Melbourne-based interior designer Mardi Doherty appears as the next guest in our In Conversation series, sharing life and design lessons from her seven years as Doherty Design Studio director.
If est had a ‘Hall of Fame’, Doherty Design Studio would certainly make the cut, with an ever-growing list of homes starring in est magazine and across estliving.com. From Malvern to Fitzroy, they have left their mark on the Melbourne interior design scene, crafting ‘meticulously resolved and highly functional spaces for work, life and everything in between’. The studio’s founding director, Mardi Doherty, has nearly 20 years of experience in the industry – seven of those running her own practice. Sitting down with Mardi, her humility is what strikes a chord, followed closely by her knowledge and genuine passion for what she does. For an aspiring interior designer, her stories and insights are inspiring, educational and above all, authentic.
Mardi, you’ve established yourself as a recognisable name in Australian residential design. Could you please briefly explain how you got to where you are today?
Mardi Doherty: Starting my own business was something that followed many years of working for some pretty incredible interior design and architecture studios in Melbourne and London. Toward the end of an intense four-year stint working on the interiors of the NGV at Federation Square, I juggled my first private project, which grew quite remarkably and brought more projects my way. Within a short period after that, I was able to work solely on my own private projects. Nineteen years on, and we have recently completed our 4th project with that first client!
What is the most challenging part about your job and what is the most rewarding part?
Mardi Doherty: There are many rewarding parts to being an interior designer. One is when we’re able to form genuine partnerships with our clients, working alongside them to help them realise meticulously resolved and highly functional spaces for work, life and everything in between. This ability to listen carefully to our clients and respond thoughtfully while embracing their own creativity and ambition will always create a great outcome that is hugely rewarding.
Another rewarding part is watching our team develop; our studio fosters collective creativity and champions the power of imagination. Watching our team of ‘dreamers’ solve problems and challenges with each other and the project team brings us so much joy.
One of the most challenging parts of our job is delivering designs that push the boundaries of the current bureaucracy.
What do you want someone’s first impression of a Doherty Design Studio home to be?
Mardi Doherty: It’s always pleasing to hear people describe our projects as warm, energetic, colourful and layered. We see ourselves as a chameleon; we draw from a wide breadth of experience and styles to conceive and deliver detailed, distinctive projects characterised by colour, kook and functionality.
Cities and landscapes indubitably shape the way we design. How does this statement resonate with you designing predominately in Melbourne?
Mardi Doherty: Melbourne’s climate, sense of space, existing architecture, and culture dictate many of our design decisions. While we design predominately in Melbourne, we also make a point of gaining inspiration worldwide. I embark on yearly architectural and design tours to places such as London, the US and Japan, and I am planning my next trip to Milan.
Is there a particular building or interior space that speaks to you? Why?
Mardi Doherty: Religious architecture has always fascinated me. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi (built around 1882 and still under construction), speaks to me more than any other building has. The scale of the interiors, the combination of Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism and Spanish Late Gothic design, and the incredible use of coloured glass are extraordinary.
As someone successful in the field, what would you say to someone who wants to pursue a career in design?
Mardi Doherty: Oh, thank you. I would suggest that they continually soak up information (be a sponge!) from all facets of design. Always strive to learn from others – our studio prides itself on collaborating with others, and we have learned much from working this way. I would also suggest gaining a deep understanding of the history of architecture and design, as it will add depth and maturity to your work. It’s a wonderfully rewarding field.
Which of these words, if you had to choose only one, best describes your approach to design; intuitive, intentional or spontaneous? Why?
Mardi Doherty: Intuitive. Our studio’s ethos is based on being responsive, adaptable, resourceful, and smart – I believe many of these traits are linked to being intuitive. We also pride ourselves on being good listeners (particularly with our clients), and our team has a collective passion for design, so I’d say we are ‘informed intuitive’.
What’s next for Doherty Design? What can we look forward to?
Mardi Doherty: While we have a fabulous collection of residential projects on the go, we’re also designing the new flagship store for a well-known accessories label. Creating a more sophisticated, pared-back boutique is a new design direction for the brand.
Design Insiders Guide:
Favourite local designers? Lighting designers Jordan Fleming and Ben Mazey.
Favourite design stores? Nicholas & Alistair and Leonard Joel Auctions (love love love!)
Favourite galleries or spaces? / Where do you go to look at great design? Straight to the floor of the Great Hall in the NGV – it’s a classic, and I regularly go and lie on the floor and look up at the incredible stained glass ceiling designed by Leonard French. Other local galleries I love include MONA in Hobart, Stockroom Art Gallery in Kyneton, Sophie Gannon in Richmond and White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney.