The key pieces of furniture in Danielle Brustman’s studio at Collingwood Yards are two tables: an electric blue, flower-shaped ten-seater table she was commissioned to design for The Art of Dining in 2019; and a glass travertine table of her aunty’s from the 80s that she uses a desk. They reflect both the personal and the professional – and the way her work bleeds into her lifestyle.
‘I like to explore narratives that set the scene for my pieces,’ she says. ‘It must come from my background as a set designer. I need a good script to get going, so I often invent my own.’
Bringing a sense of theatre to everything she touches is Danielle’s hallmark, and in this lofty studio space with 14ft ceilings, the designer’s bold and dramatic work feels especially well placed. The space is consumed by relics of Danielle’s iconic 2018 Rigg Prize room, and sample pieces she is developing for future projects. Part workshop, part showroom, part office, this space is a busy hub, where Danielle does everything from co-ordinating suppliers to meeting clients, and constructing prototypes.
‘The studio space tends to shape shift depending on what project I have on at the time,’ she explains. ‘Most of my interior design work is desk-bound, and the furniture design work tends to involve messy painting materials and timber. The space is big enough to handle both.’
Technically trained as an interior designer, Danielle is really a multidisciplinary creative – producing everything from furniture to lighting, to complete her dramatic and award-winning interior schemes from top to bottom. Colour is her preferred medium, so she uses other design modes as vehicles to express these innovative combinations.
You can see this lifelong fascination manifested in a recently commissioned piece for the NGV’s Triennial 2020. ‘Coloured In’ integrates her ‘Chromatic Fantastic’ cabinet into a larger installation, containing similarly colour-blocked carpets, and a new ‘Chromatic Fantastic’ wall light she made especially for the site. The keyboard patterned carpet blankets the Decorative Arts corridor of the NGV leading to the Great Hall, where it creeps up and over the balconies and zigs zags uninterrupted across the solid bench seating – deliberately reflecting the kaleidoscopic cut-glass ceiling. With the gallery closed for most of last year, Danielle and the NGV’s curatorial team conducted the entire development process over Zoom – making the designer’s studio space and an even more important haven during a tumultuous year.
Originally built as the Collingwood Technical College, the classrooms of the 140-year-old institution were transformed by Fieldwork architects and urban design firm SBLA into studios over the last decade – slowly inching the historic building towards its destiny as an arts precinct. The original timber floors and windows across the 6,500 square metre site remain intact, while the heritage bones have been cleaned and reinforced for new occupants. Collingwood Yards is now its own artistic ecosystem; a permanent home for a throng of local artists, designers, organisations, digital media gurus and independent creative professionals.
‘There is something very special and inspiring about working nestled amongst so many other creative businesses and studios,’ she says. ‘I worked alone from home for many years, and being located here at Collingwood Yards has really helped me feel a sense of belonging to a local creative community. There is something strengthening within that that I had not anticipated or realised was missing from my life until I moved in here.’
Danielle’s studio is the result of a new creative residency program from Bank of Melbourne, meaning it will be turned over to a new tenant in the second half of the year. The last six months of her time in her sunny studio will be spend working on residential interior projects, exhibiting ‘Chromatic Fantastic’ at Milan Design Week, fitting out a jewellery store and preparing her upcoming displays at Melbourne Design Week. It sounds like a busy schedule but for the moment, Danielle is pretty happy to just go with the flow and see where the tide takes her.
‘This last year helped me realise that I would prefer to work in a more focused, slower and thoughtful way,’ she reflects. ‘The room has given me space to move, daydream and design differently.’
Collingwood Yards is located at 135 Johnston Street, Collingwood. Keep up with Danielle’s work here!