As Sydney interior design icon Thomas Hamel opens up a second graduate mentorship program for applications, the two lucky mentees from the past year spoke to us about the experience.
US-born Thomas launched the first round of the program in 2021 to celebrate his 30 years in business and to give back to the Australian interiors scene while providing an up and coming designer with a leg up. Applications were so strong in fact that he took on both Dylan Nicholas and Clifford Blockley.
The pair have done so well they’ve been offered permanent positions. While this isn’t a given of the program, it’s been a wonderful bonus for the mentees, who Thomas says have become part of the work family.
“All the applicants had great education and passion but I just knew how much we could offer that isn’t available in schools,” said Thomas, who relocated from the States to Australia in 1991, starting his business here. “While it’s great to be able to pick out pretty things, there is so much more involved. You need to know where to find that thing, how to source it and then make the client fall in love with it.”
Dylan, 29, who studied at Sydney Design School and UNSW, said from early on in the mentorship, he found himself on site at breathtaking projects, having real ‘pinch me’ moments! “I could have never imagined a few months before that I’d be having that experience,” he said. “I’ve also had the opportunity to travel interstate with Thomas and I’m constantly meeting new and interesting people. This mentorship has made me realise just how much is involved. I thought I was detail oriented before but this has made me realise the minute details which have to come together in a project.”
While he admits he still has a lot to learn, Dylan said he couldn’t be in a better place to continue his career. Thomas adds he’s been careful not to pigeon hole the pair by simply making them concentrate on the strengths they came in with, rather pushing them outside of their comfort zones to become more talented all rounders.
Clifford’s first tick came when he took the bus from Canberra for the interview, which Thomas says was indicative of his passion! He then moved to Sydney for the role. “I love working here on amazing high end interiors with great people and I feel so much more confident,” he says.
A highlight for him was seeing custom furniture he designed become a reality. “I didn’t expect someone at my level to get that kind of opportunity,” he says, adding that he was at first surprised that more senior staff were actually listening to his opinion.
“What we do is create magic for people but there’s a lot of unromantic parts behind the scenes,” says Thomas, who himself was mentored by the late Albert Hadley at Parish-Hadley in New York City when starting out. “It’s technical and romance!” And that’s why the mentees have found themselves spending time in every facet of the business from sales and marketing to finance, the library, installs and much more.
The next Graduate Mentorship Program is now open to one interior design graduate with at least 12 months’ experience working in the industry, to learn under Thomas’ guidance at Thomas Hamel & Associates in Sydney. It’s designed to identify a candidate who demonstrates “outstanding passion, achievement and the highest promise as a creative and innovative future force in the Australian design industry”.
“Australia has been very good to me and this is my way of giving back,” says Thomas. Through the program, he wants to offer budding designers the same opportunities he was afforded in his formative years in New York and Australia.
Dylan adds: “Working in a creative environment with a team fully invested in my career progression and encouraging my design input has been a truly valuable experience. Throughout my time as part of the program, I have had the privilege to work alongside global industry leaders across all fields of design, truly learning from the best of the best.”
Clifford, who is in his thirties and studied at Curtin University, adds: “My time here has opened my eyes to the possibilities within the industry and makes me excited about my future path.” Landing a permanent position was of course, a dream come true.
“What a delight it has been to witness our two inaugural mentees absorb, grow and thrive over the past 12 months,” Thomas says. “They worked across all the dimensions of the Thomas Hamel & Associates practice from interior design to interior architecture, marketing to finance. It has been uplifting to see their minds stretch and their passions flourish. They have also been enormous help to our whole team and I look forward to our next intake.”
About The Graduate Mentorship Program
The successful Thomas Hamel graduate receives a full-time contract for a maximum term of 12 months in the Sydney studio of Thomas Hamel & Associates, with mentoring and support from Thomas and his team. Only one graduate mentorship will be awarded, with the next program running from March 2024 to February 2025. Applications close on 5 November 2023 with the successful candidate notified by mid-December, 2023.
Photos in the studio by Alicia Taylor