In the first of our new Young Designer series, aimed at inspiring those who are yet to get their first foot on the ladder in this fiercely competitive industry, I spoke to Brendan Guy, design assistant at the esteemed Thomas Hamel & Associates in Sydney.
As mentors go, Thomas Hamel, with his many years of experience, popular book and beautiful international body of work, is hard to beat. Which is why Brendan, 27, feels extremely lucky to have started his design career with his studio.
After studying a one-year Diploma of Commercial Arts (Interior Design) at CATC, it was his internships, contacts and being in the right place at the right time which combined to land Brendan his dream job and bring him from Melbourne to Sydney last year.
Although having a natural flair for design is always going to be important, he believes qualifications are essential too, whether it’s a short course or a full degree. “There are some aspects that need to be taught, like CAD or simple design conventions. These could be picked up in the workplace if you didn’t have any qualifications, but having a few of these skills will make starting your first job that much easier and make you more desirable to any potential employers.”
Not long after Brendan finished studying, he met Thomas and few of his team by chance at industry event Saturday inDesign in Melbourne. “I kept in contact with Thomas in the following months and when it came time to look for a job, I got in touch to see if he knew of any opportunities. He set up an interview with his creative director and from there I was soon in Sydney starting my job at Thomas Hamel & Associates.
“Even though I had only completed a one-year diploma, I had worked to ensure I had a strong CV that showed a range of experience outside of the course, which I think is hugely important. I had already completed a degree in History and Art History and while studying interior design I had done some part-time work at dedece’s Melbourne showroom as well as writing articles for Design Addicts Platform, which I still do. I was also lucky enough to be offered work experience in Los Angeles for a month and during the time I spent there I was exposed to the most incredible projects in Beverley Hills, Malibu and the Hamptons. These “extras” certainly added to my CV and made it stand out from someone who had come straight from a course.”
Every day really is different for Brendan, who adds that no matter what you think you might be doing that day, the chances are it will change! “I like to start early, about 7.30-to-8am. Emails will always take up the start of my day and from there it’s anyone’s guess. Generally though, there will be design meetings, sourcing, CAD work, site meetings, visiting suppliers and showrooms, briefings with clients and there’s always paperwork to be completed.”
He agrees there are few designers in Australia who could compare to the breadth of experience and scale of projects that Thomas has. “Starting in New York with the famed Parish Hadley, Thomas has been in Sydney for the last 25 years. We are so fortunate in the studio to benefit from the constant travel that Thomas does, whether it’s shopping with clients in New York and LA or visiting a project in Florida or London. Every time he comes back he brings bags of goodies – new fabrics, furniture catalogues or photographs from incredible homes he’s visited. Getting this exposure to so many different global sources is invaluable to our experience and knowledge as designers and strengthens the work we do here.”
He adds: “Thomas has an incredible memory and eye for detail and this naturally passes down to us. You soon learn that the detailing on a cushion can be just as important as the design of a sofa or wall finish used.”
Brendan remembers changing the furniture around in his family home from an early age. “At school, I took a huge interest in architecture and for many years that was my goal when I finished school. Maths however, is not my friend so I switched focus to history instead and upon completing that I was pretty lost as to what to do with my degree (the typical bane of an Arts graduate). Interior design was not something I ever really considered until I came across an ad for my course one day and it was like a light bulb going off. I realised that was exactly what I wanted to do and from the first day of the course I have never looked back.”
The best part of the job, by far, is seeing a job installed. “After spending months and months sourcing, documenting and organising a project, to see a finished interior is always beyond satisfying,” Brendan says. “The most challenging part is definitely finding enough hours in the day to do everything!”
Brendan warns not to underestimate the range of work involved in being an interior designer. “Too often the line is blurred between a decorator and designer, when in reality they are completely different jobs. While furniture and decoration is a huge part of what we do, just as much time is spent solving structural issues, moving and redrawing walls, specifying appliances, liaising with engineers, builders and architects and even advising on landscaping.”
Not surprisingly, his top advice for graduates looking to get their first design job is to get experience under your belt. “Getting any experience in the industry outside of your course, whether in a showroom, with a studio or interning at a magazine will set you apart from other people starting out. It shows that you are interested in the industry and committed to learning new things.”
Next up, networking: “It’s important to remember that the interior design industry is hugely social. It’s difficult as students to get into events to meet people, which is where writing for Design Addicts Platform was a godsend for me as I was able to attend events representing the blog. However, you can join the DIA (Design Institute of Australia) as a student member and attend the many events they hold each year. Meeting industry professionals face to face, talking with them and asking if you can send your CV or if they know of any opportunities is always preferable to emailing studios out of the blue.”
In five years’ time, Brendan simply wants to still be working in an environment where he is learning and being challenged, whether that is for someone else or for himself. He doesn’t have to look far for inspiration: “Working in an open studio as we do at Thomas Hamel & Associates, it’s hard not to be inspired by my co-workers. The studio is always buzzing with different ideas and the latest finds. Instagram is another favourite of mine — it’s great for instant gratification and to see what other designers are up to.”