Interview with Melanie Beynon

  • We catch up with Melbourne-based architect Melanie Beynon to discuss her design background, influences and passions that have paved the way for a new eponymous studio.

    If you weren’t familiar with Melanie Beynon, you would be with her work. Formerly one of the co-directors of Meme Design alongside Megan Hounslow, she’s unleashed ingenious design ideas on a number of local projects that have gained global recognition. Take the Willow Urban Retreat – that has redefined how design can actively influence human health. Since wellness has become a vital part of how Melanie designs across both commercial and residential.

    We were fortunate to land a chat with Melanie and share in her wisdom while she is in the throes of a bunch of exciting new projects and opening her eponymous studio. Read on to find out where she learned the design ropes, her most memorable project to date, what she finds most fulfilling about her work and what’s essential to her own living space.

    Melanie Beynon

    Could you please talk a bit about your path into design and becoming an accredited architect?

     Melanie Beynon: After returning from working in London in 2003, I worked with Chris Connell for the next 5 years. He shares all aspects of a project – interior design, architecture, project management, business management and therefore the growth into an architect was developed out of curiosity and questioning. This was formalised by applying to the AACA to satisfy a certificate in competency-based assessment in architecture. After an intensive six months to produce a design for a flight school and all the supporting documentation to display architectural competency, I then went on to become a registered architect in 2010.

    I felt it was a natural progression for an interior designer to be recognised for the skills they share with architects. Where interior designers are not able to register with the VBA, they are reliant on others to complete building permits and superintend building contracts. If you wish to form a design office, the skills of a registered architect are useful, if not imperative.

    You previously collaborated with Megan Hounslow to start Meme Design. Could you please tell us a bit about your most memorable Meme Design projects? 

    Melanie Beynon: We worked together for over 10 years, producing a great variety of projects. Our approach to design flowed naturally and cohesively. The Prince of Wales in St Kilda was a series of smaller projects that drew on our broad range of skills in retail, hospitality and hotel design. It is always a pleasure to work within iconic buildings. This collection of projects formed a solid platform for our team’s growth.

    Wellness is an area we have always been passionate about and Willow Urban Retreat in Armadale allowed us to explore the philosophies and multi-layered benefits of wellness within design. This project consisted of a whole foods café, a movement and mediation studio, and a day spa. These principles are now intrinsic to our residential and commercial projects.

    Since, you have gone on to start your own namesake studio Melanie Beynon Architecture & Design. What are you currently working on; does it differ from your previous work?

    Melanie Beynon: Our focus is on high-end residential. We are nearing completion on a few projects for growing families and downsizers. The resulting outcomes are quite different and reflect our ethos to respond to client-specific aspirations.

    What do you think is the largest influence on your work? 

    Melanie Beynon: Looking at the work we have recently completed, I can see the influence of time spent in Spain and seeking out the likes of Álvaro Siza and Rafael Moneo. These monumental interiors reflect restrained architecture, orientation and light, the framing of views, minimal material selection and a focus on tectonics.

    Continual critical questioning within the studio and throughout the design process heavily influences the final outcome of every project. Collaborators, consultants and contractor relationships are important to ensure we have an enduring outcome.

    What makes you most passionate about what you do – what do you find most fulfilling?

    Melanie Beynon: It’s always been about creating and leaving behind a well-designed working, living or recreational space. The term wellness encompasses the concept of architecture and design contributing to human health, performance and wellbeing. When our work reflects this ethos, we have succeeded as designers and this is most fulfilling.

    Willow Urban Retreat heightened this knowledge with its detailed consideration to air quality and the use of low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials throughout the design process. We used overlaying scent and acoustic treatment both within the space and the spaces between for a holistic, balanced and sensorial experience.

    Access to natural light and indirect artificial lighting was paramount to the design with the insertion of a central courtyard and skylights along the perimeter. The design was driven by the junctions of materials including natural and robust or manmade and high-tech. This palette created a harmonious environment where technology enhances the experience, rather than dominating it. We collaborated with local artisan crafters including Maddie Sharrock’s Concrete counter and furniture, hand troweled walls by SurfaceX and lighting by Christopher Boots which provided the thoughtfulness to the vision we pride ourselves on.

    What do you find is essential to your own living space? 

    Melanie Beynon: Lighting! Access to natural light is essential to our living and working environments. We are lucky enough to have huge windows in our South Melbourne studio which helps us feel connected and productive.

    Indirect and task orientated light by night is essential in the home. Lighting can help with dual purpose spaces in small homes, helping to divide and organise.

    What do you see for the future of residential and commercial design in Melbourne? 

    Melanie Beynon: For residential; continual refinement of interior design in smaller dwellings. More attention to detail to allow families to co-exist in less space. This will, in turn, teach us to appreciate and share in community areas and open spaces.

    In terms of commercial, we are focussed on wellness projects for corporates & private businesses in Australia. We are experiencing demand for spaces that encourage health and wellness within the workplace which is exciting.

    What do we have to look forward to in 2019 from Melanie Beynon Architects? 

    Melanie Beynon: We are currently completing projects that are extensions to existing dwellings. In small dwellings, we are passionate about assisting clients in making each space work hard to prove its value.

    In our most recently completed extension in Windsor, the outdoor space was exposed to the looming multi-residential developments above, so the council permitted the owner to build the space out. We accessed the natural light by using an elongated skylight to frame the sky whilst also blocking the neighbouring buildings from view. We used full height sliding doors and discrete artificial lighting to highlight the hand rendered walls, creating a private space to be enjoyed by day and by night.

    Finally, your quick designer insider guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Melanie Beynon: My friends including BARBERA Design, Chris Connell furniture, Copper Industrial Design and ISM Objects.  I recently discovered Molly Younger who works with latex. Admiring her textiles whilst walking down Chapel St, I found her shop on Johnston St, Collingwood and was pleased to see she works on objects too.

    Favourite galleries or spaces?

    Melanie Beynon: Heide Museum of Modern Art and MOMA but I don’t get there often enough! Daine Singer. I drive up and down High St in Prahran window-shopping everyday, so I must be taking in all the offers from stores such as Byzantine Design, Luke furniture, Classic with a Twist, Cadrys and Safari Living.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

    Melanie Beynon: In recent times;  London and Tokyo. I am familiar enough with London having lived and worked there for three years. It is still a mecca for design, and I love returning. In December I visited the Hayward Gallery which hosted an exhibition called ‘Space Shifters’. As the name provokes, this was perfect for us 3D thinkers and featured Anish Kapoor and Richard Wilson.

    Tokyo is another story – it was inspiration at every turn. I visited in 2017. I am inspired by the compact approach to dwelling. The detail is to the ninth degree, to bring about harmony in traditional and contemporary life. I was able to scratch the surface a little through time spent with a friend that has lived and worked there for 20 years. His upshot is that even those that live there find more layers to the onion.

    At home in Melbourne, Christine is Melbourne’s design/fashion gem and is always worth a visit!

    East Hawthorn Residence by Melanie Beynon Architects and Megan Hounslow

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