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Designer’s Own with Christopher Elliott

Led by integrity, interior designer Christopher Elliott intuitively knows when to approach a space with sensitivity and when to exert vigor. The through-line of his projects remain clean lines, quality materials and custom finishes. When it came to creating a new Melbourne workspace for his namesake practice, those same principles came into play. 

Photography by Jack Lovel

What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?

It would have to be a set of 1970s furniture that my parents bought before I was born, after renovating their Subiaco terrace cottage house. It was a collection of two marshmallow-y, curved armchairs in black corduroy, a pair of molded white high-gloss fiberglass coffee tables, and a chrome and white Perspex table lamp. They were very contemporary and "space-age" inspired designs with clean, curvaceous sculptural lines. I always loved those pieces, and they seemed to resonate with me for reasons I only now am beginning to appreciate. The lamp survived, and I managed to get it refurbished just a few years ago. It's one of my treasured possessions.

How did you find your calling in interiors?

Growing up in Perth, I always knew I wanted to be involved in a creative career after trying my hand at many art mediums; my father told me often that I had a natural ability. After completing high school, I was convinced I would be a fashion photographer but, while studying, I found I was more interested in the staging of a shot than learning to master the equipment or develop film. A chance opportunity, years later, gave me the drive to be an interior designer, and I haven't looked back.

How has your design philosophy evolved over the years? And in what ways has it remained the same?

For me, it has always been about a combination of analytical thinking, problem-solving, intuition and my emotional response to a space, a design and materials. Having to describe this as a singular thought has always plagued me. However, running my design practice for nearly two decades has seen me evolve my approach and philosophy, and solidify many of my methods. To simplify my design ethos, I describe it as designing with purpose, being detail-driven, using authentic quality materials, focusing on clean architectural lines, and honoring collaboration.

How is this ethos reflected in your new Richmond studio?

Designing with clear intent and purpose was fundamental to our approach. We thought extensively about how we would use the space and how to make the most of it, seeking function from every aspect of the interior. We selected enduring materials and finishes that evoked a sense of understated luxury and fashioned elegant details to enhance the refinement. Also, in the spirit of collaboration, we worked with many craftspeople and suppliers customizing designs and products that better suited our scheme and purpose.

What was on your original mood board for the project?

There was no mood board – it was just my mood at the time! It did take some time to find pieces that I felt were right as the selection process evolved over a year or so. Most things made the cut, but some didn't. A sculptural chaise lounge designed by Inoda+Sveje, intended for the ground floor reception area, got killed off by the budget, but that's reality – every project, even a designer's own, has a budget.

Did you incorporate any design elements in homage to the neighborhood?

We didn't specifically pay homage to anything within the neighborhood, but we look to source locally before expanding our reach to other markets, another way we respect and support the local Melbourne community.

"Natural materials are a subtle way to bring uniqueness to an interior."

How did you approach the use of color in this space?

I love color and we use it often in our work, but for the studio I felt a mostly neutral palette would be easier to work with. It's the same as a fashion designer choosing to wear simple, plain attire as a form of mental relief from their creativity. However, there are pockets of color that we couldn't resist, like the jade-colored bar unit that hides within a bank of oak joinery, masking its boldness. The best of both worlds – we get a neutral outer skin and a punch of color when it's revealed. Also, there's the use of sky blue, tangerine, and emerald colors in the reception lounge furnishings.

The studio has the ease and comfort of a real home. Is there a particular area that you gravitate towards? Or various areas for different types of work? 

If I am not at my desk, I am usually in the kitchen, the hub of the studio, scrounging for food because I have skipped lunch trying to complete my work. I also love sitting at our custom-designed Triad table in the morning with the soft natural light that streams through the expansive window flanking the space. It feels very private, yet open and tranquil. I often choose spaces that are reposeful. Another space that's great for basking in the natural light is our reception lounge on the ground floor, particularly in the afternoon. Maya, who is our resident puppy, or non-official door-bitch, literally, is often curled up on a very expensive cushion that she has adopted. In fact, you can often walk past the studio and see her languishing away...oh, to have her life!

Were there any materials and textures you leaned into to ensure a welcoming feel for clients?

I was very cognizant of selecting time-honored, authentic and durable materials that I love and that reflect the essence of our design ethos. Where possible I prefer to use natural materials that have a grounding influence in a space. Materials that are refined but still somewhat organic in nature, like the irregularity of the dyed wool in the Armadillo rugs that were custom-made for the studio. There's a randomness and individuality that comes from working with natural materials that can't be replicated. This is a subtle way to bring uniqueness to an interior, even if similar products are used repeatedly.

Our rugs feature throughout your office, including some custom designs. As the designer as well as the end user, what was the appeal of commissioning bespoke elements?

We have a long-standing relationship with Armadillo and often customize their rugs for a more tailored result. So naturally, when it came to our very own studio fit-out, we were keen to work with their products but make them unique to our space. As a designer, being able to select off-the-shelf products then customize them is a win-win. I appreciate and enjoy working with suppliers who understand and embrace this approach. Equally, as a customer, it's very satisfying to live with something that has been made to suit your situation and purpose.

We strongly believe in buying fewer but better things. What are your reasons for investing in quality, timeless pieces?

Investing in authentic original design is fundamental to our approach and work at the studio. We don't advocate the use or purchase of any known replica; it doesn't support the industry at all. Replicas destroy the value and purity of a designer's creativity. Buy original, or don't buy at all. Even IKEA is original design, so it doesn't always mean it's expensive. This requires more awareness and knowledge of the myriad of knockoffs and "inspired by" pieces that flood the market, but this is exactly why clients benefit from our services. It's what we do all day, every day. Another reason we encourage our clients to invest in quality is it's more sustainable. Buy once and buy right.

What do you hope for the future of Australian architecture and design?

I'll speak only as an interior designer, and not for architects when I say that I am hoping and working towards the advancement of our industry. I am part of a practice group of interior designers, all members of the Design Institute of Australia, seeking recognition and regulation of the interior design profession in Australia. Why are we doing this? We feel that the role of an interior designer is sandwiched with that of a stylist or decorator, who undertakes more of a limited scope of work. A registration process in place for interior designers would provide clarity to the market, and in particular clients, so they better understand the capabilities of a registered practitioner. It's much like how architects are required to be registered with the AIA – interior designers would require to be registered with an appropriate governing body.

Christopher Elliot with his dog, Maya