Chelsea Hing had a strong grounding within top interior design firms before starting her own Melbourne practice five years ago. “It was fantastic as I got to see all the working parts of a design business up close. I loved learning on the job and quickly moved onto bigger things.”
Starting her own business was, she says, another massive learning curve. “As any creative knows, there’s a tremendous amount of not so glamorous stuff that needs constant attention behind the scenes. It takes a lot of hard work to build a practice and reputation, with long hours to get everything right that never get billed. But when you work for yourself there’s a great opportunity to shape your world the way you want to and to choose who you work with which is kind of freeing.”
Working from home on her own to start off with, she was always itching to get out into her own studio space. “I was lucky enough to find this amazing 1850s Italianate Victorian mansion in St Kilda, which has been our base ever since. Over the years, I have worked on developing the business, trying to refine it so it’s as efficient as possible to allow me time to spend on the fun creative stuff.” These days, Chelsea has the luxury of only choosing to work on the residential projects she really enjoys.
“Residential work requires a different set of skills and sensibilities. People are actually going to live in the space you design. I enjoy building those relationships and making people happy.” Chelsea employs another interior designer and a studio manager and calls on a number of freelancers. “I have no plans to expand much larger as I like the more personal connection to the work.”
Start as you plan to go on is her design philosophy. “The fundamentals are absolutely critical to getting the details right. There are no shortcuts or magic bullets. Invest in smart, thoughtful planning, layer up with good looking natural (where logical) finishes and finish with the things that create meaning around you.”
Her own home, like so many designers it seems, is a work in progress. She shares it with partner Nik Epifanidis, an architecture and interiors photographer. “Funnily enough we also live in another one of St Kilda’s landmark Italianate Victorian mansions (in an apartment) with soaring high ceilings, plantation shutters and a good mix of contemporary and classic pieces from the 50s & 70s. Nik’s personal photographs line many of the walls. I find myself digging deeper into my black book to source a look that captures my personality. It takes time.”
Chelsea is now working on a furniture collection. “Moving into a small apartment, we were starved for space. I needed functional furniture that looked beautiful and could multi-task. The first piece was a bedside table that has a drop down lid to rest your morning coffee on (by the time you have lamp and alarm clock, there’s not much space left on top, right?) as well as two drawers and a big space for storing multiple books and magazines that are on constant rotation. The second was a hall console that conceals the household filing, in/out compartments for paid and unpaid bills and a drawer for charging phones and iPad plugged into power inside the drawer.” They’re the first two pieces from a collection she’s calling Five Easy Pieces.
Chelsea and her team recently finished work on a house in Brighton East which has been shortlisted for an Australian Interior Design Award, conceptually based around Mies Van Der Rohe’s legendary Barcelona Pavilion. “It was just so much fun to work on.” Her work has been shortlisted many times but is yet to win an award. Entering is the most important part though, says Chelsea. “There’s no better way to benchmark your practice against your peers. It’s a great feeling as a very small practice to be in the same pages as the heavy hitters. It’s another element that helps to broaden your reach.”
She applauds those designers who have taken on an almost celebrity status of late. “Australia is a young culture when it comes to embracing and commissioning design in any form, so there is a great responsibility on those with a public profile to positively educate people about the value of design and what designers actually do. The fact that local talent is finally being recognised and rewarded is also long overdue.”
What does Chelsea think she is known for? “That’s hard to say. I would hope to be known for creating interiors that are elegant, interesting, engaging and thoughtful.”