Interview with Hare + Klein founder Meryl Hare

  • We share words of wisdom from acclaimed Sydney designer Meryl Hare, founder of Hare + Klein, on her journey from Africa to Australia and 33 buoyant years of interior design.

    Meryl Hare is a name akin with Sydney design, in both how far it has come and what it is at present. In 1988 she arrived in Sydney from South Africa,  determined to start a new life with a portfolio of work and plenty of experience. She started her interior design practice solo with no contacts locally and found her feet by working with local architects and craftsmen. Soon she had her active role in the creative profession, leading Hare + Klein to some of Sydney’s most exclusive sites and shorelines.

    Having accumulated years of know-how, Meryl published her book, ‘Texture, Colour, Comfort’ in 2014, co-authored by David Clarke. She describes the book as a tribute to the talented designers she works with – but her own celebrated approach certainly shines through.

    While Meryl has a vibrant history to hang her hat on, her prominence is just as relevant today. We enjoyed learning more about the dynamic practitioner, what gives her meaning and purpose in her work and where she is looking to take Hare + Klein to next. These precious insights shine a light on where the industry has come from and the joys, challenges and richness of contemporary Australian design.

    Meryl Hare, founder of Hare + Klein

    Can you please tell me a bit about moving to Australia and your journey into interior design?

    Meryl Hare: I’m originally from Africa. I lived in Zambia and Swaziland before moving to South Africa, where I set up my first design practice in Johannesburg.  I studied and worked for a few years in graphic design but my real interest was in interiors, and when the opportunity presented itself, I took it and have never looked back. The political turmoil and inhumane apartheid regime in South Africa persuaded our family to leave and make a new life in Australia.

    We arrived in Sydney in 1988, just a few years before the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.  I worked briefly for another local designer, but intended to start my own practice, which I did – armed with a printed portfolio, experience, but no contacts locally!

    Cliff Top House by Hare + Klein
    Cliff Top House by Hare + Klein
    Cliff Top House by Hare + Klein

    How did you come to founding Hare + Klein?

    Meryl Hare: I had already decided on the name of the practice – which is the combination of my first and second married names (my first husband died tragically in London shortly after we were married) before I settled in Sydney. I rented a small office in 1989, sent out my printed portfolios to local architects, spent time visiting showrooms, stonemasons etc. and hoped that business would come my way!

    Slowly I started to get work and found my feet in the local vernacular.  Finding artisans, upholsterers, cabinetmakers, builders and suppliers that I felt confident in working with took time but ultimately these are the people that are crucial to the success of any design practice.

    Within the first year of Hare + Klein, I employed my first assistant and began to work collaboratively with architects on residential projects. I joined the Design Institute of Australia as well as the Society of Designers of Australia, and begun to meet my peers and take an active role in the profession, ultimately helping to amalgamate these two bodies into one entity, with the late Madeline Lester AM.

    Cliff Top House by Hare + Klein

    In 2014 you published your book, ‘Texture, Colour, Comfort’ – how does it celebrate your approach to design?

    Meryl Hare: Publishing my first book, co-authored with David Clark was a very fulfilling project.  It was meant to create a permanent record of the work we have done as well as our design philosophy.  Often we work on projects for years; with so much creative thought, detail and soul poured into the design of a project that we hope will enrich the lives of our clients. Capturing our work photographically is the culmination of all that hard work. It was intended that the book would honour the talented designers with whom I work.  The choice of title “Texture, Colour, Comfort’ is a simple descriptor of the essence of our approach to design.

    What is the first thing you notice when you enter a space?

    Meryl Hare: When I enter a space, the first things I notice are the quality of light, the shape and form of the space and its context.  Each space we design is a challenge to our creativity and its function. Taking those aspects into account, as well as the client brief, my mind immediately starts to explore the possibilities.

    How do you establish a winning client – designer relationship?

    Meryl Hare: A winning client/designer relationship is built on mutual trust.  I think from the beginning there needs to be open and honest discussion of budget, brief and expectations, so that both designer and client are on the same page.  We have an initial meeting to discuss our method of working and what the client can expect from us.

    The most successful relationships are collaborative, with all the consultants working towards the best possible outcome, with the client.  I think it’s important to communicate throughout the process – even when things go awry – so that the client is a partner in decisions that are made.  It is our mission to exceed their expectations and nothing gives me greater pleasure than delight and surprise on a clients’ face when they enter a completed home.

    With 33 years of industry experience, what do you find is most exciting about being a designer in 2018 and on the flip side, what is most challenging?

    Meryl Hare: Looking back on the many years that I have been in this industry, there have been monumental changes to the way we work.  Consider when I started out; there was no email, no Internet, no CAD or social media.  Photography was done with Polaroids and film with fingers crossed! The changes have brought about so many opportunities in the way we work.  We have the ability to work in different cities in Australia or on different continents and source materials from anywhere – all without leaving our desks! We are able to communicate better than ever before, with a myriad of tools at our disposal. It’s an amazing transformation in the way we work.

    But these changes are not without their challenges.  I still believe passionately that a hand sketch is often more evocative and communicates an idea better than a 3D render.  I think designers should first be taught the skills of the pen before learning how to CAD, but sadly that seems to be a dying art.  I am also of the opinion that there is no substitute for touching and seeing materials and furniture in the ‘flesh’!  The changes in communication also mean that we are often required to supply instant solutions – that should be considered.

    The Old Dairy by Hare + Klein

    What is special about your own home? 

    Meryl Hare: My home is a sanctuary, a place to find respite and where I surround myself with the things that lift my spirits.  It is special to me, but it’s a very personal space.

    What’s next for Hare + Klein?

    Meryl Hare: Watch this space!  I am working on a second book with Thames and Hudson that should be in print by early 2020.  Our second rug collection with Designer Rugs has been successful, and hopefully there will be further ranges. I am also working towards a project that is under wraps for now, but is pretty exciting!

    The Old Dairy by Hare + Klein
    Early Federation by Hare + Klein

    Insider’s guide:

    Favourite local designers or studios?

    Meryl Hare: John Wardle Architects

    Favourite design stores?

    Meryl Hare: Spence & Lyda

    Favourite galleries and spaces?

    Meryl Hare: White Rabbit

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Meryl Hare: Everywhere! Travel is the great opportunity to enjoy good design, old and new. 

    Peninsula by Hare + Klein

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