Interview with the Directors of Tom Mark Henry

We learn how Sydney studio Tom Mark Henry came to be and all of the challenges and triumphs along the way, with directors Cushla McFadden and Jade Nottage.

Don’t be misled by their studio name, Tom Mark Henry was founded by powerhouse duo Cushla McFadden and Jade Nottage. The pair met while studying interior design and somewhat serendipitously a year after graduating, came together fuelled by ambition to open their own studio.

The multi-disciplinary studio has since created a blue print for their diverse and dynamic interiors. From wellness spaces, to restaurants, elite commercial spaces to subdued Sydney homes – there is something truly authentic and exciting about Tom Mark Henry’s work.

Jade Nottage and Cushla McFadden

Our fandom for Tom Mark Henry’s work became official when we earmarked them as a ‘Designer to Watch’ in the 2018 AIDA Awards. A year and many successful projects later, we were fortunate to feature their Clovelly House and Darlinghurst Terrace projects.

Cushla and Jade took time out to share with us where their design journey began, their most memorable project to date and what it’s like to shape the Sydney design landscape. We were also curious to find out the meaning behind their studio name, what’s fundamental to their practice and where they source some of their unique objects.

We’re interested in your design journey. How did you meet, start working together and eventually come to opening your own studio Tom Mark Henry?

Jade Nottage: We met at UNSW studying a Bachelor of Interior Architecture. After we graduated, Cushla moved to New York City and worked at an Interior Design and Architecture firm, whilst I worked at a firm in Sydney. I was seeking a new challenge and with Cushla’s arrival back in Australia imminent, we decided to throw caution to the wind and embark upon the journey of opening our own practice.  In hindsight it was a huge risk, given it was during the GFC, but we were blissfully naïve and full of passion, and it paid off.

Why the name ‘Tom Mark Henry’?

Jade Nottage: The name Tom Mark Henry originated in a dream of mine that I immediately shared with Cushla. Whilst it has changed slightly since then, the sentiment remains. It is derived from inspirational people in our lives; father’s and grandfather’s names.

Could you please tell us a bit about your team:

Jade Nottage: Our team is currently at 10; two Directors, seven designers and our office manager. We are a mix of male and female, a range of ages and backgrounds, but we all share a united passion for interior design.

What’s the functionality of your workspace?

Jade Nottage: We work very collaboratively, ideas are shared around the office and material palettes are out on display for everyone to see. On each project there is a team of people who are the key members and lead the project from design through to construction. We value everyone’s opinion and encourage healthy contribution and discussion from other team members across all projects.

Our workspace is open plan and we encourage a collaborative design process. We have a main meeting room and another smaller room dedicated to hands on prototyping and experimentation. Team members also use this multi-purpose space when they are reviewing palettes or marking up documentation sets.

What’s your absolute must-have in the studio?

Jade Nottage: Our must-have in the studio? Lots of workable space to allow the creation of ideas to happen, and lots of storage space for materials; a less magical but very practical office must have.

What is fundamental to your practice?

Jade Nottage: Authenticity. We pride ourselves on reinvention, always striving to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. We feel that is why our projects are visually so diverse with a common thread of playful invention throughout them all.

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

Cushla McFadden: Every project is memorable for its own reasons, and important to different people in the studio who have worked on it. The Microsoft Technology Centre we designed last was a special project, not only as it’s probably our biggest client to date, but it was a real team effort. There was a core team of six designers who worked on this project, however just about everyone pitched in to help at one point or another.

How do you avoid trends in design?

Cushla McFadden: We stay true to the project, and ensure we are providing a specific response to the brief within the context of the site, budget and other requirements. Designs considered ‘on trend’ may appear in our projects, however this is only after a considered and detailed concept design has been thoroughly researched and resolved.

What do you find most enjoyable and most challenging about designing in Sydney?

Cushla McFadden: Most enjoyable for us would be the diversity of the projects. We’re a multi-disciplinary studio, which we love and are working on projects ranging from hotels, restaurants, bars, and workplaces to residential. Most challenging would have to be the timelines imposed on projects that seem to be getting shorter and shorter. The market moves very quickly, particularly in commercial design so we often don’t have the luxury of time to massage a concept for more than three weeks.

What excites you about the future of design?

Cushla McFadden: So much! Design is innovating daily and it’s exciting to see it continually evolve and being able to contribute to this advancement. Companies are more open to integrating ideas to benefit their employees, which is bringing a health and wellness focus into workplace design and a more laid-back residential approach to commercial projects. Design typologies are not so clear cut anymore and this blurred line means that there is no standard approach to any one project type, so the opportunities for design are endless.

What projects are you working on right now and what do we have to look forward to?

Cushla McFadden: We have a 90 room hotel we’re working on right now, as well as some exciting retail projects for Harris Farm Markets and boutique workplace projects. We’re looking forward to sharing our current residential projects, that span a modernist home in Wahroonga and a beautiful home in North Bondi we are about to complete. I am also about to move into my own newly renovated home.

Your design insider guide:

Favourite local designers and studios?

Cushla McFadden: We are fortunate to have some talented friends in the industry including; Amber Road, Arent & Pyke and Richards Stanisich in Sydney, studio -gram in Adelaide and Flack Studio and Gloss Creative in Melbourne to name a few.

Favourite design stores?

Cushla McFadden: Jardan Furniture is an Australian made favourite and Criteria Collection in Melbourne. Further afield Matter Made in New York and Monologue in London.

Favourite galleries or spaces?

Jade Nottage: Saint Cloche is a fantastic little gallery near our office, we often wander up there at lunch. We also love the White Rabbit Gallery, always guaranteed to have some inspirational art.

Where do you go to look at great design?

Jade Nottage: Great design can be found in art, music, film, or a heritage restoration given new life through clever intervention. We look to travel for inspiration, particularly to events like Salone De Mobile in Milan. The key is keeping current with what is happening around us and staying curious.

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