Interview: Mardi Doherty

  • We’ve long admired the works of interior designer Mardi Doherty – from her residential to retail to commercial work (and there is certainly a diverse collection) Mardi’s projects are always playful, thoughtful and full of life. Having worked for some of the biggest names in design in the UK and Australia, Mardi went her own way in 2014, launching Doherty Design Studio – and she hasn’t looked back since.

    We managed to catch a minute in Mardi’s busy schedule to learn more about her design influences, the Doherty Design Studio process and discoveries from her recent trip to Japan – and where one can satisfy a sweet tooth in Melbourne!

    WORDS Melia Rayner | PHOTOGRAPHY Derek Swalwell

    Mardi Doherty of Doherty Design Studio

    Tell us about your career before establishing Doherty Design Studio, and what led you to found your own practice.

    Mardi Doherty: I’ve worked for a few amazing design firms, including Chris Connell in Melbourne, Conran Design Group and David Collins in London. Since returning from London I spent three incredible years working with Lab + Bates Smart designing the interiors of the NGV at Federation Square. I’ve always enjoyed a close working relationship with my employers, which not only benefited my career as a design professional, but also gave me an appreciation and understanding of the business side of design. This interest naturally led to starting my own business. After four successful years in the Doherty Lynch partnership, I then branched out on my own to launch Doherty Design Studio in 2013.

    Do you think you have a distinct aesthetic as a designer – and if so, how would you describe it?  

    MD: It’s difficult to pin point a particular style or aesthetic as each project we work on is viewed on its own merit to ensure authentic outcomes for clients.  It’s important an interior (whether commercial or residential) relate to the way people live and use spaces. I believe our work is characterised as considered, warm and contemporary with an artistic edge and I like to think slightly quirky. We also love to reference the past, so there is hopefully a timeless quality to our work as well. Lighting plays an important part of our aesthetic, and both artificial and natural sunlight play a crucial part in creating the spaces we design.

    Talk us through your design process – how do you work with your team, and how does a Doherty Design Studio project unfold from start to finish?

    MD: Initially we like to meet prospective clients in our studio, this is so they can get an insight about who we are, how we work and what we do. Often it involves explaining the  difference between an Interior Designer, Interior Decorator, Draftsperson and Architect. It can be confusing for people that are not informed of the different disciplines.

    Although each project is appointed a team leader we brainstorm as a team with loose sketches, concepts, working through options and getting excited at the possibilities each project brings. From there concepts are developed and fine tuned ready for the client presentation. The next stage is the design development and documentation. Depending on the nature of the project, we often liaise with an architect, draftsperson, structural engineer, craftsmen etc. As designers we also embrace a collaborative process. We are involved in the construction phase, it’s really important to us to do regular site visits. This helps to workshop any potential issues and see each stage of the project come to life. The end of a project and once the client has settled in, it usually results in celebrating over a wine or two, or as in a recent case a weekend away to stay in our clients’ recently completed rural holiday home.

    What is something clients tend to forget or overlook in the design process, and how do you overcome it?

    MD:  How many decisions need to be made during a renovation/new build. Interior design and architecture is made up of many parts, which all need to mesh together to create a harmonious series of spaces. This is often overlooked, and its often not until a project is completed that a client fully appreciates the importance of the decision making process. It’s a tricky one to explain at the beginning of a project, but we do try to articulate this at the design stage. We encourage our clients to relax and enjoy the journey, and let us do the worrying – ha ha!

    You have worked on a wide range of retail, commercial and residential projects. Do the different projects lend perspective to each other and if so, how? 

    MD: Yes they most certainly do, we have found in the past that retail clients have approached us specifically because of our thought process evident in our other projects. We have residential clients that have been into a retail space we have created and really loved the theatre of the design and want to create this experience in the private spaces. Particularly in retail design, we find our residential experience has helped us, e.g. the Paul & Joe stores required a feeling similar to being in a glamorous woman’s dressing room. In all our projects we really immerse ourselves as if we were the shopper, the diner, or the homeowner.

     Having been on a recent architectural tour of Japan, what were your main takeaways from the experience and how does Japanese design influence your own style? 

    MD: Aside from making a bunch of fabulous friends who share a passion for travel and design, I saw that Tokyo is a crazy city of contrasts; at one extreme is the most innovative contemporary architecture (including large retail stores such as Prada and Miu Miu), and at the other is a city steeped in history and a city that appreciates that beauty exists in the modest, small, rustic and imperfect.  Japan to me has an aesthetic sensibility that celebrates the beauty in all things. The simplicity, tranquility, and naturalness of some Japan’s older architectural sites has had a lasting impression and definitely influenced my design style since my visit.

    Who are some local designers and creatives that inspire you? Why?

    Photographer Meg Cowell – The first body of work I saw was a series of vintage couture dresses immersed in water and floating in darkness. Her images are compelling, alluring and mysterious. Her work reminds me of the importance of theatre in all aspects of design.

    Dinosaur Designs – For their continued quest to push the boundaries to create beautiful ‘collectable’ products that inspire – they are a brand so full of confidence, colour and vibrancy.

    George Livissianis- Interior Designer. George’s interiors are so beautiful, simple and unpretentious. His interiors aren’t screaming for attention which appeals to me. The spaces seem so effortless and really reflect the brand he is designing for.

    Where do you live in Melbourne and what do you love most about it?

    I live in Yarraville with my husband Trent, and two girls Chilli (10) and Bonnie (8). We live right on the edge of a beautiful park, and I love that I can ride my bike everywhere.

    Favourite places to eat: Hawker Hall in Windsor, Small French Bar in Footscray

    Favourite places to drink: I am intrigued by Candied in Spotswood, and often pop in for a weekend Milo milkshake or an apple pie shake (I have a very sweet tooth!) This summer I’ve enjoyed drinking cocktails at dusk at Pontoon in St.Kilda, underneath Stokehouse.

    Favourite places to shop: Definitely the city……on a Saturday afternoon I sometimes tell Trent I’m just popping out for an hour, and then head into the city and immerse myself in the streets (and shops) for hours!

    Weekly local rituals:  We get our groceries from Victoria & Footscray markets, I play tennis in Williamstown, coach my daughters netball team and walk our kids to school, which is my favourite part of the day.

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