Though she’s one of Melbourne’s most experienced and respected interior designers, Mardi Doherty is a bit of a quiet achiever. Despite her many achievements, she’s not usually one for fanfare and publicity, but… well… we twisted her arm today!
Mardi launched her own design studio, Doherty Design Studio, in 2014. Founding her own design practice has been a significant turning point in Mardi’s career, but she’s nothing if not over-qualified for the challenge!
Mardi studied Interior Design at RMIT, following which she went on to work for a number of excellent design firms both here and in London, including Chris Connell, David Collins and the Conran Design Group. Whilst working with Lab + Bates Smart in Melbourne, Mardi worked on the interiors of the NGV at Federation Square – a project still very close to her heart. In 2009 she launched Doherty Lynch, in partnership with fellow interior designer Fiona Lynch, and after four years running their very respected and successful firm, the pair parted ways to take on new projects independently. Mardi seized the opportunity to finally launch her own design studio.
Doherty Design Studio is based in Hawthorn. Here, Mardi and her team of 6 staff tackle a great variety of projects, from residential refurbs, to commercial and retail concepts. Mardi is particularly experienced when it comes to retail, having worked across various fit outs for international brands including Paul & Joe (Australia), Diesel (UK and Europe) through the Conran Group, and a retail concept and roll-outs for Victoria’s Secret New York through David Collins Architecture studio. More recently, her work for local retailer Gewurzhaus Herb & Spice Merchants has been a highlight for the studio. It must be said, that whilst in the UK, Mardi also worked on an interior for Madonna’s London home in Belgravia!
For a small-ish studio, Doherty Design Studio is prolific. In just 18 months of operation, they’ve completed more than 16 beautiful residential projects and a number of retail and commercial projects, with many more underway. Mardi puts her studio’s incredible output and success down to her ‘amazingly loyal and gorgeous staff’ who she says make running her business a joy!
Tell us a little bit about your background – what path initially led you to interior design, and to eventually launch your own studio late last year?
I grew up in the hills near Apollo Bay, where I had a very happy childhood and have fond memories of days spent with my brother & sister, drawing on our surroundings and imaginations to create anything from cubby houses, bark sculptures and clay pots. A neighbour and family friend who was an architect was building his own home on the next hill. I was intrigued and fascinated by this work in progress, and the whole design/construction process. I attribute these creative childhood experiences to me pursuing a career in interior design.
After studying Interior Design at RMIT my love of design led to a year of studying Architecture. However, five years of uni was enough, so I took a year off and painted ceramics and made abstract artworks which were exhibited in galleries around Victoria.
Following this amazing year I went on to work for a number of design firms in Melbourne and London, including Chris Connell, David Collins and the Conran Design Group. Doherty Design Studio was established at the beginning of 2014. This was after four successful years (2009-2013) spent as co-director in the Doherty Lynch partnership with fellow interior designer Fiona Lynch.
You work on a great variety of projects, from residential to retail, and hospitality. What have been one or two of your favourite projects in recently?
Mmm that’s tricky, we have a lot of favourite projects, and for different reasons.
We recently designed two retail stores for Gewurzhaus Herb & Spice Merchants – one in The Strand Arcade, Sydney and the second in the Dairy Hall at Queen Victoria Market (QVM), Melbourne. It was like a giant mathematical puzzle given the number and placement of herbs, spices and merchandise to work into the design. The Melbourne QVM store is the first ‘self serve’ store in the Dairy Hall. Customers have really embraced the concept, and are interacting with the design, which is great
Our Sandringham residence was a dream to work on, we worked with an incredibly trusting client who was very open to our ideas. They wanted a home with a sense of fun and one that would resonate with their young family. We collaborated on this project with Techne Architects, and had a great builder (Visual Builders) – having a great team on a project is important. The most rewarding thing about this project and finishing any residential project is to see our clients living and loving their home.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I hope it’s seen as considered, colourful, and with lots of personality! I find it difficult to articulate our style, but I spoke to a client of ours last week and she told me she can pick our signature instantly! It’s really important that our clients personality is injected into our projects also.
We love designing contemporary interiors and are constantly drawn to reference architecture and design from the ’50s – ’80s for their architectural/design detail. Lighting is another area we pay particular attention to, and see it as a very important feature, for what it can bring to an interior both practically and aesthetically
Your role is to realise other peoples’ dream homes and spaces, but what about your own home? How would you describe your personal aesthetic at home, and how in sync is this with the style you bring to your clients’ homes?
We are currently living in a tired 1950’s weatherboard home located on the edge of a beautiful park. We have plans to build a new timber home that will sit beautifully amongst the parkland. My contemporary art and vintage lamp collection are very much in line with my personal aesthetic and reflect my passion for mixing contemporary and vintage pieces.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Doherty Design Studio? Where are you based, how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, and what significant tasks do you outsource?
We are based in Hawthorn, and have four full-time staff (including an Associate), a part-time office manager, and part-time bookkeeper. I personally oversee every project and each project has a team leader. The number of people working on a job depends on the size of the project, which may be two people on a particular job, or it could involve all the design team for larger jobs or if we need to meet a deadline. We are a small office and I encourage a collaborative approach with the staff toward our designs.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I always check my emails before arriving at the Studio so when I arrive I can spend time with the girls discussing the progress of each of their projects. The girls start early (8am) and we find this time before the phone starts ringing really valuable. Following that there are normally emails to follow up on, sketching, site visits, client meetings, to name a few. Every day is so different as we always have projects at different stages
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
1. Meg Cowell is a photographer whose works really excites me! She submerges couture and lingerie in water, and the results are insane!
2. Michael Muir – the beauty, clarity and colour in his paintings are magical!
3. Geoffrey Hatty Applied Arts – I have always loved scouring through this store, and find the selections so intriguing, brave and inspired.
4. Elizabeth Pedler – an installation artist who I visited last year at TarraWarra Museum of Art. Her Smokescreen installation was such fun!
Can you list for your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
My top five would have to be Intsagram, Elle Decoration UK, Pinterest, Old architecture books, and Arch Daily.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
I have two! I worked on the interiors of the NGV at Federation Square (while working with Lab + Bates Smart), and after three intense years designing and on site, it was just incredible seeing people use the space as it was intended – no hard hats, no builders or noisy machinery. I would sometimes just go in and watch the public enjoying the experience.
Since the inception of Doherty Design Studio it would have to be seeing our cubby house entry – Vardo Hut – come to life. The Vardo Hut was designed to raise money for Kids Under Cover (an initiative that raises funds to prevent youth homelessness). Six cubbies were designed and exhibited at the Melbourne International Flower Show earlier this year. Our cubby raised the most money and also won the Peoples Choice Award. I loved watching the joy of kids playing in the cubby, and adults reconnecting to their own childhood memories of their cubbies. Working with incredibly generous people to get this project completed was inspiring, and something I will never forget.
What would be your dream creative project?
It would be to design a church in a picturesque location. I have long been inspired by the work of Tadao Ando, especially his Church of Light, and find his work so moving. To collaborate with an amazing architect on a project of this nature would be magical!
What are you looking forward to?
So much to look forward to! We have some great projects on the drawing board, and I am super excited to go on an architectural tour of Tokyo with Stephen Crafti’s tour in 2016.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
The CBD is my favourite part of Melbourne. I live close by and regularly venture into the city for inspiration, great food, great design, and great, great retail therapy! Federation Square is a special part of Melbourne for me as I worked on the NGV interiors, was married there, and my husband Trent and I regularly take our kids there to see exhibitions and events.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Trent and I recently had a roaming dinner – our main at Supernormal followed by dessert at Entrecote.
The buzz at Supernormal was fabulous, and Entrecote’s crème brulee was simply amazing. I’m a sucker for a good dessert, and it didn’t disappoint!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
We have a big family breakfast together on Saturday mornings, then it’s usually down to the park where our two girls Chilli and Bonnie go crazy, collecting bugs, stones, sticks, and jumping across the creek. We usually come home with our arms full of treasures that can be made into creations later in the day!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
I have always been intrigued by Herring Island on the Yarra River next to Alexandra Avenue. I used to row around it a lot, and it’s accessible only by boat via a punt service, from December to April. It intrigues me that we have an island right in the heart of our city that it is not well known.