathroom detail in Park Street residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  LOVE that stunning pendant light! Photo - Shannon McGrath.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
There are lots of designers, artists and creative that we respect… too many to name. But it just so happens that Hamish and I fell in love with a product that was used to style the Boffi showroom space that has just launched. The company are called 1803 Artisan Deer Design and they collaborate with Australian artisans to use the natural by-products from the family deer farm to create the most beautiful knives. The knives are all made of hand-forged metal with antler handles and wrapped in hide. The company is just starting out, whereby the ink was literally drying on their business cards when we met. We engage with a product or a designer when we engage with their story – and this was no exception.
Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media that you turn to when you're in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
The World of Interiors magazine as it publishes a lovely mix of contemporary and traditional interiors with content that is thoroughly engaging. It is the design magazine I read. Film and TV. Some of the spaces I have been most inspired by have been on screen – the beauty with this is that you can experience the space in the 3D form – unlike in a magazine where you're always wishing you could see what was around the corner. A great example is the Villa Necchi from the Italian movie I Am Love with Tilda Swinton. Google images. I always delight in seeing the random rude images that pop up no matter what you type in the search bar. Parisian Chic. This was a book that our General Manager brought into the office and it is full of sound advice on scent, wardrobe, shoes – it provides all of the rules we should dress by! The Hecker Guthrie Team. They are a great resource and I can often be found yelling up the stairs 'who has seen a great such and such…'. Instagram. For someone who is a self-proclaimed technological luddite, I am enjoying engaging with this medium and seeing a more personal side of not only our team, but peers, and people I know nothing about.
Mitchelton Winery restaurant and cellar door, designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
What would be your dream creative project?
The dream creative project isn’t one project in particular – but rather one where we can explore design with a collective of artisans to create a result that knows no boundaries. Hecker Guthrie recently designed a table for the NGV ‘Best of the Best’ event, and Hamish and I enjoyed designing for designs sake, rather than necessarily adhering to a brief. We hope to do more of this in the future.
Caulfield residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Shannon McGrath.
What are you looking forward to?
The next ten years, maturity, seeing some of the projects that are on the drawing board come to life, redesigning my apartment, and the weekend.
Toorak residence designed by Hecker Guthrie.  Photo - Armelle Habib.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighborhood and why?
It would be St Kilda, the suburb where I live and have done so for 13 years. I love the diversity that it offers. Having said all of that the snob in me wishes I could say that I lived on Toorak Road, Toorak.
What and where was the last great meal you had in Melbourne?
Bar Di Stasio for their lamb chops or baked pasta. It is Italian food served by Italian waiters…and low and behold – you can book! Hamish and I both seem to have affection for dining establishments where service and ambience outweighs aesthetics, nothing like a case of jealousy to make you lose your appetite.
Your top three shops in Melbourne for great furniture, home accessories or other finishing touches?
Nicholas and Alistair in Abbotsford for their ability to edit a truly amazing collection of furniture pieces. Twenty 21 in Johnston St for Melbourn’e best array of Danish Ceramics. And of course Design Age in Windsor.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Buying and arranging flowers. I would love to say that they are from Fleur (the most wonderfully creative florist), but in actual fact they are from Impulse Flowers in Carnegie. I buy seasonal and lots of. As I always say to my clients – there is nothing like a house full of flowers and planting to say that a space is cared for.
Melbourne's best kept secret?
The studio of Hecker Guthrie has recently completed some projects at Highpoint (Cupcake Central, Bardot and Saba). During one of our site visits I came across Daiso, the Japanese $2 shop that sells an array of goodness – all tuned into the Japanese aesthetic – the plain white toothbrushes being a personal favourite! This shop comes back to my philosophy that everything in your home has the potential to be beautiful.
Hecker Guthrie's Cremorne headquarters.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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