Interview with Watts Studio Director Felicity Watts

  • We catch up with Felicity Watts, founder of Melbourne design practice Watts Studio to chat through her defining aesthetic, establishing her own studio and what she finds most rewarding about residential design. 

    Growing up, Watts Studio director Felicity Watts always had a passion for art and design. Kicking off her interior design career with Mim Design and later Powell & Glen Architects, Felicity successfully established herself firmly within the residential interior design sphere before launching Watts Studio five years ago.

     Since Watts Studio’s inception in 2015, we’ve had the pleasure of featuring two of their projects; 2017 AIDA shortlist nominee The Rose House and one of the studio’s first big projects, Domain House. It’s plain to see in all of their work, Felicity and her boutique studio pride themselves on their meticulous detailing combined with the perfect balance of functionality and style.

     As part of our designer interview series in 2020, we were fortunate to speak with Felicity on who and what has influenced her residential design practice and what we’ve got to look forward to in the coming year. 

    Sarsfield House by Watts Studio

    What inspired you to pursue a career in interior design? 

    Felicity Watts: As a child, I always had a passion for art and design, but I hadn’t really considered a creative career. I was encouraged to pursue interior design by my high school careers counsellor. I completed my degree in Interior and Exhibition Design at Swinburne University. In 2004, I entered the design industry and fell in love with the profession.

    I started my career in an administration role at Mim Design. At the time, Mim Design was a small start-up business and I quickly moved into a design role, working very closely with the founder, Miriam Fanning. I was part of the Mim Design team for 11 years; five of those as director and partner.

    I went on to work with the award-winning architectural practice, Powell & Glen Architects (formally known as Allan Powell Architects). I only worked there for a short time, but it was a wonderful experience, where I had the privilege of leading the interior design component of an iconic residential project.

    In 2015, I established Watts Studio. We are a boutique interior design studio that offers consultancy on a variety of luxury residential, hospitality, commercial and multi-residential design projects.

    Sarsfield House by Watts Studio

    “I would describe the Watts Studio design aesthetic as timeless and contemporary – clean lines, quality materials, and a focus on custom detailing to ensure each project is unique.

    – Felicity Watts

    Sarsfield House by Watts Studio

    How would you best describe your work – what elements define the Watts Studio aesthetic?

    Felicity Watts: I would describe the Watts Studio design aesthetic as timeless and contemporary – clean lines, quality materials, and a focus on custom detailing to ensure each project is unique.

    Our goal is to tailor the design to meet our client’s unique desires, which I think is evident in our portfolio. No two projects are the same, just as no two clients are the same. It is important that the finished project reflects our client’s personality or brand, over an imposed Watts Studio aesthetic. This is their journey, their investment, their future. We have the privileged position of helping them achieve their dream space.

    Who or what has had the largest influence on your work?

    Felicity Watts: There are so many things and people that inspire me daily, it is hard to pinpoint one.

    I have been lucky to work alongside the some of the biggest names in the property development and construction industry – Crown Melbourne, The Gandel Group, Probuild, Visioneer Builders, Hacer Group and BPM Corp, just to name a few. Through them, I have gained a wealth of technical knowledge about construction, on-site processes and materials.

    At Watts Studio, we apply this knowledge to all our projects, from conception to the final documentation. Understanding construction and craftsmanship makes you a better designer. It allows you to pursue your creative ambitions without fear of compromise during the building phase.

    Sarsfield House by Watts Studio

    How do you establish and maintain a successful client-designer relationship?

    Felicity Watts: Our work is largely referral-based so relationships are of huge importance.

    In residential design, you need to know your clients on a personal level. I take the time to understand how the client uses their home. How often do they cook? How often do they entertain? Do they read books in bed? We then design around their lifestyle. Ultimately, if the client doesn’t feel heard, they are not likely to recommend you to the next person – even if your design is spectacular.

    We are a small team and that means we can invest in and nurture our client-designer relationships. We have the time to be thorough on projects and attentive to all our clients. We pride ourselves on good communication and I believe that builds trust.

    From a design perspective, what is most important to you in your own home?

    Felicity Watts: It was the flexible floor plan that appealed to us. The ability to modify and adapt the spatial layout to suit our unique and ever-changing needs is so important in a family home. Our home offers us the space to both raise our family and run my business.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in these four walls (even before the Covid-19 restrictions). I really appreciate having a designated space for the Watts Studio team and I. And that, at the end of the day, I can close the door and enjoy some family time away from work.

    What do you enjoy most about residential design? 

    Felicity Watts: I really enjoy the collaborative nature of residential design. As interior designers, we often collaborate with an architect, the client and the builder. More and more, our project team includes a local artisan, furniture maker or product designer – workshopping ideas, creating custom furniture and fittings, and designed bespoke solutions. Our understanding of great design is constantly evolving as we learn something new from each collaboration.

    What do you find most rewarding about managing a multi-disciplinary design firm?

    Felicity Watts: Seeing your design evolve from a sketch on a scrap of paper to a built form is the most rewarding part of the design.

    Successfully managing a design firm involves a lot more than just producing good design. It takes time to find the right process for your business. And once you identify that system, it needs to be embedded into standard practice.

    Our design process is effortless these days. It’s a bit like following a recipe – we work step by step to achieve the best result. This means the design team are confident about every stage of a project and the client knows what to expect.

    I manage all aspects of the business in-house; and while that means the team and I are incredibly busy, it is incredibly rewarding to see the business thrive.

    Courtyard House by Watts Studio – outdoor furniture in this space includes the Grillage chair for Ligne Roset.

    What is the most significant project you’ve designed to date and why?

    Felicity Watts: A few come to mind, but I think it would have to be Domain.

    We were appointed as the designers when Watts Studio was still in its early years. It meant so much to me that the client chose us; a small business working on referral without a large portfolio of completed projects.

    The client has a great appreciation for art, design and beautiful objects. They trusted us with some bold design decisions to complement their extensive art collection. We managed a large portion of this project while the client was abroad. It was so rewarding to see their elation each time they returned to Melbourne and saw the progress and completion.

    We have formed a wonderful professional relationship with this client and have just completed our third project for them.

    What can we look forward to from Watts Studio in the second half of 2020?

    Felicity Watts: We have several completed projects awaiting professional photography and I am looking forward to sharing them later in the year. We have recently completed an art studio and parterre on the heritage-listed property, Spray Farm. We have also completed a beautiful new architectural home built into the seaside landscape of Blairgowrie; an interior refurbishment of a stately Portsea residence; and two grand homes in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

    We also have a number of projects underway. We are in the process of choosing the furnishings, accessories and artwork for a beautiful Bayside home. The design is a mix of heritage and modern elements and we are collaborating with architectural firm Pleysier Perkins. We are also working on a contemporary addition to a sleek architectural home in Toorak and about to start construction of an extension to an Edwardian cottage in Hawthorn.

    Design Insider’s Guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Felicity Watts: Tamsin Johnson, B.E Architecture and Arent&Pyke.

    Favourite design stores? 

    Felicity Watts: Criteria Collection, In Good Company and Fred International.

    Favourite Galleries and Spaces? 

    Felicity Watts: Otomys Gallery, NGV Melbourne and Heide Museum of Modern Art.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Felicity Watts: New restaurants and bars, country Victoria (we love driving around looking for hidden architectural gems), books and digital design publications.

    Felicity Watts

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