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Living room with Gazelle rug

Soulful Interiors with Chelsea Hing

Each of Chelsea Hing‘s interiors invites curiosity, with fearless punctuations of color, pattern and shape drawing the eye in every direction. We spoke to the Melbourne-based designer about creating homes that are rich in personality, and consciously making decision decisions that benefit both our wellbeing and the world we live in.

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

Back when I started, we learned the art of technical drafting and I still have my original set square, technical pens and scale ruler from my student days. The simple act of sitting at my drawing board, thinking through the pencil, testing out design ideas, staying loose and not getting too fixed on an outcome is the joy of design for me. It has been the same for 20 years and I love the history these simple implements hold for me in my design career. I still use them today.

Elsternwick House designed by Chelsea Hing
Office of Elsternwick House designed by Chelsea Hing
Elsternwick House styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Sean Fennessy.

You founded your eponymous studio in 2007. How would you describe Australian interior design, then and now?

Design was very different. Over the years, it has become incredibly sophisticated, layered with detail, complexity and a sense of deep materiality. This has meant designers have to work harder for every ‘design moment’ and push makers to their limits to produce ever-sophisticated designs. This has affected everything from lead times to project costs and, in our practice, we’re working on striking the balance between necessity and decoration.

What values guide your practice?

We take a relaxed approach to living as this reflects one of my personal values. To me, the feel of a house is everything – you want it to be a place where you can just let go and relax, with spaces that support different tasks and times for being together and being apart. I grew up in a house with the ‘good room’ that no one ever used and I never understood that. I prefer a more democratic approach, which is reflected in our work.

Portrait of Chelsea Hing

Recent studies show that our surroundings have a very real impact on our wellbeing. Is that something you’re cognizant of as a designer?

Absolutely, and I think it’s what separates the good from the great designers. It’s a human-centered or intuitive sense about what will feel right for each client when we’re designing their home. It’s difficult to articulate but it informs everything we do in our studio, every small and large decision. And there are hundreds in every project.

Would you say you’re a tactile person?

I love natural fibers wherever possible, as they feel good on the skin and underfoot. When selecting finishes or fabrics for our work, it’s both the appearance and the emotional response to a material that matters.

Dining room in Yarra Valley House
Yarra Valley House styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Sean Fennessy.

Your interiors are always soulful and richly layered. Are there any colours, textures and patterns you are repeatedly drawn to?

We use a lot of natural fibres and materials wherever possible in our work, [such as] linen, wool, leather, brass, timber and stone. My view is the eye can always read the integrity of a natural finish once it’s living in the house. It’s what creates the soul.

These days we’re all seeking comfort from our homes. How do you think the inclusion of tactile elements, like a rug, can affect our mood?

We always say moving the furniture in is only getting to first base when finishing a home. Rugs are super important for creating comfort in both lived-in and incidental spaces for us, and we like to use them everywhere – even in kitchens and bathrooms, if we can. Generally, the larger they are the more comfort they create, which brings a relaxed mood to our interiors.

Yarra Valley House styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Sean Fennessy.

What design rules do you live by? Any others that you are happy to ignore?

Foundations are key. Good solid planning to achieve the right flow in a house is crucial. Once you get the relationship of rooms right to support the best way of living in a house – and this can be different for each client – the decoration of those spaces starts to fall into place.

A timeless palette built around natural materials is something we focus on a lot in our practice to create a sense of longevity in our work. Then we flip that on its head by going with a completely blue room, because I feel it’s important to have fun too.

"The role of design is to shape the world through conscious choices about what we buy."

Dining room of Parkville Terrace
Parkville Terrace styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Rhiannon Taylor.

What textures do you lean towards in autumn/winter vs. spring/summer?

My approach is a timeless palette that works across all seasons, so I don’t really separate them.

One of the services you offer is artwork and object sourcing. How would you guide a client in crafting a room around a specific piece?

We really take this on trust with our clients and find our clients are increasingly asking us to finish off the interiors this way. More and more, I’m drawn to selecting small sculptures and art pieces to ‘decorate’ spaces, as it brings a more individual look to a house. We also tend to use lighting as sculpture in our design work. So I would always say, be bold and go big. Generally, it pays off.

Yarra Valley House styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Sean Fennessy.

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

With maturity comes the privilege of building a collection, which can relate to our furniture, art and objects as much as it can relate to our wardrobes or life experiences. Considered, thoughtful acquisition of the right thing is always better in my view than anything gotten too ‘fast’, as the value dies out just as quick. I do like the concept of conscious consumption, that whenever we pay for anything, we make a choice about what kind of world we want to live in.

What’s keeping you inspired during these uncertain times?

The simpler things and the big questions. Music, art, design, people, the ability to band together. It’s very interesting times.

Living room in Orchard House
Living room in Orchard House
Orchard House styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Rhiannon Taylor.

How do you see the role of design in shaping communities into the future?

There are a couple of things here – firstly, I support the idea of understanding where products come from and how they are made. And so in our work, we try to support smaller independent companies and local Australian design brands, where there’s a beautiful narrative about how the piece is labored over and made. You can feel it when you take it out of the box. This extends into brands like Armadillo, in supporting local communities in the production of your rugs. I would hope that the role of design is to shape a world where we make conscious choices about what we buy.

The other part of that is value-ing value. That is, understanding the impact of design in our lives, how important it is that pieces feel right in the home, that they create an emotional resonance for us and how that matters for our sense of connection and wellbeing. That’s certainly the higher purpose for us in producing our work.

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favorite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?

I love the Agra Collection for their beautiful jewel-like colors that feel luxurious and lived-in. They add just the right amount of color without overwhelming a room.

Living room of Elsternwick House
Elsternwick House styled by Beck Simons and photographed by Sean Fennessy.

Follow Chelsea Hing on Instagram.

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