Kerry Phelan is a legend in Melbourne’s interior design world. As a founding partner of the enormously successful interior design firm Hecker Phelan and Guthrie (now Hecker Guthrie) Kerry has had a huge part to play in shaping Australian design culture. More recently, she’s been the recipient of the IDEA (Interior Design Excellence Awards) lifetime achievement award (her response – ‘I’m not old enough for a lifetime achievement award!’).
After a celebrated 20 years at HPG, in 2010 Kerry launched her own design practice, with her partner, Stephen Javens, an architect. For a firm with this sort of pedigree, K.P.D.O. (Kerry Phelan Design Office) are surprisingly publicity-shy. They’ve spent the past eight years focussing on the work – building a portfolio of truly world-class design projects which speak louder than words.
K.P.D.O.’s latest project is One Wellington, a unique new apartment development in St Kilda. This project is characterised by a level of customisation not often seen in developments of this scale – beyond lux features and a swoon-worthy materials palette, entire floorplans here are completely flexible, and apartments can be merged together to create infinite variations – unheard of!
We recently sat down with K.P.D.O. directors Kerry Phelan and Stephen Javens, to discuss their unique approach to residential design.
Kerry, Can you tell us a little about your background – was there a specific moment or experience that inspired you to pursue a creative career, and in particular design?
Kerry: My father, Tas Phelan, was an interior designer in the early days of the industry in Melbourne in the 1960’s and 1970’s. So I’ve grown up in the industry really. Our family life was extremely energetic and creative.
How did you make it all happen – what did you study, who did you learn from, and work for?
K: I’m a product of the Art School scene in the 1970’s, where I studied photography, fine art and graphic design. My interior design career began in Tas’s studio.
You launched K.P.D.O. in 2010. What does the studio look like today – how big is your team, and what is your role day to day? Are you still very much personally involved in every project?
K: We have a wonderful team of 16 designers and architects. I’m across everything really…I don’t know how I do it!
KPDO works across luxury residential, hospitality and retail projects located throughout Australia and South East Asia. What do you see as your signature, or a distinctive aesthetic across your work?
K: We don’t have a set aesthetic really, we find the appropriate response to each project based on our conversations with our client. Our work is very idiosyncratic, and often based in an exploration of art, fashion or film.
Stephen: It’s hard to narrow it down, but we try to find a balance between restraint and exuberance. We love the inherent beauty in natural materials like timber and stone, but we’re not afraid to find the point of contrast, or the unexpected.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? For example, when a brief or new project first comes in to the studio, where do you start?
K: I’ve had to create a quiet space in the office where I can find some time to gather my thoughts. The industry is very fast paced, and time for contemplation is precious.
Can you tell us a little about the One Wellington project – what has been the design direction for this project? What sort of mood are you hoping to create within these apartments?
K: One Wellington is located in the vibrant community of St Kilda, so we wanted to create diverse interiors which are able to be customised by their new owners. It’s quite a unique approach we think!
What do you feel makes a residential design project ‘successful’ ? What are the hallmarks of a really well designed home?
S: We often think about the emotional benefits of good design. If a home is well designed it ‘feels’ right. Good design can give you a shiver down the spine, we’ve all felt it, like seeing a beautiful artwork or listening to a thrilling piece of music.
Who are some other creatives (past or current, Australian or international) who you are excited about and/or influenced by these days?
K: I’m more excited about travel and the opportunity to visit Art Fairs and Galleries. I’m interested in art based practices.
What would be your dream creative project?
K: Dream creative projects come in a myriad of budgets, briefs and sizes. The dream is an energy between client and designer. A pushing and pulling, if you will.
What do you love about design and architecture?
S: I think as designers, we’re all fortunate to be in this profession. It’s not something we can switch on and off. Whether we’re in the studio, or travelling, or poring over magazines and social media, we’re always searching for things that inspire us.
What are you most looking forward to next?
K& S: A holiday. Really!
Every part of One Wellington presents an opportunity to express yourself. Interested parties can register online. For more information on One Wellington, visit ONEWELLINGTON.COM