Originally beginning as the Australian office of one of London’s leading firms, Universal Design Studio, it wasn’t until 2011 that all the power (and the pressure!) was transferred to Damien Mulvihill and Mark Simpson, as the office transitioned to become their very own firm, DesignOffice.
“I never had any plans to set up my own studio but when the opportunity came up to join the new Melbourne studio of Universal it was too good an opportunity to miss,” explains Damien. “DesignOffice was a very natural progression a few years later and although we’re now a separate business, we still think of Universal as a sister company. It’s great to have a wider network of experience and support, both locally and globally.”
Having now run their own interior design and architecture practice for the last three years, they work across a range of sectors. For them, it’s all about meeting their clients’ needs, whether that be designing an exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, working on the new store layout at Witchery and Mimco or creating a temporary bar for Space Furniture. “At their heart, our projects should be a direct response to the client’s brief,” says Mark. “This involves a process of listening, observing and questioning before creating what we hope to be original and authentic responses, tailored to their brief and brand.”
With a core team of four, they’re receiving some well deserved attention, including winning Best in State for Commercial Design at this year’s Interior Design Awards. And while they clearly have a strong connection with commercial and retail design, it is their recently completed residential development that they are particularly excited about. “We recently had a great experience working on our first residential development doing the interiors for the Park & Raphael Townhouses,” explains Mark. “The client, Kalex, genuinely wanted to challenge the notion of a townhouse development, tailoring the approach directly to the lifestyles of their target audience and it is these opportunities to respond to a client’s ambition which excite us.”
With a style that has been called complex simplicity, their projects, while differing dramatically, have an underlying consistency that includes craft and materiality and a specific interest in colour and light. By keeping their studio small, they have also ensured that their style remains constant, with both Damian and Mark working on every single one of their projects. “We can be personally involved in every project,” explains Mark. “As well as this, we still get to work closely with the contractors and craftspeople who bring it all to fruition.”
Damian and Mark see their friendship as the most important ingredient in the success of their practice. “I would never attempt to run my own studio without a business partner who I genuinely respect and genuinely like — you will spend a lot of time together,” says Damian. “Running your own studio is incredibly rewarding, but also a lot of work, so two heads are better than one!”